Arriving at the fourth and final season of psychological horror series Servant—for which he serves as showrunner, executive producer and occasionally also director—M. Night Shyamalan is pensive. “I know that when the show is over, I’m going to look back at it and remember it as the most amazing time of my life—when I got to work with all these incredible filmmakers, actors, crew members and writers.”
The acclaimed Apple TV+ series, which follows a couple in mourning after the death of their baby enables a sinister force to enter their home, is laced with eerie suspense and presented through truly compelling cinematography. For Academy Award-nominated Shyamalan, who is best known for his original contemporary supernatural films and their twist endings, working on the series is a reminder of the vast creativity that filmmaking holds.
“With every director that comes onto the show, I learn so much,” he shares, “It’s fascinating to see the things that stand out to each of them from the script. Because I would have never thought of doing things that particular way. When we wrote those lines, it never crossed my mind that they would be interpreted like that. But when these directors step in and offer a whole other fresh perspective, it’s amazing to watch.”
When Shyamalan speaks about the show, it is his love for his craft, more than anything else, that shines through. “Thinking about Servant currently is a bit of a balancing act. I want to be completely present as I’m making the show, but I also want to take a step back and be appreciative of what it means to me, in the context of my life and the gift that it is. As I finish up the final episode, I’m mostly just grateful.”
You are a renowned filmmaker with an iconic body of work. Is there a defining thread that connects all of your work?
I’ve come to realise that I’m not interested in playing things safe. That danger drives me a bit. I like being able to do things that are different, whether it’s combining humour and scares in a way that’s never been done, or, with Servant, creating a show that’s almost like a play—where it’s all about these four characters and we never really leave the setting of the house. All those things are exciting to me and create a challenge.
What is it about the supernatural genre that fascinates you to this day?
The supernatural genre is the one that allows me to be myself the most. My beliefs are not necessarily religious, but I believe in having faith, so the supernatural genre allows me to lean into my worldview.
What has been the best part of creating Servant?
One of the greatest things about Servant—and I believe this is a very unusual thing that is unique to the show—is that we’re a very filmmaker-oriented series. Typically, most shows would be driven by the writers. With Servant, I got to reach out to all these different filmmakers, and we’d have a discussion, find an episode that works for them, and then that episode would be theirs to explore and direct. It’s been a wonderful process of being inspired by others and then getting to work with them—that’s the dream.
What do you think lies at the heart of the show?
When we first started working on it five years ago, I wrote down on a little yellow piece of paper, this show is about acceptance. When you look past all the supernatural elements, the tension of every episode is in the avoidance and the refusal to accept the tragedy that occurred—this tragedy where there’s really no one to blame. So what comes next? Do the characters pretend forever? If I gave you the option, would you pretend forever? When a tragedy like that happens, it’s natural to start questioning whether any higher powers exist at all, which is where the supernatural element comes in. The series is really about those two conversations.
Across all four seasons, is there a moment in the series that you are proudest of?
When Ishana, my daughter, directed her first episode—the episode titled ‘Pizza’ in season two. It was a scary moment. I had seen her short films, I knew how talented she was, and I told her she should go for it. I’m sure the higher-ups and the crew were super suspicious back then, but that episode went on to become one of the fan-favourite episodes of the season, and it was also Apple’s favourite episode of that season. It became so successful that they wondered whether I had guided her, but I hadn’t.
Being able to witness the moment that Ishana took on the role of the storyteller and see the beginning of her incredible career was amazing. There was a moment when she was terrified, and I just told her she could do it. Now she’s just turned 23, and she’s already directed six of the episodes and written 11 of them. She’s a beast. There were many special moments on the show, but as a dad—this one was wonderful.
Watch Servant Season 4 on Apple TV+ from 13 January.