The bold and intense TNT drama series Animal Kingdom, inspired by the critically acclaimed Australian film of the same name, centers on 17-year-old Joshua “J” Cody (Finn Cole), who moves in with his morally questionable relatives in their Southern California beach town after his mother dies of a heroin overdose. Thrown into the deep end of a family ruled by Janine “Smurf” Cody (Ellen Barkin), that makes their living through carefully planned armed robberies and other criminal activities, it turns out that joining her boys – level-headed Baz (Scott Speedman), mentally unstable Pope (Shawn Hatosy), middle son Craig (Ben Robson) and overly suspicious Deran (Jake Weary) – comes with enough danger and excitement that it puts all of their lives at risk.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Shawn Hatosy talked about why he wanted to be a part of Animal Kingdom, making Pope a layered character, the way their environment has shaped this family, Pope and Smurf’s relationship, working with Ellen Barkin, and what it would take for Pope to get to a healthier place.
Collider: These characters are so interesting to watch because they could do anything and there’s no way to predict what that will be.
SHAWN HATOSY: It is exactly that. You just don’t know. Specifically, Pope is one of the most unpredictable characters that I’ve played. The characters are unpredictable and keep you guessing, and the storytelling is filled with this history of family secrets. I remember reading each script and thinking, “I didn’t see that coming.”
Watching the show, it’s easy to see why you’d want to sign on for it and why you’d want to play this character, but you couldn’t have possibly known what it would turn out to be when you did sign on. So, what was the appeal of this show and this character, for you?
HATOSY: Having worked with Jonathan Lisco and John Wells on Southland for five seasons, I was curious to see what kind of show they were going to do together next. Hearing that it was based on this film that did so well and people just loved was appealing. I saw the film when I heard that they were developing this. I checked it out and I was definitely curious, but it didn’t ring to me that it was the perfect TV show. I wondered how they were going to map it out and what the plan was. And then, after reading the pilot and seeing what they brought to it and how it was adapted, I was like, “Oh, man, this is cool. It can go in so many different directions.”
It’s so focused on the unpredictability of this family and their relationships with this very larger-than-life matriarch. Each of them have a different relationship with her, and she presents a different version of mother to each of them. I find that really unique. It creates this competition among these man-childs. The appeal of Pope is just vast. There are not very many opportunities to play a character that has that many different levels, layers and dimensions. One minute, he’s your best friend, and then the next minute, he’s going to stab you. He’s a lot of fun to play. But I knew, from the get-go, that if we were going to succeed with Pope for an extended length of time, it couldn’t work in the manner that it did in the film with Pope because he was just dark and disturbing. I felt that it was important to find something that was identifiable, and I’m sure the writers did, too. I think we found that in his loyalty for his family.
Do you think Pope enjoys it when the family needs him to do something for them, or do you think it chips away at whatever sanity he has left?
HATOSY: I think it chips away at whatever sanity he has let, and I think it’s eventually going to erupt. He’s programmed, right now. He hates being managed. He knows he’s being managed. He doesn’t feel sorry for himself, in any way. He wants, more than anything, to just be normal. He just wants people to treat him like they treat Baz. That is a huge hang-up for him. But ultimately, Pope is going to realize, in the first season, that Smurf is using him to do the things that she doesn’t want to do herself, and that’s going to come to a big, dramatic explosion.
Just like the family in the film was a product of their environment, how do you feel this environment and this setting has had a hand in really shaping this family?
HATOSY: I love that the setting becomes a character, in and of itself, in our Animal Kingdom. Working on Southland for five seasons, L.A. is such a unique place to be a police officer because it’s so vast and large, and there are so many culturally different people and points of view, and having to police that is a lot different than it would be in, let’s say, Nebraska. Although, that could be a great show, too. CSI: Nebraska. On the surface, Oceanside is really pretty, with the palm trees, the sand, the ocean and the surf. But then, once you get in there, you realize that it’s got a very unique vibe to it. The surf and the sand is there, but there are some odd characters. It’s great for our working class criminals to be surfing and skateboarding all around this place, and then dealing with Smurf, who is a water creature.
You’ve talked about how Pope doesn’t like to be micro-managed by people, so how do you think he’d prefer the relationship between him and Smurf to be?
HATOSY: That’s a really good question. Her example is so bizarre, with the heightened sexuality. She’s a mother with four different fathers for these kids, but she also uses her sexuality within the family to keep them in line. I can’t really answer that from Pope’s point of view because his idea of normal is so different than what my idea of normal would be. But I think his main hang-up is Baz and how this guy who’s Pope’s friend was brought in, and then Smurf loves him and treats him like her own and trusts him more than she does Pope. Pope might have had a tighter relationship with his twin sister than he’s able to express because Smurf hated her. Smurf hated Julia because Julia loved Baz. It’s all very twisted and complex. I think more than anything, Pope wishes that Smurf would treat him like she treats Baz.
It’s hard to get a read on just how Pope feels about J being there. What do you think Pope thinks of J? Do you think he’d rather J find somewhere else to go, or is he just feeling him out?
HATOSY: I think it’s a number of things, as it always seems to be with this family. It’s in Pope’s DNA. They’re Codys, and with Codys, there is a level of trust that you have to earn. J coming in and being treated like a Cody right away, doesn’t match up with what he lives by. Growing up a Cody, you keep alliances within the family. If J goes to the side of Pope, that is an alliance that he may need down the road. He needs to secure that. And Pope had this secret relationship with his twin sister. I think Pope probably wishes he could have had a romantic relationship with his twin sister. He couldn’t and he didn’t, but he wanted to, and I think that is a result of being brought up as Smurf’s son. There’s something very strange about not knowing what the boundaries are. So, the fact that J is Julia’s kid, there is a connection between Pope and J that he doesn’t have with anyone else.
Ellen Barkin has always been a bad-ass, and it’s really fun to get to see her be a bad-ass on this show. What’s it like to have that at the center of an otherwise very male show?
HATOSY: Everything goes through Ellen. What I mean by that is that, when we read a script, we always come together and discuss it with her and get her take on things. It’s set up much like the fictional narrative. She’s our mom. And I am impressed by her tireless effort to bring Smurf to life, in a way that is real. It’s a tough thing to pull off the stuff that she has to do, without just making it like a comic book. It’s disturbing and creepy, but it does seem real. She’s doing a wonderful portrayal and a wonderful job in making Smurf everything and more than I expected.
With a character like Pope, who’s the real wild card of the show, what do you think it would take for him to get to a healthier place?
HATOSY: That’s a great question. I’m sad because I don’t really think that he can manage himself. All of the Codys are part of this animal kingdom and there’s a hierarchy. If they’re a wolf pack, they don’t survive on their own. If you leave it, your chances of survival are diminished quite a bit. So, the only thing that could save Pope would probably be to be able to remove himself from that dysfunctional relationship. I don’t know where they’re going with this story, but I don’t think that would be good news for him, if he did. I don’t think he’d survive alone. I always envision Pope with borderline personality disorder, and that’s a messed up disorder, obviously, for the person who has it, but also for the trail of chaos it creates around them. Pope is going to have to face the fact that treatment is an option and that there are medications that you can take. There’s a path that could work and does work, it’s just not something that I see him being able to do. Although, I hold out hope for that.
Animal Kingdom airs on Tuesday nights on TNT.