The Cinemax action series Banshee tells the story of Lucas Hood (Antony Starr), an ex-con and master thief who assumes the identity of the sheriff of Banshee, PA. It’s the perfect cover for him to try to win back the love of his life (Ivana Milicevic) and hide out from the dangerous gangster that they both betrayed years earlier, while attempting not to get in too much more trouble.
During this recent exclusive interview with Collider, show star Antony Starr talked about how he came to be a part of the show, what attracted him to Banshee, the role violence plays in the series, that the star-crossed lovers aspect is really the anchor of the story, the unusual friendship between Lucas Hood and Job (Hoon Lee), who his allies are, the various criminal elements that surround this small town, and whether he thinks his character would do things differently, if he knew just how much trouble it would get him into. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
Collider: How did you come to be a part of this show? Had you been looking to do a series in the States?
ANTONY STARR: Well, I was working in Australia, doing a TV show down there. I’ve had an agent and manager over here, for the last few years, so I’ve been sending tapes over. But, I’ve been fortunate enough to be working Down Under for the last few years. Oftentimes, you read these pilot scripts that come through for American work and they don’t sing to you. I’ve got to be honest, not many of them ignite the flame or give you that burning feeling of, “Oh, god, I really want to be a part of this.” This is not the first one, but in that last pilot season, this was the first one where I went, “Holy, I really want to be a part of this,” because of the material and because of the people involved. The creative force that is the Banshee team is phenomenal.
For little old me from New Zealand, it was a no-brainer. I found the material magnetic, with that core idea. Not specifically the idea of becoming a sheriff, but the core idea of that relationship with Annie/Carrie (Ivana Milicevic). The show is anchored in a love story, and I’m a sucker for a bit of romance. Having the base of the show focused around love, and then having thick action dripped all over it, gives it a really interesting balance. And then, of course, you’ve got the Amish as a social backdrop, which is so polarizing. The Amish are a huge part of this community. There’s a line in the show, “How can one town have so many scumbags?” There’s a rich criminal world, as well. That’s what the show is. The show is all about surprises. Nothing is quite what it seems. There are those opposites within characters. Each character has duality, which is something that comes up a lot in the show.
And don’t you feel like everyone has their own brand of violence?
STARR: Yeah, absolutely! Violence itself is not so much another character of the show, but it’s such a part of the world. And the ways in which people inflict violence and cope with violence are so different. Lucas’ real Achilles heel is nothing physical. It’s his heart, and the injury that certain people within the show can do to that, that really matters. There were these toys called Weebles, that were egg-shaped with a weighted bottom, and the catch phrase was, “Weebles wobble, but they don’t fall down.” Lucas is like a Weeble. He’s the guy that you get into a fight with that just will not stop, so you have to end him, in order to end the physical threat. You have to literally bury him. We were really conscious of that, when we were making it, because we didn’t want to make this character the stereotypical hero, so that you know, when he gets in a fight, he’s just going to wipe the floor with everyone. That’s boring and predictable, and it’s probably not very honest. It’s so much more interesting to struggle with that character and not know what’s going to happen to him when he gets into a fight. That physicality that is a part of Lucas is different with other characters. I don’t mind violence, but it’s quite an interesting thing for people to deal with. I don’t know that many people that like fighting. I certainly don’t, myself. So, it’s been interesting working on a show where there’s so much violence, as a part of the world.
Does Lucas Hood have to hold himself back a bit, as far as how he would normally react, if he weren’t pretending to be the sheriff?
STARR: Absolutely! There are some people that just attract violence to them. No matter where they go, they’ll find a fight. I think Lucas is animalistic, in that way. He’s a predator, and that emanates within the universe of the show. Trouble finds him. As the show goes on and the character evolves, one of the interesting things is what happens when that tool belt is no longer relevant. When you can’t fix all your problems with your fists and the problems aren’t solely physical, and you’ve got to deal with the emotional complexities of life and people, it’s a really interesting development. What’s driving Lucas is this need to be a part of a social unit, to be a part of society, to have a family, to have maybe a kid or two, and to be loved and accepted. Over the course of series, that definitely comes into play.
Will the fact that the real sheriff has some people out there who know him come back into play, at some point?
STARR: Having the wolf in sheep’s clothing, so to speak, is an element of the show that you can’t ignore. It has to come up, and that’s one of the major threats. It’s not just about being found out, it’s about the consequences of being found out, i.e. being put back in prison and not being able to get the love of his life back. If he goes back to prison, he’s going back for good. Forget it, that’s it. And that would mean that he’d probably kill himself. So, that threat of being found out is something that’s a constant within the show. I think that, as long as he is sheriff, that has to continue, at some level. The realities that he would have to face, if he got caught would be overwhelming. The chance of being caught is not just, “Oh, bugger, I have to go back to prison!” It’s life-threatening. It would be the end of him. When you look at it from the character’s point of view, it’s pretty much the deepest, most elemental threat that there could be. It’s the same as someone standing there with a gun. So, that threat will never go away, as long as he’s sheriff.
This guy gets out of prison and can go anywhere to start his life over with a clean slate, but ends up going to the one place for the one person who can ruin everything. Does that illustrate the extent of Lucas’ love for Carrie?
STARR: They’re star-crossed lovers. This is the bent version of some Shakespearian romance. I always come back to that as an anchor. How does this guy go to prison for 15 years and survive? At the core of all of it is that love for her. When he has a horrific time in prison, which will get exposed in the show when we go back into prison in flashbacks, it’s an extremely tough spot to be in and the only way that he gets through it is because of that love and holding onto that love. So, when he gets out, there is nowhere else for him to go. He’s gunning for that love, and to get what’s his.
Since they appear to have this friendship with no judgement, how do you see the relationship between Lucas and Job (Hoon Lee)?
STARR: There’s a great acceptance, especially in that relationship. Lucas isn’t someone that makes judgements based on external appearance. It’s about action and intent, which leads to that action. What people do and why they’re doing it is important to this guy. It’s an interesting position for that character to have because the moral compass swings in so many different ways, over the course of the first season. There is a moral code of ethics there, but it is individual and very much his own. But, that relationship is a beautiful one.
Who would you say his allies are, in the town of Banshee?
STARR: Initially, he turns up as a complete outsider and doesn’t know anyone, but he quickly forms relationships with people. The bar owner, Sugar (Frankie Faison), and he are similar in spirit. Oddly, the town bad guy, Kai Proctor (Ulrich Thomsen), is probably the same animal. Whilst they cross, there’s a mutual respect and understanding of each other. It’s interesting because, over the course of the series, Lucas develops these relationships with people, without really understanding what his part is in that relationship and what that means to him. Whether he realizes it or not, his actions have an emotional impact on people, be it positive or negative. The way that he operates, he’s often morally doing the right things, in the wrong way. It’s very complex. Sometimes his policing is what you think cops should be able to do. Finally, there’s this cop that can do what you would do, if you were the cop in your dreams. There are elements of it that the other characters, particularly the deputies that he’s working with, admire, and then there are other bits where they’re just confused. They’re all pretty complex relationships, bar none.
Your character was introduced by getting out of prison, having sex with a stranger in a bar, and then getting in a big car chase and fight. Was it important that the show immediately established exactly what kind of show it is, right from the beginning?
STARR: Yeah! The show doesn’t pull any punches. Most of the episodes drop you right into the action. It’s very direct, in that way. It’s not apologetic about what it is. It just is what it is, and you accept it for that. A lot of people that get out of prison have anti-social personality disorder, which makes them promiscuous and erratic, and they can’t form ordinary relationships. His behavior, at the beginning, is diagnosable. I poured through psychological conditions, and it all marries with what this guy does. And it’s all action-driven. I don’t think there was a word, in the first five minutes. It’s people in space, doing. That says so much more than we could, by trying to explain everything with talk. I think that’s one of the things that I really like about the show.
Who’s the more dangerous villain, Kai Proctor or Rabbit (Ben Cross)?
STARR: I don’t think either is more or less threatening. I think they’re both life threatening, so in that respect, their threat level is equal, up around nine or 10. They’re in the red. They’re definitely not good. That said, one’s much more immediate, and one’s more looming. One is the monster of your dreams, in Rabbit, and of the past coming back to haunt you, and one is of immediate consequence. Whatever he does is going to be reacted to, by that person, in a potentially threatening way. I think they’re both equally threatening. Together, they cover all the threat ground. There’s nowhere to hide. There’s nowhere to relax.
We’ve seen some of the Amish element and the Ukrainian mob, so how will the Native American element come into play?
STARR: The Native American element comes in much stronger, later on in the series. It’s another element of this world and another part of the social fabric of Banshee. It’s a pretty intricate tapestry of people, in this town. It’s another element where you’ve got strong characters that are prepared to go to great lengths to protect what is theirs. No one in Banshee has small opinions. They have strong beliefs, and they will defend them ferociously. Having that element in the show just adds another level. It’s another avenue for story and it enriches the world.
Do you think that, if this guy really knew what he was getting himself into by posing as the sheriff, he would still have done it?
STARR: I don’t think he had any idea what he was going to get when he did it. That’s just one of those things that comes up. He’s got nowhere to go. He’s been hellbent on getting back to this woman. That’s not working out, as he thought it would. So, he doesn’t really know what to do with himself. This opportunity presented itself and, as opposed to a question of, “Why?,” it was a question of, “Why not?” There were more reasons to do it than not to do it because he had nowhere else to go. Even if he knew what was going to come up, it’s a way of keeping close proximity to the woman that he loves, and he gets a paycheck every week with a cover for being a criminal.
People, when they get out of a long stretch of prison, are completely mal-adapted to society. Comfort for them is when there is a threat. So, as you and I might walk around and think it’s nice and safe because there are no gunmen, it’s the opposite for him. He’s that guy that, putting himself in a position where he assumes the identity of a sheriff, which is a high-level threat position to exist in, is a comfort zone for him. That’s where he feels human. If you sat him down and said, “If you do this, this will happen, this will happen, this will happen and this will happen,” he’d probably still bolt at it because that, for him, would sound like a release and escape from the normal world, which he hasn’t adapted to. Not knowing specifically what’s coming, but knowing that there probably will be a threat is actually a good time for him. That’s a position of comfort. So, he’d still go for it.
Banshee airs on Friday nights on Cinemax.