‘The Strain’ Q&A: Mia Maestro Talks Taking On Vampires & Working With Guillermo Del Toro

Vampires are about to get a lot less suave and sparkly and a lot more horrific and creepy when “The Strain,” from Executive Producers Guillermo del Toro and Carlton Cuse, premieres July 13 on FX.

Forget everything you know about vampires. “The Strain’s” version, where vampires are created through a fast moving, worm-like virus, is something very new to television, said actress Mia Maestro, who plays one of the dedicated professionals trying to stop the spread.

“Somehow Guillermo is rewriting the whole genre,” Mia told Access Hollywood. “Somehow he’s taking the vampire genre from the 18th Century and just taking all romanticism out of it, and [he] just made it quite brutal. So it’s a completely new take. It’s like vampires that people have never seen before, in terms of the myths that Chuck [Hogan] and Guillermo have created in [‘The Strain’] books around the vampires and the story and where they actually come from.”

PHOTOS: ‘The Strain’ — Meet The Cast

Television’s newest horror story kicks off when an airplane lands on the tarmac at JFK with no signs of life. First on the scene are Mia’s Dr. Nora Martinez and Corey Stoll’s Dr. Ephraim Goodweather, who start investigating what went wrong on the aircraft, an investigation that turns into trying to stop the fast moving, deadly strain that is threatening to infect New York City and beyond.

“From the point of view of Nora and Eph… you get to see a very scientific way of seeing vampires, and that’s pretty interesting too, and it’s never been done,” Mia added, of the show’s twist on the genre. “Our characters… we watch the vampires as [a] virus. … So our attack tactics are going to come from the more scientific point of view and I’ve never seen that before.”

READ: ‘The Strain’ Q&A: David Bradley Leaves ‘Thrones’ Villain Behind For Heroic Role

Mia spoke with Access about her new role in the highly-anticipated series, which Guillermo was hands on with – even directing the pilot. And, just because she’s an actress who can kick butt (“Alias”) and has a little experience with vampires (“The Twilight Saga”) Mia still managed to find herself spooked by frightening moments in the in the upcoming season premiere of this brand new show.

AccessHollywood.com: I heard you had a cast screening of the pilot during lunchtime on the set. What was that like?
Mia Maestro:
Oh, that was amazing. … It was really lovely to see the pilot episode with the whole crew at our lunch break back in Toronto. We have an amazing team working in the show. Every department is pretty incredible and nobody had seen the pilot… so what a better way just watch it all together, like with your whole team and with every department. … It was really quite effervescent and such a full-of-energy screening and, at that time, I think we were on Episode 9 or 10. … It was just like a great way just to finish the last episodes knowing that the pilot just looked so good.

Access: Are you immune to being scared by some of the moments in the first episode because you’re on the show, or did you jump as well?
I jumped as well, because you have to remember there’s so many sub-stories and there’s so many storylines and I think that’s the wonderful thing about the show. It’s quite epic in terms of storytelling. …. Our special effects team – it’s just pretty stunning what they’re able to do, so I got pretty scared like everyone else. Everyone was jumping and clapping and then, I have to say that a few days after watching the pilot, I had this beautiful house in Toronto and it had several stories and a big, big basement and I found myself trying to get something from the basement, probably at 11 PM and I actually opened the door and I shut it again and I [decided I was going to go back] there in daylight because I get pretty scared with a lot stuff, but it was just nice to be scared about my own show.

Access: What did you like about Nora? She’s not a girly girl. She’s a smart, intelligent woman, who is determined to solve this.
Yeah, she’s quite determined, she’s really strong, she’s extremely smart and she’s quite in touch with her emotions as well, which makes her kind of like a double-edged sword because she has the emotions, she has the special perception that some women have, yet she has the mind and the logic that it’s more like a masculine kind of attribute. So she has both. And also, she has this sixth sense about things that she just – she just knows that something’s wrong or she knows that maybe it’s a good thing just to listen to [David Bradley’s character, Abraham] Setrakian, which is this old character that comes [along] and seems absolutely crazy. … Throughout the season, her arc is pretty incredible… what she goes through. … Also… I think what a great opportunity, for me, for any actress, just to be given like a role that has so much to play and so much emotion to give. And, yeah, it’s a vampire show, but somehow, the way that Guillermo and the writers and Carlton are writing the show for us, for Corey, for me, for Sean [Astin], for David Bradley — it’s a total drama. So it’s quite unique to have both things in one… vampires, yet very, very dramatic moments.

Access: I have to ask you if you saw ‘Game of Thrones,’ which David was in.

Access: So he walks in and you knew who he was from ‘Game of Thrones’?
Well, yeah, of course. When an actor gets cast — and David came in a bit later, we were almost at the end of the pilot — of course, one searches for someone’s resume, but I have to say, I’ve seen David on stage at the West End [in London], doing ‘No Man’s Land’ and it was him and Michael Gambon and [playwright Harold] Pinter was still alive, so that’s what I remember David [in] the most. He was just so spectacular doing that play and you know, he’s one of the most incredible stage actors that England has, so I was just — I was more excited about that than ‘Game of Thrones,’ even though he’s so amazing in the show and his character is so memorable and he probably orchestrates one of the bloodiest and one of the best scenes that television has seen in a long time, which is The Red Wedding. But David – [he’s] been such a great addition to the show and it’s been such a joy to work with everyone. It’s really a dream cast and we have so much fun working together. And everyone’s such an incredible actor and it just makes you bring your best game when you come to work.

Access: What was it like having Guillermo directing the pilot?
It was great because we had a few weeks of rehearsal as well and then, I think for everyone, it was just so good to have Guillermo start the season. First of all, everyone was so excited to work with him and that allowed us to assemble an incredible team in every department because everyone just wanted to work with him. … And also, for him, he knows the characters so well. He’s written three novels, so just to have him like, giving us insight about the characters and the story and just giving us notes that actually just stayed throughout the whole season with us — that’s pretty remarkable and pretty important just to portray the characters the way kind of like he imagined them when he wrote them. It’s kind of like a big responsibility for us, I think, because he’s such an incredible filmmaker and such a great visionary and he’s the author of this huge novel [series], so it’s not that it’s an idea that he had and someone else developed. These characters are pretty much ingrained in his soul and his spirit and his mind, so of course, you want to portray them as closely as Guillermo envisioned them.

Access: I wonder if that puts pressure on you as an actress?
No, not at all. It’s quite beautiful as a creative effort and then, also, I think it would have been different [if he] hadn’t directed the first episode. … Having that like kick start time with Guillermo was so important and so fun. I mean, he’s one of the funniest people in the world. He’s just hilarious. And he’s relentless. He never gets tired. When we were shooting nights… probably 99 percent of the pilot was at night time, he was like, writing at the same time and I mean, he sleeps like three hours a night. I’ve never seen Guillermo tired throughout the whole month, month and a half that we were working. So, he’s a great force to follow and to be around and just — everyone gives their best, and everyone’s like the happiest when he’s around because he asks a lot from you, but he gives so much more.

Catch Mia as Dr. Nora Martinez when “The Strain” premieres July 13 at 10 PM ET/PT on FX.

-- Jolie Lash

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