Giovanni Ribisi on ‘Sneaky Pete’, Directing, and Returning to ‘Avatar’
The Amazon Prime original series Sneaky Pete is back for Season 2 (and available to stream on March 9th), with Marius (Giovanni Ribisi) dragged back into the role of Pete Murphy when two thugs who believe he’s Pete insist that he take them to his estranged mother and the millions she stole from their employer. So, while he works to find the elusive Maggie and protect the Bernhardt family that he’s come to care about, as if he really were a member of it, he can’t help but think as a con man and try to come up with a way to keep the money for himself.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Giovanni Ribisi talked about the strengths of Season 1, expanding the world in Season 2, the respect he has for showrunner Graham Yost (Justified), not approaching his character from an inhumane place, the potential in playing someone who’s always taking on different characters, and his experience with directing an episode. He also talked about returning for the Avatar sequels and his reaction to the scripts for the four films.
Collider: Looking back on the first season of Sneaky Pete, when do you feel like the show was at its best and how did you build on that for Season 2?
GIOVANNI RIBISI: That’s a good question. One of the interesting things about this world, and you’ll possibly find it in reality too, is the ridiculous nature of some of the situations that this character will find himself in or get himself into, and I think there’s humor in that. That was probably one of the strengths of the first season. And then, there’s the rest of the cast and that family dynamic. In Season 2, the show definitely becomes a bit more expansive and other characters are introduced. There’s the character of Maggie, who is real Pete’s mother, and she’s played by Jane Adams, who’s such a phenomenal actor with so many unexpected qualities. That was really exciting, for me to see what they did with that in Season 2.
What have you most enjoyed about the working relationships and collaboration that you’ve established with Graham Yost? How have you found the experience of working with him?
RIBISI: It’s great. I have the utmost respect for him. It’s not necessarily like we’re talking to each other, every day, as much as it is doing the work and reading episode to episode to see how the season unfolds. I think we were all really happy with that. It’s something that we’re proud of.
When you think about this character, do you think of him as Marius, do you think of him as Pete, or does it depend on the scene?
RIBISI: For me, I’m always focusing on Marius. Things changed a little bit and that’s evolved. Primarily, I’m dealing with people who know that I’m not Pete, so it’s focusing more on figuring things out and manipulating situations. At the end of the day, an individual like that doesn’t believe that they’re inhumane, so you don’t want to approach it from that direction.
You directed an episode in Season 2. Was that something you’ve been hoping to do for awhile?
RIBISI: Yeah, I’d been working at that and it was something that I’d talked to them about. I thought it would be great and interesting and challenging, to say the least because it’s not just directing. You’re looking at all the various aspects to what goes into that frame and you’re responsible for designing that, but you’re also acting. It’s a subjective/objective issue there.
Was it one of those experiences where, as soon as you did it, you wanted to do it again, or did you want to take a break before doing it again?
RIBISI: The biggest focus for me is directing, but I don’t know how keen I would be to act and direct. I think they’re two separate things. Of course, you have Orson Welles and Clint Eastwood, where they are done that beautifully, obviously. If it’s a movie than maybe. If you’re doing a movie, you’re usually developing a relationship and deciding on the major department heads and who’s involved, so there’s a little bit more control there. This was starting with, more or less, a new crew, so it was also getting that machine going, as well, on top of everything else.
Have you had conversations about how long this series could go on for? Is there a firm plan for Season 3?
RIBISI: I’ve heard murmurs, but we don’t know if we’re gonna be picked up or not. We’ll see what happens, I guess.
This show feels very unpredictable, not only because you don’t know everything that’s going to happen ahead of time, but also because it feels like you could get away with taking this story and character in any number of directions. How do you find working like that? Is that exciting, as an actor?
RIBISI: I think that’s one of the fascinating things about this show and about the character, as well. He goes and leads different lives, and he finds himself in the most varied situations, having to manipulate and take on various characters. You have a lot of potential with that. The other thing that’s great about it is the family dynamic and the cast playing those roles.
You’re also set to return for the Avatar sequels. What are you most looking forward to, in returning to that character and world, and working with James Cameron again?
RIBISI: It’s just that. It’s working with Jame Cameron and the rest of the folks. From what I understand, everybody is coming back. Also, I’ve read the four films and it’s incredible. You can’t imagine how it could even be done.
Sneaky Pete Season 2 is available to stream on Amazon Prime on March 9th.