CS Interview: Tom Pelphrey on joining Ozark season 3
The latest season of the hit Jason Bateman-led Netflix crime drama Ozark has arrived and with it comes the introduction of a slew of new characters, including Tom Pelphrey (Mank) as Laura Linney’s former teaching brother Ben Davis. ComingSoon.net got to chat with the Iron Fist alum to discuss his fish out of water character just in time for the premiere of the third chapter!
In Ozark Season 3, They are all in. The Byrdes are back in business and the stakes have never been higher. As tensions mount surrounding their new casino, The Missouri Belle, Marty and Wendy struggle to balance their family’s safety with the growing success of their money-laundering empire.
Last season, the series continued to follow Marty Bryde and his family as they navigate the murky waters of life within a dangerous drug cartel. With Del out, the crime syndicate sends their ruthless attorney Helen Pierce to town to shake things up just as The Byrdes are finally settling in. Marty and Wendy struggle to balance their family interests amid the escalating dangers presented by their partnerships with the power-hungry Snells, the cartel and their new deputy, Ruth Langmore, whose father Cade has been released from prison. The stakes are even higher than before and The Byrdes soon realize they have to go all-in before they can get out.
Ozark stars Jason Bateman, Laura Linney, Julia Garner, and season two newcomer Janet McTeer. Season 2 had earned two Emmy Awards including Outstanding Supporting Actress for Julia Garner and Outstanding Director for Bateman.
Pelphrey, whose character Ben is “sort of thrust” into the middle of the increasingly chaotic events of the series with a “clear-seeing point of view in a world full of lies and deceit,” felt it was “a dream job” getting to join the cast of the series, describing himself as a “big fan of the show” and finding the writing to be one of the biggest draws as both a viewer and star.
“I thought the writing was actually incredible, it strikes a fine line between this dark, violent, crazy high-stakes, anxiety world and yet I constantly found myself laughing,” Pelphrey said. “It’s the kind of show or the kind of world that I really respond to in general, so when they asked me to audition to be on it, I was pretty excited and then come to find out I’d be working so much with Laura Linney, Julia Garner, fucking Janet McTeer, Jason Bateman, it’s kind of a dream job. It’s a great role, the writing’s excellent, surrounded by some of the best actors there are and you’re on a show that’s well-done that people enjoy watching, so it kind of checks all the boxes.”
In getting the part for the series, the 37-year-old star was reunited with casting director Alexa Fogel, who he fondly working with “about 15 years,” going all the way back to his audition for the HBO miniseries Generation Kill, though he would not land the part, the two would work together numerous times over the years.
“We’ve developed our relationship over the years where I love reading for her, I love the things she works on and I guess she thinks I’m good at what I do,” Pelphry says. “Alexa is the woman who cast me on Banshee and then when this role came up for Ozark, I guess she thought I was right for it and I went in and read with her and she sent my tape to Jason and Chris and a few weeks later I got the call that they wanted me to join the show.”
In looking back on his time shooting the dark series, Pelphrey feels his whole experience as a fond memory, laughing as he recalls his conversation with Bateman as production on the season wrapped and warmly describing the “positive” environment that extended to every facet of production.
“I said to Jason as I was finishing work and everybody was wrapping up, ‘You’ve ruined me for life,’” Pelphrey laughs. “He said, ‘What do you mean, what do you mean?’ I said, ‘This job is excellent across every possible dimension that a job can be excellent’ and I really felt that way. There’s a very special environment on that set and that comes from the top down, Chris Mundy, the showrunner, is just an excellent human being and so is Jason, Laura is such a professional and so kind and generous and warm, it’s just refreshing. The entire crew feels that way, everybody’s respectful and nice, so it’s fun going to work on top of the fact that you’re getting to go to work on an amazing show with a great role, so it really was a dream job in all the ways. Some of the nights where I was filming scenes with just Laura and I, in particular, are really special memories to me that I’ll always kind of hold on to. Just moments where you’re working with people that you really admire and have respected for a long time, it’s a bit surreal and it feels right at the same time.”
Without looking to spoil any plot-heavy moments of his character arc, the actor beams as he “got to do a lot of really great things” throughout the ten-episode third season, but does believe his favorite moment as Ben came at the end of the second episode.
“I haven’t seen it yet, but assuming it is the way that it was written, I get to run out of the house and run down to the lake ass-naked, hollering at the top of my lungs,” Pelphrey says between laughing. “That was a pretty fun thing to do on, like, my third day of work in front of all of these people who I’ve admired for years. It was pretty wild, pretty hilarious. It was actually like May in Georgia, which just means it’s hot as hell and about to get hotter, I think everybody was jealous of the fact that I didn’t have to wear any clothes.”
In getting to work with Bateman as an actor and director, with the Emmy winner helming the first two episodes, Pelphrey found it “incredible” and seeing the laser-focus he had while balancing multiple tasks without every letting it overwhelm him, looking back at one scene in particular form the season’s second episode.
“It was remarkable to watch him be the director, giving notes to the actors, giving notes to camera, mindful of the storytelling, taking notes for himself as the actor and I never felt he got flustered,” Pelphrey said. “He was able to maintain a focus on so many things simultaneously without ever losing even an ounce of composure and I was very impressed by that, because he’s such a good actor and so in it when he’s working and his ability to maintain a bird’s eye objective director view while he’s simultaneously in the scene as an actor was pretty remarkable. He’s everything you would hope he would be when you watch Jason Bateman in movies and TV, he’s extremely kind, he’s funny as hell, he’s very calm and just a really great dude.”
Having really liked working with him and “loving” his feature directorial debut Bad Words, Pelphrey agreed that if Bateman were to invite him for a new feature project, he would “abso-fucking-lutely” run to join the cast.
After leading the cast of the CBS soap opera Guiding Light from 2004-9 and starring in the last two seasons of Cinemax’s Banshee, Pelphrey has starred in multiple projects for Netflix, beginning with a lead role on the short-lived Marvel Cinematic Universe spin-off series Iron Fist and continuing with Ozark and the upcoming David Fincher (Mindhunter)-helmed biopic Mank, in which he stars as Oscar-winning screenwriter/director Joseph L. Mankiewicz (All About Eve). The actor describes his time with the streaming service as “incredible” and being “grateful” that he’s been able to work with a company delivering “amazing work.”
“I’m very proud and excited that I get to keep working for them and the projects that I’m doing are more excited than the next,” Pelphrey said. “I think that something that’s really particular to Netflix, and I’m not the first person to say this, is that they create an environment that they allow the creative people on each show to sort of go away and do their own work and then just bring back the product. There’s an extremely high level of trust there that I think a lot of creators are responding to, I don’t think it’s an accident that people like David Fincher are working with Netflix and Jason Bateman is working with Netflix in that way. I think there’s a reason that they have some of the really high quality people that they do and it’s exciting to be a part of that.”
All seasons of Ozark, including the best-reviewed third chapter, are available for streaming on Netflix now!