A scene from THE OATH | © 2018 Crackle

A scene from THE OATH | © 2018 Crackle

The title of Crackle’s new series THE OATH, which is now streaming all ten first-season episodes, refers to the vow made by police officers when they join the force. The series, created by Joe Halpin, deals with a surprisingly and alarmingly widespread phenomenon: gangs within police departments.

Ryan Kwanten and Cory Hardrict play, respectively, Steve Hammond and Cole Hammond, adoptive brothers and detectives working in an unnamed American police department; THE OATH shoots in Puerto Rico. The Hammond siblings are also members of the Ravens, a gang operating inside the department that stages a bank heist at the beginning of the series premiere. The Ravens also shake down drug dealers and other criminals, who can hardly call the cops for protection, as well as vying with other police gangs. Things come to a head when they are cornered by the FBI and pressured into becoming informants.

Besides being one of its stars, native Australian Kwanten is also a producer on THE OATH. He is perhaps best known in the U.S. for his seven years as somewhat dense Louisiana sheriff’s deputy Jason Stackhouse on TRUE BLOOD. His feature credits include DEAD SILENCE, RED HILL, GRIFF THE INVISIBLE, and THE HURRICANE HEIST.

Hardrict, who hails from Chicago, has costarred in a number of features, including AMERICAN SNIPER, ALL EYEZ ON ME and GRAN TORINO. The two actors share a visible bond when they sit down to discuss their work in THE OATH.

ASSIGNMENT X: Both of your characters are pretty complicated. You’re cops, and you’re brothers, and you’re gang members, and then you’re flipped gang members working with the FBI under duress, and then you have family stuff. What was your starting point for working on the characters?

RYAN KWANTEN: Even the way that question is posed, you can’t help but feel a tenseness in playing this character, and that’s what I drew from originally. As cops, I think, they carry a certain amount of pain with them, but they learn the art of suppressing that pain and suppressing the unknown. You have to have that level of emotional detachment to what you’re doing, because you see so much horrible s***, and we’re in the world also creating some of that horrible s***, unfortunately, the gang that we’re in. So there are things that we see that you cannot unsee. It wears on a man. And so to put on that skin, I felt the need to never take it off, so for the three, four months that we were shooting, I stayed pretty much in character. Joe [Halpin] turned to me at the end and said, “What are you looking forward to most?” and I said, “Joe, smiling. I haven’t smiled in four months. I’ve been living with a tense jaw and my stomach in knots, trying to keep our band together.”

AX: Did you maintain the American accent throughout as well?

KWANTEN: Yes.

CORY HARDRICT: [joking] So did I.

AX: How did you start working on the character of Cole?

HARDRICT: I like to put every character at a ground level first. I like to ground it, I like to keep everything simple, like my approach, and I like to keep it true to form. I’ll look up some documentaries, I’ll go on YouTube, I’ll start doing some research on cops or crooked cops, or gangs, and then I’ll put it in a big pot and I’ll mix it together, and then I jump into it slowly and let it build from there. And also, I let it build from my personal experiences of real life. They say art imitates life and growing up on the south side of Chicago, I grew up around a lot of violence, police violence, family and gangs, drug dealers, the whole nine. And I try to pull from that. And I pull from that and I build layers for my character, and I went from there, really.

AX: Your characters are brothers, and your father is an incarcerated former cop, played by Sean Bean. Have they been brothers since birth, or are they adopted, or …?

HARDRICT: Yes, I’m adopted. I’m his adopted younger brother. I’m adopted into this family, and I’m just trying to fit in and find my way, and I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes, but I want to know what it feels like to have a family. Not having that genuine love, that’s why this family adopted me, and just trying to be the best brother I can, be the best son I can, for my mother and then my father, and then at the same time fit in and do what’s required.

KWANTEN: There was a weight that he brought to the character, and because of his life experience and, bless his soul, going to those places inside of him that I know are hard to access, and you keep them down there for a reason. We feel blessed as a show that he was willing to go to those places and dredge up those memories. And it forced all of us to get a little deep, dark and burdened with it. There was kind of a cathartic nature to getting that off the chest, and then realizing, “Hey, I’m not alone here. We all have our skeletons, we all have our demons, and we all have something to vie for here.”

AX: Did either of you have to learn how to do anything in order to play the parts, as far as handling weapons or clearing a doorway?

HARDRICT: No, we didn’t. We just had to show up. It was all on the page. Joe Halpin, our amazing show runner/creator, he developed some four-star characters for us to jump into, and he let us find our way on our own, and he was there to give us any type of direction from his standpoint of being in it for eighteen years. But he let us go about it our own way and do our own research and find it, and that was the beauty of this year.

AX: With Steve Hammond, is it a relief getting to play a character over a long period of time who has, let’s say, a more normal sort of intelligence than Jason Stackhouse?

KWANTEN: I was wondering how you were going to word that. Yeah. That’s the beauty of being an actor. We get to put on these masks and live in these bodies. There’s a certain amount of intelligence, let’s say, that Hammond has that no amount of training – that was never going to happen to Stackhouse. I enjoyed that, to put on this skin of a man [creator Halpin] that lived and breathed that life. And to have him give me the nod, to have him say, “Yeah, you’re my guy,” that felt good.

HARDRICT: What I can say also about this show and the characters is, when I was reading it, I had a sense of mystery and fear. The character kind of scared me, because it was everything – it was a lot of things that happened in my real life, and if something scares me on the page, I feel like I have to do it. That’s why I knew this could possibly be special, because I said, “Wow.” It brought up things in my soul that I had masked for twenty years in my body, so this is a way of getting it out.

AX: Is it more the violence, or is it more the confrontations, or …?

HARDRICT: It’s everything.

KWANTEN: We can’t give it away, but when we walk in and the blood is splattered everywhere …

HARDRICT: Like I said, art imitates life, and I’ve had some real-life tragedy experiences that played out in all this material that we shot here. So that’s what I meant by the scary part of it, and being able to bring that out of me was like therapy. I didn’t know if I could go there, but then I just let go and said, “You know what? I’ve got to get it all out, I’ve got to be honest and true.” That felt really great to do.

KWANTEN: There’s nothing more powerful than seeing these grown men that are in these positions of power being vulnerable, opening up, and I think that’s what is making people gravitate towards this show, is that this is not violence for violence sake. There’s method to the madness, and there’s a collaboration of this family that I certainly haven’t seen before.

AX: How did the two of you work on the relationship between your characters? Did you just show up and there it was, or did you guys bond, or talk about it, or …?

KWANTEN: Yeah, we talked about it. We talked about our mothers, we talked about our upbringing. There’s a lot of pain that we got out of the way early. There were scenes where we would collapse into each other’s arms in the end to hold each other for two, three minutes after, long after the cameras stopped rolling.

HARDRICT: You see grown men being vulnerable and letting it all on the line, and not being afraid to show that side of us. Like I said, we’re all secure in our own skin here. I have a family, Ryan has a family. We weren’t afraid as men to hug and cry. We needed that, and it brought us closer together.

KWANTEN: I think it’s what makes the show transcend just a cop show.

AX: Working in Puerto Rico since the hurricanes, does that also give you a feeling of, “We’re all in this together”?

KWANTEN: Oh, yeah. And in such a powerful, life-affirming way. There’s a spirit and a tenacity to those Puerto Ricans that I can only hope to have half of it. They work to live, and then what happened to them – I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone, but the way that they handled it, and continue to handle it, I take my hat off to them.

HARDRICT: I would show up to work after we came back, after the second hurricane, Maria, and some of the crew, most of the crew, still had a smile on their face. You know how hard that is, to have a smile on your face when you don’t have clean drinking water, when you haven’t bathed, no electricity or clean food? But you’re still smiling. That speaks volumes about the strength of the Puerto Rican people, and they embraced us, and we love them dearly, and they will always be a part of us. So we would love to go back and finish what we started, because this is all of us. The cast, crew, the people – we did this together, and we need them as much as they need us, we need them as well.

KWANTEN: Crackle have been phenomenal in spearheading that charge [of helping organize assistance for Puerto Rico]. Crackle have been phenomenal through the whole thing.

HARDRICT: They’ve been amazing with housing and just providing some bare necessities, and they mean it. It’s coming from a real place, not just, “Oh, I have to do this so people can see it.” They really care, and that means a lot, too, to us.

AX: You’re both actors who are playing characters who do more than the usual human fronting – they go undercover and lie and play a variety of parts within the story. Is that tricky for you, or is that helpful for you?

KWANTEN: It’s incredible to have characters that have multi-layers to them, where you’re accessing one part of your psyche for this character, and then you’re accessing another part of your psyche for another character. Sometimes it’s four or five or six different parts of that we did the same day. I think it’s such a great acting lesson. It certainly honed my skills and I guess my film fitness.

HARDRICT: This guy is Mr. Physical Fitness, film and physical. You see this man in the ocean, it makes you want to take swimming lessons immediately [laughs].

AX: How has your experience been as a producer on THE OATH?

KWANTEN: It was incredible. These guys kept themselves in line and turned up prepared and ready to roll. It was nice to be able to – [turns to Hardrict] I don’t know, how was it working with me?

HARDRICT: What I want to say about this guy is, he’s a producer on it, but you wouldn’t know it, because he doesn’t carry that hat on. He’s one of the gang, and he’s one of the most humble, beautiful, spirited human beings I’ve ever worked with, acting or just to talk to outside of acting, as a person. And that makes my job that much easier, so working with Ryan has been one of my best acting experiences ever, so he deserves every great thing that comes to him.

AX: Do either of you have other projects we should know about?

HARDRICT: Yeah, I have a film coming out in April called LABYRINTH, with Johnny Depp and Forest Whitaker, and then #211 I did right before I got this job, with Nic Cage. It comes out in April as well. And a couple of other things. Just trying to jump into the producing world. But I’m here for THE OATH, and that’s the most important thing to me, is this television show with my brothers and sisters here, because I believe we have something special. I just want the world to see it and form their own opinions, but I believe we have something wonderful.

This interview was conducted during Crackle’s portion of the Winter 2018 Television Critics Association (TCA) press tour.

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Article: THE OATH: Ryan Kwanten & Cory Hardrict talk playing correct cops – exclusive interview

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