Joseph Morgan is no stranger to directing The Originals, having already helmed two episodes in previous seasons. But for Season 5 he was tapped to direct an episode with a pretty daunting premise: a full hour following only one character over the course of seven years.
This Elijah-centric episode, which airs Wednesday, breaks the show's typical formula and impresses Morgan enough to call it "one of the best written [episodes] we've ever had." The episode flashes back to Elijah's (Daniel Gillies) first days as an amnesiac vampire as he struggles to figure out who and what he is — not to mention where he belongs on the food chain. The episode will stay with Elijah as he rebuilds his life, showing everything he went through since being compelled to forget his family until eventually catching up to the show's present-day storyline.
According to Morgan, that kind of unprecedented storytelling in The Originals was a huge privilege and opportunity for him as a director. "I knew I would get some license to put a bit more of a stamp on it," Morgan says, "So I definitely took that and tried to run with it."
"I was excited by the writing itself and then the fact that it wasn't jumping around between storylines. It was just one through line, so it was a chance to really, really invest in the story that we're telling," Morgan continues. "I felt sort of like I was making a prequel movie about Elijah. So that's kind of the way we tackled it."
It does feel like a prequel in a lot of ways, considering we first met amnesiac Elijah in the premiere after the seven-year time jump had occurred. The carefree pianist living in the South of France is not the man we start off with at the beginning of the episode though, and it's a surprisingly rewarding journey as we witness how Elijah created his new identity and his new life.
That evolution is also a theme Morgan tried to incorporate into his visual storytelling. "What I wanted to do, because we were on a journey, is travel with Elijah a lot, so there's a lot of moving shots with him, following him," Morgan explains. "There's also a lot of that kind of that gritty, grimy feel of New York that I wanted, as opposed to the beauty of Manosque and the piano bar."
As you might expect, focusing so intensely on Elijah means we're going to temporarily drop storylines of other characters that were left dangling back in New Orleans. The search for Hayley, the rumblings of an uprising in the French Quarter and the problem of The Hollow all take a bit of a backseat in order to clue the audience in on Elijah's struggles over the years. Consequently, you won't see much of the cast appear on your screens this week.
Even Morgan only had a handful of scenes to appear in, which actually made for a far more convenient scenario than on other Originals episodes he's directed. "It was about the perfect amount for me because I got to be in a couple of dramatic scenes and really be a part of those scenes, you know? As opposed to being in a scene with five people and everybody has a couple of lines and trying to direct as well. That's the most difficult thing," Morgan says.
Instead, the big challenge when crafting the episode was effectively creating an entirely new character for Elijah that still maintained the tenants of his old personality. Thanks to Marcel's (Charles Michael Davis) compulsion, Elijah was left to wander the world without a clue of who he is or where he came from. While it's obviously a heartbreaking conundrum for him, it was an exciting prospect for everyone behind the scenes because they got to decide which parts of his personality were innately his and which parts had been the result of his experiences during his thousand year of life.
"Gillies is so good, obviously, so we were starting from a really strong position," Morgan says. "That was a great collaboration... It was a really exciting thing as well — how to make it so that audiences could still relate to that character and try to feather in bits of the old Elijah so you see glimpses of the person you knew even though he doesn't know himself. That was a really interesting challenge."
While Morgan and Gillies have built a strong respect for each other's work over the years, the pair are also known for their behind-the-scenes shenanigans together, pulling off pranks and joking around much to the delight of fans. Luckily, it turns out their friendship was more of a help than a hindrance when it came to partnering up to pull off such a gargantuan episode.
"We had a lot of fun leading up to it, joking about how we were going to handle it. But when it comes down to it, [Daniel Gillies] is a complete professional and so the whole thing was really a joy," Morgan says. "It was also us just kind of putting all of our energy into that creativity. We didn't get in our own way, let's put it that way."
The Originals airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on The CW.