Interview: Brent Sexton talks 'The Killing'
'Life,' 'Deadwood' veteran promises building Season 2 momentum
Follow HitFix: Follow @hitfix
We're still a couple months from discovering if Stan Larsen was in any way responsible for the death of Rosie Larsen.
For now, Stan is just one of a slew of viable suspects on "The Killing" and nowhere near the top of the list at this point, but we keep learning new disturbing facts about the moving company owner and grieving father.
There's his past as a mob enforcer. That's pretty dark, especially when it has led to violence against other suspects in the case. Then there's Stan's increasing estrangement with wife Mitch (Michelle Forbes) and his increased closeness with Mitch's sister. Oh and then there's the pesky recent discovery things may not be so clear with Rosie's paternity.
I got on the phone with Brent Sexton last week to discuss the changes in Stan Larsen in Season 2 of "The Killing." The "Life" and "Deadwood" veteran also discusses the season's upcoming momentum and how close he came to solving the show's central mystery.
HitFix: In the first season of "The Killing," Stan was largely defined by his grief. What do you see as his different motivations this season?
Brent Sexton: I think the motivation is the same. It's the tactics that have changed. He just wants to feel better. He just wants to have resolution. Unfortunately, the conflict is with his past, his present and the future. And to gain resolution in one of those areas causes more consequence in the other areas. The first season, he didn't handle his own emotions. He was trying to take care of his wife and his two sons and his business and eventually all that caught up with him and he had a little breakdown. This year he's definitely more active, taking more actions to try to get that resolution, as we've seen already. He tried through the police with the backpack and, of course, Holder really let him down with that. And then, of course, he went to Janek [Kavorsky] as a choice and then he ends up going back to the police. It's a frustration, because neither one of them is giving him the thing that he wants, but he sorta feels like it's his only outlet at the current time.
HitFix: As you say, there's a conflict between Old Stan and New Stan. How well would you say you grasp the kind of man Stan Larsen used to be?
Brent Sexton: I'm familiar with that, absolutely. The guy that he was, I think one of the main drivers that Stan is, I think, unconscious of, is the remorse, the regret, the shame for Alexi's father, for what he did. His conscience got him and his inability to resolve that or handle that, he went the opposite direction. He became a businessman. He wanted to generate some sort of pride. He had a family. He got Belko, his friend, he got him out of the Mafia and he tried to be a rescuer or a saver, I think. When you're going toward the idea of having pride and this life that he wanted, it can represent a rejection of the person that he was, the fixer for the mob, the enforcer.
HitFix: Last season with the teacher, we saw a little bit of Old Stan, of the Dark Side coming out. How much more of that are we going to see maybe as this season progresses?
Brent Sexton: Definitely, that was like one active thing -- or it was more a reactive thing -- in Season One. In this season, you're got to ask, "What are the choices available?" And if they aren't getting you what you want, then you've gotta choose something else. And, again, because he has such a huge rejection of that guy he was, you've sorta gotta put him back in that situation to help fulfill the arc of the character, I think.
HitFix: You're playing a character who has a lot of secrets, things that have been exposed to the audience only gradually. How much were you immediately and up-front?
Brent Sexton: Hmmm... How much? Well, it's hard to gauge. Besides having conversations with Veena [Sud] and the other producers, I did watch the Danish series just to get a big picture idea of what was going on. So it's hard for me to gauge exactly how much I was told. What I did have is that any time I had a question or needed something, I did have an open channel to Veena and the writers to get information that I needed to help fulfill that arc.
HitFix: Does that present challenges for you as an actor when you don't necessarily know everything that's maybe motivating your character or that's in his backstory?
Brent Sexton: It can be. I felt confident and trusting of Veena and the writers that if something I was doing on a day of shooting wasn't working because they knew what was coming up in another episode, then they would say that. They would tell me that and we would address the scene accordingly, if we needed to do that. I had that amount of trust with them. So yeah, it can be challenging, but then again, it's "What's the conflict in the moment on the page?" and I really tried to focus on that.
HitFix: There hasn't been a point where you've gotten a script and learned something and been like, "Boy, if I'd known that five or six episodes ago, I'd have made a totally different decision on that one scene..."?
Brent Sexton: Let's see... Yeah. I can't remember exactly one of those off the top of my head that way. I watch the show, because I'm a huge fan of all the other actors and I read the scripts, but I don't get to see those other storylines performed. So I do watch that and what I notice is that the edits or which takes they use and I might, at that juncture, say "Wow. I wish I'd have done something different there." The bottom line is that your performance is made in the editing room.
HitFix: I talked with Joel Kinnaman at the start of the season and he mentioned that, too, that you give the editors choices and then when you see what they actually opted to go with, you go, "Huh." What kind of thoughts do you have when you watch the choices?
Brent Sexton: Well, I certainly want my performance to be the best that it possibly can be and for whatever sometimes they can't use the best take or the shot. I remember shooting in a gas station bathroom once and the florescent light was not synched correctly, so it caused this little flicker on the film, so something like that, they had to use a different take or reshoot it, you? Like Joel, yeah, I wanna give them choices, so long as each choice is still true with what's going on with the character. Again, it's about trust and letting it go, because you really don't have any control over it once it's out of your hands like that.
HitFix: Since "The Killing" is sorta a guessing game for everybody involved. Is there any role as an actor that you have in keeping Stan suspicious, keeping him as a suspect, leaving those doors open?
Brent Sexton: I never think of creating suspicion or anything like that. All I consider is "What is the conflict going on?" and trying to portray that behaviorally the best way I can. How do I say this? I don't think about playing something so that the audience will think I'm suspicious. I think about playing something that's true to the conflict with what the character has going on and then if the writers create something that makes me look suspicious, then that's on them. I'm more about just what's going on behaviorally with the conflicts.
HitFix: In the first season, so many of your scenes were with Michelle Forbes' Mitch. How has Season 2 been different without Michelle and with Mitch off on her own?
Brent Sexton: I don't know how it changed. Jamie [Anne Allman] who plays Aunt Terry, she became more of a household figure in Season 2, so I guess I didn't really notice, necessarily, a change, but I did have a wonderful time working with Jamie. She's absolutely terrific and we fell right back into work. I guess I really didn't pay attention to that sort of thing. I guess I was just focused on what we were doing.
HitFix: Can you tease anything we're going to see with the Stan-Terry relationship? It seems as if that's pretty potentially... sketchy? Mysterious? Troublesome? How much more will we see there?
Brent Sexton: I don't know how much I'm able to reveal with that, but these are two people who are hurting. They are grieving. And they're trying to seek comfort as best they can. And that really causes a lot of tensions, so we're definitely going to see more of that.
HitFix: So how was the twist in the finale revealed to you? How were you guys all told who killed Rosie Larsen?
Brent Sexton: We do the table-read for the next episode we're about to shoot on the last day of the current episode, at lunch. So we read 2-12 and I think we sorta had ideas, but it was fully revealed when we did the table-read for Episode 13.
HitFix: And what were reactions like?
Brent Sexton: It was very favorable. Everybody's been really excited, I gotta say. There's a point coming up in the next few episodes where there's a massive amount of what I call "momentum," of change. And the pace and everything, things start to get bigger and the closer we get to that last episode, just the more intense it's gonna be. I think people are gonna like it.
HitFix: As a fan of the show, in addition to your acting duties, how invested were you in the guessing game?
Brent Sexton: I had a good idea. I would ask the writers and they'd kinda smile at me and not say "Yes" or "No" or anything. But I did have fun trying to guess who it was. I got it about 85 percent, I think. Right around there, 80 or 85 percent.
HitFix: How heated was the guessing or speculation on set?
Brent Sexton: I don't know if it was "heated," but people were excited about it, I guess. I think they did kinda a pool where you write down who you think it was and how and all of that kinda stuff. I don't know what the money situation on that bet was, but I'm sure somebody made out quite well.
HitFix: How much attention did you pay at the end of last season from fans and just viewers to the lack-of-reveal in the finale?
Brent Sexton: I guess it didn't make sense to me, because I knew that it was a two-year thing. It was really just an unfortunate miscommunication. People were really upset, but then again, it's a show. I'm like, "Didn't everybody watch 'Dallas'? What was the deal on that? At the end every year, there's some form of cliffhanger, right?" Eric Ladin, who plays Jamie, I think he had a great answer. He's like, "You know what? There's no real dead girl in a trunk anywhere. It's OK to relax about this." I'm glad that people were excited to be in it, in the story with us, but I'm kinda bummed that there was that little bit of backlash.
HitFix: Do you think that clarifying and specifying when this mystery is coming to an end has changed the way that people, yourself or people you talk to about the show included, have been watching the show this season?
Brent Sexton: To me, that's the joy. It's the journey. It's not the destination. In Season 2, we really get into the characters a lot deeper, I think. To me, that's the type of thing I enjoy watching when I watch stuff.
As usual, "The Killing" will air on Sunday (May 6) night on AMC.