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Chucky Creator Don Mancini On Why It Was Time To Bring Everyone's Favorite Killer Doll To TV - Exclusive Interview

Chucky has been a pop culture icon since 1988, when "Child's Play" arrived in theaters. Since then, everyone's favorite killer doll has spawned six movie sequels, all of which were written by the franchise's creator Don Mancini. While a 2019 reboot by a different team (and featuring Mark Hamill instead of Brad Dourif as the voice of Chucky) veered from the original timeline, Mancini is back with a "Chucky" TV series, which returns us to the "Child's Play" characters we know and love. 

Not only has Mancini written the "Chucky" TV series, but he also serves as showrunner, and directs the first episode. Serving as a loose sequel to 2017's "Cult of Chucky," the TV show also works as a standalone story. When Jake Wheeler (Zachary Arthur) finds a vintage Good Guy doll at a yard sale, he thinks he can make some quick cash. However, it soon becomes clear that Chucky is much more than a doll when a series of brutal murders starts taking place. With classic characters such as Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent), Tiffany Valentine (Jennifer Tilly), and Nica Pierce (Fiona Dourif) set to reprise their roles, and Brad Dourif returning to voice the title character, "Chucky" will delight old and new viewers alike.

Looper caught up with Don Mancini to find out why it was time to bring "Chucky" to TV and what fans can expect from the future of the franchise.

Bringing Chucky to TV

So, why was it time to turn Chucky into a TV show?

Well, one of the things I always try to do with Chucky is reinvent it, and I think that we've plugged Chucky into different sub-genres in the film series. We've done Chucky as a slasher movie, we've done it as a comedy, couple of comedies, gothic horror, so I just like to change it up. I think it's one of the reasons why the character has remained interesting to people, because we switch it up a lot. So, once I started getting my feet wet in television about five years ago with "Hannibal" and "Channel Zero," and I really loved it, I just started thinking of doing it with my own character. 

I mean, "Hannibal" was such a great gig. I was a huge fan of just the whole franchise, the books, the movies, and so when they started turning it into a TV show, as you may have been at first, I was skeptical. It's like, "How is that going to work? And no Anthony Hopkins?" And of course, then Mads Mikkelsen, and you're like, "Anthony who?" Mads Mikkelsen totally owned it and I also loved the homoeroticism of it.

So then, when I got to work on it on Season 3, it didn't feel like work in a lot of ways. It's like, "Wait, we come to work every day and we sit around a table with a bunch of like-minded "Hannibal" fanatics and we talk about Hannibal all day." It's like, "I'd do it for free." What was really impressive was just to see how all of these talented writers contributed to making something new of this established franchise. We were all Hannibal fans, so I thought if I did that with my own character and brought in additional Chucky fans, we could, in an analogous way, elevate this franchise, and I think it worked.

I think a lot of it was just the team aspect of it and the collaborative aspect. Movies, television, it's all collaborative, but even more so in TV in the way it's set up and run with the writers' room and there are multiple directors as well doing different episodes. So, there were a lot of really smart people working to make this show good and I think that really helped. That was the thing that was really attractive to me and also just hopefully ensuring my own longevity. I want to keep working, I love doing this and we're going to hopefully do more seasons of television as well as more movies. I hope so, it will depend on the fans, of course.

Getting the gang back together

One of my favorite things about the Chucky franchise is that you keep bringing back the original characters and original actors, and that's always really nice to see. Why did you decide to bring those characters back for the TV series, rather than just having a clean slate?

Yeah, I think that's one of the things that sets our franchise apart, and I think it's one of the things that people like about it. We have a fairly complex yet relatively consistent narrative that we've woven over the course of 30-some years and there's something about seeing these characters grow and evolve and age and played by the same people who have been playing them for decades, there's just something special about that. I love all of these characters and these actors, and we're all friends at this point. So I think that one of the reasons the franchise has turned out as well as it has over the years is the work that all of these people contribute to it. I don't want to do it without Jennifer [Tilly] and Fiona [Dourif] and Alex [Vincent] and Christine [Elise]. This is our thing together.

On influencing the horror genre

You've had a huge impact on the horror genre in terms of what you've brought from an LGBTQ+ perspective. Did you always hope to have that influence or was it something that just happened organically?

It sort of just happened organically. The first three movies didn't have any explicit LGBTQ content. Although in retrospect, I look at those movies and I do think that maybe, a little sub-textually, in that you've got a little boy who really wants to have this male doll as a best friend. I didn't think about that particularly when I was writing it, but then you get older and look at it and go, "Oh, I wonder if there's something going on there?"

But with "Bride of Chucky," the specific story that I was writing, it was about love. It was about romance, it was a parody of romantic comedies. So, in creating the characters that were going to inhabit the story, the main characters other than Chucky and Tiffany are these teenagers played by Katherine Heigl and Nick Stabile. Well, in order to make it more interesting, I thought, "What if their inevitable friend character — make him gay?"

I mean, it was initially a way of keeping the writing interesting. I just thought it was like, "Okay, well, rather than just being a stock friend character who's going to get killed at the 60 minute mark, make him a little bit more interesting and then make him gay." It just wasn't done at that time. Fortunately, everyone was really on board with doing it and it went well, but it wasn't just that character, it was also the whole sensibility of that movie. I mean, just the character of Tiffany, I wrote it for Jennifer Tilly and she brought an aspect of gay culture to it because of her persona in gay culture and the movie "Bound" and all of that.

Alexis Arquette and even John Ritter, because of the character he played on "Three's Company," he had certain connections to gay culture already. So, I was like, "Let's do this!" I think it made it more interesting, so I just decided, "Well, I'm just going to increasingly brand my franchise as the gay horror franchise." Why not? I'm in a position to do it, so I'm just going to do it.

I have to ask you, because Chucky mentions his child in the pilot. Is Glen/Glenda coming back? Please!?

I can't! I can't give too much away, I'll just say keep watching.

Avoiding CGI, and the future of Chucky

What sets your "Chucky" apart from the remake and other horror franchises is that you use animatronics and puppetry and stand-ins instead of CGI. Did you use much CGI on the TV series or did you mainly stick to those old-school methods?

We didn't use any CGI in the series. We use visual effects to erase puppeteers and rods and cables and stuff, but the puppets themselves, it's fully 100% animatronic. It was in "Curse of Chucky," I think, where I did two shots with a CG Chucky and I really didn't want to. It wasn't my plan, it was just budget and time and desperation. The fans saw them instantly and they go, "What the hell is that?" and it's like, "Okay, I'm sorry! I won't do it again!"

I'm not into CGI characters. I think it's important for the actors to have something to play off and to keep him tangible. I don't know if you've interviewed any of the kids, but they would tell you that Chucky is a guy on set. We're hearing Chucky's voice and he's doing stuff between takes, he's making jokes and laughing. Anyway, animatronics all the way.

Do you have more seasons planned and an endgame in mind?

I do have more seasons planned and fingers crossed that people like the first season enough for us to earn the second season. But yes, I have a plan. As far as an endgame, no. I don't have an endgame because I don't have any intention of stopping because I love it, too. I want to do other movies and work on other shows as well, but I love this character and I'm so grateful that the world has embraced him and that they like him. So, I'll keep doing it as long as people want to see him.

"Chucky" premieres on USA and SyFy on October 12, 2021, at 10pm.