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Ryan Kwanten & Gayle Rankin Talk Filming Challenging Scenes

Dec 29, 2022


[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for Kindred.]Adapted from the acclaimed Octavia Butler novel, the FX series Kindred (available to stream at Hulu) follows Dana James (Mallori Johnson), a young Black woman who has just moved to Los Angeles to start the next chapter of her life. Not long after arriving to her new place of residence, she inexplicably finds herself time traveling to a 19th century plantation that’s linked to her bloodline, and even though she has no control over when she gets pulled back and forth, she endures in the hope that she’ll find some answers.

During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, co-stars Ryan Kwanten (who plays Thomas Weylin, the slave owner and master of the tobacco farm that Dana finds herself pulled to) and Gayle Rankin (who plays Margaret Weylin, Tom’s wife and the mother of their son, Rufus) talked about serving the story in a way that adds to Butler’s legacy, playing Tom without passing judgment, why Rankin sees Margaret as a tragic character, shooting the whipping scene, the most challenging moment for Rankin, bonding with the young actor that plays their son, and how their characters might fare if they were to time travel to modern day.
COLLIDER VIDEO OF THE DAY
Collider: When this came your way, had you been aware of the novel? Did you know what you were getting yourself into when you read the script, or did you take a journey with this, as you learned about where the story would take you?

RYAN KWANTEN: Even if you know the novel, as an actor, you’re being thrown into that world, so you can’t help but delve deeper. With our characters, there’s a darkness within that have to access, that isn’t exactly a comfortable place or a place that we want to go to, in order to bring some level of authenticity to this, and that was my lot. That was what you have to do to serve the story and know that we are doing, at least with our intention, everything we can to add more to Octavia’s legacy.

Image via FX Networks

Gayle, was it the same for you? Had you read the book? How did all of it start, as far as your entry into the story?

GAYLE RANKIN: My entry into the story, I’d known Octavia Butler’s work a little bit before. I’d read Parable of the Sower. And I knew Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ work, so I knew we were in good hands. My first audition scenes, scenes written by our wonderful writer Noah Rubenstein, didn’t actually end up making it into the show, but I was completely arrested by the work and even the audition scenes. I was like, “Well, this is extremely complex and amazing.” And then, I went on to read the book multiple times, and went on a journey with it. It was definitely a journey for me.

Ryan, when you play a character like this, how do you approach him? Do you try to understand him, as opposed to sympathizing with him? He’s a man who clearly has some insecurities, and he seems to find strength and power in brutalizing people. How do you wrap your head around that, when you’re trying to figure him out?

KWANTEN: I can’t pass judgment. That’s how I start with it. I don’t want to categorize him as this or that. Yes, there are certain attributes that he most definitely has. Like you said, there’s a callousness to him, a righteousness, and a pridefulness. I think it was Emily Brontë that said, “Proud people breed sad sorrows for themselves.” This is a very sad, frail man, at the end of the day. He hides it behind a bombastic front, but at the end of the day, no audience member is going to want to be like Tom Weylin. Yet, at the same time, it’s important for me to stay true to what Branden and Octavia had previously already set up.

Branden was kind enough to give us an enormous amount of leeway in playing the characters. Obviously, there’s dialogue, but it’s up to us as to how we fill in the beats, in between. I was fortunate enough to have great dance partners, like Gayle, that I could bounce ideas back and forth with, try things on the day and in the spur of the moment, and we could get as real as we possibly could.

Gayle, with your character, you can see how the way that she lashes out really comes from the way that she’s treated by her husband. There are moments that she either withdraws or she just lashes out. Even though that doesn’t justify her behavior, how did you feel about her?

RANKIN: She’s a tragic character. They both are, in so many ways. Not to gain sympathy by saying that, but it’s a tragedy that their humanity led them in this direction. It’s learned behavior, and it’s so in line with what Octavia was exploring, in such a deep way. What do we pass on with generational trauma? How do we put a dam in the water to cut something off? Is it possible? And Margaret’s learned behavior and is responding to trauma and abuse in an obviously horrendous way. She’s just not dealing with it very well, to say the least.

KWANTEN: It’s like, can you stop the bleeding? The show is very much an open wound, if history would tell us anything.

Image via FX Networks

In a story like this, there are moments that are tough to watch and things that are tough to hear. As the actors, you not only have to say and do them, but you have to do that in a way that comes naturally for your characters because it’s who they are and what they know. How hard is that to do, once you get on set, and you’re saying those things to your co-stars? How do you deal with that, personally, when the scene is done?

RANKIN: It’s a process, like everything in this life. It’s important to check in and read the room and see how everyone’s feeling and doing, and then respectfully understand that this is in service of story. We all know and trust in that and believe in that, and we’re all doing this for the right reasons, so it feels like we’re all in this together, in some way. That doesn’t make it not difficult or challenging for different people, at different times. You just have to try to be aware.

Ryan, how hard was that for you? Were there moments when you just didn’t want to do a scene anymore?

KWANTEN: Yes, but you do it. I made a point of isolating myself when I felt those tremors coming up. I would go and find a tree and sit underneath it, to get in contact with nature. For me, that was a big way to ground myself again and to refill the vessel of goodness. I did separate myself from the cast when we were shooting, for my own sanity. It was hard for me to go to these places, and I didn’t want to sometimes go back to the cast chairs and get on my phone, and start dealing with modern day problems or distractions. I needed to stay somewhat in the world and in the character.

The whipping scene is just so difficult to watch. What was that like to shoot? Did you have many conversations, prior to shooting that scene, about what that would be?

KWANTEN: Yeah, very much so. Disney employed an intimacy coordinator that was there with us, throughout the whole season. It was very thoroughly talked about, across the board. I’m obviously talking about Mallori [Johnson] and myself, but also every extra that was there that day and the crew members had the facility to go and talk to anyone, at any point in time, whatever it was that they wanted to talk about. A show like this and a story like this doesn’t get told without that level of respect. We can go to those places because we ticked all those boxes and were like “Okay, everyone knows we’re going to go there, but we’re not going to stay there forever. But know that this is in service to something greater than us right now.”

Image via FX Networks

Gayle, was there a hardest scene for you to do, or are they all hard with something like this?

RANKIN: Yeah, it was mostly all challenging, in one way or another. We actually had a lot of nice time on set, as well. We tried to enjoy one another because that’s really important, as much as we could, whilst respecting what everybody needed. A scene that was really difficult was one that involved enslaved children in Episode 3. That was really difficult, for very obvious reasons. And then, there was another scene that Mallori and I shot, that snuck up on both of us. It was a scene that’s actually in the book, which is really interesting because Octavia Butler doesn’t pull any punches and there’s no fat in her novel, so she wrote that scene for a reason. It was when I throw tea, which was coffee in the book, in Mallori’s, or Dana’s, face. That really snuck up on both of us. It was a really desperate scene, and it was humiliating and hard to shake off, for both of us. There was a lot of female energy in that.

KWANTEN: I remember seeing Gayle. I had a scene after her, so I had just arrived to the trailers, as she was walking back, and it was just this shell of a human woman, walking towards me. We hugged, and it was like, “Let’s not talk about it.” I knew this thing that she was shooting, and I could tell that it was pretty harrowing. There was a lot of that type of feeling on set, where you go to these emotionally vulnerable places, and you can’t help but feel a connection, even if it’s unsaid, with your fellow cast mates and crew. They’re there with us, they’re experiencing that, and that’s a collective spirit that’s there.

RANKIN: Yeah.

There’s something so interesting about the dynamic between all of you, as a family, because there are moments when you see their behavior starting to have an effect on Rufus. What was it like to work with that young actor and to find that dynamic with him, but also have that conversation with a child who was on set?

RANKIN: He’s extraordinary.

KWANTEN: Yeah, David [Kaplan] is emotionally smart, beyond his years, and he has great parents. Alan, his father, was always there and making sure that, from a psychological standpoint, we’re not going to scar the kid for life. But it was also important for us to talk to him about what we were going to do, to take away the element of surprise, in this type of circumstance. You don’t want to be too overbearing with him. I just wanted him to know certain things that I was going to be doing. Whereas sometimes with the older actors, you can throw things at them, and they’ll deal with it, I didn’t want that with him.

Image via FX Networks

In moments, you can see the love that’s shared between them, but then you also see how their behavior and the way they treat other people is starting to seep into him, really perpetuating that cycle.

RANKIN: Yeah.

KWANTEN: Generational trauma is a bitch.

Have you thought at all about, if these two characters were ever to time travel into Dana’s present, what they would think of that?

KWANTEN: I haven’t.

RANKIN: I don’t think I can. There’s a sneaky part of me that’s like, “Oh, what if? What would that be?” I dream about it for her, on her behalf. But she’s also quite limited.

KWANTEN: It’d almost be like Encino Man, or something. Remember that Brendan Fraser movie?

RANKIN: Absolutely.

KWANTEN: Don’t get me wrong, it would have more heightened implications, but it would be that fish out of water type of situation, tonally. It would feel like an alien race to them, I’m sure.

RANKIN: Mm-hmm.

Kindred is available to stream at Hulu.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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