Finding the balance between good and bad, finding the animal DNA of a character to fully embrace and finding in the bad things that happen in life the inspiration to create something good.
Rhys Wakefield is all the above and much more. We met him in LA not long ago and we talked about his new series “Reprisal,” his first time behind the camera for the feature film “Berserk” which he also wrote and starred in, and that came to be following one of those bad experiences we were talking before (but we don’t want to give away too much).
Lastly, we couldn’t but talk about a passion we have in common “True Detective” in the 3rd season of which Rhys also happened to have starred in.
We can’t wait to see more of his many projects in development and we know he’ll always be on time, sometimes even a bit too early!
What can you unveil about your new TV series “Reprisal?”
“Reprisal” is a fast-paced noir thriller, ultimately about a group of individuals who’ve all been underestimated, I believe, over the course of their lives. We meet these individuals at their breaking point, to become something new, to not be underestimated anymore, to reclaim their power in the world and there’s something very poignant about that to me. It’s very colorful and poppy, but still dark. It’s very interesting how, to Josh Corbin’s credit, the creator, he has been able to gather this wildly bold poppy comic book almost like a graphic novel word, and then one scene later, it reminds you that it’s all very dark and very real, and the stakes are very high. In the same way, I think, a Cohen brothers’ film does that very well, where it goes from being very comedic and then suddenly very dark because someone’s just been murdered and in a very comedic way. It’s a comedy as tragedy sped up and I think Josh has an ability to slow down that comedy occasionally and remind us of the tragedy when he needs to.
“We meet these individuals at their breaking point, to become something new, to not be underestimated anymore, to reclaim their power in the world and there’s something very poignant about that to me.”
How would you describe your character Matty and how did you prepare for the role?
I would describe Matty as an individual who’s gone through some significant amount of trauma in his past, which is what probably forces him to revert this outer dominant façade, this kind of hyper-masculine individual that he presents himself as. But what’s so lovely about him is that he’s on this breaking point of becoming good or evil and so I do see him in my mind as almost the Joker before the Joker goes totally broken and crazy and is out to hurt people for the sake of hurting people. I don’t think that this young person has injured that amount of suffering or mental health issues, but I just love teetering, I love being able to play with the balance of that, how much heart this individual has versus how much unpredictable, scary nature that he can bring to a situation.
Your character is violent in some ways and he seems to deal with dangerous situations from the trailer. Was there a scene that you found quite difficult or intense to shoot?
There have been quite a few scenes that I would say have been quite difficult to shoot. This character is so far away from who I am in my day to day life, he’s very violent, there’s this animalistic quality to him that we’ve been trying to bring, even with the costumes designers we discussed that there’s this cobra-like quality to this individual, he wanted to charm you and entrance you with his words, but there’s something really scary and quick and unpredictable that could come about him. What’s curious is his evolution in the course of the series. I always find animals are inspiring for a character’s basis, every character has an animal to which their DNA is close, so I think that informs a great amount of this character. I used a cobra and throughout the series, his arch was to transform into a lion and I know that sounds pretentious, but the qualities of these animals are amazing inside how we function.
“I love being able to play with the balance of that, how much heart this individual has versus how much unpredictable, scary nature that he can bring to a situation.”
“I used a cobra and throughout the series, his arch was to transform into a lion and I know that sounds pretentious, but the qualities of these animals are amazing inside how we function.”
How would you describe the series in one word?
What do you look for before saying yes to a project and what was the thing that made you say yes to this series?
Ultimately, it’s about a textured character. I tend to go for dark characters because they feel further removed from me, so if the character feels like I can wear its mask, I’m more inclined to go for it, and Matty is that, and I just loved the story: the core of the story in this project is the theme of family, which is “is our family the one we were born into, or is it the one that we find in the course of our lives?” and “Which one owns us more and which one we let own us more?”. I find that quite beautiful in this story and these gangs that all of these individuals are in are their representation of the family they don’t have, so I was very drawn to the texture of that and of the world.
“Which one owns us more and which one we let own us more?”
On “Berserk,” how was the experience as first time director, writer, actor and producer of a film?
That was a monumental experience! [laugh] It was a massive undertaking, but I feel so fortunate that I had surrounded myself with amazing producers able to source me with an amazing crew who delivered above and beyond what they really had to, and an incredible cast that was so enthusiastic about the project. Going back to what I said earlier, in the video, about flowers growing from darker experiences, an individual tried to break into my home at 6 a.m., that was not great and was sad for that individual trying to break in, obviously, they’re very desperate for whatever they need or want, and it was not great to wake up and go from zero to one hundred. I was in my pajamas and I started screaming at the top of my lungs like a crazy person, and the first thing I said was “what the fuck do you want from us?” Anyway, he ran away and everything was fine, there was this instant where I was in the final fight mentality, where I was very inspired by it, I felt closer to my animal self at that moment, it was this feeling of “do you defend yourself and engage in violence, or do you let it go?” and thank God I let it go. It was that feeling that inspired this idea, so I felt very fortunate over that experience. I’m very proud of how the movie came together, Nick Cannon was a huge champion of the script that I wrote after that experience and so people came aboard and it was a real lighter of love, the first of numerous projects I now have in pre-production and in development, which is very cool.
“Do you defend yourself and engage in violence, or do you let it go?”
What was the most challenging part of doing it all and how did you overcome it?
The most challenging part of the directing experience of “Berserk” was starring in it as well, which I did just because we couldn’t afford to pay another actor, so I just did it out of necessity, and I don’t think I would do that again. I love being behind the camera and being able to see these gifts that the actors can gift you in the moment or on the day, between “action” and “cut,” there’s something so ephemeral and so electric about that, especially when you can empower them to own their character. I truly loved being able to apply every experience I’ve had through my exposure to directors on every other set that I’ve had, and apply every quality I found to be good for the actors and crew’s experience on set. So, it was a lot and I didn’t have my lead actor, he had stuff come up on the first day of shooting, and we had scheduled all of his stuff on the first day of shooting, so it was a lot! [laughs] I’m excited about the other projects to come because of that project, which is very cool.
Can you tell us something about your next projects?
I have a slightly larger scale film that is a suburban sci-fi that I’ve written, called “The Skin,” which is kind of like “The Birds” meets “Edward Scissorhands” meets “E.T.” and it has a very Americana aesthetic with which I’m obsessed, I think it’s so interesting and I think the pop culture that is in America is like nowhere else, so I love that. The “Keeping Up with the Joneses” nature of that, this idea of everyone having to have the same amount of stuff, that’s part of the aesthetic of this kind of project. It’s about a young man who receives a new skin and returns home and is unrecognizable. I’m developing this other project with a company called QCode, which is a fiction-based podcast company, so it’s a science-fiction podcast about a missing spaceship that returns to Earth. That’s really fun, I love the creative side of it, I love that I get to work with a bunch of creators from the acting perspective, so that it informs the storytelling.
“The most challenging part of the directing experience of ‘Berserk’ was starring in it as well.”
We also need to talk about “True Detective,” which we love. We loved your character, who’s also a turning point of the story: how did you prepare for him?
Thank you for the compliments! That was a very dark role and a very dark project, the contents, the themes that we were dealing with, were very heavy. I suppose once you find the character and you put in the time, the energy and the prep phase, you figure out who this person is, in my case a younger person than myself, so I based him on every young person that I knew, any family member that I have who was younger than me and what makes them tick or what makes them scared, what they’re intimidated by. I loved my fellow actors, obviously Mahershala Ali, who was spectacular, and Stephen Dorff, they both made it so real that you start feeling that it’s real, that you are in it and it’s happening, while they’re pressing ‘record’ on the camera, so credit to those guys who were spectacular and credit to my other two co-stars of those three boys, Richard Meehan and Brandon Flynn, they’re both younger than me and I felt we got to really hang out and I got to absorb their youthful energy and bring it to that character.
How was working with Nic Pizzolato, who did the other two series as well?
He also directed for the first time in the third season, which was a huge deal and undertaking for him. I’m such a fan of him and his work, when I first saw the first season of “True Detective” I thought it was mind-blowing, my friends and I were fanboying and fangirling and the fact that I got to be a part of Nic’s vision was very wild. When we were at the first table read, I found it incredibly surreal, because all of HBO were there and Nic was sitting directly in front of me, Mahershala was beside me, Carmen [Ejogo] was beside me, it was very scary. I think I passed out after it, I was exhausted from adrenalin, my legs were tapping under the table, I didn’t want to be fired, I didn’t want to look or sound like a shit actor. Nic’s amazing and, as a director, I’m such a fan of his, I sincerely can’t wait to see more of what he directs. His language to the actors was quite profound, he said things that really got into my head and that made my performance more textured than it would have been if he hadn’t said those things.
“His language to the actors was quite profound, he said things that really got into my head and that made my performance more textured than it would have been if he hadn’t said those things.”
Who’s your favorite movie character of all time?
Marty McFly or maybe Doc. Emmett Brown from “Back to the Future,” one of those guys.
What’s your favorite accent to do?
I liked doing a Texan-Southern for “True Detective,” which was very enjoyable, because it was subtle, the balance not to make it over the top and not to make it just sound like a Californian American accent, it would have been a mistake. I love accents, they’re such a great way of hiding who you really are.
The last TV series you binge-watched?
I guess HBO “Succession,” which is kind of dense, but very good, those characters are very awful people, they’re quite vile individuals [laughs], but for some reason, I’m rooting for them all.
“I love accents, they’re such a great way of hiding who you really are.”
What’s your happy place?
I would say a beach in Sydney if that makes sense, specifically, the Northern beaches are pretty amazing.
Your must-have on set?
I don’t really have one, I guess just a lot of water and my wireless headphones now, I’m obsessed with those, I love them just because I go over my lines audibly, so I have them in my ear, and I also listen to music when I’m chilling, getting in the place.
What’s your go-to music?
I love Pink Floyd, it’s so cinematic and it has so much emotion into the lyrics, and I also go to soundtrack scores a lot, to get me very much in the mood. I think music is the highest art form, the one that you can dip into without any context.
An epic fail on the job?
I’ve come to work a full 24 hours early before, that’s how over-prepared I was, and what’s so funny and stupid is that I thought I was running 30 minutes late and that’s why I ran in like an idiot and said, “I’m so sorry, I’m going to go straight in the costumes and I’m going straight to the makeup” and they were like “you’re a full 24 hours early, you’re not required until tomorrow, you stupid fool” [laughs].
What was for you the most beautiful thing while filming “Reprisal?”
There is this one scene in the pilot that is all one take, and the cameraman was the camera operator on “La La Land” and he’s one of the best steady camera operators in the world and the cinematographer Larkin Seiple is wildly talented, the vision of these people was incredible, so in the scene, there’s Madison Davenport’s character roaming through this big night club and the camera just doesn’t cut for almost two minutes and it’s a beautifully choreographed dance and it’s perfect. When I was watching that b-shot from the monitors, I was jumping up and down like a little boy, because I felt like I was part of something special, no matter how this is received, it’s just so cool to me to think that this shot exists in a show that I’m part of, and when you’ll see it, you’ll know it, it’s very cool and she’s a pro, it’s like a dance, how she moves through it, and our cameraman is unaffected by the crowds of people that are dancing around.