Metro Weekly

For Don Mancini, Chucky is So Much More Than a Killer Toy

When Don Mancini created the killer doll Chucky, he inevitably gave voice and visibility to queer horror fans everywhere.

Chucky: Björgvin Arnarson and Zackary Arthur – Photo: SYFY

“I felt that exploring a story about teenage issues through the horror prism was going to work well for us,” says Don Mancini of the success of his series Chucky. “Teenagers experience their emotions in a very stylized way. And since that’s what we do with this character in our franchise, I thought that would be a good combination. It does seem to have worked out.”

The show has been a hit for the SYFY Channel/USA Network and, by default, its creator Mancini. His adorable (yet creepy) children’s toy possessed by the spirit of serial killer Charles Lee Ray first appeared on the big screen in 1988’s Child’s Play.

More than 30 years later, with seven movies and three TV seasons under its overalls, Chucky, the Good Guys doll with a profane mouth and slaughterhouse persona, has seen his status forever cemented in history as a full-on horror icon. One could almost argue that he has surpassed his ’80s contemporaries — but then, why tempt the wrath of Jason, Michael, and Freddy?

What’s made Chucky the series so unique is not merely its body count — which, if we’re being honest, is formidable — or the extravagantly gory ways in which Chucky’s victims are dispatched (throat-slittings, face-rippings, crashing chandeliers), but rather its treatment of core characters Jake and Devon, teenage boyfriends portrayed with graceful, heartfelt emotion by young stars Zackary Arthur and Björgvin Arnarson.

The pair developed a puppy dog crush on one another in season one. It quickly gave rise to a loving, deeply felt relationship, one ultimately needed to endure the horrific traumas (including the deaths of parents and relatives) caused by their plastic nemesis. In season three, the couple at long last consummate their relationship, in a sweet, tender scene set in a roadside motel.

Mancini, an out gay man, wanted the big moment to “be joyous and positive and fun. Because we see straight teenage couples go through this all the time [on TV]. It was important to me to let gay teenage boys casually lose their virginity and incorporate that into their relationship. And what it meant dramatically, for me, is that now they mean more to one another than ever, so the thought of losing one another is even more acute.”

“I think the show did a good job of making it real,” says Arnarson, who plays Devon, of the moment. “There’s a real build-up to it that feels genuine. It feels like people can actually care about our characters.”

“We have the perfect person writing the perfect stories,” adds actor Devon Sawa, who has played multiple roles across the three seasons (including, this year, the President of the United States, who recently had his eyes gouged out).

“Up until just recently, we’ve had other people writing stories for that demographic, and now we’re having that demographic writing for that demographic. Don is writing a lot of what he knows, and it just feels — I don’t know, it just feels right. I’m just proud to be a part of it. And I’m proud that he’s telling the stories that he wants to tell.”

Brad Dourif, the Oscar- and Emmy-nominated actor who has voiced the character since Child’s Play, and who appears as the ghost of Charles Lee Ray this season, says, “Don works with sensitive subjects and does it in a way that’s innovative and fun.” He adds that Chucky, who has a gender-fluid child (Glen/Glenda), “is oddly tolerant” of the two boys, adding with a devious chuckle, “He’s an equal opportunity killer.”

Mancini is genial and easy-going during a conversation that takes frequent detours from the immediate topic at hand and are all-encompassing in their own right.

When it comes time to discuss the show’s remaining episodes, we both acknowledge that the material will never be used to avoid spoiling a truly spectacular, jaw-dropping finale. (“I was shocked reading the finale’s script,” says Arnarson, eyes widening.) Suffice it to say, the show remains a wild ride, masterfully traversing horror, humor, and humanity in a supremely entertaining way.

“We always say, ‘Don’t go full Tim Burton,’” says the 61-year-old Mancini. “We always want to keep one foot on the naturalistic ground. But Chucky himself seems to operate best in a slightly stylized frame or proscenium arch. And I think that’s partly because Chucky himself is a stylized humanoid. He’s not a human being. He’s a doll. But Chucky the character often deals with certain universal truths. And I think that’s interesting and surprising…coming from a child’s toy.”

Don Mancini and Chucky — Photo: Brendan Meadows/SYFY

METRO WEEKLY: When we last spoke two years ago, season one of the series was just getting underway. And now we’ve gone through this incredibly whacko narrative arc that not only included an exorcism in season two, but landed Chucky in the White House for season three. The show seems to be this wonderful big narrative sandbox for you to play in. Can you talk about the joy of having the ability to do whatever sparks your imagination?

DON MANCINI: [Laughs.] Oh, that’s not the half of it. It is definitely joyous — it is absolutely that. One of the reasons I wanted to bring Chucky into TV was knowing that we had all of that story to tell and relationships to explore. It’s just a very different kind of storytelling from movies.

That’s why I ended the [2017] movie Cult of Chucky as I did [by splintering Chucky’s soul into pieces and placing it in multiple dolls]. I did that very deliberately in the hopes of setting up a TV series. But I had already started thinking about it before I did Cult of Chucky. I started thinking about it when I was working on Hannibal.

I was inspired by what Bryan Fuller did with Hannibal. He took a horror icon and a horror movie franchise and made it into a fascinating television show. I think most if not all Hannibal fans would agree that the television show was one of the best expressions and explorations of that world. I wanted to do that with Chucky.

Another thing that the show allows us to do is juggle different tones. I think we are unusual amongst horror franchises in that tonally we range all over the map from straightforward horror to comedy — farcical comedy, meta-comedy. It gets quite crazy. Television is accommodating to that.

MW: Chucky is extremely well-balanced in its mix of horror, gore, comedy, camp, and realism. And I’ll note something else: it’s very scary at points.

MANCINI: Our goal is to have a story that ranges across these different tones. When we started with season one, my ambition was to make people cry. I figured that emotion would be the most surprising emotion to be elicited by Chucky, and not something we’d really gone for before in any of the movies. But the show has, at its center, this very sincere, heartfelt teenage romance. And I think off-setting that with all this insanity and horror is really interesting — it allows for that sincerity to shine.

MW: Let’s talk about that, because the love story between Jake and Devon is so crucial. It’s beautifully planted as a seed in season one and then grows and deepens naturally. By the time we get to season three, we finally have a physical consummation of their relationship. It was handled tenderly and genuinely.

MANCINI: Yes, that had to happen. These are two teenage boys that are 17 and 18 years old now. They’ve been in love for three years and have survived all kinds of horror that this devilish doll has dealt them. We wanted it to be real in its PG-13 way that we do.

But also, I wanted it to be fun. I wanted it to be a dream of a first gay teen romance. And it is, for them. It’s just slightly naughty in that they sneak off to a motel out of the ’80s and have their first experience. And I love just as much the pillow talk scene after they’ve done it. It was really sweet and so well directed by Samir Rehem. I loved how he had each of the characters looking right into the lens. It just was very intimate.

But for the overall story arc for the season, what was crucial was now that they’re lovers, their bond is stronger than ever, and therefore the thought of losing one another is even more scary, even more acute. I wanted that to happen so that when we get to the big cliff-hanging stuff at the end of episode seven that… [REDACTED FOR SPOILERS. SORRY.]

Chucky: Björgvin Arnarson and Zackary Arthur – Photo: SYFY


MW: Zackary Arthur and Björgvin Arnarson are so natural together. You totally buy the romance between them.

MANCINI: That was the biggest task we had in casting the show from the outset — finding kids who had the talent but also the maturity to do this, who understood the value of it, which they both did. They understood that this was a good thing to put out into the world, and they wanted to be a part of that. We definitely owe a debt to our casting director Bonnie Zane, for helping us find Zach and Björgvin. They are great together.

MW: What’s interesting is the sex is PG-13, but the show’s violence is way over the other side at R-rated. The irony of that from a societal standpoint must not be lost on you.

MANCINI: No, it’s not. But on the other hand, treating their romance in a PG-13 way is exactly how I’d want to do it anyway. I mean, this is a show that’s more about the romance of being gay as opposed to the mechanics of being gay. So I think the PG-13 presentation of any kind of teenage romance is like its own genre in a way. And I really like embracing that genre. I think the innocence of that set against the insane amount of violence strengthens that innocence.

So while I agree with you that it’s overall an indication of how our societal values can be out of whack in terms of what’s okay for kids to see on TV and what’s not, for this particular show, I would still be doing it in just this way.

Chucky: Björgvin Arnarson, Zackary Arthur, and Alyvia Alyn Lind – Photo: SYFY

MW: I’ve recently watched a few terrific young adult shows with gay central characters — Heartstopper and Young Royals come to mind — But they’re fundamentally romance-driven at their core. Chucky is different. It’s a way into LGBTQ content for the younger LGBTQ horror fans out there, allowing them to see themselves. It’s a great entry point and sets forth a positive message within that genre.

MANCINI: I think it’s a little subversive in how it puts [an LGBTQ] positive message out there with a horror icon. Chucky is not homophobic at all. In fact, Chucky has possessed Nica’s body and experienced sex with a woman’s body. So, he’s broadening his horizons. By season three, I wanted the relationship to be a casual part of the story. I think getting that into a franchise about a doll that kills people is a Trojan Horse in a good way.

MW: You bring the action into the White House this year, which is the last place you’d expect to find Chucky. But no matter how far-fetched it seems, there’s a thread of plausibility that you and the writers generate. You come up with an explanation for everything that happens. It’s not just “take a leap of faith with us.” It’s impressive.

MANCINI: There was one detail that I and my fellow writers in the room we all worried about. And this is something that’s true, but we were worried that people wouldn’t buy it. And the detail is that in the residence of the White House, there are no cameras.

I think that like most people, you might assume that every inch of that place is watched by cameras in some fashion. And it’s not. And what allowed the idea to work is that in the residence — in the living quarters — they do have that kind of privacy and that Chucky can range around that plausibly. And he goes through heating ducts and whatever that somehow lead him to the West Wing. Being a little sketchy about the actual layout helped us.

MW: Why did you choose the White House?

MANCINI: I had been interested for years in doing something about the haunted White House. Not even necessarily with Chucky. I was thinking of doing a standalone piece because there’s so much lore about it. And I just felt like, “Oh, the White House is a haunted house. No one’s really done it.” But then I just thought, “Oh, putting Chucky there, I could do it in that way. That’ll be really fun.” Because with Chucky, his usual M.O. is to infiltrate households and families. So the idea of this being in the most famous house in the world brought its own amusement.

One of the fun things about the horror genre are the metaphors available to you. So, depicting the White House as a haunted house has obvious great metaphoric value, as is the notion of what sins is the United States haunted by? And there are any number of ways you could treat that. I mean, this being a season of Chucky, we do it in a somewhat oblique way. But the notion that the reason that Chucky is there is because he literally needs to spill blood in the most evil house in the world always appealed to me.

It’s this notion that the White House is tainted, because there have been so many decisions made there that have affected the world, regardless of what side of the aisle you’re on. It’s just a truth that a lot of bad things in the world emanated from those walls. So, I thought, “Well, that’s a metaphor right there.”

MW: One new addition to the teenage cast was Jackson Kelly who plays Grant, the president’s older son. He brought great pathos to the part.

MANCINI: Yeah, he really did. He’s a fantastic actor. And we had a blast working with him. It was interesting: As we got further into the season and his character had to start responding to increasingly crazy and absurd circumstances, Jackson was unsure at first. How does one credibly respond? And there were times where I said, “I think the idea is you underplay it slightly. Or if not underplay it, just play it as if there is a realistic threat in your midst.” Because what can you do? You can’t bug your eyes as this doll that’s aging is going for the nukes.

All of those kids — it’s a big job, and they do it so well. They have to play in a very naturalistic key and ground everything, and make you believe that real lives are at stake and it’s happening in the real world. And they do. It’s a tricky thing. They all manage it.

MW: This is one of those rare shows where, out of the blue, you will kill a primary character that we don’t expect to see die. This season alone, Miss Fairchild — I did not see that coming. And I was shocked. Have you no mercy?

MANCINI: It’s a horror show! Bad things happen to good people! [Laughs.] But it is important to remind the viewer that it keeps you invested in this. And I think sometimes there are certain deaths — like Miss Fairchild’s — you want them to land emotionally, for it to be like, “Oh God, I didn’t want that.” Sometimes fans don’t like that. They get very angry with me.

Devon Sawa
Chucky: Devon Sawa – Photo: SYFY

MW: Speaking of killing off characters, it’s become somewhat of a running gag at this point that you kill off whatever character Devon Sawa plays and then revive him as a new character in the following season, just to murder him in even more horrible ways.

MANCINI: It’s been fun to be able to do that with him. It’s a special treat. I’ve long been a fan of Devon’s. Even before he came to Chucky, he was horror royalty for stuff he had done [Final Destination, Idle Hands]. And he’s a really excellent actor, he’s a lot of fun to work with, and he has also had this ongoing feud with Chucky on social media. It’s amusing.

So I feel like we should do something special if we get a season four. And I mentioned this when we were at WonderCon recently: Have a contest for people to send in their suggestions of how to kill Devon. How would fans like to see Devon Sawa die? I also think one of the things that’s fun to do with sequels in general is play with people’s expectations.

And so, now having Devon Sawa on the show over the course of several seasons in multiple roles, and having set the precedent of killing him, who’s to say at some point we won’t fuck with those expectations and have Devon shockingly survive and kill Chucky or something? [Laughs.]

Chucky killing Devon Sawa, yet again

MW: Anything’s possible. Speaking of, there’s been buzz about Chucky in space. I don’t know where that came from, but is that something that you’re actually considering?

MANCINI: [Laughs.] Well, it came from me. I mean, over the years people would say to me, “Well, what else?” And it was just something I would say as a joke, “Chucky in space.” Although because I think about this shit a lot, I do have a legit idea of how to do it — and it wouldn’t be as goofy as you might assume. But the thing is, you’d want it to be somewhat goofy. I mean, part of the appeal of that idea is don’t you want to see Chucky in a little spacesuit with a little glass helmet just floating to the tune of David Bowie’s Major Tom [“Space Oddity”]?

MW: So, will we see Chucky in space?

MANCINI: It feels to me that the fandom is very split on whether they like this idea or not. Half the people say, “Fuck yes, do it.” But just as many people say, “Please don’t go there.”

MW: I love Brad Dourif’s vocal performance as Chucky. His delivery is —

MANCINI: — indispensable. It’s totally indispensable. I can’t take credit for it. It was Tom Holland’s idea on the first movie to cast Brad. [Tom Holland directed the original Child’s Play in 1988.] Casting Brad was absolutely brilliant. I think what’s key about Brad is he has the ability to make that character weirdly grounded in a way.

It often manifests itself in a funny way. I feel like part of the appeal of Chucky is that he’s either delighted by the plight of being in a children’s toy or he’s frustrated by it. Sometimes he gets stymied by being so little or whatever, and he will just [react with] this rage and it’s just kind of funny. And Brad just has this vibe. He’s kind of aggrieved. There’s this feeling he’s slightly… he’s touchy. And that makes him funny.

As Brad himself says, he loves his job. He loves being a killer doll, he loves the irony of that, and he loves that Chucky’s innocence and adorable good looks allow him to worm his way into certain situations that he wouldn’t otherwise get to wreak havoc. I think just somehow Brad just naturally struck all of that.

Chucky: Brad Dourif and Chucky – Photo: SYFY

MW: Another thing that helps is Chucky is tangible. He’s a puppet, not Computer-Generated. And the show’s gore also feels tangible as well.

MANCINI: It’s really, I would say, 85 percent practical gore. There are a couple of times we’ll augment it with a little more. When the chandelier dropped at the end of episode four and flattens everyone, some of the blood that went out was real and some of it was not. Other than that, we do very little CG because real gore is so much more fun. It’s more fun on the set.

It’s also crucial for the actors because the actors — and this relates to Chucky himself too — they have something to relate to. They’re not just acting against a green screen and pretending. They’re not looking at the tennis ball. Although once in a while they do have to do that. But generally, we’ve never used a CG Chucky. I did one shot of a CG Chucky in the movie Curse of Chucky, and all the fans spotted it and said, “Shame on you.” So never again.

MW: Were you a gore nerd growing up?

MANCINI: Oh, yeah, definitely. I was an early collector of Fangoria Magazine — loved reading that. They were very instructive. If you were interested in gory horror movies, you learned from reading Fangoria.

MW: What is it about gore that attracts you?

MANCINI: Well, now I think of it as a color to paint with. I don’t mean just literally red, but the violence. Using violence as a metaphor for the expression of an emotional state can be very powerful. Sometimes I can’t be above just doing something because you need to do something gory because the episode needs it. But it’s most effective when — and this is my favorite kind of horror — the scenes of horror dovetail with characters, character turns, emotional turns, confrontation, and conflict.

For example, in a movie like Brian de Palma’s Carrie, the violence is so effective because it’s an expression of this teenage girl’s rage against being bullied. And so it just acquires this heft. That’s the best kind of gore — when it means something. I also just like to make it beautiful.

MW: It’s hard to imagine all this violence comes from your mind because you’re such a nice guy.

MANCINI: Most people, I find, in the horror genre, tend to be really chill and nice.

MW: I guess we expect —

MANCINI: — monsters. [Laughs.]

MW: There’s a good dig at M3GAN this season. And I’ve read people on X hoping for a M3GANChucky crossover. I don’t want to see that.

MANCINI: You don’t?

MW: No. Unless he tears her to pieces. That’s fine, I’ll take that. What were some of your favorite horror films growing up?

MANCINI: My favorite horror films were Jaws, if you can count that, and I do. The Omen, I loved. The Omen was my first R-rated movie, so that was a big deal for me — it changed my life. I loved Brian De Palma movies. I loved Carrie, The Fury. I loved Dressed to Kill. I loved Joe Dante’s movies — The Howling and Gremlins. I think Gremlins had a big effect on Chucky. Sam Raimi and Tim Burton. I love horror comedy, so I really gravitated to all of those filmmakers.

But I think, also, what they all have in common, as well, is that they’re visually stylized. That’s one of my main interests in the horror genre. Although I like to see gritty horror movies like Last House on the Left or The Hills Have Eyes, that doesn’t interest me as a creative person. I like the incongruously beautiful presentation of horror.

MW: There’s no word yet on a fourth season of Chucky?

MANCINI: No. I pitched season four already. I won’t say it’s completely worked out, but I know what it is, and I know what I want to do with it. So I’m ready to go if they are, but if we don’t, I’ll put some of that material into the movie, because I’m developing a movie as well.

MW: I can’t imagine Universal would say no to a season four. I mean, this is a big hit.

MANCINI: It’s television, man. It’s more mysterious than movies. When I started out in the ’80s, you’d get a call on Saturday late morning — you’d hear from the studio how much money you made on Friday. With that, they could very accurately like, “This is what the weekend box office is going to be, and therefore, this is the long run… This is what you’re going to make at the box office.”

Television is very different. It’s harder to quantify who’s watching the show and how many. And after last year with the double strikes — I mean, the business is reeling. It’s really crazy, so nothing would shock me at this point. I wouldn’t take anything for granted. I hope you’re right, because the season four idea is really fun, I think, and I’m really excited to do it. So I hope we get to.

Chucky: Zackary Arthur – Photo: Shane Mahood/SYFY

MW: My final question for you: What truly scares Don Mancini?

MANCINI: [Pause.] The notion of illness. At this point in my life, I’m scared by real-life shit. I’m scared of the election coming up. That scares me. I’m scared of what’s happening in the world. There’s a lot of division in the world. I’m scared of that.

But I’m mostly scared of being ill. I hope I don’t get ill. It’s probably not very interesting. I’m not scared of zombies, I’m not scared of vampires, but I’m scared of death, still. I mean, that’s the universal thing that is the appeal of this genre, I think — the simultaneous terror of and attraction to death. You get to be in your sixties, and it becomes less theoretical.

My whole relationship to my work has changed, I think, over the years. I mean, I still get gleeful thinking of a fun way for Chucky to kill someone. That does still delight me. But I think I find myself identifying as much with the victims now, and thinking, “Oh, my God. I hope this doesn’t happen to me. This would be horrible. I hope this never happens to me.”

Chucky airs on Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on USA Network and SYFY. Visit or The show streams next-day on Peacock with seasons 1 and 2 currently streaming in full. Visit

Watch Chucky and Devon Sawa feud viciously on X. Follow @ChuckyIsReal and @DevonESawa.

Follow Don Mancini on X at @RealDonMancini.

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