In the Hulu original series Shut Eye, now in its second season, Charlie Haverford (Jeffrey Donovan) is trying to figure out how to give his wife Linda (KaDee Strickland) and their son the home that he promised, instead of living from con to con. And at a time when the two need to trust each other more than ever, their unconventional lives seem to be pushing them further apart.
At a press day for Season 2 that was held at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, Collider sat down with actor Jeffrey Donovan for this 1-on-1 interview, where he talked about focusing the show on family and what you’re willing to do for your family, the dynamic shift between Charlie and Linda, how this role compares to his roles on Burn Notice and Season 2 of Fargo, having a doll as a scene partner, and the hope for more seasons.
Collider: What did you learn from doing the first season and playing this character for a season that affected or changed things for you, for Season 2?
JEFFREY DONOVAN: It wasn’t like I wanted to approach it differently. Obviously, it’s no secret that we changed showrunners (to John Shiban). What I think was our aim, in the first season, was to introduce the world and the story we’re trying to tell, and in the second season, we realized that. If you take away the window dressing of the psychic shops and the sensationalism of the gypsy Roma, this is a show about family trying to protect family. That’s what I wanted to play and be a part of, and I think we’ve now focused it on that. This season doubles down on what you’re willing to do for your family.
There’s a really interesting dynamic shift, with Charlie wanting to be more independent and in control of things, and his wife, Linda, falling apart emotionally?
DONOVAN: How great is that, tough? You have a guy who doesn’t believe in himself and a woman who thinks she knows what she wants, and then this dynamic shift starts to happen. He starts becoming a star, in his own right, and his wife who’s going, “Who am I, and who is this man I’m married to ‘cause that’s not the same guy I married.” I think that’s a great conflict to play.
Does he even recognize that that’s happening?
DONOVAN: I think it would be less interesting, if he saw it happening. I think it’s more fun, as a viewer, to watching him going, “He has no idea what’s happening right now.” I think that’s more fun to watch. He’s the worst father and the worst husband, but he tries so hard. He really tries hard. I love playing that. This is probably the weakest character I’ve ever played. That doesn’t mean he’s not ambitious or that he lacks the skills to be strong and alpha. He’s just not, but he tries so hard.
If you look at the three most recent characters you’ve played on TV, with Shut Eye, Fargo and Burn Notice, they’re all so different from each other and show such great variety.
DONOVAN: I appreciate you recognizing the range. If I may say, I think people underestimate how hard it is to play not only different characters, but also such significant characters on shows. With Michael Weston, Dodd Gerhardt and Charlie Haverford, Michael was the smartest in the room, Dodd was the dumbest in the room, and Charlie is the weakest in the room. To play those three and still have a job, at the end of the day, I’m very lucky.
Those three characters are also so much more than what you labeled them as. They’re each very layered.
DONOVAN: I hope so. I was talking to someone about Burn Notice the other day who asked, “Why did you get hired for that?” And (showrunner) Matt Nix told me, “You’re the only one that made me laugh.” I remember playing Michael Weston in a way where he wasn’t a comedian, but he was snarky and sardonic. What I realized was that that was a defense mechanism. He insulated himself with that kind of wit. I was in a shoot-out in one of the first seasons, and a guest director who had not seen the show yet was directing me, and he said, “You don’t seem under pressure, but you’re being shot at. You’re talking and shooting, at the same time. I don’t understand.” I said, “Michael is comfortable in chaos. That’s his world. When he’s with his mom, his heart is beating and he’s nervous because he doesn’t know how to handle emotion. That’s who Michael is. That’s the humor of it, and people understand that.” He got it, and that’s how the show evolved. If you put Michael in a gun fight, he’s calm. If you put Michael in a room with his mom, he’s losing his shit. Those were the layers I tried to create with him. Dodd, in Fargo, had his own psychotic layers. And Charlie is one of the most complicated guys I’ve ever played. I used to try to figure out who he was and I got stymied. I got lost, and that was before we started shooting. I finally turned to the show’s creator and said, “I know why I haven’t figured out who Charlie is. It’s because Charlie doesn’t know who he is.” Charlie is lost. He’s a lost soul. Every time he goes somewhere, he goes, “That’s who I am. I’m the doting husband. I’m the doting dad. I’m the con artist. I’m the killer.” He’s trying to latch onto his identity and who he is.