Owen Teague in ‘Bloodline (Photos: Netflix)
Warning: This interview contains spoilers for Season 2 of Bloodline.
You just knew when Danny Rayburn’s lookalike son showed up at the end of Bloodline’s Season 1 finale — right after Danny had been murdered by brother John — that the apple would prove not to have fallen far from the tree. And while Danny’s offspring, Nolan, has indeed brought a helping of drama that would have made his manipulative, plotting papa proud, was anyone prepared for just how Danny-like Nolan would be, right down to the way he smokes, glares at everyone suspiciously, and carries his deep wounds just barely below the surface?
Nolan’s portrayer, 17-year-old Owen Teague, may have seemed familiar to Netflix viewers for a different role… on Bloodline. In Season 1, the high school senior played young Danny in flashback scenes, including the traumatic reveal of how Danny had been brutally beaten by his father after Danny’s little sister accidentally drowned while on a boat with Danny.
Teague, whose breakout performance is one of the most thoughtful of the TV season, talked to Yahoo TV about his double dose of Bloodline goodness, how he found out he would be in the rare position of playing both father and son, and the preparation that went into his spot-on, scene-stealing turn as Nolan.
Teague and Ben Mendelsohn
Congratulations, Owen. Your performance is one of the best in Season 2. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who thought you might really be Ben Mendelsohn’s son after seeing you as Danny’s son.
I’m not [Mendelsohn’s son], but, yeah, we do look very much alike. I just saw a tweet one of my friends retweeted, and [someone] was asking, “Is the actor who plays Nolan really Ben Mendelsohn’s son or are they related, or does Netflix just have a time machine?”
You played young Danny in Season 1. At what point were you asked to play Nolan and told that it would be such a big role?
The very last episode of Season 1 was this kind of crazy flurry of unexpected events that happened really, really quickly. I wrapped as young Danny in episode 13. That night I got a call from the casting director telling me about the role of Nolan, who at that point wasn’t even named Nolan. There was no name for the character. It was just “the son” role. They were like, “Owen, we’d like you to read for it.” I did, and it was kind of weird, because I’d never heard of anyone doing that, where they’re double cast like that. Three days later, literally hours before we would have had to leave to go shoot, they told us, “You got the part. Get down here in eight hours. We have to shoot the last scene of the season” [where Nolan arrived at his uncle John’s house]. It was very quick and kind of crazy, but amazing.
What did you do to prepare? Because it isn’t just that you look so much like Ben. It’s the mannerisms. You smoke like him. You walk like him. The intense way you look at people is so similar to how Danny looks at people.
A lot of that was just watching Season 1 and studying Ben. Really just watching him and picking up on things. But also, that’s who I was dealing with as a father: This is a guy who would come over for three days and then tell Nolan he was going to stay, but just leave. There wasn’t a lot of time that Nolan would get to spend with him, but when he did, he really picked up on the Danny-like things he would do. I was very lucky to get to shoot quite a number of scenes with Ben. At one point, he was out on the balcony of the restaurant we were shooting at, smoking. I went out there, and I was like, "Hey. Can you teach me to smoke?” I didn’t, of course, use his cigarettes. I used my little herbal ones that are safe for children. And he taught me the way he smokes. A lot of it was just learning from him, how to move and talk, picking up on little things that he does. But also there’s a lot of emotional stuff, memories that I would go back and make up for Nolan that weren’t necessarily written into the script. Sometimes there were things that I kind of created [in my mind] to make the character more real, those little painful things that Nolan flashes back to.
And it fits perfectly with Nolan’s character, because he really wants to be like Danny, despite everything.
Yeah. It’s that kind of magnetic quality that Ben has where it’s like you want to be exactly like that guy, but also, [Danny is] so horrible to you. It’s that kind of double-edged thing.
You mentioned you imagined some of Nolan’s backstory for yourself to flesh out the character. What were some of those things that you imagined that we didn’t specifically see on screen?
A lot of stuff between him and his mother, scenes that never happened and were never really written. He makes this reference about her running from debt collectors. They never wrote this… I don’t know in [the writers’] minds if this is what would have happened, but [I imagined] she would wake Nolan up in the middle of the night, throw stuff in the car, and they would just run from the house. Growing up in the house where he ends up taking Sally… I didn’t know what that house was going to be until we got there, but [I had imagined] it was a house similar to that, with that kind of mattress on the floor, just very kind of thrown together feeling… living with her in that kind of house, and the kind of inappropriate, not mother/son at all, relationship that they had.
Also the stuff between Danny and Nolan where Danny would come to the house. He would unpack his stuff, and he would tell me that, yeah, he’s really going to stay this time. This would be when I was like six. Then three days later he would just take off again, and we wouldn’t hear from him for two years. That kind of stuff, where he would just let me down every time. He would say that he wouldn’t, and being a little kid, I would believe that. After a certain amount of that, it would kind of get to the point where I could never trust anything he said. I would expect to be let down. I would know that I should expect that, but there would still be that little glimmer of hoping he wouldn’t, which is why I think it’s so painful for Nolan every time Danny does something. It’s like, “I should have seen this coming. This is exactly what I knew would happen, but I still hung onto that.”
That all really pays off in the scenes where Danny is teaching Nolan how to cook. You can see that Nolan is sort of skittish about trusting him, but he also so desperately wants his dad to be that guy that’s going to be there, teaching him to do what he loves. Those are really heartbreaking moments.
Part of the restaurant was that it’s finally something that Danny can’t really let go of, right? It’s a permanent thing. It’s a building. It’s there. It’s physical, touchable and all that. When he does let it go, when he just says, “I don’t care,” then it’s all the worse, because Nolan really believed it, even though he told himself he wouldn’t.
Did you and Ben talk a lot about your characters? About the relationship between them?
Not a huge amount. A little bit here and there, but not a huge amount.
Did you talk a lot with the producers, with the writers? It sounds like you formed a lot of the character yourself, with the unwritten backstory and interior life you came up with.
Part of the really cool thing about how [series co-creators Glenn and Todd] Kessler and Daniel Zelman work is that it’s so collaborative. It so incorporates the actor creating who the character is, because they don’t know where it’s going to go from the beginning. They write as they go, and sometimes we’ll get scripts that night, before we shoot. It’s very malleable as the series goes on. At the premiere, I was talking to Glenn Kessler. He told me that the way that I approached Nolan kind of ended up influencing how Nolan ended up being, how they ended up writing him. Had I gone about playing Nolan in different ways, he might not have had the same life in the show. It’s not a set definition to the character. It kind of changes as the actor makes decisions and does different things.
We talked a lot about who Nolan was going to be, and sometimes I didn’t even know parts of his backstory. That was to be figured out. Part of the way that acting’s done on Bloodline is that you have to leave opportunities for things to happen in the past. Which is difficult, because then you can’t really know all of what’s happened to your character, but it also goes toward that whole thing of always hiding something, because all the characters are hiding something.
If there is a Season 3, have you thought about where you would hope to see Nolan go?
I have, and I’ve tried to create a hypothesis about what’s going to happen, but it’s so hard to do that. They’re constantly coming up with things that you never saw coming. I’d get the scripts for Season 2, and… there’s no way to predict it.
What was the biggest shock of Season 2 for you?
Probably the restaurant, that Nolan burns down Danny’s restaurant. That was a huge shock.
You also have a big movie coming up this summer, Cell, a Stephen King thriller with Samuel L. Jackson and John Cusack. Who do you play in the movie?
I play one of the four people who are survivors in this apocalypse, which is caused by cell phones. The reason that these four survived is that either they didn’t have their cell phones on them, or they don’t use phones or their phone’s dead. My character, Jordan, doesn’t have a phone, but he’s kind of this computer wiz, nerd type. He loves computers. He loves networks, how things connect to each other across satellites — it’s his specialty. He’s kind of the first one to figure out what’s going on with this pulse that’s been sent out through the phones.
Is it more physically scary or psychologically scary?
It does get physically scary at times, but I think the implications of it are also really terrifying, because there’s a kind of commentary that goes along with the whole phoners thing. The phoners are basically zombies, but with phones. They’re all connected to this network by their phones, and they kind of become the phones. They all think as one and move as one, and sing these songs… it’s all very strange and bizarre. There’s definitely some quite disturbing implications involved about what technologies might be doing to us.
Bloodline Season 2 is currently streaming on Netflix.
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