Severance director Ben Stiller on Innies, Outies, Goats and Season 2

No one needed a brain chip to enjoy Severance, but fans of the show this year experienced their own version of Innies and Outies: the moment before they tuned in to the stunning Apple TV+ series and everything that came after .

Executive producer and director Ben Stiller, who helmed most of the first season, found a way to nail the series’ complex tone and life within the Lumon Corporation. So what’s on his mind as the show moves beyond that shocking finale?

The show has such a unique tone — there’s this commentary on work culture, mysterious elements, and all these different parts that are weird and funny and sad.

How were your discussions with series creator Dan Erickson to ensure all of this is fully portrayed?

Dan and I have talked a lot about the reality level of the show in terms of being able to believe in this world that they are in. But tonally it was all on the page as far as the feel of these characters in that place and the basic idea he came up with, which is that [the Innies] don’t really know who they are and they don’t really question it. They know they’ve been told they have outies and been told they work in this place and their outies brought them there. But since it’s the only existence they know of, that premise has always been beneath everything.

I don’t know if I would have told you when we started doing it that the feeling you get watching the show now is what I thought [was] when we started working on it. I thought it could be a little bit more comedic, a little bit lighter, and it just worked out that way in the end. A lot of that was also in the casting and the inner workings that the actors brought to the characters. It just made me realize that we really need to get into this because there’s more to it than you might think. And I think that changed when we did it.

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Ben Stiller attends the celebration for Apple TV+’s Severance.
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Adam Scott’s casting also felt smart because of his association with workplace comedies like Parks and Rec and Party Down. What made him the right person to play Mark?

As soon as I started reading the script, he immediately came to mind – and I think that’s why I had this image of him. I had worked with him before and was a fan of his but I think he brings this kind of show and this kind of comedy because he knows that like any actor he has so much more to offer than we do usually see in their most popular work.

Adam has always chosen to do deeper things as well, outside of what people might know him for. I knew he had that in him and I thought the surprise of the show would be to have someone like him in it. Because you settle into that comedic rhythm and that type of guy, but then there’s so many other things the show is going to go into that you wouldn’t expect. I knew that I thought he could do it better than anyone else in that role. I just had a feeling that he would be the guy who would understand. And when he first read it, he had the same reaction. I knew he got it the same way.

Let’s talk about your camera choices, because a lot of that really added to the sense of surveillance and distancing we get throughout.

A big question on the show has always been how much are they seen? … What safety rules apply here? And how many security guards are there? And are they constantly being watched? Are they heard? There are obviously story points connected to it, so we kept questioning that. And we just thought it would be good to have a very cold, objective sense of how the hallways down there were captured, wide-angle lenses than we used in the outie world — a sense of severity and rigidity down there.

Because there are a lot of scenes in the aisles, a lot of scenes in MDR, you’re just trying to figure out what are some inventive ways to do it without going too crazy. And then each scene begins with the actors dictating how you shoot within the rules you set.

You built that environment with the audience and you know you can then bend it with things like the waffle party and the music-dance experience. How fun was it to play around with it?

I was looking forward to it because I was like, ‘Okay, if people believe the show and this world, the idea that suddenly after seven episodes the ceiling is lit [going] multicolored would be a big event because little things mean so much to everyone there.” And the idea that the lights have always had the ability to change different colors and it’s been there all along, but we weren’t aware of it, I found a funny idea.

The great thing about the possibilities of what Dan has built is that you could walk down a hallway and open a door and there would be a whole different world.

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Atsushi Nishijima/Apple TV+

The finale had so many revelations and this big cliffhanger. How did you come to the decision to leave things the way you did?

The original first season went even further. That was a discussion we had over the course of writing as we were formulating the season and talking about how many answers to give. And I’ve always felt that the show should have a certain pacing that allows these smaller events to become much bigger, because that’s always been the interesting thing about this world, for these people living this monotonous life and then everything suddenly something will happen.

I also thought that the secret of what they do [at Lumon], Mark and Gemma, solving all these things should be something that will take some time. We came to the conclusion that this could be a way to end the season we allowed them to surface. Mark met Ricken and a lot has happened. He found his sister and then there is this great realization. And then we end the season. We couldn’t find a way to go much further without going too far and revealing too much.

There’s not much to say, but can you tell us what’s on your mind as the story progresses in Season 2?

I think the biggest thing is to keep all those things in terms of the feel of the show while also expanding the world since the last episode ended. We surfaced Mark and Irving and Helly and I think those are storylines that people will be interested in. So it’s going to be about finding that balance. We are currently writing and preparing for filming in October.

OK, but shall we learn more about the goats?

Dan said yes at the Comic-Con panel, so I guess I can! Yes. There’s no way the goats are there for no reason. Severance director Ben Stiller on Innies, Outies, Goats and Season 2

Charles Jones

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