Actor and Director Shawn Hatosy Talks About Broken Characters in “Animal Kingdom”

A chat with actor and director Shawn Hatosy about broken characters in “Animal Kingdom,” the world of actors and the importance of family.

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Playing the role of a bad guy convincingly takes a lot of skill; giving a bad guy nuance, depth and a genuine sense of humanity underneath the veneer of cruelty, now that’s something else. And that’s something that Shawn Hatosy has done for four seasons in hit TV series “Animal Kingdom.” Now that the fifth season of the show is on its way—a bit delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, but that’s not exactly unexpected—DA MAN reached out to the actor/director to learn more about his performance as the disturbingly-appealing Andrew “Pope” Cody and his thoughts about how the film industry is growing.

DA MAN: Hi, Shawn; thank you for making the time for this interview. How are you doing?
Shawn Hatosy: Currently I am social distancing and have been in lockdown with my family in Los Angeles.

DA: Not too long ago, “The Bygone”—which you star in—was made available for download on just about every major digital platform. In a nutshell, what is “The Bygone” about? What kind of film is it?
SH: “The Bygone” is a modern-day western about a young Native American girl who is fighting for her life. She’s suffered endless horrible abuse by white men and this film is about her survival.

DA: What would be your top three reasons for our readers to go download and watch this neo-western thriller?
SH: The film is beautifully shot, the performances are textured and raw and, if you’re in the mood to sit back and chill out with an old school western set in our modern world, this is the one for you.

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DA: Speaking of which, what is your opinion on today’s video on demand model where anybody can easily buy or rent a movie with just a few taps and then watch it practically anywhere and anytime?
SH: I love it. It makes it really easy to avoid watching things that are mediocre which, if you turn your cable provider on right now, that’s what you’ll see. This new way of watching is streamlined for you.

DA: Would you say that people are missing out on something if they passed on the chance to watch a movie on a big screen in a proper cinema?
SH: Well, yeah, I prefer watching movies at the theater, but as a last resort especially during a pandemic, why not?

DA: Back to “The Bygone,” the movie premiered in June last year, right? Right now, what do you remember most about working on it?
SH: We filmed in Oklahoma in the winter and I remember it being brutal with the wind and the dust. My character Paris has blue eyes and I had to wear contacts. So, with the wind and dust I was probably a little whinier than usual. Also, my youngest son Finn was born right before filming, so it was tough leaving the family…

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DA: And, of course, not too long from now, we’ll see you in the new season of “Animal Kingdom.” How do you think will season five top the previous four? Especially considering how season four ended…
SH: In season five for “Animal Kingdom” we have a rare opportunity to take the show in a totally different direction with the loss of Smurf [Janine “Smurf” Cody from seasons one through four]. This is not something you see that often—losing the lead character. And I think it provides an opportunity for the writers to explore new situations for the Cody family, which will give us a longer arc.

DA: On that note, “Animal Kingdom” obviously has its fair share of critics, but the show’s viewer numbers and approval ratings have been consistently high throughout all of the first four seasons. What would you say is the secret behind the steady success?
SH: I did not know we have critics. Who? I want names! Maybe Pope will pay a little visit with his latex gloves.

DA: Which brings us to your character, Andrew “Pope” Cody, who can be quite an unpleasant guy, to say the least. How do you step into the shoes of somebody like him? How do you take somebody who’s so broken and then tell his story in such an engaging way?
SH: All of the best characters are broken. What makes him so appealing is his loyalty and how he demonstrates flashes of being able to succeed in a normal day-to-day routine. It’s so damn heartbreaking to see that he just can’t keep the train on the tracks.

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DA: By the way, how much of Pope’s character comes from the script and how much comes
from you?
SH: I’ve worked hard trying to make Pope human. As written in the pilot, the guy was 95-percent monster but I think everyone in the writers’ room knew that finding his emotional truth would make him a compelling multidimensional character in the long run.

“All of the best characters are broken”

DA: What would you say is the most interesting part of seeing and directing the growth of your character throughout the show’s five seasons?
SH: Its always surprising to me that in each new season, when I think Pope can’t possibly become any more broken, these writers do a hell of a job reaching yet another bottomless low.

DA: On the flip side, what would you say is the most interesting behind-the-scenes goings on
of “Animal Kingdom”?
SH: I’ll tell you this one top secret piece of information: If we ever have to wait on set it’s always because somebody who will remain unnamed is going to the bathroom!

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DA: All in all, though, how fun is it to be part of the “Animal Kingdom” cast?
SH: Truly blessed to be a part of this cast. I love Finn, Jake and Ben [co-stars Finn Cole, Jake Weary and Ben Robson] like my own family.

DA: You’ve been acting for quite a long time and you have an extensive filmography of movies, TV shows and even theater. What do you think has been the biggest change affecting your profession in all those years?
SH: For sure the amount of TV that’s being produced in contrast to the lack of films other than the big franchise features. Everything that an actor dreams of is him happening on TV. It’s happening in film too, but film for the most part requires the kind of actor with name recognition or an Oscar. Working in TV is a wonderful time with endless content and tremendous talent crating these shows. And the people making the decisions in TV are a little more likely to take a risk when casting.

DA: Looking ahead, in what ways do you see the world of acting and filmmaking change even further?
SH: I think down the road we’re going to see more live events. How great will it be to see a classic theater performance like “Death of a Salesman” live streaming. But our shooting styles have advanced so much we’ll be able to capture it in an innovative way. A style that has yet to be achieved. You see what Sam Mendes did with “1917”—it just blows me away.

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DA: You’ve also tried your hand at behind the camera work, directing two episodes of “Animal Kingdom.” Is this something you’ll be doing more of in the future?
SH: For sure, I’m gearing up to direct episode 5-11, which is coming soon!

DA: What would your dream project look like? Are there any particular genres, mediums,
people, etc. you’d like to work with someday?
SH: Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson and Christopher Nolan are the filmmakers I admire the most.

“Everything that an actor dreams of is him happening on TV”

DA: Looking at your Twitter account, there’s a pinned tweet from 2014 that goes: Someone on the street asked me if I was an actor & I said “I’m not just any actor, I’m the greatest
actor of all time” & I started sobbing.. In your opinion, what does it take for an actor to be “great” in this day and age?
SH: Listen, I’ve reached this point in my career where I can honestly say that I appreciate the actors who claim to be method actors. But in my opinion, the true sign of a great actor is the ability to pull off a transformative performance and also not be a complete d*ckhead in the process.

DA: What do you consider your greatest achievement so far?
SH: I’m feeling good about what I’ve achieved in my career but I’d be no one without my family.

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