On Netflix’s engrossing and intense new series Bloodline, which is part psychological thriller and part family drama, the eldest brother and black sheep of the Rayburn family, Danny (in a compelling performance by Ben Mendelsohn), returns home and begins to expose emotional demons that will threaten to tear the family apart. From creators Todd A. Kessler, Daniel Zelman and Glenn Kessler (known as KZK), the strong cast of actors also includes Kyle Chandler, Linda Cardellini, Norbert Leo Butz, Sam Shepard and Sissy Spacek.
During a roundtable interview to discuss the new show, actor Kyle Chandler talked about what drew him to Bloodline, why you’ll never see this character wearing a blue baseball cap, why this project is the ideal situation, when things get the most competitive on set, and what he’s learned about acting on TV.
Question: You’ve done a lot of TV, and drama, specifically. What was it that drew you to Bloodline and Netflix?
KYLE CHANDLER: What drew me to it was [the Kesslers] saying, “We have an idea we want to talk to you about.” Glenn Kessler came to me and gave me a broad overview of the idea and said, “If you like it, we’ll go ahead and we’ll write something and come back to you.” I was hooked then. When they came back with the material, I just absolutely saw no reason not to be jumping into this. That’s as simple as it was, really.
When some people play such a defining role, as Coach in Friday Night Lights was for you, they then make career choices to move away from that. Was that a priority for you, at all?
CHANDLER: I’ll tell you that I don’t think it was a bad idea that I haven’t done a TV show in a couple of years, and that people haven’t seen me on TV in a couple years, and that I had the opportunity to do the film roles I have. in between, was just an added benefit to staying away from television, and also just recuperating, as a human and as an actor. I had to back away from bad habits that I picked up doing as one character, and do something new. As you grow older, everything changes. I can guarantee you’ll never see John wearing a blue baseball hat on Bloodline. At the same time, no, I don’t want people to associate me with Coach Taylor for the rest of my life. It’s a blessed curse. But, I don’t think this is that type of character.
This show is so completely different from that. It’s a completely different audience and style, and the way this show is written is different. I’m so excited about so many different things, but one of them being that this show takes me places, as an actor, that if I knew we were going to go before we started shooting, I would have been a little bit more hesitant or terrified. There were big challenges for me, as an actor, in this show. The thing I was hoping would happen, and really did, was that, because of the good writing, it’s all earned. It was earned in the writing and in the story, so you lived, up until that point, and you had this storyline that was able to give you what you needed. There’s nothing jolting about this storyline. You’re watching the characters move through. It all takes place in two or three months. There’s none of that growth that you forget. It’s all right there. The audience will say, “I believe that because it’s earned.” And that just comes from good storytelling and writing. It changes, and it’s going to be exciting.
Does it feel like this is the best of both worlds because you’re doing TV, but with movie-caliber actors and stories?
CHANDLER: Let’s say that I said what you just said, and we can all go home. Yes, all the things you just said. It’s a wonderful world to be in, professionally. Netflix and these guys from KZK, as well as the process and the way it’s shot, is a good world. And then, absolutely having the talent that’s on the show. You’re only as good as the person that you’re working with. There’s a lot of great talent on the show, and it’s so much fun. You’re playing. every day. They call it a play, and that’s what you’re supposed to do. It’s professional playing, and it’s competitive. It’s full-contact acting.
If this show had been on a broadcast network instead of Netflix, would you have taken it, or was it specifically because it was on Netflix that you took it?
CHANDLER: I can’t answer that question. I don’t know what could have happened. I still have to feed my family. But it did turn out the way it did, in this world. This is the perfect world. I really feel like I’ve fallen into the perfect world. Even if the show doesn’t get picked up again, I would have rather have fallen into this world than another one. It was a great learning experience. It was like paid acting class. It was great.
When does it get the most competitive?
CHANDLER: A lot of the scenes with Ben and I. There are some great scenes. And when I say that things are earned, it’s great when you get to a scene, where there’s so much involved between the two characters, and he and I can just stand there and find a way, either through a facial gesture or a tone, to change the line and get up on the other guy. It’s fun. It’s a full-contact sport. Norbert [Leo Butz] is a lot of fun to have full-contact. With Linda, it’s about trying to get the last word in, in scenes.
Are there outtakes of that?
CHANDLER: I hope so. In the first episode, the scene with the whole family gathered around, everyone leaves and it’s just Linda and I, but what you don’t see is there are probably about three more minutes of film because we start a whole new conversation. I’d walk off and she’d say something, so I’d walk back on camera and we would just start talking. They let it roll. It was just fun. It was a great atmosphere to work in. She is funny, too. She is sexy, hot, cool and funny.
Did you get good stories from the other actors?
CHANDLER: Yeah, there’s a lot of talent there and a lot of history, especially with Sam and Sissy. As soon as they saw each other, they’ve known each other for some time, so it was interesting. I’m not going to share any stories because I don’t remember half of them, and the rest of them are too dirty to talk about.
Is there a specific lesson you tried to apply when you came back to TV?
CHANDLER: I never left TV on purpose. It just happened, but I think it was a benefit to me. But I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned, Pete Berg gave it to me. When we did Friday Night Lights, Pete Berg set that show up in such a way that he demanded that the actors challenge the writers, and that the writers challenge the actors, and that the directors and actors challenge each other. He created that sport of “do creative battle.” That’s something that all of the actors said, even when the show was over, “We’ve got to keep this alive in ourselves,” because it was so powerful. There was an ownership, from all the actors on that show, that was really powerful. So, I try to take that everywhere. The other thing that I’ve learned is that there’s no planning and you never know what the hell’s going to happen. You can plan everything you want and go onto the set to do something, and by the time you get there, it’s a whole different scene. I’m starting to be like, “Well, I’ll look it over and we’ll just have to see what happens when we get there.” You should be as prepared as you can, but be more prepared to throw it all out the window and work on the spot. That’s a good lesson, I think.
Bloodline is available at Netflix.