‘The Watchful Eye’ premieres on Freeform, Hulu
The mystery show chronicles main character Elena Santos’ new job as a live-in nanny for a Manhattan elite.
Freeform’s upcoming mystery-thriller series, “The Watchful Eye,” premieres tonight at 9 p.m. on Freeform, and will be available for streaming on Hulu on Jan. 11. Created by Julie Durk, the female-led show hopes to offer a new perspective on the contemporary mystery thriller genre. The Dartmouth was invited to a virtual press junket to interview executive producer Emily Fox as well as some of the show’s cast ahead of the premier.
The story follows Elena Santos, played by Mariel Molino, a young woman whose complicated past leads her to work as a live-in nanny for Matthew Ward (Warren Christie) — an acclaimed architect grieving the recent loss of his wife — and his young son, Jasper (Henry Joseph Samiri). The Wards live in The Greybourne — an exclusive Manhattan residential building plagued by secrets and a tragic incident that binds all of its residents together. In navigating the world of old money, Elena must confront her own past and uncover the ulterior motives of the other residents of this mysterious building.
Molino said that she explored the character of Elena in varying ways, delving into her background growing up in Queens and how she would present herself as an outsider to this life of wealth and luxury. Molino added that when preparing for this role she attempted to perfect the accent and other technical aspects of her voice, which occasionally changed when she interacted with other characters on the show. The character of Elena Santos was challenging to play because Molino felt outside of herself.
“I think what was most challenging was kind of the duplicitous nature of her,” Molino said. “I think that it was a character that is different to me in a lot of aspects. And obviously we share some similarities as well. I think we're both willing to do anything to protect our family.”
When showrunner and executive producer Emily Fox became involved in this project, she said she was intrigued by the idea of building a mystery-thriller in a world that was familiar to her.
“I'm from the East Coast and I have sort of glimpsed this world of these aristocratic people living in this beautiful building,” Fox said. “What I always want to do is sort of scrape away the facade and see what's underneath — and I thought that this project gave us so many opportunities to do just that.”
Fox highlighted that the series does not fit perfectly into a box, but rather offers a new perspective to the thriller-mystery genre. From the interwoven love stories, elements of the supernatural and the “real estate gorgeousness” that contrasts the liveliness of the city, the series explores themes of identity and camaraderie.
“It's a thriller and a mystery, but so often those — historically anyway — have been [about] a woman in jeopardy,” Fox said. “Here you have a female character at the center of this who's really empowered and not in the least bit passive, and who is morally complex in addition to everything else.”
Whether coming from a complex family structure or experiencing a troubled relationship with one of the other characters, every resident in The Greybourne has a different background.
“There's class struggles. There's queer characters. We've got big, complex families,” Fox said. “I mean, it really is genre-defying in how many different things it combines under one roof but The Greybourne is a really big building, so we can fit it all in.”
Christie, who plays Mathew Ward on the show, shared his excitement for audiences to witness such full, rich characters unfold on screen.
“I just think that when people come into watching this show, they have an automatic mistrust of everyone,” Christie said. “And I think that that's the best way to watch it because I think nobody's really who they think they are. There's so many different twists and turns that happen as the season goes.”
Amy Acker echoed this sentiment about playing Tory Ayres — Mathew’s sister-in-law. While cunning and determined, Acker’s character has deadly secrets of her own and a skewed morality that at times leads her to be portrayed as the antagonist of the story.
“It seems like we kind of came to the decision that Tori is trying to hold everything together … She's trying to uphold appearances and make sure that she's protecting her nephew and her brother-in-law and her money,” Acker said. “She's got so much that she's trying to keep held in one place that every little thing is like another notch in her. And you're worried she's trying not to let that break at any moment.”
The building itself plays an integral part in augmenting the tension of the story and tying the plot together. The Greyborne is not only a visually appealing building, but it also accelerates the quirks of its residents. While picture-perfect on the surface, The Greyborne serves as a backdrop for the ways the story progresses.
“The building is a character and it's so deceptive, and you think … [it’s] this soft landing in the lap of luxury, and in fact, it's more of a gilded cage,” Fox said. “I was really excited to build a very layered, nesting doll mystery.”
A majestic castle, with picturesque views, tall, elongated windows and archways, The Greybourne itself is a metaphor for everything that remains hidden underneath. It is an asset in establishing the timeline of the story and creating complex dialogues between characters.
“Everything you can see is beautiful, but everything underneath it that's holding it up is perilous and terrifying, Fox said. “If that's not a metaphor for the American dream or the human condition, then that was always the intention — to show that not everything is as it seems.”