From “Damages” creators Todd and Glenn Kessler and Daniel Zelman, the feverish Florida neo-noir is a dysfunctional family drama that reveals how and why three siblings would turn on their oldest brother (Ben Mendelsohn). The writers were fascinated by the roles taken on by each member of a family, from the black sheep to the fixer. When volatile wild card Danny Rayburn re-enters the scene, he disrupts the Rayburn family, led by its hotelier and matriarch (Sissy Spacek) and local detective John Rayburn (Chandler). (Mendelsohn and Chandler both scored acting Emmy nominations for Season 1.)
In Season 2, John and his two agitated siblings (Linda Cardellini and Norbert Leo Butz) must deal with the aftermath of Danny’s murder. Danny haunts them in more ways than one, not only messing with their heads, but in the surprise form of his teen son Nolan (Owen Teague), who is unsettlingly like his father. Andrea Riseborough as Nolan’s mother and her explosive partner (John Leguizamo) also turn up to squeeze the Rayburns. And then John ups the stakes by running for sheriff.
When they cast Chandler, the executive producers were well aware of his iconic football coach on “Friday Night Lights” and enjoyed playing off how audiences responded to the actor’s innate decency. “That was interesting to us,” said Glenn Kessler.
John Rayburn turns out to be more like his brother Danny than we might have expected. “The most intimate relationship John had was with his older brother,” said Kessler. “Danny is giving voice to that aspect in John’s psyche and persona that is Danny-like. John’s not having conversations with the ghost of his brother, it’s bringing out that side of him, the internal struggle.”
The actors have fun with long repeated takes and alternate performances of the same scene, Chandler said, so the editors have plenty to play with: “The magicians get together and cut away the silly stuff.”
Chandler’s gift is letting audiences read his thoughts. Chandler credits the Kessler brothers/Zelman (KZK) team with finding those moments in the editing room. “Silence sometimes speaks volumes more than words,” he said. “Editing takes a lot of time and love.”
“The role Kyle plays is more complicated and challenging than people might recognize,” said Kessler. “He is reactive, which is challenging for an actor. He’s a goldmine, the amount of thinking, there’s such an interior life going on with the actor. Kyle is a grounding force that takes us through the whole story. The reason the audiences root for Kyle’s character is they understand why he’s doing it, how conflicted he is, how much it means to him. His interior life, we have spectacular shots of him thinking while driving, we get the whole story from his face.”
When Chandler is playing a scene, “nothing is real and everything is real,” he said. “It’s heightened. The writers create the scene, how it fits in. Our job is to make it interesting. Danny is in here [he points to his forehead], not in the back seat.” Chandler’s character is “in a constant swirling down to the depth of where John goes in the long run. He is floating fast in a downward abyss. Danny is a weight pulling him down.”
As the story proceeds John must contend, one day at a time, with one obstacle after another, “to find how to get over it and go to the next obstacle,” Chandler said. In each scene with each family member he recalled specific moments, whether it was hugging his mother as a boy, or his brother applying alcohol on a leg scratch. “You can’t play the whole thing,” he said. “You have to find the specific. Last season was a lot of intensity, so you had to find moments to break out of it and find new things, find the love and work off that. It’s a family story; family loves family. Tragedy comes when you can’t reach them, can’t hug them, the invisible barriers stop you. And that makes us alive and kills us at the same time.”
So why exactly does John want to run for sheriff? Chandler explains that “under the circumstances when the horses are running wild and you’re on the wagon, you don’t want to jump off, you want to get on the horses and lead them. He’s leading, he’s controlling to protect himself and his family, as law enforcement, control, he’s in charge. It’s a risky gamble. But if he steps back and does nothing, he has no control.”
Chandler marveled at how easily Owen Teague as Danny’s son Nolan was able to get under John’s skin. After one take he told him, “You’ve been studying Ben’s work. You nailed it.”
The hope is to move onto Season 3, admitted Kessler. “Right now we don’t know. We have more we want to try to tell. We hope we get picked up. It’s between the studio and the network.”
Meanwhile, on the movie side, Chandler follows up his role as Cate Blanchett’s husband in “Carol” with a powerful supporting role as Casey Affleck’s brother in Sundance hit “Manchester by the Sea,” for writer-director Kenneth Lonergan. And he also stars in Shawn Christensen’s “Sidney Hall,” opposite Logan Lerman.