Jonathan Tucker on the “Tragic” ‘Kingdom’ Series Finale & Returning for ‘American Gods’ Season 2
It has been an absolute pleasure to watch the ups and downs, and all of the triumph and heartache that’s come with being a fan of the TV series Kingdom. It introduced the world to a family of characters with seemingly endless flaws that made them undeniably and painfully human, and the tragedy that they’ve all endured made the victories that much sweeter. The material is something that everyone who had a hand in it can be proud of, and as a viewer, I’ll only be sorry that we couldn’t spend more time following the lives of this group of some the most complex and fascinating characters, in the hopes that maybe someday they could all find their happy ending.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Jonathan Tucker talked about the journey he’s had playing what is sure to be one of the most memorable, authentic and unforgettable TV characters – the unpredictable Jay Kulina, what really makes this guy tick, breaking the cycle, and whether fans of the series will feel any sort of conclusion with the finale. He also talked about looking forward to returning for Season 2 of American Gods, what he most enjoys about playing Low Key Leysmith, and working with the mad genius minds of showrunners Bryan Fuller and Michael Green.
Collider: Kingdom has been one of my favorite shows since the start of it, and Jay Kulina has not only been a stand-out character within that world, but I think he’s been one of the most interesting and complex characters that’s been on television. The show definitely has a strong and loyal fan base, but it’s never received the viewership, attention and recognition that its deserved, for the quality of the storytelling and the acting. Are you at peace with that, or is that difficult to come to terms with?
TUCKER: My job, and what I’ve taken such joy in, is the craft of acting and of creating dynamic and authentic characters, and then finding a way to build them within the confines and with the support of the worlds that I’ve found myself. I think there’s a bit of this idea of strategic patience. Everything is a lesson, and there’s always something to take and to learn. Whether you’re winning championships or you have a losing season, you’ve consistently gotta go back to what you’re passionate about and what has brought you to where you are today. For me, it’s acting. It is the actual craft of it, and that takes work. I can’t really concern myself with the scoreboard.
What have you most enjoyed about getting to live in the shoes of Jay Kulina and exploring his life, and what has playing him taught you?
TUCKER: There’s a reason why Conor McGregor, after a few years of fighting, is setting up the single biggest combat event of literally the past 600 years. It could potentially be bigger than Ali/Foreman, in some respects. It’s more of a spectacle. The same quality that Conor McGregor has, Jay has, which is this idea of truly being yourself. His sense of self, which is very similar to Jay’s, is seen as outlandish sometimes, as bold, and as almost over the top. But the reason why we’re attracted to him, and attracted to Jay, is that authenticity. Jay is a deeply honest human being. He’s honest about himself. As a species, we’re always seeking out authenticity. We’re dying for authenticity. We smell it immediately, and we also smell even the slightest riff of somebody who’s not completely true to who they are. We have that ability because, as a species, we have organized around stories. We tell them and we subscribe to them. So, that sense of authenticity in Jay is what’s so much fun. There’s no filter for him. He’s not beholden to anybody or anything, other than his sense of self.
Do you feel like it’s really pushed you to leave it all on the table, in a way that you haven’t before, or do you feel like that’s always been in you, as an actor?
TUCKER: In that idea of strategic patience, I think I was waiting for and looking for a role like this, and I’ll always be looking for roles like this, but that’s not to say that they’re always more interesting than a character who might be more buttoned up, literally or spiritually. But there’s something so much fun about the sort of animal that doesn’t hold back based on some sense of societal norms. Jay owns every moment of his day. He makes mistakes, over and over and over again, but they’re not mistakes made out of a place of trying to prove something to somebody.
Jay started in a very different place this season, with a girlfriend and a child and a job, which could have given him a very stable life, but then he started to blow it all up, quite successfully. Do you think Jay feeds off of chaos and self-sabotage?
TUCKER: No, I do not. That’s a great question. I think he is petrified of his own success. I think he is scared of who the best version of himself is. He has all this talent and all this potential, and yet he can’t seem to get out of his own way, but he puts himself there out of a deep sense of fear. It’s not fun. I don’t think he thrives off of it.
Does he even know what he wants then?
TUCKER: That’s a great question. Yeah, I think he would have loved that family to have worked out, but the deep fear of him screwing it up accelerates a series of actions to self-sabotage, just so he doesn’t have to deal with the more mature journey that that could have taken.
You don’t have to look very far to see that Jay is not that different from Alvey, as far as self-destructive tendencies go and even allowing himself to fail as a father, much the same way that Alvey has. Can Jay ever break that cycle? Is that something he wants to do?
TUCKER: Yes, and he’s already broken a certain sense of that cycle, in his self-acknowledgment and self-realization of, “You’re a fuck-up and I’m a fuck-up, but at least I know I am and can acknowledge it.” There’s the idea of, “I might be an addict, but I know I’m an addict,” whereas Alvey refuses to acknowledge that addiction. That’s Alvey’s fatal flaw, where Jay’s fatal flaw is self-sabotage. What Kingdom does so beautifully is that it refuses to shy away from the complexity and the very realness of our lives, and who we are in our own self-realization, our own sense of truth, and our sense of self-discovery. What I’ve been thinking about recently is the idea of finite and fragility. That’s really what this show is about. It’s what makes all of the relationships so potent and it’s what makes these characters so rich, but it also is a true reflection of life and either we acknowledge that or not. Either we’re acknowledging that our lives here are finite, this moment is finite, and that this whole world is fragile, or we’re not, but it is really happening and that is really true.
How will fans of this series feel, at the end of the season? Will they feel some sort of satisfaction with where these characters are left, or will we be cursing the powers that be that we won’t get to see what’s next for this family?
TUCKER: I think you’re gonna feel a sense of conclusion, but it’s such a painful, almost tragic ending. It will be an emotional knee to the body.
Your character on American Gods, Low Key Leysmith, made a brief but lasting impression, but there clearly was not enough of him. Can fans of the TV series rest assured that we’ll see more of him in Season 2?
TUCKER: Yes! I am very much looking forward to coming back for the second season, in a capacity yet to be determined.
What do you most enjoy about that character?
TUCKER: There’s a romanticized version of a 1970s pimp to him. I love the bravado. The actual vocation is abhorrent, but I love the whole idea of that music video version of a 1970s New York player, and that sense of confidence, bravado and style. The idea that I have information and you don’t is just a lot of fun. What’s unique for me, as an actor, is this idea that I don’t have to be grounded to the natural law of things. I can pull things out of the air and communicate with other spirits and other elements in other languages or forms, but I’m still right here, on the earth. That’s a lot of fun.
How have you found the experience of working with the mad genius minds of Bryan Fuller and Michael Green?
TUCKER: Both of them are welcoming collaborators. Instead of operating from this idea or place of making it to happen, or forcing it to happen because of ego or fear, they’re really open to the idea of intuition, gut and instinct. They embrace artists and they want to include them in the conversation. That makes for a very dynamic workplace, and one that I love being a part of.
When you said that line, “Do not piss off those bitches in airports,” was it just a line to you, or did you know that it would resonate enough that you’d get your own t-shirt with it?
TUCKER: It definitely was not the latter! I knew it was a great line, but I didn’t realize it would resonate, the way in which it did. There’s this idea of connection in American Gods. How are we connected to this country? How are we connected to each other? The idea that Low Key has an eyesight problem is how you connect to this other person. That was one of those moments where I really stopped everything and tried to impress this very important piece of information onto [Shadow] because it’s the key that will set him off for the rest of his journey. I wanted to make sure that that resonated. We also had the benefit of coming into the zeitgeist when people were being pulled off of planes and getting arrested, and all of these things happening, so it worked out to our benefit. But, I think this show is wonderful and it’s been so well received. It will be a real privilege to go back and work on it again, next season.
The series finale of Kingdom airs on the Audience Network on DirecTV on August 2nd.