Netflix’s new drama series BLOODLINE offers the tale of a family that is hiding a dark secrets. The show’s tagline is: “We’re not bad people, but we did a bad thing.” So just what did this family do and how does it affect those around them? As viewers will see right away, secrets have a way of tearing apart families and tainting those around them. One such person caught up in the world of the Rayburns, an upper class family in the Florida Keys, is Eric O’Bannon.
In an exclusive interview, star Jamie McShane talked about how Eric fits into the Rayburn world and how he gets swept up into the maelstrom of their lives.
What initially drew you to BLOODLINE?
JAMIE: They asked me to audition. It was the guys who created DAMAGES and it was Netflix and Debra Zane was casting. I hadn’t meet any of them yet and I wanted to audition for it, but the character was described as a long-haired, skinny, tattooed guy from the Florida Keys — I was pretty much 0 for 4. So I was floored that they wanted to see me. I didn’t really understand why, but I thought, “Alright.” Then when I found out that it shot in the Florida Keys, I didn’t want to move away from my kids. It was kind of a conflict. I really wanted to audition for it and it would be neat to get an offer to work on it, but I didn’t want to be away from my kids. So it worked to my advantage as when I went in to audition, once I figured out what I was going to do, I was really, really loose because I wasn’t like, “I really have to get this show.” So it was kind of cool.
What was the tipping point where you finally figured out that this was a show you wanted to do?
JAMIE: I went in for the audition and I really connected to the character as soon as I saw the sides — the audition pages — and I was like, “Oh, I know exactly what I want to do. I know this exactly how he’s going to dress and this is how he’s going to talk,” and I loved it. It was a really free audition for me and it was such a neat character that when they offered me the role, it was, “Okay, I’m going to be a series regular on a show and it’s going to be for Netflix and the guys who did DAMAGES and it’s an incredible character.” I’ve never gotten to do anything like this guy. Then, because Kyle [Chandler] was already cast and then they cast Sissy [Spacek] and Sam [Shepard] and it became bigger and bigger and it was, “Holy moly! I get to be a part of this thing.” It was still daunting to be away from my family, but it was too amazing to say “no.” I really lucked out. It only took 25 years to get the role, but I really lucked out.
Hey, winning the jackpot at any age is an awesome thing.
JAMIE: [Laughs] That’s true.
How would you describe your character Eric O’Bannon?
JAMIE: The show is about a family, the parents and adult kids who are in the 40’s (Kyle Chandler, Ben Mendelsoln, Linda Cardellini, Leo Butz), and they are a pretty well to-do, respected family in the Keys. They own and run a really nice hotel there. Danny Rayburn, the eldest brother (played by the amazing Ben Mendelsohn) is the black-sheep of the family and he has been away. As the pilot episode starts, he comes back to the family and it is basically what happens to that family once the black-sheep brother comes back and all the secrets start coming out for what you would think is the perfect family. My character Eric O’Bannon is a guy who grew up in the Keys with Danny Rayburn. He has known the Rayburns all his life. Eric O’Bannon is the much darker, under-belly side of the Keys. He is a not-so-clean sort of guy and he brings the story into the darker side of Keys living and where that family can go.
As a friend of Danny’s, is there a mutual interest or how are Eric and Danny aligned?
JAMIE: They were buddies growing up and they were always just really good friends. But then Danny went away for a long time. Then, like a lot of guys, when someone comes back, you sort of pick up where you left off, no matter how many years it’s been and that is sort of where the pilot episode starts. They are aligned in that they know each other and were good friends for a long time and Danny’s looking for some work and Eric sort of helps him. They kind of go from there.
The tagline of the show is that this family has done something bad and, since he is not part of the family, should we be rooting for Eric?
JAMIE: [Laughs] Absolutely! I hope you do. But you’ll have to wait and see on that one.
What would you say is Eric’s best quality?
JAMIE: His loyalty. His loyalty to people he really loves. I think he is still a dreamer despite being so battered down by life. He still has ambitions and dreams even though life has beat him down so many times. It just gets harder and harder to lift your head up.
The show seems like it has the potential to have a high body count. Is that something viewers should worry about or is the show more of just a psychological drama?
JAMIE: You mean like SONS OF ANARCHY? No, it’s not like that. It’s more of a psychological thriller. It’s not at all a shoot-em up, dead-guy here and dead-guy there, kind of show. It’s a psychological things-happen. It’s an interesting story.
The show is set in the Florida Keys and film in the Keys. What was that experience like?
JAMIE: It was amazing. I had been down to the Keys once before in college. But it was amazing in a couple of ways: one, you’re filming down there and all of us are far away from home — so it’s not like you get off work and go back home and see your loved ones — you’re locked in down there. So that plays into the whole life that you are experiencing down there, and that is part of what the story is about. And it also added to the camaraderie of the cast because we are all down there and we just have each other, pretty much. They become your closest friends. Also, the Keys is so unique. It’s basically one road that goes for a hundred miles — after you go through the bottom of Flordia, you have to go through an 18 mile stretch — and then you hit the Keys. It’s one road and if you go to the left or the right, you only go a couple hundred yards and you hit water. The bay is on one side and the ocean is on the other. So you are kind of island-locked. You are really locked-in down there. The water is stunning. Just beautiful. It is the most beautiful blue and it is like a bathtub. It’s warmer than a pool and it’s just a beautiful, beautiful setting.
That’s interesting because you’re working on a psychological thriller, isolated away like that and yet in such an idyllic setting. That must play on your head a little bit.
JAMIE: It does. There is the beauty and the tropical paradise of the Keys and the Jimmy Buffett feel of it. There’s also, like any other place, the underworld and I think some of that comes out in the show.
As a Netflix show, was working on BLOODLINE any different for you as an actor?
JAMIE: No, in the sense that you have a job and you have a role and you have a cast and crew with whom you are working; but the amazing thing was every cast member in this was incredible. Like hugely successful actors and I was lucky enough that I got to be a part of that team. That was really amazing for me. Yes, in the sense that I never felt more free than working in this character. Part of that is because Eric O’Bannon was not limited to an occupation, like where he’s a cop or he’s doctor. He’s a blank canvas and I got to create, while tweaked by the directors and creators. I felt like Netflix don’t micromanage their talent, meaning the creators. It seemed to me that Netflix just finds the people they want to hire — in this case, Zelman, Kessler and Kessler — and they hire those guys and they say, “You have a vision. Go do it.” And then those guys hire who they want and say, “We hired you. Go do your thing.” And they tweak it along the way. So it was the most free experience I have ever had acting. It was amazing. And then getting to work with Ben Mendelsohn and Chloe Sevigny, Kyle, and Sissy and all them, it was just pretty incredible.
Was there anything about the character or the experience that surprised you?
JAMIE: I was surprised at first that they were interested in me just by the description of the character. But I talked later to the creators and they said it was just an idea they had. Once I came in and did my thing, I filled in the idea that was in their head. So that was surprising. I think the whole experience — I’ve filmed out of town before, but never for more than two weeks — it was a surprise to get moved, to find your own place and get situated there — and then you’re down there living in that life of your character. I didn’t even have a car down there. I got a bicycle with a milk crate on the back of it and that was my world. It really worked for my character too. So that was interesting.
That sounds like a full immersion experience living down there like that.
JAMIE: It was. Even that first week, I got the smallest, divy-est hotel I could get down there and that was pretty interesting. [Laughs]
As a teaser, who would you recommend keeping a close eye on in BLOODLINE?
JAMIE: Me, me! Pick me! You know what? You’ve got to watch them all. I don’t mean to be vague and “oh praise everyone,” but with that kind of cast and that kind of writing, it’s an ensemble piece with incredible actors. You have to watch them all.
Finally, how would you generally describe the show for viewers interested in watching?
JAMIE: It’s a dark, psychological thriller that is going to bounce around in a non-linear fashion and keep you guessing with really gripping writing and acting set in a place we rarely see in film and television. It was the most amazing working experience of my life and I’m hoping we get picked up for a second season.
To find out just what the Rayburn family is hiding and who will have to pay for their sins, be sure to tune in for the premiere of BLOODLINE on Friday, March 20th, when the show’s entire first season is released on Netflix. It is guaranteed to be a show you are going to get sucked into binge-watching.