The King’s Speech: Exclusive interview with Owen Teague

American actor Owen Teague shares with DAMAN about “The Stand,” Stephen King and more

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Just like many of his peers in the industry, American actor Owen Teague started his career with minor roles here and there. For sure, though, he worked his way steadily upwards. Of His first big break came when he appeared in the critically acclaimed Netflix original series “Bloodline,” which was followed by Stephen King’s “It” and “It Chapter Two” where he played Patrick Hockstetter. Then came the HBO limited series “Mrs. Fletcher.” Interestingly, his filmography thus far has shown a strong penchant for darker characters.

At the moment, Teague is primarily known for being part of the highly anticipated CBS All Access adaptation of another post-apocalyptic epic by Stephen King titled “The Stand,” as Harold Lauder. The show takes place in a world after a deadly, weaponized virus wipes out over 99-percent of the population. It goes without saying that the show present significant cultural and political parallels to today’s world. Aside to that, later this year you’ll be able to see him on the big screen once again in the films “To Leslie” and “Montana Story.” By the looks of it, what we’ve seen so far is only the start of a stellar showbiz career.

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DAMAN: Hi Owen, thanks for having us! How are you doing these days?
Owen Teague:
Yes, thank you! I’m doing okay. I’m lucky in a sense that everyone close to me has carefully gotten through the last twelve months.

DAMAN: So, there are a lot of your earlier and current works that caught our attention, but one really stood out: “The Stand,” which is currently airing. How excited are you right now about it?
Owen Teague:
I’m happy that people have responded positively to the show. I’ve heard a lot of really nice things, which feels good.

DAMAN: For some of our readers who might be unfamiliar with the title, can you give us a brief rundown of “The Stand”?
Owen Teague:
In “The Stand,” there’s a plague and half the surviving human race rallies around a blonde-haired autocrat who feeds on hatred and fear and is really just using all of his followers to … oh wait, that’s real life. [Chuckles]. In the show, the plague wipes out 99-percent of humanity, and the survivors come together in two groups: one good, one evil. There’s a biblical battle between the two sides and some of Stephen King’s greatest characters along the way.

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DAMAN: What would you say are the best arguments to follow the show right now?
Owen Teague: It’s quite relevant, not just in terms of the plague, but also the political elements of our time. In preparing for my character, Harold Lauder, I found a lot of insight into the psychology of young men who join alt-right movements. The show emphasizes the choice factor in those sorts of people—to give into the kind of hate that some movements prey on is a choice, and a choice borne of fear. I think it’s important to explore how people fall into these movements, so that we can prevent those systems of thought from gaining traction.

DAMAN: Have you read the novel prior to receiving the script for the show? And on a related note, did you grow up a Stephen King fan?
Owen Teague: Definitely yes. I grew up as a King fan and it started around fifth grade. The novel itself is also a favorite of mine.

DAMAN: Can you tell us more about Harold Lauder?
Owen Teague: My character is bullied and tormented by the inhabitants of his hometown in Maine. Throughout the plague, he carries with him this armor of resentment and rage. It’s this armor that prevents him from finding a new life, and a new identity in the post-plague society. In short, King basically predicted the incel—involuntary celibate.

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DAMAN: Did you create your own version of the character? Or did you try to stay true to the version that Stephen King created?
Owen Teague:
I stayed as true as I could to what King wrote. The show is updated for the present day, so I brought in a lot of the ideas I found in incel forums on the internet—and writings I read by young men who’ve committed large-scale violence, who I will not be naming. But my main source was the book.

I tried to expand on what King wrote, in terms of Harold’s inner life and thinking and his political aspirations for Flagg’s—played by Alexander Skarsgård—government. This led me to mid-century “traditionalist” philosophy, much of which is now the basis for alt-right and white supremacist groups. I think my take on Harold may actually be darker and more deranged than what King originally wrote, but this is a dark period of history. I wanted him to reflect the kinds of attitudes we see so frequently that are now driving the actions of terrorists in the U.S.

DAMAN: All in all, how did you prepare yourself to step into the shoes of a man like that?
Owen Teague: In short, I read a lot. Every page Lauder appears on in my copy of the novel is bookmarked and notated. As I said, a lot of philosophy, not just traditionalism but also Machiavelli, Hobbes, Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. I ended up contacting a criminologist at the University of South Florida, Dr. Briana Fox. I learned a lot from her about juvenile offenders who commit violent crimes—childhood circumstances, trauma, how everything adds up and changes the brain functioning of victims. She sent me studies and questionnaires, which I filled out in character, about “Adverse Childhood Experiences,” or ACE—indications that a person will become an offender and crucial aids in prevention. Each ACE—be that physical abuse, mental abuse, neglect, divorce, or something else—affects the victim exponentially, the effect of one compounding another. Lauder’s life experiences included seven factors. Aside to that, I also wrote a lot. The “manifesto” Lauder writes in the show was something I wrote for myself off-set on my portable Hermes typewriter, all 140-some pages of it.

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DAMAN: Do you have any particularly memorable on-set stories you can share with us?
Owen Teague: There’s a scene in episode four where Lauder gets beaten to a pulp by a man that he and Fran—played by Odessa Young—meet on the road. We shot that scene for two days, in sunny but miserably cold weather. Twelve hours a day of me getting kicked, dragged and slapped across freezing pavement. I think that’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do on camera, at least physically.

DAMAN: Interestingly, your filmography thus far has shown a strong tendency towards darker characters. What was it about Harold that made this show strike your interest in the first place?
Owen Teague:
I hadn’t attempted to capture the smell of body odor as performance before. But in seriousness, I grew up loving the novel. And Lauder was so interesting to me because of how dark a character he is, while still being sympathetic and, at times, even funny. I could get completely bizarre with him and still feel truthful. I also had never played someone I was genuinely scared of, who made me really uncomfortable. I don’t think I realized that consciously when I took the job; that part came later. But I knew I’d have to go to new places in him.

DAMAN: How does this role differ from others you’ve played in the past?
Owen Teague: I’ve played “villains” in the past, but they’re often fun villains. People who are creepy and insane but still somewhat romantic. You can detach them from reality, but you really can’t detach Lauder from reality. There are so many guys like him in the world. He can play the part of the “fun” villain, but it’s an act, even within my portrayal of him.

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DAMAN: Is there anything you learned while playing Harold Lauder that you think was important to take away the rest of your acting career?
Owen Teague:
Always have a way back to yourself afterwards.

DAMAN: Ultimately, what do you hope audiences take with them after they’ve watched “The Stand”?
Owen Teague:
I think it’s a show about power and how destructive power can be when put in the hands of someone who preys on the weaknesses and fears of desperate people. Choice is at the center of the show’s depiction of society’s reformation—whether you choose to take the risk and adapt and grow, or retreat into what’s comfortable, even if that comfort comes at the cost of others or even yourself. That’s how you give someone like Flagg power—you choose the fearful beliefs, the shutting out of people who are different or in disagreement with your ideas. You dehumanize them and allow the power holder to spin them into the enemy. Also, I hope people who haven’t read the book will read it. It’s so well-realized and inspiring.

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DAMAN: If we’re not mistaken, you’re also set to appear in “To Leslie” and “Montana Story.” Can you tell us a bit about these films and your role in them?
Owen Teague: They’re both intimate films about different forms of abuse. I shot “Montana Story” in November and had a great experience, even in the midst of the pandemic. We had a tiny cast and crew, and everyone felt like they were there because of the story we were telling and their connection to it. Haley Lu Richardson and I play estranged siblings who come home after many years to our comatose father. It’s a really heavy script, but she made it so much fun.

On the other hand, “To Leslie” is about a woman’s battle with alcoholism, and I play her estranged son. Andrea Riseborough plays Leslie, and it was wonderful to work with her again, as we shot “Bloodline” together about five years ago. Our director, Michael Morris, was also on “Bloodline,” so it was a little reunion. He’s a fantastic director, one of the rarities who really understands the process of the actor and can speak in that language. And, of course, Riseborough is ridiculously talented. She’s a chameleon.

DAMAN: Do you have anything like a dream project? Or perhaps a bucket list of stories and people you really want to work with?
Owen Teague:
I love playing real-life figures because there’s so much to work with. People have asked me if there’s another Stephen King character that I’d like to play, and if there is, I don’t know. However, I’d love to play King himself if they ever make a biopic. He’s had a fascinating life, and it would be an honor to play one of my favorite authors. He and Nick Cave are my two biopic picks.

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DAMAN: Last but not least, what was the most inspiring, badass or otherwise awesome line that you ever had the pleasure of saying in front of a camera?
Owen Teague: I won’t say the name of the movie since the scenario is a huge spoiler, but a movie I did a few years back pits my character against another in a revenge mission. My character has finally confronted the other, his one-time abuser, and the abuser character is trying to explain to my character why he did the things he did to me. I cut him off and with a gun raised at his head I say: “I don’t give a f*ck.” And then I fire the gun and he dies. I always thought that was a pretty awesome line.