People around these parts might recognize Tom Pelphrey from his time as Ward Meachum on Netflix's Iron Fist. This weekend, the actor makes a return to the platform in one of the streamer's tentpole shows, the Jason Bateman and Laura Linney-starring Ozark. A crime thriller, Ozark Season Three features Pelphrey as Ben Davis, the estranged brother of Linney's Wendy Byrde.
Out of the blue, Davis shows up to the Ozarks, completely unaware of the scheme Byrde and her husband Marty (Jason Bateman) had been hatching over the past several years. Without giving too much away, of course, Davis adds another dynamic to show that increases its anxiety-inducing panic tenfold as it cements itself as one of Netflix's most binge-worthy properties.
With the show hitting the service this week, we caught up with Pelphrey to chat with his dynamite new role. In addition to that, we also chatted about Iron Fist, for those missing Marvel TV's Defendersverse; keep scrolling to see our full chat with Pelphrey below!
From Fan to Role
ComicBook.com: How'd you manage to get yourself involved in this absolutely bizarre world of Marty and Wendy Byrde?
Tom Pelphrey: Good question. Ozark gets cast by a woman named Alexa Fogel. Alexa, I first met about 15 years ago. I auditioned for Alexa Fogel when she was casting Generation Kill. I've been going in for her ever since. She's a casting director I really admire and I suppose she's someone who admires my work. She was the person who cast me on Banshee.
Then when this role on Ozark came up, I think she thought that it would be a good fit for me. I read it and I felt the same and went in with her and put myself on tape and got a call a week or two later that they wanted me to play the role.
Had you seen the show prior to getting the role?
Oh, yeah. I was a big fan. I watched Season One and Season Two maybe a few days after Season Two was released and I was obsessed with it. I loved the show. It must've binged the entire thing in a week. I thought it was incredible. It's exactly the kind of world that I love as an audience member, that sort of dark, exciting, heightened-stakes world where there's also a lot of black comedy. Yeah. No, I was really into the show well before I auditioned.
It's incredibly easy to binge. You pull up the first episode and 10 hours later you're like, "Man, what the hell..."
Oh, I know. I know, and that end of Season One with the fucking dude's fucking brains on the walls.
I was like, "What the fuck is going on?" Like, "What fucking show is this? This is insane."
Then he looks at her and he's like, "God dammit." Then he starts cleaning it up. I was hooked, man. I was hooked.prevnext
Getting Mental Illness Right
It's not long until we see Ben Davis this season, pretty much from the get-go. It's the understanding that he's suffering from a pretty substantial mental illness. If you don't mind, can you kind of tell us a little bit about preparing for a role like that? I mean as we see, he's essentially a walking ticking time bomb.
I mean, so yes, to understand bipolar disorder, obviously, I felt that was pretty important. I found a really great book. I tried reading a few books, but I found one in particular that I found very useful. It was called An Unquiet Mind by Kay Jamison.
The book is basically almost the memoir of a woman who was struggling with bipolar disorder. It was very honest. She talks about how it affected her relationships, how it affected her job, her career, her schooling, when it started. The crazy thing was is when it was beginning for her, she didn't understand what was going on, even though simultaneously she was studying medicine and in particular she was studying mental health. A few of her colleagues sort of diagnosed her and helped her realize she was bipolar. She started taking lithium.
But the book was extremely helpful because you're simultaneously getting a very vulnerable, honest memoir, almost like reading someone's journal about their journey with bipolar. At the same time, the woman writing it is also a mental health professional so she's also giving you the facts and then objective view of what is happening. I found that book to be very helpful, very useful to understand what that struggle must be like and what you need to do to understand the disorder. But the other thing to keep in mind here was that these disorders, or anybody with any mental health issue, it doesn't live in a vacuum. It can be made so much worse by external circumstances.
Obviously with Ben in Ozark, he is in an insanely difficult, crazy, stressful, ridiculously high-stakes environment, which is something that plays into his response to the situation. It's not just that Ben has bipolar, it's that he's literally surrounded by insanity.
Certainly not the best situation to be in.
No. No, I mean you could imagine that literally anyone in that situation would start to doubt their own, would just start to lose control.prevnext
Ben is, of course, Wendy's brother. Laura Linney just absolutely kills it this season. He also has a unique dynamic, I guess we can call it that, with Julia Garner's Ruth Langmore. What was it look working with those two actors after being a fan of the show for two years?
Yeah. Well obviously they're both really talented, incredible actresses and I was very excited to work with both of them. I've been a fan of Laura Linney for a long time now. One of the first Broadway shows that I saw was Laura doing Sight Unseen. I've obviously seen her in movies and TV shows over the years. Then watching Ozark, I was blown away how talented Julia is.
Both of them made me feel very welcome. Both of them reached out to me, welcomed me to the show, made me feel like part of the family included me in things, made it a very positive and safe work environment for me to feel like I was free to feel creative and to take risks. Yeah, I mean, I couldn't be a bigger fan of, of both of them. Yeah. Yeah.
Speaking of twists and turns and cliffhangers. I know we can't give out too many spoilers here. Is there any chance we see the return of Ben Davis in any shape, way, or form?
I don't know. On top of the fact that I don't know, it hasn't really been discussed, everything has just been put on stop.
As of like a few weeks ago, all of the things that were being talked about, other jobs, blah, blah, blah, obviously everything's been put on the hold. There's been really no communication about anything. But at this point I don't. I guess I don't have anything to say to that.prevnext
Quarantine To-Do Lists
If you don't mind me asking, what are you doing now? Do you have some binge lists to watch or read? Or what have you been up to?
Well, I'm up in the Catskill Mountains doing my social distancing. I'm playing with my dog. Yeah, I've got some good books to read. I got a new translation of Dostoevsky's Demons. I'm excited to start reading that. I love Dostoevsky and this new translation's by this husband and wife team, Richard and Marissa something. Yeah. My girlfriend is with me and she started having me watch DVDs of Sex In The City, which I've never seen before. I quite like it.
Very nice, very nice. There could be worse ways to spend your time.
Yeah. Yeah. No, I can't really complain. I mean, everybody's healthy, so that's the most important thing. I'm obviously just trying to stay away from everybody else. Yeah, it's a good time to read.prevnext
Lingering Iron Fist Questions
Now for a quick tangent from Ozark. It seems I take to Twitter once a month trying to prove why Ward Meachum is the best character in the MCU. I absolutely loved what you brought to the character and it's just such an incredible role. Obviously--
Oh, thanks so much, brother.
Iron Fist ended with the biggest cliffhanger, dammit.
Say it comes back, is Ward Meachum a role you're willing to hop back into or has that ship sailed?
Yeah, I don't know. I would never say never to pretty much anything. It would all depend on the circumstances and the timing and the people involved. But to your point, yes, Iron Fist could not have ended with a bigger cliffhanger and that must, I mean, that must be extremely frustrating.
I know, of course, Raven Metzner's a huge comic fan and there had been talks of Finn [Jones] seeing a new costume and stuff. Did you kind of know where it was going at the time or at least where Raven wanted to take it?
Yes. I mean, there was some talk about what it would look like for Danny and Ward to be going to Asia together. There was talk of almost like a ... well, I think I can say this now ... but like a kind of like a Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid kind of comradery, bonding.
All three seasons of Ozark and both seasons of Iron Fist are now streaming on Netflix.
Cover photo by Gilbert Carrasquillo/FilmMagicprev