EXCLUSIVE : Thomas M. Wright OUTSIDERS Interview

Outsiders ended “Day Most Blessed” with the shocking death of Breece, brother-in-law to the perpetually beleaguered sheriff Wade, at the hands of the Farrell clan. The tragedy could be the impetus Wade needs to head up the mountain to seek vengeance, or at least force the new Bren’in to face charges for murdering Breece. Whatever happens next, Wade’s portrayer Thomas M. Wright is more than ready for the challenge.

Wright has built his career around playing fascinatingly damaged men. From family outcast Johnno in Top of the Lake to the mercurial Steven Linder in The Bridge, Wright has played some of the most fascinating characters in recent TV history, and Wade is one more to add to the list. The sheriff of a town divided by those who live on the mountain and those who are barely scraping by in the town, Wade has spent most of the season numbing his feelings with drugs. Now after a forced detox from being trapped in a mine, Wade has emerged as a new man, and Wright is excited to see what lies ahead for his character.

In a recent interview with Seat42F, Wright talked about Wade’s transformation, the detailed research he did for the role and why he believes Outsiders’ near mythic story is so important to tell.

How will the murder of Breece affect Wade?

Wright: Well, I think it personalizes everything and it draws everything back to family, which I think is really at the core of the entire series, at least for me and my interests. Also, in terms of reflecting Appalachia and the way things appear to work down there. At least that’s what everyone communicated to me while I was down there. I went down and spent several weeks in Appalachia before we began filming, and really everything that came out of the series for me that I wanted to talk about came from that period of time down there.

In terms of that moment it draws everything back to family and it means that Wade can’t do anything but make this a very personal scenario.

Wade has tried so hard to keep the town and the Farrell clan from going to war. Will Breece’s death change his point of view?

Wright: He’s trying to divert and he is trying to avoid. I don’t think there is anything better than a flawed central figure because if a person is going to be heroic, they are going to be heroic despite their flaws, not because they don’t have any flaws. He obviously has a lot of personal tension and a lot of darkness in him, and a lot of unreconciled history behind him to go through.

What do you feel has been the most significant scene in terms of Wade’s story this season?

Wright: The most significant scene by far for me is when we had been at the town meeting and we just came back to Ledda and Breece’s house and we’re just having a conversation around the table about what we are supposed to do. It was basically just a very simple family disagreement. Wade goes over to Breece’s fridge and without asking cracks open one of his beers and stands in the doorway and they have an argument. It is a very, very brief scene, nothing exceptional happens in that scene, but really it’s kind of the reality at the core of the entire series, for me. How does this impact normal people? How does this effect real people’s lives? I don’t think you can have a longform story without having it rooted in family because we all understand how important families are, and how difficult it is to reconcile those relationships.

What was it like for you as an actor to film the underground scenes where Wade was detoxing?

Wright: It was great. It actually was very intense. The whole series was really exhausting because it was so physically demanding and so relentlessly downward looking for Wade. Because I was really determined to put forward as accurate and committed portrayal of really serious addiction that I could, I spent quite a bit of time when I was down in Appalachia at drug treatment centers, and with people who were oxycontin addicts. I don’t think they can be overstated, what the effects are. It was really important for me to have that reflected in the series and to have that sense of reality.

Actually filming the detox scenes was really interesting to me. I come from a background in experimental theater, cinema, and performance art. It’s only in the past few years that I’ve found myself working more and more in film and television. Basically, they just put me in a backroom and gave me a torch and said OK, try to find a way to tell this. We literally just improvised.

Definitely with Wade there is a very strong interior reality to that character and a conflict, so it was really an opportunity to kind of dredge that a little bit and bring some of that to life, particularly when we see his dead wife and dead father. One of my favorite things about television is the capacity to go into a completely interior space with the character.

Now that Season 1 of Outsiders is coming to a close, what do you think makes this project so unique?

Wright: I think this is a very American series, a very American narrative. I think it is reflecting concerns that a lot of people have in America and are justified in having about the impact of structures that are seemingly outside of people’s control on people’s everyday lives.

I kept saying to [executive producer] Peter Mattei in particular, you are making a very political series here, and you need to be constantly aware of it. I think there was a slide element for better or for worse where we might have been caught off guard with the Oregon siege. It was interesting that people chose that to reflect upon. I actually think there is a far bigger conversation happening in our show than the right to bear arms from some sort of presumed governmental incursions into liberty.

With an area like Appalachia, the environmental impact with what has happened with sustained mining over the past 100 or so years is also important because of the tragedy of that place. I was driving around with a state trooper down there and he actually said to me, “I’m actually going to have to tell my children to leave. It’s where I come from and I love it here, but there is nothing for them here and it’s not safe.” I think when that is coming from a working class, probably pretty conservative, pretty serious guy I think there is real cause for concern.

It was important to me that those people had as much dignity and as much right to determine their own identity as possible because so often those groups are completely marginalized or talked down to and laughed it and stereotyped. It was really important for me with the town part of the series to stand up to what the reality of living in a place like that could be.

What would you like to see happen to Wade in Season 2?

Wright: I would just want it to be a deepening of the concerns of the town at the center of the series. For me, the political aspects of the series, I feel like they have to come out in a very personal way and they do and they will. They are already there in that first season, but I certainly don’t think he is out of the woods. He is certainly someone who is always going to be very flawed, and someone who is really going to struggle just to keep an even keel I think.

In an article about your casting process for The Bridge, it said you did your entire audition in character. Did you do that for Outsiders as well?

Wright: That’s not unusual for me. I didn’t drop character the entire time I played Wade and that was six months. When I take something on, I take something on very seriously. If I’m going to talk about something I want to talk about it to the full extent of my ability to do so with the inner most detail. It’s not to the extent of like a pathological scenario, but when I took on this particular part what I wanted to do was take on the weight of something a little but larger than that. It’s not about me or what I can do; it is about going in and finding out about a whole other way of life, a whole other reality and then reflect that as accurately as I can.

With The Bridge it had much more to do with getting under the skin of what that character was. They didn’t know what that character was when we began that series, and the more I kind of pushed it the more I said to [showrunner] Elwood Reid on The Bridge, I think this guy may very well be the beacon of light in the center of this thing. He appears to be this terrifying figure, but really he was just a child. Steven Linder is a kind of child who has had to deal with such a brutal upbringing. The only way he knew how to relate to other people was with that kind of level of brutality or that withholding.

Will you be returning to play Johnno in Top of the Lake season 2?

Wright: We are still talking about it, but I am probably not in a place to talk about that too much.

Every role you play is so transformative, which character do you get recognized for playing the most?

Wright: It’s only ever Johnno. Johnno looks more like I do on a day to day basis, and also I have an Australian accent and live in Australia. I never get recognized from The Bridge. It has only ever happened once when I was taking my little boy to swimming lessons. I have had to point that out to people dozens and dozens of times that that is me in both of those series. I certainly never get Steven Linder, but I love when I get people not believing it is me and then putting on the voice. I’m not a party trick actor, but if I have a party trick Steven Linder is my party trick.

Outsiders airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on WGN America.