Warning: Spoilers Ahead
I can’t remember when I heard about this show, but it piqued my interest immediately. As a huge Friday Night Lights fan, I got excited when I heard Kyle Chandler was attached. And as someone who watched — and loved — the creative direction of every season of Damages, I was really excited to see what that team would do next.
BloodlineÂ tells the story of the Rayburn family. The eldest brother, Ben Mendelsohnâ€™s Danny, is the black sheep of the family. When he returns home he exposes the emotional demons that lie at the core of his family, threatening to tear them apart.
On if Danny’s a dangerous person and the meatiness of the role.
Ben Mendelsohn: â€œYeah, it’s a very meaty role to play. Is he dangerous? In the context of this family, yeah. Yeah, he is. But whether that means he’s intrinsically dangerous, I don’t know. In the setup that’s going on in this family, yeah, he’s dangerous. He’s their dynamite and he’s an unstable dynamite. A lot of this show deals with the whys and hows and wherefores of that.â€
Todd A. Kessler: â€œAre you dangerous, Ben?â€
Ben: â€œIn context.â€
On as film actors, if theyâ€™ve reached a point where thereâ€™s no distinction between working on a film on in television in terms of prestige.
Sissy Spacek: â€œI think so. I’m a fool for a good story and these filmmakers are very talented. So I just wanted to be a part of that.â€
On what Sissy Spacek found interesting about her character.
Sissy: â€œThis is a brandâ€‘new template for me. It was a new learning curve, serialized film. I met with Glenn [Kessler] and he told me the story, talked me through. But there was a certain leap of faith that I took because of who the creators are and what they’ve done. And I was interested in a family drama and certainly in a psychological thriller, but I’m like a kindergartener. Some of the people on this panel have done this before. I was a real newbie, so I was trying to figure out what in my film history prepared me for this. It’s been exciting. It’s challenging. I have new respect for this genre, but I’m thrilled to be a part of it. There’s a really deep well of talent.â€
On if knowing they had 13 episodes to tell the story, the producers were more forthcoming about their characters secrets.
Norbert Leo Butz: â€œNo, they did not tell us and I thrived on that. I really did. There began to be this process where you were not able to get ahead of them, which I loved. You were discovering the character in front of the camera. I’ve come from the theatre. I’ve done most of my work on New York stages and there was a spontaneity to the work, sometimes because we are shooting in the Keys chasing light a lot and constantly watching the sun. Things had to be done, not quickly, but with a lot of focus. I loved that. I loved not being able to predetermine what I was going to do on a particular episode. â€˜I’m going to show this on this episode.â€™ It didn’t work like that.â€
On having an impressive cast and what it is about the small screen thatâ€™s drawing such high-caliber actors.
Glenn Kessler: â€œWe are remarkably fortunate to have the cast assembled that we have. From our experience, the three of us [Glenn, Todd and Daniel Zelman], I would say what we recognize is that the serialized medium we are participating in, particularly on Netflix — knowing ahead of time that we were going to have 13 episodes to tell this story, to create characters that really start in one place and have an arc that bring them to a very different place by the end of the season, and to know that when you are able to assemble a cast like this that can do anything you throw at them and elevate it to a whole new level — it seems that that’s a very attractive proposition for people who work in a craft at a very high level, to be able to play characters that genuinely evolve over a season and to flesh out 360 degrees around these characters. But it’s interesting to hear from the cast because they’ve done it in spectacular fashion this season and is something that we are very excited about.â€
On setting the show in Florida and what it is about that state that makes this kind of story appealing.
Daniel Zelman: â€œWe came to Florida through a few different routes. One of them is we wanted to put something on television that isn’t on television, a visual landscape that you can’t see anywhere else. The vistas down there and that just incredible turquoise water that goes on forever is something we feel isn’t on television.
We wanted the story to be about a family who is known in their community without being some big, wealthy dynasty kind of family — just a normal family but known in their community. The island nature of things down there is such that it’s a very, very small world. As the season and series progresses, these people do certain things that they would like to escape, would like to run away from. We like the idea of setting the thriller aspect of the show in a place where you can’t really get away from it. Everyone knows you, so the things that happen in your life are there for everyone to see no matter how hard you try to hide them.
Itâ€™s always been a family drama meets thriller and we like the idea that when it becomes more of a thriller, that it’s being set in a place that is, on the surface, paradise. But it has this underbelly of darkness and strangeness down there, which you see in the first season. The landscape itself has [this] swampy, manâ€‘grove kind of feel to it, and then there’s also the pristine waters.
We like the idea of setting the show in a place where the darkness is something that is happening in their lives but isn’t necessarily so apparent on the surface. So there were a couple of different things that brought us there. Then we went down and really spent some time there and absorbed it and it just felt like a very unique place that would serve all of these purposes that we were trying to serve.â€
On if they based these characters on any particular family.
Todd: â€œGlenn and I are brothers and we’ve known Daniel now for about 25Â years. Damages, for us, was very much about the professional world and our experiences entering the professional world. Over the years, what we’ve realized is that our conversations have been very much filled with stories about family, stories that are our own personal stories, stories from friends, people we care about, obviously.Â So we wanted to do something that was allowing us to dig into the earth, so to speak, of families and pull up stories and invent off of our own lives.
This is not the story of either of our families, but there are things in everything that we do. The same with the actors. We ask and hope that people will join us to share in things that are personal to them and we hope that’s what resonates with an audience, because family is so universal, but we also feel like there’s never really been a family drama quite like this one and that’s something that we are very excited to offer to the audience.â€
On whatâ€™s similar to Todd and his family.
Todd: â€œIn terms of storytelling, we like to keep those things behind a wall. It’s an interesting thing, because what one thing that has come to light and what we’ve put in the show is that they’re in this family. There are four adult siblings and there’s an age range. Ben plays Danny, who is the eldest. Linda [Cardellini] plays the youngest and while the family experiences things in their lives, when a child is 14Â years old, they have very different experiences and different memories from their younger sister who at that time is six years old.
Those are the kinds of things that we really wanted to dig into and look at siblings and look at parents and look at those relationships and realize, yes, we’ve all grown up in the same family, but those events have been interpreted differently because we’re at different ages and how we hold on to those events and oftentimes don’t look back and say, â€˜Wait a second. That was through a sixâ€‘yearâ€‘old’s perspectiveâ€™ or, â€˜That was a 14â€‘yearâ€‘old’s perspective.â€™ Those are the kind of things more thematically that we’re interested in getting through in the series.â€
Glenn: â€œAnother element that we feel is pretty universal — and we were fortunate with the cast that we have, to be able to explore it as fully as we were hoping to — is the idea that within every family there are roles that people play. When you are a young person, those roles most often are defined and then maintain themselves into adulthood and into middle age. This is a family for whom these roles have not really been explored.
We understand that Ben’s character is the black sheep of the family. We start to understand thatÂ â€‘â€‘ these are very simple terms. Because he was the black sheep of the family and because he was in common with Sam Shepard‘s character, events happened within the family at a very young age and started to define people. Kyle’s character, the second oldest son, is thrust into the role of responsible child and that’s a role that he’s been forced to play his entire life.
The same has happened for Norbert‘s character as well as Linda’s character. The idea that as one approaches middle age, and these ideas within a familyÂ â€‘â€‘ even though it’s a very loving, supportive, caring family — the idea that people are stuck in these roles, no matter how far away they get from their family, when they return, is a very universal feeling. You come home for Thanksgiving and someone is treating you in the same way they treated you when you were an adolescent.
This is a story about a family who at this point in their lives, in middle age or approaching middle age, those roles are changing and cracks start to happen, this is what starts to inform. This is the motor behind the thriller elements of the story. To us, it’s a very personal thing. We all play roles within our family. What happens when you get to a point where you are no longer willing to play those roles? Can the family function and can it survive? That is a theme that is personal to us and something we feel is universal as well.â€
On the unique storytelling style of Damages and if weâ€™ll see that in Bloodline.
Daniel: â€œFirst and foremost, when we think about how to tell the stories and the stories that we want to tell, we just think about it as we want to do something that we feel is different for us, that we are putting something in front of us that is something we haven’t done before.
Damages was certainly that. We weren’t thinking about how we structured Damages in any other way, than we were trying to make it interesting for ourselves and challenging for ourselves to write, and this is very much the same. This isn’t the same as Damages. It doesn’t operate the same way. We are trying different things and we wanted to make it feel like a new challenge for us.
In terms of how it’s influenced other shows, I can only speak for myself. If it has, that’s great. Thatâ€™s nice, I guess. It’s flattering if people feel that’s something that they’ve gone out and embraced. But, at the same time, I think we are always just looking to the future and how we want to deal with telling stories next and not look backwards.â€
On how this process is different from when they did Damages.
Todd: â€œFrom the very start, Netflix ordered 13 episodes. So it was a straightâ€‘toâ€‘series order. We knew from the beginning that we were going to have 13 to tell the first season. It’s been so incredibly supportive, the executives of Netflix, in helping us assemble the cast and bringing production down to the Florida Keys where nothing had been shot for a long time, if ever.
It was a huge challenge to bring Florida into the show, and we really think that the setting is an additional cast member. So comparing it to Damages, our desire in storytelling is to have nuanced, characterâ€‘driven drama and that unfolds from episode to episode. That we had 13 and to feel the support of Netflix, to have it be streamed on Netflix where people can binge-watch and watch one right after the other really opened up for us, as storytellers, a whole new level of nuance and passion from us.â€
On the possibility of going back to cable.
Todd: â€œSure. So much of it has to do with working with specific individuals. But, right now, I think we are really high on the streaming end and having all the episodes available because it’s never happened in the history of this medium. So it’s thrilling to us.â€
On how writing for Netflix is different from writing for a typical TV show.
Glenn: â€œI would say the absence of commercials, knowing how much freedom and choice a viewer has in watching it- they can watch it with whatever pace they want. One huge thing for serialized storytelling is knowing that someone on Netflix will, as far as I understand, start at the beginning. They’re not going to tune into Week 7 because there is no WeekÂ 7 and as a storyteller, that they’ve seen everything that you wanted them to see at that point in the story.
I also think the question about Damages influence or not — one huge thing I think about where we are as TV watchers or story watchers or storytellers is that we have a confidence in an audience. Most people who are watching serialized storytelling and a lot of what’s going on, certainly on Netflix, people are exclusively sitting down to watch and be entertained as opposed to what has happened historically, that people put their televisions on and do other things while they’re watching something.
To know that an audience is engaged, to know that you can tell densely sophisticated story and character nuance and story nuance and that people are hungry to absorb as much of what they’re seeing as they can and knowing that there’s a level of engagement between episodes and that there’s a retention about what they’re seeing, that it feels like everyone is firing on all cylinders now, both from a storytelling point of view and even from an audience point of view. So that kind of freedom and knowing particularly that there’s no rollout, that something that happens in Episode 2 is not happening two months before EpisodeÂ 10, provided great flexibility and great freedom.â€
Daniel: â€œI also think for us having 13 hours that we know we’re going to tell, it creates this great freedom for us. We know that the show can evolve before the audience’s eyes, so it’s not like every episode has to feel like the same because they’re all blending into one another. In this show, for example, the first few episodes are not the same show as the middle episodes, which is not the same episode as the final few episodes.
It keeps changing and keeps evolving, which, for us as creators, is incredibly exciting. We don’t feel this need or pressure to just duplicate. If someone is tuning in every week, they want to know what they’re tuning into every week, but we’re more interested in the show evolving and following the characters wherever they go and that was something that having this 13â€‘hour format was great for us.â€
Glenn: â€œNetflix welcomed that. It welcomed the sense of, whether you want to call it a slow burn or an evolution, as Daniel was saying, from family drama to psychological thriller, it was something that was encouraged and there was a real freedom to watch the show and the characters of the show and the plots really get under the pressure cooker so that as you move along, what you see in the beginning, you’re getting pieces and you’re getting teased about some of these things in the family’s past, as well as what’s going to happen in the future.
But then there’s a momentum that evolves so that you are in full psychological thriller territory by the time things kick into full gear and having 13 and knowing that an audience is engaged from the beginning was a great luxury.â€
Edited for space and content.
All 13 episodes of BloodlineÂ will be available Friday, March 20th on Netflix.
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