“If Craig is a 10-out-of-10 wild man, I have moments that range up to an eight.”
He was attracted to the role of Craig from the start.
“I read the material and I was super drawn to my character. I actually rang up [the producers] and was like, ‘Look, I really like Craig.’ And they were like, ‘Good, that’s the only one available.’ I think when everyone looks at this sort of show, they think of the stunts and the wildness, but it’s actually a family drama. It’s a very dysfunctional family and I think that’s the draw. Three of Smurf’s kids have different fathers and Baz is adopted, then J comes in. No one has a father and it gives all these characters license to be that much more different. I just knew it was going to be a phenomenon of range to play within and understand.”
He goes a little method to get to those dark places.
“It’s difficult. When I first started acting I really struggled. I’d be happy to go to the places, but I’d really struggle to get back to myself. I’m much better at that now. But when you’re filming a TV show, you shoot for six months and you’re kind of always there with him. There might be times when I’m out having a few drinks and it’s like, ‘I should go home, but something in me is telling me to stay.’ And you’re questioning whose mentality you’re holding right then.
“But that’s also the amazing thing. We want to live vicariously through other people and that’s what storytelling is. It’s fun to experience those moments, as horrific as a lot of them are for Craig. There are days when you get up in the morning and go, ‘Today is going to be brutal.’ I got a great note a long time ago from Helen Shaver, who directed me on Vikings. She was telling me that when she was acting, whatever she knew she had to go through as the character [that day], from the moment she’d wake up she would start that process. So if she had to be irritated, if she was getting her makeup put on, she’d find things that would irritate her, and it would just start manifesting through [her day], so when she arrived on set to shoot, she’d already be pissed off from the moment she woke up in the morning. I found that really helpful because it doesn’t feel like such a leap. You don’t want to be unpleasant to people, but you definitely find whatever you need to work with.”
Of course, there’s a little bit of himself in Craig.
“Whatever character you play, there’s a huge element of you in them, because it’s your interpretation. Someone else would probably play Craig slightly differently. I like to think if Craig is a 10-out-of-10 wild man, I have moments that range up to an eight at best. I definitely swim in the same pool, I just think he went diving off the board.”
Doing his own stunts helped him get into Craig’s head.
“I really go into motorbikes for the show and I knew that was a huge part of who he was, that ‘born to be wild’ situation. This is the craziest thing: when you’re in trouble on a motorbike, to get out of trouble, you need to accelerate. It straightens out the bike. You can’t slam on the brakes. That was a huge door in trying to work out what Craig was into and that mentality. How far can he push it? I was like that as a kid and then you grow up and realize bones break. I think he still has that fearless mentality. The motorbike represents who he is.”
He loves exploring the relationship between Craig and Deran (Jake Weary).
“When Craig validates Deran as gay [in Season 1], I remember reading it and I was like, ‘This is definitely my moment in this season.’ It was so unexpected that it would come from my character. He plays such a misogynist and a boy’s boy. You would never expect him to be the guy who would come over and put his arm on his shoulder and say, ‘It’s okay, I know and I love you and it’s fine.’ It was a really beautiful moment, and there are more moments with Craig and Deran in Season 2. We have a very close relationship and it’s something I think is really tender, a ‘bromance’ even though they are brothers. My character really hits the low of the low. It’s a lot to go there. Deran is trying to get Craig to fix his life, and we have a lot of moments of trying to deal with Craig’s addiction. They’re very well-earned because you never expect them.”
The cast is just as much of a family in real life as they are onscreen.
“I booked the show the day of the read-through and we shot the next day. I didn’t know anyone, [but] Jake and I had chemistry right off the bat. There’s something when you go on location, which is when we shoot all the exterior stuff oceanside—we go live in a hotel for a week together, and you get that much closer. The more you shoot, the more you get to know each other. We’re a family. We’re in such different stages in our lives, and you hear this lovely advice from Ellen [Barkin, who plays Cody matriarch Smurf] or bad advice from me to Finn [Cole, who plays J]—it makes it really tight. And you’re [also] kind of pinching yourself a bit; here we are riding jet skis for work, splashing each other in between takes.
The cast doesn’t know much about their characters’ trajectories beforehand.
“There are times where we’re getting the script the day before or two days before [shooting]. You really have no idea what to expect. We’ll do a read through, and that’s the time where we get a sense of what we’re doing. It kind of gives a freshness to the script. I’d obviously prefer to have more time with the script to plot and plan—in hindsight you look back and say, ‘God, I could’ve done more’—but I look at it like this: [in real life] you don’t really know what you’re gonna be doing in five minutes, or tomorrow.”
Season 2 is going to get even heavier.
“Now everyone knows the characters, so rather than it being more of an to introduction their world, you get to start Season 2 in a world that you already know. The storylines are deeper, the plots are thickening, and you understand what everything means to everyone that much more. There’s a little more weight to it. It’s fun, you get to see everyone’s idea of how the family should run, how the business should go. There are a lot of big voices in that family.”
Animal Kingdom airs Tuesdays at 9 PM EST on TNT.