In WGN America’s OUTSIDERS, now in its second season on Tuesday nights, the title term has various meanings. The Farrell clan, who have lived in isolation on a Kentucky mountaintop, view everyone else as outsiders. The people in the small town below view the mountainfolk as outsiders. And both groups view representatives of the mining company that wants to raze the mountain as the ultimate outsiders.
Actors Kyle Gallner, Christina Jackson and Francie Swift between them play characters who are representatives of all three groups. Gallner’s Hasil (pronounced “Hassle”) is a young mountain man whose curious nature brings him down into the town and into a romance with Jackson’s character Sally-Ann. In Season 1, Hasil brought Sally-Ann up the mountain, but she was subjected to so much abuse by some of his kin that she left. This season, however, Sally-Ann discovers that she’s pregnant and, lacking the funds for a private termination or proximity to an affordable one, she heads back up the mountain. Francie Swift’s Haylie Grimes works for the mining company. She has run-ins with just about everyone, including Sheriff Wade Houghton (Thomas J. Wright), who correctly sees the mining company as a harbinger of violence.
The actors, seated together in a big green room at Pasadena’s Langham-Huntington Hotel, have an easy banter between them, teasing each other, asking each other questions and making observations about one another’s characters. In short, they all seem like part of the same happy team.
ASSIGNMENT X: OUTSIDERS actually takes place in the present, but some aspects of it feel like they could be taking place in the past. I mean, do you feel any kind of period similarity between OUTSIDERS and BOARDWALK EMPIRE, where you played Maybelle White, the daughter of Michael Kenneth Williams’ gangster character Chalky White?
CHRISTINA JACKSON: [laughs] I think so. I think when you start talking about the Farrells and how much hasn’t changed [for them] in two hundred years, there are some similarities there. It’s definitely a fun project to be an actor on BOARDWALK EMPIRE. I think that Sally-Ann versus Maybelle gets to wear a lot less makeup.
KYLE GALLNER: Similar dresses, though.
JACKSON: [laughs] No, not really, not 1920s garb. I think as far as Sally-Ann goes, she’s kind of at a place where she doesn’t have many options, much like Maybelle didn’t, but I think that’s where the similarities end for the characters.
AX: I have to ask, when you started hearing your character’s name out loud, did you think, “His name is Hassle?”
GALLNER: “A pain in the ass?” Yeah, I’d say the name’s kind of fitting. He causes trouble. He’s definitely been a bit of a hassle. No, I like the name. I love the name, actually. I tried to convince Christina to name her dog “Hasil.”
JACKSON: He did.
GALLNER: [laughs] What did you name your dog?
JACKSON: Langston. [Hasil as a name is] very personable, but I could imagine a puppy tearing up –
GALLNER: It’s a great dog name.
JACKSON: It’s a great dog name, but I could imagine a puppy just tearing up everything in my house and peeing all over stuff. “Hasil, sit!”
GALLNER: [joking] Kind of like what I do whenever I go over to Christina’s house.
AX: It seems like Haylie doesn’t really have a community. Most of the other characters belong somewhere. Do you feel a little left out?
FRANCIE SWIFT: A little bit. It was funny – the first season, I was always off in an office by myself shooting, it felt like [laughs]. But this season, I get to know everybody a little better. They bring me out of my office and into the other worlds a little bit more. So yeah, it did feel a little lonesome. Now it brings me into conflict, but at least I’m out and about.
AX: Do you think there is anything that would bring Sally up the mountain except for pregnancy?
JACKSON: No. Absolutely not. I feel like a lot of fan reaction last season was, “Well, she doesn’t have anywhere to go, and she needs to go back up that mountain and fight for her man.” And it’s like, “I’m sorry, did you see what happened up there?” So no, I don’t think she would travel back up that mountain if it weren’t absolutely pertinent, because she did not have a very good experience up there the first time.
AX: If you hadn’t read the scripts, what would you have predicted Hasil’s reaction would be to impending fatherhood?
JACKSON: [laughs] Is that how it is?
GALLNER: I think that, like any young man, he would be surprised. But that being said, he comes from a different place. He comes from a place where family is extremely important and the only way we exist up there is by procreating. There are generations of Farrells up there. Also, Hasil’s an orphan, so I think there would be something powerful to him in having a child, in having his own son or daughter to take care of, and being able to have the opportunity to be there for his kid the way his parents weren’t for him. So I think initially he would probably be pretty scared about it, but I do think he would try to take it on.
AX: And for Haylie, was the scene where you have Wade in the office trying to get health insurance for his sister from her a particularly difficult scene, or a particularly gratifying scene?
SWIFT: I think it’s gratifying. When I first read it, I was just so surprised that I was like, oh, we’re going to see something different from Haylie this year. Or are we? Is it a manipulation, or is it …? I think it opens up new doors and new complexities for the character, and as an actor, that’s always interesting. You always like finding more layers and more levels.
AX: You had started acting on camera when you were fourteen. You’re now an adult, but you’re one of the younger characters in OUTSIDERS, so do you feel that you’re playing a an adult, or does this still feel like playing a relatively young character?
GALLNER: The funny thing is, we’ve never actually established how old Hasil is. He just sort of exists. And he’s put in grownup situations, and he is somebody that people count on when things have to get physical or things have to get done. He definitely handles his fair share of situations. So it doesn’t ever feel like he’s really treated like a young man. [As the character], I’ve messed up and I’ve been punished for it, for sure, and some of those mess-ups were probably because I was young and dumb, but it never feels particularly belittling in the way that you would reprimand a child or anything like that. Because like I said, they do put pressure on him, they do give him responsibilities, he does have things that he needs to take care of.
JACKSON: I think the curiosity of Hasil is what makes him seem younger.
JACKSON: I think him coming down into town and learning how things work in a town, that’s what probably takes years off of him.
GALLNER: That kind of childlike wonderment, that kind of makes him feel young, but he’s probably older than you would initially think. I don’t think the guy’s eighteen or anything, he’s at least in his twenties.
AX: Do you feel like Sally-Ann’s curiosity is growing the more she learns about these strange mountainfolk, or do you think her curiosity is shutting down because she finds them so aggravating?
JACKSON: No, I think part of the beauty of Hasil and Sally-Ann is that it’s kind of like THE LITTLE MERMAID, where you see Ariel with the fork, and she uses it as a comb, and it’s, “Well, that’s not how you use that.” I think part of the fascination with them is her teaching Hasil about how things work in our world, but also, in explaining some things, realizing how ridiculous some of the customs that we have in this world are. And I don’t know if it’s curiosity about the Farrells themselves, but it’s when you take one Farrell out of their comfort [zone] and bring them somewhere else, what’s teachable, and what they can teach me.
AX: And when all of you read the opening sequence for Season 2, which seemed to be all-out war between the Farrells and the law enforcement from outside, were you primed to know, okay, it’s a hallucination, or were you going, “Yikes, where’s the rest of the season going to go?!”
GALLNER: Yeah, I think initially those first two pages, I was like, “Holy crap.” And then it was like, “Okay, okay, okay.”
JACKSON: It seemed very likely that that’s what would happen, and then it’s like, oh, okay, so they’re just going to blow up the mountain now, and then that’ll be the end of Season 2. Short season. It’s a oner [laughs].
GALLNER: There was a minute there where I didn’t know what was going to happen. And then after you get into it, you’re like, “Oh, this is how this is going to continue.”
AX: And with Haylie, is Haylie’s attitude about what is going on changing at all, or was her concession to Wade just that she’s a human being, but she’s never going to change her mind about what the mining company is doing out there?
SWIFT: I think she’s a smart enough woman to know that it’s nice to have people owe you, that that’s a powerful position to be in. If someone owes you a favor, that’s a good thing for her, in every way. Also, she has a new cohort in town. Now that Matt Myers [outside law enforcement played by James McCauley] has entered the picture, she doesn’t have to be quite as head-to-head with the sheriff. Somebody else is going to have to take that role on, and she can step back and reassess that relationship a little bit.
AX: Was that fun to play, or was it more fun to play her as the complete hardass?
SWIFT: I had a blast playing Haylie the first season, but I was surprised and excited to see a turn. In Season 1, okay, we’ve done that, now let’s try something new and different. And they really shocked me with what they gave me for Season 2, so it was great. It was the best kind of surprise for me to read it, and a lot of fun to play it. Haylie does not stay in her office this season. She gets to interact with a lot more people [laughs].
AX: Do you have other projects that we should know about?
GALLNER: I have a movie called ZEN DOG that may come out at some point. It played Rain Dance Film Festival, it won Film of the Festival out there. That’s kind of all I’ve got going on.
JACKSON: I just did an episode of BULL for CBS, Episode Twelve, called “Stockholm Syndrome,” so that was really fun, to kind of get out of playing Sally-Ann and go be an adult.
GALLNER: Get out of the [costume].
JACKSON: Well, Sally-Ann gets out of the khakis in Season 2, so I’m happy about that.
SWIFT: I’ve got a film that [played] at Sundance called THOROUGHBRED. It’s a new, interesting young director, Cory Finley, and I think we’ll do well.
AX: And what would you most like people to know about OUTSIDERS Season 2?
JACKSON: It comes on at nine o’clock.
GALLNER: That’s about as good as it gets [laughs].
SWIFT: It’s even more of a roller-coaster ride than last season.
This interview was conducted during WGN America’s portion of the winter 2017 Television Critics Association (TCA) press tour.
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Article: OUTSIDERS: Interview with actors Kyle Gallner, Christina Jackson and Francie Swift