The fourth and final season of the drama series The Killing, available exclusively on Netflix, wraps up previously unresolved story threads and takes viewers on a journey through a new crime. Detective Linden (Mireille Enos) and Detective Holder (Joel Kinnaman) struggle to manage the fall-out from their shocking actions at the end of last season, while also trying to solve the murder of a picture perfect family, survived only by the son, Kyle Stansbury (Tyler Ross), who was shot in the head during the massacre and left with no clear memory of what happened. The season also stars Joan Allen, as Colonel Margaret Rayne, the headmaster of the all-boys military academy that Kyle attends, Sterling Beaumon and Levi Meaden, as two of the other students there, and Gregg Henry.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Tyler Ross (who gives a terrific, heartbreaking and haunting performance as Kyle Stansbury) talked about how he came to the show, how welcoming everyone was, the excitement of being the new guy on set, how great Netflix is about giving the power to the show creator, finally getting to drop the F-bomb on the show, that he didn’t know the final outcome for his character, going into the show, his reaction when he found out, working with Joan Allen, the most difficult scenes to shoot, and what he learned about himself, as an actor, from this experience. He also talked about reuniting with The Wise Kids writer/director Stephen Cone for Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party. Check out what he had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are major spoilers, if you haven’t seen The Killing season 4.
Collider: Was it nerve-wracking to be a part of the final season of the show, and then wait to hear what the fan response would be? Did you breathe a huge sigh of relief when you saw the overwhelming response, especially for your performance?
TYLER ROSS: When we were doing the work, I felt pretty confident, so it wasn’t quite as nerve-wracking as it could have been. Everyone on set and in production, and everyone involved with the project, did a really good job making me feel at home. They also really cared about what we were doing. I was a little nervous, but I was mostly nervous that I wouldn’t be able to stand watching myself. Honestly, this is one of the first times where I was quite happy. After getting to watch the first episode at the premiere, I was like, “Oh, man, this is gonna be fun!,” and my nerves melted away. I’m very grateful for the reaction from everyone, and a little overwhelmed. I’m thankful that it all came out the way it did.
How did you come to the show? Did you go through an audition process for this role?
ROSS: I did. I put myself on tape for two different roles, for Kyle and for Lincoln. I was actually called back for the Lincoln role. I remember walking out of that audition, and I got down the stairs before they said, “Come back! We want you to read for Kyle.” So, I went in again and read for Kyle. And then, I got a callback just for Kyle. It was an interesting process, and I remember coming home and collapsing on the couch. The audition was actually really close to my house, so I didn’t really have time to decompress on the drive back home. I got home and I was still shaking from the emotional turmoil of the monologue I had just given, with no real release. I just sat on the couch shaking, and my roommates were like, “What’s wrong?” And I couldn’t even talk about it. That was pretty much it. I auditioned, just like everybody else.
Were you nervous about walking onto the set the first day, especially knowing that Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman had spent three seasons developing a personal dynamic with the crew and everyone behind the scenes? Was it hard to be the new guy, or did it help that there were so many new people this season?
ROSS: It was more adrenaline and excitement than full-on nerves, in the beginning. I’ve felt more nervous for something that was just getting started, for the first time. Being a fan of the show already and knowing that these people knew exactly what they were doing, and how welcoming they all were, was just amazing. Mireille made us feel so welcomed into the cast. The crew and the production team made me feel so welcome. The nerves just melted away. I was more worried about doing the best job that I could, to help tell the story. Also, I do think it helps that I was in the same boat as Levi [Meaden], who played A.J., and Sterling [Beaumon], who played Lincoln. We jumped onto this together, and we were so welcomed. I didn’t ever feel like it wasn’t going to be great. From the get-go, we just wanted to do the best that we could.
The final season found a great balance between wrapping up previously unresolved story threads while also telling a new story.
ROSS: Yeah, I agree, completely. Veena Sud was the showrunner, and this was her vision for the show. The fact that Netflix let the creator have so much control, I think they should be applauded for. They’re really good with giving the power to the creator. In some ways, you’re trying to fit a format where people can watch the whole thing, at one time, but I think that helps find the balance that you need, and still make it work without having to fit it into a certain time period.
Because of the freedom that Netflix allowed, it was also really striking to see how effectively certain language was used that couldn’t be used before.
ROSS: Yeah, and personally, I don’t feel that they used it gratuitously. When it was used, it felt right. It wasn’t used to get viewership. I think the people who watch the show will understand. It felt weird without it. And I know Joel Kinnaman was really excited to finally be able to drop the f-bomb. There’s no way his character wouldn’t have.
How much of your character’s journey were you told ahead of time? Did you know what the whole arc would be?
ROSS: I did not. It was so funny. I couldn’t believe it was me, when I found out. Nobody knew, except Veena. I knew a little bit of his backstory, but that was pretty much it. Veena and I had a conversation, a week or two before we shot it. Other than that, I pretty much just had whatever direction she had given me in the audition room, and the sides from that audition. The first script hadn’t been written, at the time that I auditioned. As far as where the character was going, it was a blind leap of faith. I had a really good team. I had some really amazing writers, some really amazing actors, and some really amazing directors. Jonathan Demme came in for the last episode of The Killing, as the director. He also directed an episode in Season 3. This is the guy who did The Silence of the Lambs. He gives great directions, and it’s in the writing. It was painful to go through, but it wasn’t difficult to know where the character needed to go. It was really smartly done.
What was it like to work with Joan Allen, and develop the dynamic between your character?
ROSS: That was great. I loved Joan. I loved getting to work with her. I wanted to spend more time with her, from the get-go. When we started on this journey, I didn’t know how much we were going to have together. As the episodes came out, we’d have more scenes to do and we grew closer as people, as well. It was really something that I can’t put any kind of price on. It was one of those experiences that you know you didn’t do anything to deserve, but you’re getting it anyway, so you better soak up every moment and hang onto it and try to remember it later, in darker times. It was incredible to work with her, and to have the friendship that we have now. The dynamic between the characters inevitably brought us closer together as people, as well.
What was the most difficult scene to shoot?
ROSS: I don’t know if I could narrow it down to one scene. Sometimes a scene was difficult because of something other than the material. Obviously, the revealing scene was not fun. There was nothing fun about that, at all. I’m proud that we got it and that it worked, but that was one of those things that you just had to knock out. I was dreading it. And the scene when I had to pull a gun on Joan was not easy for me either. It was the nature of the way that we had to shoot it, and having to be on a schedule without a lot of time to find it. That was particularly challenging. There were other scenes that were super tense because of the nature of what we were shooting. It was tricky. The scene where Linden takes me through the house and shows me the blood bath, I still occasionally have a nightmare from that. Mireille was describing what happened in full detail, right into my ear. To have all of that happen, I remember that night, I had dreams of having to shoot people that I knew, personally. Those were not fun dreams to have. I had these images floating around because somebody was putting that into my ear, all day. That took all day to shoot. It was not fun. But I feel like it was all so worth it, to tell this story. At the end of the day, I’m not going to go crazy from it. I’ve had time to decompress from the role. It was absolutely worth committing myself to the role.
What do you feel that you learned about yourself, as an actor, from being a part of this show and working with such high-quality writing and high-caliber talent, in front of and behind the camera?
ROSS: I learned that I’m particularly lucky. I don’t even know if I could fully articulate it to myself. I learned so much about how to be a professional actor. I learned different things from different people. From Mireille, I learned how to show up and do the work, every day, with a smile on my face for everyone involved. From Joan, I learned how to bring it, every time and in every scene. I learned how to find ways to be there and to listen and to be open, even under difficult circumstances. There were a lot of things that I learned. I wish I could be more articulate, but I definitely learned a lot. It also instilled in me a confidence to do it again sometime. Before, it was always like, “I’ve never done this before. Can I do it?” But when you do it, you never have to ask that question of yourself again. It helped me to focus on the things that I need to, and I learned a lot about what I should be focusing on from working with these guys.
What was it like to get to reunite writer/director Stephen Cone for Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party, after having worked with him on The Wise Kids, at a very different stage in your career and life? Did it feel like there had been a natural growth, or did it feel very different?
ROSS: I’m glad you asked that. It did feel different. You’re the first person to ask me something like that. First of all, Stephen Cone is someone who I would work with again and again. He’s one of those people where I’m like, “Whatever you want to do, let’s do it.” I trust him that much and I’m such a fan of his work that I would do that. But this was the first time since we worked on The Wise Kids, which was four years ago. I was playing a completely different role than I had with him before, but we were also shooting a little different animal than before. The big difference was that it felt like everyone knew what they were doing a little bit more. The level of focus was cranked up a bit, and it needed to be. This particular movie involves 20 cast members, and none of them are extras. They all bring something to the table. And it’s set entirely at a pool party, so there’s a lot going on. It takes a lot of focus to pull off a movie like that. At this point, he’s assembled people that he knows are so good at what they do, and they were actually able to wrap a day early, which was amazing. It was only an 18-day shoot, to begin with. It was cool to be there and to work with someone who felt both familiar and new and improved. It felt like what we had done before, but just turned up a few notches on the dial. That was really cool for me. And I can’t wait to work with him again. Hopefully, I won’t have to wait another four years.
The Killing is available on Netflix.