The CBS drama series American Gothic centers on the prominent Hawthorne family, reeling in the wake of the chilling discovery that someone in their midst is linked to an infamous string of murders. As shocking secrets from the past and present are revealed, their mounting suspicion and paranoia that one of them is a killer threatens to tear the family apart. The series stars Virginia Madsen, Antony Starr, Juliet Rylance, Justin Chatwin and Megan Ketch.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Antony Starr (who plays Garrett Hawthorne, the eldest son that returns home after being away from the family for years) talked about why he was attracted to this series, having fun with the mystery element, just how complex his character is, that this is a family full of secrets, and why even his character could be a suspect.
Collider: When you got this script, did you need a little nudge to pick it up, read it and jump back into work, or were you active looking for your next project?
ANTONY STARR: I was actively looking ‘cause I don’t like sitting around too long, doing nothing. I wasn’t in a rush, at all. I was moving at a gentle pace, as things came across. These guys were really eager to meet, which was fine, and I’d heard good things about Corinne [Brinkerhoff], so I took the meeting. She’s fantastic, so it was really on the weight of that. There’s other really good people involved, as well. There’s not a lot of the character in the first episode. I had a little bit to go on, but I had no idea where the show was gonna go, apart from what Corinne told me. It was a bit of a leap of faith on who she was and how she operated, but she and I got on very well, immediately. That collaborative relationship has just been exceptional. It’s probably been one of the best I’ve had. It’s actually turned into a really happy marriage, and the show has been great.
Did you have a list of questions that you needed satisfactorily answered before you said yes, or were you okay with not having all the answers?
STARR: When we first met, she was adamant that, until I signed on, she wasn’t willing to give anything away, and I understood that. It’s a whodunit and actors have big mouths. I’m from New Zealand and we barely talk, anyway, but I totally respected that. She gave me an outline of the kinds of things that I would be getting involved in, and I went with what was on the page in the first script and thought I could come up with a pretty good angle on that. I just worked with the vibe that I got from her, in the room. The chemistry is set when you’re putting together a show, and the prospect of working with her was very appealing, even though I didn’t have all the information. I just said, “You know what, I’ll take a leap and trust her,” and it was a good call.
This seems like it will be quite the family to watch and get to know, over the course of the season.
STARR: Yeah, it is. It was a really nice adjustment for me and a really nice shift, to go from something as overt and out there as Banshee to something that’s more of a whodunit. The last season of Banshee was similar, with a serial killer, but the main drive of this show is the whodunit, or the Agatha Christie line that goes through it. That naturally lends itself to more mystery and can keep the cards closer to the chest, so I had a lot of fun.
As the black sheep of the family, your character is instantly mysterious, which makes him a little bit suspicious. Were you suspicious of him, when you read that first episode?
STARR: Yeah, of course. It’s designed that way, so naturally, I felt a little suspicious. But then, once I signed on, Corinne gave me a little bit of a rundown on what the character knew. I asked if I could have a bit more information and she gave it, so I knew where he was going-ish and that made everything a little more fluid. Even saying that, the show has got so many twists and turns, and I didn’t want to know anything more than the character knew, so that’s all I know. I don’t know who the killer is. I don’t know the ins and outs of the entire story, but I know what I need to know to do my job. I respected their decision for privacy, and I thought it was an interesting challenge to not know.
In doing a show like this, did you come up with your own theories for who it could be and whether it could be your character, or do you just want until you get those answers in the script?
STARR: I do have a theory, which will be proven right or wrong in the next few weeks. Obviously, I’m not going to disclose it, but once it comes out in the script, I’ll know. From the point of view of the character, I know what happened and I know where that is going. It’s just one of those things where I have to wait and see.
Your character’s return makes this entire family nervous, especially his mother, but he also seems to play on that a little bit. Will he continue to incite them feeling a bit uncomfortable around him?
STARR: Yeah, absolutely. When you get into a family, what family is normal? And this is an extreme version of abnormality in a family setting, so whenever you’ve got a character like this, coming back with a head full of steam and basically as the keeper of secrets, it’s a very powerful position that he’s in. Garrett thinks they need their control kept in check. It was interesting playing that. We’ve got a great cast, so it was a lot of fun.
This is clearly a family full of secrets. Will we start to learn what those secrets are and get answers to some questions pretty quickly, or will this be a situation where, every time we think we know what’s going on, we realize that we really have no idea?
STARR: It’s a little bit of both. If you were just given the run-around constantly, you’d get pretty fed up. If there was just a polar bear in the tropics than you might get a little fed up with that. I know I, personally, would. The show is not locked in 100% to the murder mystery. There’s also other family drama going on. That sets up really nicely and keeps people engaged with the developing relationships and the ins and outs of what’s going on with the family, as well as the mystery. Definitely, the mystery is the main engine of the show, but there are other things going on that keep people attached. It’s pretty well-balanced, overall, in terms of the mystery and the family drama. I think there’s something for everyone, to keep them engaged.
What can you say about what Garrett been off doing, since he left his family?
STARR: Not a lot. He had to leave, and this situation with his father brought him back. I guess the timing felt right for him to come back and confront what he felt needed to be confronted. We find out, through the series, that there is a lot to be confronted. It’s an interesting thing. I think there’s a sense of inevitability that he would return, at some point. We just drop into the story when he returns. He’s a bit of a catalyst for the family. His return is a bomb going off for the family. It really is a big drive for the murder mystery, and a big part of the story for the family is his return, the damage that does, and how they control the damage.
Garrett tells his sister, Tessa, that he likely wouldn’t have come back, if she hadn’t asked him to, but do you think that’s really the case? Do you think he’s just been waiting for his moment to come back and stir things up a bit?
STARR: The thing is, you never know because you never know if he’s telling the truth. That could be something he said, just to make her feel good because I think he genuinely does love his sister, or it could be the truth. Maybe he was always planning to come back. It’s just one of those things. Things like that get unloaded during the course of the show. You’re never quite sure if he’s telling the truth. One of the themes of the show is, how much do you really know the people you love? Who’s version of the truth is closest to the real truth? Ultimately, there is one truth, and they’re all spinning it their own way, according to their needs.
As this mystery unravels and as these secrets are revealed, will it bring Garrett closer to any members of his family that he wasn’t previously close with, or will it push them all further apart?
STARR: Closeness and intimacy is an interesting thing. You don’t have to be affectionate to be closer to someone. You can realize that, whether you like it or not, you are locked into something with someone. That definitely happens. As the characters get closer, in terms of intimacy and affection, there are definitely some characters that would love not to be closer to Garrett, but are compelled to be around him and get more deeply enmeshed in his truths and lies.
How would you describe Garrett’s relationship with his parents?
STARR: In a nutshell, strained. The bulk of the truth lies in Garrett’s relationship with his parents. There’s a pretty deep well of baggage in that relationship. The anchor of the story is somewhere in there.
What’s it like to have Virginia Madsen and Jamey Sheridan?
STARR: Those guys are awesome. Jamey and Virginia are just fantastic. It’s been great. They’re so open and really great to work with. It’s great to be around them, on and off set.
Aside from what they’re dealing with, within their own family, what are the biggest outside threats to this family?
STARR: Politically, being such a high-profile family, makes things very well-publicized. Alison is running for mayor, so everything is being scrutinized and everything needs management. That adds a whole other context to everything that happens, and adds a whole other level of tension. It would be bad enough, if your father was involved in this, or suspected of this, let alone your brother or your mother or your sister. The whole thing is under a microscope because of the election coming up. That adds a whole other element that really tests a whole lot of them.
As you got deeper into the season and learned more about who this guy is, did your opinion of him change, at all, or has he turned out to be exactly who you thought he would be?
STARR: I talked to Corinne, straight away, about not wanting this to just be a suspect. He has to be a real guy with real intentions, who’s a little bit more fleshed out than just a whodunit suspect. So, I always knew, going in, this guy was going to be complex and complicated, and it’s proven to be just that. It actually got better than I thought it would. It’s been a really nice balance.
We’re led to believe that Garrett could either be connected to the Silver Bells Killer, or could actually be the killer, himself. Why is he a good candidate?
STARR: The reason would be that because everyone is. The only thing that rules people out is age. Tessa would have been eight or nine years old, so it’s unlikely that she would be a serial killer. But, anyone who’s the right age is fair game. They could have been involved, or they could have been the killer. Garrett is a young man who had issues, so there’s no reason it couldn’t be him. One of the interesting things about doing this show is finding that balance of not giving too much away and not having it just become this suspect with nowhere else to go.
American Gothic airs on Wednesday nights on CBS.