[Editor’s Note: This interview originally ran in March 2015 when “Bloodline” was set to premiere on Netflix. Now the talented duo are both nominated for Primetime Emmy Awards, hence the article’s redistribution.]
Kyle Chandler is a rascal. Sitting in a large hotel room in Pasadena, the dark-haired former “Coach” refuses to answer questions he doesn’t want to. But one would never think him impolite, inconsiderate or even consciously realize he’s dodging a few details — at least, not right away. Before the interview even begins, he passes his phone around the table to show off a picture of his “ugly dog,” laughing and joking with a genuine, Southern hospitality. Only at the end of a 20 minute conversation did he go so far as to say the above statement, instead carefully constructing his answers to charm, expound when possible, and evade when necessary.
Both he and Ben Mendelsohn know better than to share too many secrets about their new series, “Bloodline,” a Netflix original drama from the creators of “Damages.” Secrets, after all, are the foundation of the show. Chronicling the lives of the Rayburn family living well in the Florida Keys, each character is holding something back from even their closest friends.
John, who serves as a narrator for the audience and the sheriff of the island town, is the responsible, clean cut, do-gooder of the family. He looks out for his mother and father (Sissy Spacek and Sam Shepard), who own and operate a resort, locally-housed sister, Meg (Linda Cardellini), and brother, Kevin (Norbert Leo Butz) — or so it seems until the family’s black sheep, Danny, played by Mendelsohn, returns home and casts the clan in a whole new light.
Who Can You Trust?
This much is inarguably evident in the series’ opening episode, but it doesn’t stop Chandler from arguing for his character’s integrity.
“Yeah. Why? Why wouldn’t I?” Chandler said, when asked if he believed John’s version of events. “I’m an honest, good guy, and you can trust me.”
Mendelsohn doesn’t see Chandler’s character as the “honest, good guy” his portrayer painted him as earlier. In fact, he sees the family as more of the villains and poor Danny as being unfairly blamed. “I would agree very, very wholeheartedly with that statement,” Mendelsohn said. “Danny’s gotta do what he’s gotta. However, they also have to do what they have to do.”
But that’s as far as the thriving character actor will go. “It’s very hard for me to know how to talk about it without feeling like it’s going to detract or tip the hand as to what’s going to come. But I think that’s where these guys have really done something that is powerful and original.”
Disassociating from Coach Taylor
For Chandler, that power and originality was the crucial part of choosing to join “Bloodline.” After five seasons and an Emmy win for playing Coach Eric Taylor in “Friday Night Lights,” the Georgia-native had his choice of TV projects. From an offer to take Damien Lewis’ role in “Homeland” to basically any 40-year-old lead male role in the medium, Chandler wasn’t short on opportunities. Instead, he carefully picked out smaller roles in specific film projects, including Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty,” Ben Affleck’s “Argo” and Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Other than a failed pilot for Showtime, in which he played a Cardinal in the Catholic church, it’s been four years since he was a lead on TV.
“What drew me to [‘Bloodline’] was Glenn Kessler,” Chandler said of the series’ co-creator. “Glenn Kessler came to me and gave me a broad overview of the idea and said, ‘If you like it, we’ll go ahead and we’ll write something and come back to you.’ So I was sort of hooked then. When they came back to me with the material I saw absolutely no reason not to be jumping into that. That’s as simple as it was, really.”
But as anyone who’s spent more than five minutes with the man knows, nothing is quite as simple as Chandler makes it out to be. Included in the mix of his post-“Friday Night Lights” film ventures was a little indie that hit it fairly big. In “The Spectacular Now,” Chandler appeared late in the film for a few crucial scenes as a long-lost deadbeat dad. Why? In part, to get away from being typecast as Coach Taylor, a disconnect he thinks will be strengthened by “Bloodline.”
“I don’t think it’s a bad idea that I haven’t done a TV show for a couple years,” Chandler said. “That I’ve had the opportunities to do the film roles that I have in between was just an added benefit to staying away from television. […] I guarantee you’ll never see John wearing a blue baseball hat on ‘Bloodline.’ At the same time, no, I don’t want people to associate me with Coach Taylor for the rest of my life. It’s sort of a blessed curse, you know? But I don’t think [John is] that kind of character where I have to worry too much. This show is so completely different.”
“The Perfect World”
Of course, another overwhelming allure had to be the cast. Even outside of Chandler and Mendelsohn, who have proven themselves outstanding time and time again, “Bloodline” sports one of the best ensembles on television — if not the best outright. Among the actors playing Rayburn family members, there are seven Oscar nominations, eight Golden Globe and eight Emmy nods. There’s also three Golden Globe trophies and an Emmy and an Oscar to boot. It’s no wonder Chandler wants to keep the stories the group lived through shooting on location in the Florida Keys to himself; they’re too good to share.
“There’s a lot of talent there,” Chandler said. “I mean, you’re only as good as the person you’re working with, and there’s a lot of great talent on the show. You’re playing every day. They call it a play, and that’s what you’re supposed to do, have fun and play. It’s professional playing. And it’s competitive. It’s full contact acting.”
When asked to explain how he competed with other actors on set, Chandler grinned a bit and then explained with excitement. “A lot of the scenes with Ben and I, there are some great scenes,” he said. “It’s great when you get to a scene where there’s so much involved between the two characters that he and I can just stand there and we’re looking for a different way to… a facial gesture, a tone, or maybe change the line to get up on the other guy? You know? It’s fun.”
“I’ve never ever had a day where I’d taken a photograph of Sissy Spacek and Sam Shephard’s chairs next to each other,” Mendelsohn said. “And that day I knew, ‘If I have to meet the maker,’ you know, ‘That’s it.’ I mean, I feel very special about that.”
“Linda and I, trying to get the last word in in scenes? Oh my God,” Chandler said. “In the first episode with the whole family gathered around, everyone leaves and it’s just Linda and I. What you don’t see is there are probably three more minutes of film because we start a whole other conversation. Like, I’ll walk off and she’ll say something and I’ll walk back on camera and we just start talking. They just let it roll. It was fun. […] She is funny, too. She’s sexy, hot, cool and funny.”
For anyone who’s already seen a few episodes of “Bloodline,” the above information isn’t anything new — Spacek is already a strong contender at this year’s Emmys, and the rest of the cast isn’t far behind. What may be surprising to learn, though, is just how hesitant Chandler and Mendelsohn are about revealing spoilers even to people who have already seen the show’s first major twist. [Spoiler warning: for those who have not seen the first episode of “Bloodline,” you may want to stop reading.]
In the very first episode of the series, “Bloodline” depicts the death of Mendelsohn’s character, Danny, seemingly at the hands of his “good” brother John. Though the time-jumping construction of the series prohibits any definitive truths, it appears Mendelsohn shan’t be returning, even if Season 2 gets the go ahead.
But Mendelsohn himself won’t speak to it.
“I think it would be unfair of me to comment on that,” Mendelsohn said. “There have been surprises even in what we’ve done to what is there, the way that these guys have structured it.”
Chandler is even more evasive, responding to the question with repeated and drawn out questions of his own. “I killed my brother? Did I? Did I kill my brother, and is my brother dead?”
Twists such as this one will play a huge part in the audience’s acceptance of the series, and these two actors think their show’s foundation justifies its many surprises.
“I certainly never felt it was a situation where we finished doing something and we got ripped off or we ripped off the story by not knowing,” Mendelsohn said, admitting there were “little suburbs of [Danny’s] internal map” he didn’t know while they were shooting. “In terms of the major stuff, I knew who he was.”
“The audience will say, ‘I believe that because it’s earned,'” Chandler said. “And that just comes with good storytelling and writing. So that’s why I’m really excited. Seeing the first two episodes, I was correct. It’s not the same show from the first two to the next two. It changes.”
“I think, as things unfold, people will be riveted by what is coming,” Mendelsohn said. “That’s my hope, and I’m reasonably confidant that that’s going to occur from the interaction I’ve had with people who have seen quite a few [episodes].”
No matter what happens in the show and for it, Chandler for one is pleased with the choice he made.
“Even if the show doesn’t get picked up again, I would’ve rather fallen into this world than another one because this was a great learning experience. It’s like paid acting class,” Chandler said.
Paid, “competitive,” and “full contact” acting class, that is.