PRODIGAL SON, now in its second season Tuesday nights on Fox, is teasing a season-long arc. Malcolm Bright (Tom Payne) is still a profiler for the NYPD, and his father, serial killer Martin Whitly (Michael Sheen), is still confined to a psychiatric institution. But family dynamics are changing.
At the end of Season 1, Malcolm’s society belle mother Jessica (Bellamy Young) had been dating wealthy Nicholas Endicott (Dermot Mulroney). Malcolm and his sister, TV reporter Ainsley (Halston Sage), discovered that Endicott was a murderer. When Endicott threatened the siblings, Ainsley lashed out and killed him – and now doesn’t remember what happened. Malcolm has allowed Ainsley to believe that he did the deed, which he has managed to cover up with advice from Martin. Ainsley still doesn’t remember, but mom Jessica is starting to figure things out – and is terrified for her baby girl.
Meanwhile, Malcolm is still helping the NYPD homicide division headed by Lt. Gil Arroyo (Lou Diamond Phillips). One of Arroyo’s detectives, JT Tarmel (Frank Harts), has been a victim of racial battery by a white detective from another squad, leaving him with a quandary about whether to press charges via a police review board. Pathologist Dr. Edrisa Tanaka (Keiko Agena) continues to do excellent work while trying to manage her crush on Malcolm.
PRODIGAL SON creators/executive producers Chris Fedak and Sam Sklaver together participate in an exclusive phone interview to discuss everything going on with their show, while steering clear of spoilers.
ASSIGNMENT X: We meet a lot of killers on PRODIGAL SON. What goes into making some of them sympathetic and some of them not?
CHRIS FEDAK: Well, if you’re going to make a killer sympathetic, Michael Sheen is always the person you’re going to want to hire. Because he’s an amazing actor, and he’s incredibly charming, and that’s your first move as a producer. And the other thing is that, when we were creating this character, and from the very get-go, we wanted Martin to be a good father, as well as a serial killer. Which is a little bit twisted, and screwed up, and let’s be honest, it doesn’t make anything okay, but from the perspective of Bright, the worst part is not that his father’s a monster, it’s that his father knows he’s a monster, but also kind of a good dad. So that, I think, is the paradox that the show is kind of built upon.
SAM SKLAVER: Yeah. We had a line in the pilot episode, where Bright tells a very unsympathetic serial killer that killers aren’t born, they’re made. And that’s something that Chris and I have always been super-interested in. Why does someone become a killer? What drove them to this? And how could those paths have been different? So, I think what makes them sympathetic is just realizing that even the most evil person isn’t all evil. Everyone is so many things that, when we start to look at what makes a person who they are, that’s where we really get the most interesting stuff.
AX: Well, the Endicott character was fairly evil …
FEDAK: He was. The amazing thing about Dermot is that he is fairly charming, too. [laughs] He’s a lovely actor, and is amazing, and also, he played on our score, as well [in addition to being an actor, Mulroney is a composer and cellist]. But I think that, for the character of Endicott, he’s playing the bad guy, he’s playing the heavy. Whereas with Martin, he’s part of the show. He’s a monster, but he’s not the villain for the show, because in a way, his obsession is his family. He wants that relationship, but it’s not like he’s got this giant, nefarious plan. I’m not a big fan of drawn-out bad guy plans, because those very rarely work, outside of whenever. But I think it’s more about family for him.
AX: Now, will there be any further investigation of Martin’s considering killing Malcolm when Malcolm was a boy and they went out into the woods, or is that as explored as it’s going to be?
FEDAK: I would say it’s not an investigation, but [it is part of] the emotion of our season, and the impact of why he didn’t kill Bright in that moment is something that plays out in multiple episodes. So, the emotion of it is definitely a part of it. But the investigation in the cabin, we think we’ve explored that quite a bit, so we’re not going there right now.
SKLAVER: But I do think Chris is right – from Bright’s point of view, it’s a hard thing to forget [laughs]. So, even when you’re done exploring your father trying to kill you, it’s still something that’s on your mind a lot. It’s what fuels this father/son relationship that we just love watching. They kind of love each other, and yes, father did try to kill son, and yes, son did call the cops on father, but I have a bunch of kids. Life is messy sometimes.
We love going back to the origin story of, this is a father and son who loved each other, and who still love each other, and there’s a lot of other baggage on top of it. So, that’s something that we just will keep going back to, because it’s what the conceit of the show is – what if you father was a serial killer, and he was also a good dad? It’s been something we’ve loved exploring so much, so why stop now?
AX: With Ainsley, is Martin hoping she’s going to turn out to be a serial killer now that this one taste has unleashed, or is he hoping that she won’t, because it’s going to get hard to cover up after a while?
FEDAK: It’s funny. I’m not quite certain if Martin is of the mind that he wants his daughter to be a serial killer. I think he thinks it’s fascinating, and he’s fascinated by this world. In some ways, there’s a bit of loneliness for anyone who has this particular obsession. But I think that he is also protective of his children, and knows that Ainsley, at least in this version, needed saving by her brother. So, I think he’s more protective of his children than that, but this goes to the B side of your question – he would be worried if she went full crazy person.
SKLAVER: Right. But I will say, who doesn’t want the best for their children? So, if Martin’s daughter happens to be a killer, I think he would want her to be one of the best around. Which is probably a killer who gets away with it. So, that’s definitely in his mind as well.
AX: Is one of the main threads of Season 2 going to be teasing out whether and when Ainsley remembers?
FEDAK: Well, yes, in the sense that what’s going on inside Ainsley’s head is a bit of a mystery. She suffered from this incredible trauma, it’s affected her, it’s pretty much forced out of her memory, but you can’t really, truly force out memories like we’re erasing something from a computer. They’re still in there. And we’re not saying they’re not in there. And it’s like her process of employment, being an investigative journalist, in investigating her own mind, is something that’s going to play out this year. I don’t know exactly how to say it, but some crazy things are going to happen.
AX: Was Halston Sage excited about this plot development?
SKLAVER: Oh, my God. We decided very early on, I think when we pitched the show to Fox, that we wanted to end the first season with Ainsley murdering someone. And we had a good shape for Nicholas Endicott. But we really knew that the entire first season, we would be worried about Bright, and then seeing that Ainsley is also the daughter of a serial killer. And I remember telling her, and the way that her face lit up when she said, “I get to kill someone?!” And she started screaming and crying.
Halston is really one of the most amazing people I know. And she gravitates toward the darkness in a way that you wouldn’t normally expect someone in Halston’s package to gravitate towards. But all she wants to do is murder. She wants to kill all the time, in every episode. The amount of blood that is on her at the end of the finale, I believe that’s more than anyone wanted except for Halston. She kept whispering to the makeup person, “Can you put a little bit more blood on me? Can I be a little bit more covered in it?” She’s so on board with all of this, it’s a little scary.
AX: To ask a really tweaky question, why can’t Martin get a haircut? We can see that other people in that facility get haircuts. Is it just too dangerous to go near him with a set of scissors, or does he like his hair like that, or …?
FEDAK: He does get a haircut. Michael grew out his hair in Wales in between seasons. And so, when he came back, he came back with this wildly long haircut, and then I think somewhere in Episode 1, after his initial introduction back into Claremont, he gets a bit of a haircut. But still, you wouldn’t want to do anything to those amazing locks.
AX: So, his hair kind of speaks for him a bit …
FEDAK: That hair is some talented hair.
AX: Is Malcolm just being very polite about Edrisa’s crush on him, or is he genuinely oblivious? And does Edrisa think that he knows?
FEDAK: Sam, what do you think? I think that he’s being polite about it, and is charmed by Edrisa, and they share a passion for murder, and that world, and the art of the medical examiner.
SKLAVER: Yeah. Bright’s the best profiler around, so if he didn’t pick up the vibes that Edrisa was putting down, I don’t know – he would probably have to turn in his consultant’s license. But I think he really respects Edrisa, like Chris is saying, and Edrisa really respects Bright, and there is a little bit of a flirtatious energy that Edrisa gives. It’s not a will they/won’t they relationship necessarily, but man, is it a fun one. And I can actually tease – we have a very Edrisa-centric episode coming up this season that I just think everyone’s going to love. It reminds me of Episode 15 last year a little bit, where we delved into the world of morticians, which Edrisa was a lot more familiar with. This episode is about online vigilantes, and online crime-solving, and it’s a world that Edrisa knows well, and she’ll kind of lead us on that.
AX: Lou Diamond Phillips is directing the seventh episode of PRODIGAL SON Season 2. Did you try to write that one to be Arroyo-light, to give him more time to concentrate on directing?
SKLAVER: We were on a scheduling meeting with Lou, and Lou’s like, “Why did you write Gil out of this scene?” We said, “Well, Gil could be in this scene. We thought you were going to be …” Lou’s like, “I’m going to be on set anyway.” He’s such a pro that we didn’t really have to worry about that as much. And he’s so essential to the show, I don’t know what a light Gil episode would even look like. But his episode is coming together great, and I think we’re going to have the same amount of Gil in front of the camera, and just a whole lot more Lou behind the camera.
AX: Are any of your other actors directing this season?
FEDAK: Not at this time.
AX: With JT, were you looking for something specific to do for the character this season, and decided on a Black Lives Matter issue, or did you feel like you wanted to address police racism and thought that JT was the best character to facilitate that discussion?
FEDAK: I think that it was bigger than just the character of JT. This is something that, as we were getting started on the season, George Floyd and the BLM [protests] happened, and it was pretty much like, “We have to address this in some way, because it’s the world around us.” We would be addressing COVID. It also was important to us that we reflect the world that we’re stepping into. The show is set in New York City. It’s a big city, it has many of these issues play out there. So, we wanted this to be alive in the show, but we also wanted to come up with our own way of kind of addressing the situation. And the fact that we have a diverse cast that are also police officers on the show gave us an opportunity to go, “Well, let’s try to address a part of this story.” And the idea of what happens inside a police force when you have an incident like this, and JT is at the center of it, that was something we will be exploring, not only in the first episode, but in upcoming episodes as well. And also having Frank Harts, who’s this incredible actor – we have such an amazing cast – with JT, it’s like he has this whole life. He has a wife, and he has a kid, and a new baby, and he has these real-world priorities, and real-world issues – he’s now stuck in something that’s so traumatic and also political that it’s like, how do you deal with those two things? And that really allowed us to tell a story that is still a PRODIGAL SON story, but also [focuses] upon this important issue.
AX: Is Jessica going to have outside interests this season? Because last season, she got involved in the foundation, but that went south, so is she going to be looking for something else to do, or is she going to just be juggling her concern about her kids and her concern about whether or not she should be involved with anybody?
FEDAK: I think when it comes to Jessica, there’s the front-facing part of her life, where it’s taking care of her family, and being Jessica Whitly, and trying to restore a bit of the luster to the name for her family. But I think that she has a tendency to get sucked into the world of Bright, and the mystery, and Martin, and also what to do. She also has a relationship with Gil that is something that she has to deal with as well. So, there are a number of places where she’s dealing with things. But when you have someone like Bellamy, you want to fold her into the action as soon as possible, so that she can also be a part of the devious fun of the show. So, she’s definitely going to get pulled into the bigger mythology of the bigger mystery.
SKLAVER: We kind of have two shows in one show. We have the family, and we have the cops. And whenever we can get that Venn diagram as close to a circle as possible, that’s when we’re really excited.
AX: Is Jessica only wrestling with the idea that she’s bad for other people, or is she sort of wrestling with the idea of dating a working-class man? Gil would seem to be her first step at dating somebody who’s outside of her social circle.
FEDAK: Oh, I don’t think she cares about social circles. I think she does have a pretty bad track record [laughs]. When you’re with Martin Whitly, okay, that’s fine, fool me once. But then, when you go with Nicholas Endicott, maybe there is something a little bit off about her judgment towards her suitors. Not that she thinks anything is nefarious with Gil in any way, or that there’s anything up, but I do think she worries about what is it about her that is affecting these relationships. And of course, there’s nothing, but it doesn’t mean that her feelings aren’t valid.
AX: And what would you most like people to know about PRODIGAL SON Season 2?
FEDAK: That it’s amazing, and that it’s so much fun to make this show. Every episode is jam-packed, and I think that for us and Fox and Warner Brothers, it’s such an opportunity. We’re making thirteen episodes this year, we’re very happy to be [able to be] making this show in COVID times, with all the crazy kinds of processes that we take to make the show. Once you turn the camera on, and get the actors to take off their masks, we’re doing something amazing, and I think that we’re all super-excited for this season, and for people to get a chance to have more adventures, and go through the emotional arena with this family, and these characters that we love so much.
SKLAVER: Yeah. Season 2 is not going to let you down. We’re very proud of Season 1, and I think the audience is very happy with Season 1, and Season 2 will not disappoint. I think it’s just more of the father/son stories, more exciting crime of the week, and more family mystery and intrigue, which is our bread and butter.
Article Source: Assignment X
Article: Exclusive Interview with PRODIGAL SON creators and executive producers Chris Fedak and Sam Sklaver on Season 2