From show creator Andrew Sodroski (who also ran the season about the Unabomber, featuring Paul Bettany and Sam Worthington, that aired on Discovery), the Spectrum Originals drama series Manhunt: Deadly Games chronicles the deadly bombing at the 1996 Olympic Games and the complex manhunt that followed. After first pointing the finger at the wrongly accused and innocent Richard Jewell (Cameron Britton), whose life was turned upside by the FBI and the national news media while he fought to clear his name, the FBI then focused their hunt on elusive serial bomber Eric Rudolph (Jack Huston), who had a very clear and dangerous agenda of his own.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Jack Huston talked about what he found most interesting when it came to this interwoven story, why he was fascinated with Eric Rudolph, deciding not to try to look for any redemptive qualities in the man he was playing, how it was easier to shake a character like that off, at the end of the shoot, and why it’s impossible to ever truly know or understand someone like Eric Rudolph. He also talked about what made him want to be a part of Season 4 of the FX series Fargo, and how special this season feels.
Collider: This story is interesting because it’s really about three very imperfect people doing what they think is right, but sinking deeper into their mistakes. When this came your way and you read it, what most interested you in the overall story, but also specifically in Eric Rudolph’s story?
JACK HUSTON: Coming from England, I can’t remember if I’d even heard of Richard Jewell or Eric Rudolph. I remember hearing about the Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta, but being far away from it and from another country, I don’t think their names popped out to me. So, when I first was approached to play Eric, and I saw more about the story, about Richard, and about the media trial that took place, and how this rogue guy was running around planting these things and no one even linked it to the Olympic bomb, until years later, while Richard was persecuted and his family was put through hell. It struck a chord with me.
I think the Eric Rudolph character was so interesting because he was someone who preached something, which I didn’t necessarily think he believed, himself. He had this crazy God complex and he masqueraded that he was doing it for the cause to save babies or for his Christian beliefs. I always say that people who kill to prevent death or killing themselves is the ultimate contradiction. Two wrongs don’t make a right. I think he was a very confused human being, but that was very interesting to get underneath the skin of. He was not necessarily a very fun character to play.
He seems like a character that you probably wouldn’t want to delve too deep into the mind of. What were you most concerned with, when taking on this character, and what did you see as the biggest challenges, in trying to dig into him, but not necessarily dig too deep into him?
HUSTON: Yeah, that’s always the trouble of taking on a role like this, especially something which is elongated. With a limited series, you’ve got a much longer to embed yourself within that mindset, and a lot of things, you can’t help but take home with you. If you’re going very deep into character work, it’s very hard not to take it home with you. I’d never really played someone so despicably awful. I always try to find something almost redemptive, or something that gives me insight into why this person is that way, whether it’s being an abused child or having had a horrific break-up, and can help me understand the human being. It’s funny because I found that, with Eric, it was nonsensical. He had these mission statements, like his biography, but the more I read them, the more I realized that I thought he was a liar and that he didn’t believe anything that he was saying. He had a God complex. He wanted to be God. He played many different sides, and he liked the celebrity, more than anything else. He’d been planning it for years, to the extent that he went to the Olympics with his mother and brother. When people referred to Eric, they said, “Oh, it couldn’t possibly be Eric.” He was a stoner, who got booted out of the Army for marijuana. He liked pizza and smoking weed. He was the last person that anybody suspected. It was very strange, and it didn’t add up. I thought it was fascinating to take on this role, but when you’re finished filming, that role stays firmly rooted, over there. When I went home, I quickly dismissal all the traits of Eric Rudolph.
With a character like this, did you have to actively shake him off, or could you just go on vacation and leave him behind
HUSTON: With other characters that do bad things, it’s quite hard to shake it because I try to relate myself to them and, by doing so, I find a way into their psyche and their heart and soul. I didn’t relate to Eric, and that informed my performance. He was an actor. He could win people’s support, but he was doing it all for his own benefit. When you see him kill somebody, it’s done with relish, but it’s done without rhyme or reason. He could happily have killed anybody or anything, with a clear conscience, which is what a psychopath does. That only helped, actually, because in those moments that were so horrific, I tried to make myself void of feeling, which helped me remove myself from the performance, in certain areas. I wanted it to have that distance, where his eyes were almost glossed over and you could really see that it didn’t matter to him.
When you are playing somebody, where it seems like there really is no real explanation for his actions, do you feel like you can ever truly uncover who the real guy is, or do you feel like it’s impossible to ever truly know that because he might not even truly know that?
HUSTON: Yeah, I think you’re right. He fooled everyone. He fooled his family and friends. He was a master manipulator. Not that I was given the option, but if I was given the option to go and sit opposite Eric, who’s wasting away in jail right now, I don’t think I really would’ve benefited from speaking to someone like that. He’s written so many words, but when you read them, it feels like even his words are a performance. He’s performing for his audience. He lives for this audience that he believed that he had. I don’t think he would have necessarily been honest with me because I don’t think he’s honest with himself. He said he was committing his atrocities for his beliefs, but I don’t think that’s true, so I don’t think he’d be honest and truthful to people speaking to him. I don’t think he necessarily knows who he is, which is the case with a lot of sociopaths. There’s something missing and something void within themselves. They can’t relate to humans or to physical contact. That’s something that’s baffled doctors for hundreds of years. That’s why we keep making these shows and documentaries. There’s a fascination in the unknown, and we could never truly know who Eric is.
When the opportunity to do the fourth season of Fargo came your way, what most excited you about that? Was it the type of storytelling that Noah Hawley sets up, was it the character, was it the world, or was it all of that?
HUSTON: All of the above. I managed to go and have a sit-down with Noah, where he was talking about this new season. It was very vague and very lightly. He basically just wanted me to say whether I was in, and I already had told him that I was his and the show’s biggest fan. It was the first time I’d basically said yes to a character that I knew nothing about, and that is in great compliment to Noah and the show. You don’t go in blind to something that you don’t truly believe in your heart is going to be something very special. The character I’m playing is the closest I’ve come to doing something like Boardwalk Empire, which was a complete out-of-body performance. It’s very character based and so interesting. Everything I’ve read, and we’re getting up to the last episodes now, has just been incredible. It’s exciting. This will be a great season. I really do think this is something special. Fingers crossed, that everyone else feels the same.
Manhunt: Deadly Games is available to stream at Spectrum Originals.