The Knockturnal sat down with WGN’s Outsiders stars Francie Swift, Gillian Alexy, Thomas M. Wright, Rebecca Harris, creator Peter Mattei, and producer Peter Tolan to talk about Season 2.
Created by Peter Mattei, this gritty drama set in the fictional town of Blackburg, Kentucky explores the delicate balance of small town life and the Farrell clan’s struggle for control and power in the hills of Appalachia. Check out WGN’s Outsiders second season airing January 24, 2017.
OJ Williams: So outsiders, this has been a crazy runaway hit. Have you guys been surprised by all the success the show has seen or are you surprised by the reaction people get from the show?
Gillian Alexy: Yeah, I mean it was one of those shows where we just…I just really had to know what we had, when we were shooting it, because it’s not really like anything else out there, and it’s not really like anything else I’ve done. You know you read the scripts and … it’s not like a formula to it so it’s kind of challenging to know, and then there are so many other individuals involved in the creation of the show from the set design to the soundscape, to the editing to everything. So when we finally got to see a final episode, and then it went out there into the world, it was like O.K.: “Now how are people going to react?” And they kind of loved it, so that was good (laughs). We were happy with that.
OJ: I would qualify that as good.
Gillian Alexy: And to get, you know, season two is kind of like “Woo!”
OJ: You did it.
Gillian Alexy: Thanks!
OJ: When you guys first got the script, were you surprised about how badass both your characters were?
Gillian Alexy: Yup.
OJ: And then as you read on, were you also just like: “Wow, my character is a boss”? Did you expect that?
Francie Swift: I didn’t. I mean I did think she was compelling and interesting, and then the way she went about getting – Haylie went about getting what she wanted was interesting, but I didn’t see her quite as powerful as she ended up, and that’s always fun to see, you know, fun to have happen and involve. And I think in season two it’s interesting to watch it at a whole other level, where you actually see more vulnerability coming back in. So you, you know, make more dimensions – you find out more dimensions on Haylie.
Gillian Alexy: Yeah, no, absolutely. Yeah, I mean, I think that G’Winveer definitely read off the page in that first episode as quite a firecracker, and opinionated, you know, strong.
OJ: She went there though.
Gillian Alexy: She did, she did. Which, you know, I think is part of my nature as well, so yeah, it’s kind of…now it’s important to kind of, you know, again find all of the different dimensions, and, yeah play with all of them.
OJ: And you mentioned…both of your characters at the end of the season won – got what they wanted, so now that they both have what they want, how do we see them maintain it and go from there?
Gillian Alexy: I think, you know, the question is: Is it really what they wanted? And you know: Is it all it’s cracked up to be? Is it as easy as you think it’s going to be? You know there’s always a whole other set of challenges that you face with every step that you take.
OJ: More money, more problems.
Gillian Alexy: That’s right, that’s right. So, you know, especially for Gwen in the role of leader now, trying to get everyone onto her ideology is going to be a challenge, because not everybody has the same opinion.
Francie Swift: And that mountain is not mine yet so I haven’t quite gotten what I wanted.
OJ: Quite, but on your way for sure. And the men in your life, both interesting characters, how do you guys – how did both of your characters maintain them and their expectations, and how do you feed off of them as well?
Gillian Alexy: You know, I think, you know the men, whether they’re men or women they’re just, you know, they’re like you said, characters in our orbit. And some of them need to kind of be controlled and manipulated a little bit to either get out of the way, or help, or whatever, and you know, some of them are just good to look at (laughs).
OJ: Season one you guys went through a lot, especially you personally (points at Thomas M. Wright), season two even more, you about to go through a whole lot more. How do your characters not break? Because they remain super-strong.
Thomas M. Wright: I broke. I broke, man, what are you talking about? I’ve been broken the whole damn time.
OJ: A little bit physically, but your spirit is not broken.
Thomas M. Wright: Yeah, there’s a glimmer of hope. He was pretty much just pouring booze on it, whatever glimmer of hope there was was just getting covered in booze and drugs. But now he’s having to work a little more, to see, and the personal situation that comes up particularly with regard to Ledda and their relationship becomes something that he can’t give in anymore. Ultimately it’s probably got something to do with children, I think.
Rebecca Harris: Yeah I think he has to kind of show up a little more because I need him.
Thomas M. Wright: You need him.
Rebecca Harris: Yeah, now, and in a way that I didn’t before. And I think for Ledda, Ledda has her faith. I mean, she leans into that, and then she’s doing it for, you know, for Wade and for the kids.
OJ: Of course, and there have been such strong female characters on the show, talk about being part of that group of female characters who are such strong and present and handling business.
Rebecca Harris: Wow, well thank you for that. It’s actually an honor just to be a part of this acting team, I mean, Francie and Gillian are fantastic, and it’s really nice, I mean and all the other women there too.
Thomas M. Wright: And Christina too.
Rebecca Harris: And Christina. I was like: “I’m forgetting Christina!”
Thomas M. Wright: I know, you start mentioning names and you’re stuffed.
Rebecca Harris: And then you’re screwed! Yeah, yeah, no…
Thomas M. Wright: It looks like you don’t care about Christina now.
Rebecca Harris: Great, now, please go tell her that would be…
Rebecca Harris: Yeah, no (shakes head).
OJ: It continues.
Rebecca Harris: Well then, also Phyllis who plays Lady Ray, you could go on, there’s lots of…
Thomas M. Wright: But yeah, I mean I agree and I think one of the really exciting parts of this season is Ledda’s part, you know, just expands and expands, and her work has been so strong to be able to fill the potential, and I honestly have said this enough times today, but I think Rebecca’s work this year is one of the strongest parts of the entire season. So, you know, it’s great. And to have female characters that can step into positions of leadership without being conniving, or you know, a bitch.
OJ: It reflects what’s going on today a little bit outside the political realm, too.
Rebecca Harris: Sure, yeah. And I think it’s important for fans to, if they see that, to let people know that that’s of interest to them. Because, you know I mean, it’s great to hear people speak out and say like: “We want more, you know, female protagonists who are strong and interesting, period.”
Thomas M. Wright: Not having to take their top off every five minutes, or something like that.
OJ: We’re over the top off, it’s just so, so old. Your character (pointing at Thomas M. Wright) has an adversary this season, you have a rival coming up, how does your character handle your new rival in town?
Thomas M. Wright: Look, I mean, I think in some ways the new rival I’m dealing with is kind of a male manifestation of Haylie Grimes, I mean he’s kind of a soulless corporate, you know? Lackey, he’s more of a politician, you know, in some ways, and I think why it mates him with his standard mix of petulance and irritation. And hopefully a bit of a sense of humor. He likes winning.
OJ: He does.
Thomas M. Wright: But he can’t, he doesn’t win often.
OJ: Team Peter, do they call you guys Team Peter?
Peter Tolan: No, they just say the Peters.
OJ: The Peters.
Peter Tolan: Yeah.
OJ: So Outsiders, whose idea was it originally, who came to who?
Peter Mattei: I wrote it originally as a kind of spec script for fun. Never thinking it would ever go anywhere, and then you know, was lucky enough to get it to WGN and to Sony, and then Peter came on board via Sony to pull it altogether.
OJ: No, exactly. And then season one we went through a hell of a ride, we saw killings, and sex, what can we expect from season two?
Peter Tolan: More killings! More sex! Killing during sex!
OJ: Killing during sex?
Peter Tolan: Yeah.
Peter Mattei: Actually, that’s actually true.
OJ: That’s actually – is that true?
Peter Tolan: Is it?
Peter Mattei: Yes.
OJ Williams: Spoiler? Killing during sex.
Peter Mattei: End of episode four.
Peter Tolan: Okay, he’s right. I’m embarrassed to say I wrote it, and I didn’t remember that.
OJ: Were you guys surprised by their reaction of the show? And how they receive it?
Peter Mattei: I was surprised to find out that, you know, a lot of my really weirdo, artsy, totally like freakazoid friends in like San Francisco and Brooklyn or whatever, really liked the show. Because you know it has a certain cheesy commercial element to it, but they really got into the kind of off-the-grid nature of it, the fact that the Farrells don’t have money, and all these kinds of like, occupy Wall Street nonsense that I put in there, that people picked up on and liked it. That was a big surprise to me; I thought that my friends would all hate me.
Peter Tolan: My surprise was, I have a sister, I’ve been doing this for a long time, television for like twenty-five years, my sister is like: “What are you working on?” You know, like whatever. My sister would text me after every episode on east coast time, after it ended I would get a text going: “Oh my God!” “What the hell?” “He did that?” “Oh my God!” Like she was just insane, an insane fan, and I thought: “This is somebody who hasn’t cared about anything, so if she’s hooked into this show, it must mean something.”
OJ: There are a lot of “Oh my God” moments, as you guys write and develop this do you, are you surprised when you put to paper on what’s coming, like when the characters are going, are you guys also surprised by what you guys put out there?
Peter Tolan: You, you know, in the room you pitch things, and sometimes everybody kind of goes “Ah that’s too far.” But, you know, there are things that come up that you – look at a certain point, as Peter said, there is a certain cheesy element of popular entertainment.
OJ: Network TV, yeah.
Peter Tolan: Exactly, so at a certain point you need to do something to elevate it to, you know.
OJ Williams: Yeah, to take it there.
Peter Tolan: Yeah you need to, you want people to be talking about it, and to go: “Can you believe that they did that?” Without having it be not organic or anything like that. So we’re walking a line, we’re going: “Yes we want to have those moments, but not just for shock value.”
OJ: But for, you know, entertainment purposes.
Peter Tolan: But it had to be organic to the story and the characters.
OJ: Exactly. What kind of research did you guys go ahead into, going into the project, was there anyone that you talked to?
Peter Mattei: You know, I did research in sort of two fronts, one was I went down to West Virginia and I spent a while in like coal country, and kind of talked to a lot of people down there involved in the mountain top removal game, and all that kind of stuff, and just got a feel for the place. But then I also did a lot of research about sort of like tribes, I read a lot of books about like gypsies in eastern Europe, tribes in the Amazon, I have a good friend who is an anthropologist and I talked to him about, you know, all sorts of like weirdo spirituality in New Mexico and all kinds of stuff like that, and I read about hippie communes and so on. I wanted to kind of make the whole show and the Farrells a kind of mash-up of all of this weird stuff. I mean, to me it was just this bizarre stew, like anytime I saw something that I thought was weird and cool I just kind of threw it in, and I didn’t think about like: “Oh this is inconsistent you can’t,” nah, I just put it all in there.