The WGN America drama series Outsiders tells the tale of the struggle for power and control set in the rugged hills of Appalachia. The Farrell Clan is a tight-knit family of renegades who have lived atop Shay Mountain for over 200 years, and they must fight to defend their land and way of life from the town below and anyone who would dare to challenge them.
While at the TCA Press Tour, actor Ryan Hurst (“Little Foster”) spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about always looking for stories that are weird and different, the collaborative process in developing his character and shaping the culture, getting to drive ATVs around, the intense family dynamic, wanting to work with co-star David Morse, and what he’s most enjoyed about being a part of this show.
Collider: This is an interesting story that’s like nothing I’ve seen told on TV before. Is that what you look for in a project?
RYAN HURST: Absolutely! I always look for weird and different stories. I read the first script and it was like, “What?!” It was just so different than everything. I was concerned that the character, on the surface, looked too much like Opie, but we developed it together. Originally, for the first four or five episodes, my character stuttered, but we ended up losing that. It was really fun to find this world together.
These are also characters that you’re not sure if you’re supposed to like or root for because they’re dangerous people who sometimes do not very nice things.
HURST: Right, and I like that. It makes the show feel fragile, but it’s got these themes underneath it that are really keeping it up.
Is it nice to have some say in collaborating on this character and how he would develop?
HURST: Yeah. I know this may sound really crazy, but sometimes I’ll get flashes of things before they happen. Before I even met with anybody on this show, I knew how the guy looked, I knew how everybody else looked, and I knew the “Ged-gedyah” that everybody says. That was not in any of the scripts. I brought that to (show creator) Peter Mattei. I knew they looked different, talked different and sounded different, and I really wanted to be a part of contributing to shaping this culture. All of the cast members went to Peter Mattei with all of these questions about, who are these people? What do they believe in? Do they believe in God? What is this all about? And he was really confident enough to say, “I don’t know. I wrote this thing really fast because I had this flash of intent, so I don’t know.” So, we all ended up doing it together. Because he was so honest and open about that, I said, “I’ve been getting all of these things. Let’s do them.” And he was like, “Okay.” It’s really been a communal shaping of the show.
You’ve gone from one ensemble on Sons of Anarchy, where you were secure in a family, to this new group of people on Outsiders that you have to feel out.
HURST: The only sucky part, at least for this first season, is that the mountain is the mountain and the town is the town. There’s a fantastic cast that we don’t get to see. We just pass each other and say, “See you later!”
Was it fun to drive ATVs into town and ride through a store on them?
HURST: Yeah. They just wanted us riding, and I was like, “You want to knock stuff over. Just bring stuff over here, so I can run over it.” It was fun.
There’s such an interesting family dynamic on this show. What can we expect to see from that?
HURST: There are so many unanswered questions, but there are three families. For Little, he’s just arrested development. Here’s a guy who’s living under a domineering father and also catering to a woman who may or may not love him. So, he’s a guy who is trying to please two people that he will never be able to please. As the season goes on, you’ll see little bit of who he is and not just in reaction to these to people.
How has it been to work with David Morse?
HURST: He was the reason why I took this show. Six or seven years ago, I made a list of 12 people that I wanted to work with. Paul Giamatti was one, and David Morse was another. They’re character journeymen actors. David really helped craft not just this bad-ass who smacks his son around, but I really felt, through his performance, that you just saw the natural outward projection of how it was reflecting him to treat someone so kind so badly.
With how bad Little is treated, and as a result of some of the things he does that aren’t always so nice, is it possible for him to keep that sweetness?
HURST: That’s a good question. I don’t know. I always love to find where a character’s heart is, and by that I mean where they’re intrinsically vulnerable, and to bring that out in myself. I remember Julianne Moore talking about acting and she said, “I’m just looking for truth. When people watch, they’re not looking to see me. They’re looking to see themselves.” That’s one of my new favorite sayings. The job of the art is to really convey and support that empathetic response. I always try to find where the character is mushy, and then bring that to the forefront. It was very easy with this guy.
Does Little have limits, as far as how far someone can push him?
HURST: Not really. At least in this season, the way that it explodes is that it ends up being this psycho-spiritual thing. It’s not the way that you would think. It’s not, “I’ve gotta go kill my dad.” He does go down a dark path for a little while, but very soon realizes that maybe that was the path that his father took, and he doesn’t want to be that.
Does Little ever want to be a leader to these people, or would he rather stay in the background?
HURST: I think he would rather be in the background. Out of everybody on the show, he has no agenda. He would love to have a family, he would love to have a wife, and he would love to live happily. It’s very simple. He has no aspirations past that. Everybody else, in their own ways, is vying for power or envious of someone else.
Do you see parallels between what Little and Asa are both going through, since they’re two men who are clearly lost and trying to figure out what their place is?
HURST: In the first part of the season, I definitely see the similarity, and then it starts to depart. You’ll see some hostility come out in Asa and he’s start to make some decisions that you’ll question. I think the audience is going to want Little to blow up, but it’s not going to happen in the way that people expect.
What does Little think about the town?
HURST: Being raised under his father, he probably doesn’t know enough to have a real opinion. I think he probably is too fearful to be really curious. There’s probably a common denominator, in terms of the level of intrigue that each of the people on the mountain have of the town. Have you ever seen The Village? It’s kind of like that. It’s not that everybody is scared, but they’re unsure. It’s more the idea of what they represent.
What have you most enjoyed about living in this character, in this world?
HURST: I remember when I was flying to Pittsburgh to shoot, something inside me was like, “This is going to be a lot of fun,” and it really was. It’s a modern-day story that’s not a complete fantasy, but within it is this faction where you get to create a whole new world. When you’re an actor, you have to make a living playing a cop, a doctor or a lawyer. I get to be a guy wearing animal pelts and speaking in some unknown language, and it’s not Game of Thrones. It’s something really different. That part, I just love. Also, the way that it’s shot really naturalistically, it really gives us the leverage to go there creatively because it feels very normal. It gives us the credibility to wear all these crazy things and have tattoos all over. It strikes a really neat balance.
Outsiders airs on Tuesday nights on WGN America.