On the SundanceTV drama series The Red Road, lines will be crossed when tragedy forces two men – a mesmerizing ex-con named Phillip Kopus (Jason Momoa) and an embattled local police officer named Harold Jensen (Martin Henderson) – to face the secrets of their past. As these two men find themselves increasingly compromised by one another, the lives of both, and everyone around them, quickly unravel.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, actor Martin Henderson talked about what enticed him into doing this role, why Sundance is a good home for this TV show, how much he knew about his character’s arc ahead of time, playing such an intense and strained family dynamic, and how much fun he had working with Jason Momoa. Check out our Martin Henderson interview after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
MARTIN HENDERSON: There is a sense of it being like a marriage. You love it, it’s attractive, it fits with you, you feel comfortable with it and you’re excited by it, so you make a commitment based on that. And then, it has a life of its own. The producers and the writers had an over-arching idea of where it was going to go because they had to sell it to the network, but the scripts hadn’t been written when we got involved. You are going into the unknown. But knowing the pedigree of Sundance, and its taste and style, it felt a little bit like an insurance policy against cheesiness or contrived storytelling. That’s great. That’s exciting. I literally could not wait to read the next script because I didn’t know what was going to happen. It’s cool.
What made Sundance a good home for this TV show?
HENDERSON: What’s exciting about Sundance is that they’re making a name for themselves in this boutique television niche world, and there’s energy behind that. We’re discovering and establishing the brand. The taste and the sophistication that comes with whatever [Robert] Redford tried to set up, X many years ago, is informing a lot of the decisions. It also gives free reign to the creatives, to really go into areas that most TV shows don’t go into. It’s cool. It’s like being part of a new wave of TV, in a way. The whole idea of going to work with James Gray, and working with Aaron [Guzikowski] is good.
Did you have any idea where this character would go?
HENDERSON: I had a meeting. I was working in Australia, so they sent me the script and I read the first episode because that’s all that had been written. I loved the world and I loved the role. And then, I put a couple of scenes on tape and sent it to the producers, and they were like, “We love Martin!” But they wanted to have a conversation with me before we went forward, so we had a Skype conversation. They explained that, although it’s not entirely apparent in the first episode, my character was going to go into territory that’s a little unhinged, quite dark and quite intense. In the first episode, he’s putting out fires, but he’s got a lid on everything. There’s a quiet, contained aspect to the character. But as more and more events unfold, and more of his own past gets revealed, he finds himself in a more and more compromised position, and less and less able to do his job. There are so many mounting frustrations, between the marriage, his relationship with his children, and his reputation within the police community. His own identity as a man and his ability to function is called into question, and he starts getting more and more desperate. So, they explained that to me, and I went back in did a couple of scenes that were in that first episode, but played them in a much more desperate manner. And then, I got the part. They wanted to see that side. So, I knew that that was coming, but I didn’t know the specifics. I didn’t know why or how, but I knew that that was the direction of the character.
HENDERSON: You know, that’s a really good question. I did a bit of research on this because I was like, “Come on! My wife’s been schizophrenic for a long time now, and I haven’t noticed?!” I constructed, in my imagination, what that would be psychologically. How could he have gotten to a point where he didn’t notice? It’s the power of denial. I realized that here’s a man who’s denying something that huge, in order to avoid dealing with it or taking responsibility. She’s also never accepted it or admitted it or had to deal with it, which is convenient. And human beings are like that. Most people start eating healthy after the doctor says they have a problem. That’s just human nature. And she was masking it with her drinking. For many years, she was acting it as an alcoholic, so a lot of her erratic, questionable behavior was explained by her alcoholism and drinking, and the demons that were released through that, rather than true mental illness.
What’s it like to work with Jason Momoa and explore the adversarial dynamic between your characters?
HENDERSON: Oh, it’s great fun. Those are my favorite scenes. We only get about one per episode, on average. They’re juicy. I think the audience will love those because it’s the world and the dog. It’s a psychological battle. We’re calling each other’s bluff. My character’s got a lot to lose, and so does he. It’s interesting to see how Harold is going to out manipulate him. What strings will he pull? It’s like a game of chess. They’re both just trying to survive. You should be rooting for them both, if you understand their plight, even though they both do horrible things. That’s really interesting, as an actor. You’re playing both sides of humanity, with the light and the dark.
The Red Road airs on Thursday nights on SundanceTV.