Outer Range Star Tom Pelphrey About Playing A Broken Man In A Series Without Limit [Interview]

Outer Range is one of the more mind-bending and mysterious series we’ve seen in recent years, centering on a series of crises that befall the Abbott family. On the one hand, eldest son Perry (Tom Pelphrey), who has been grieving the mysterious disappearance of his wife, has a fateful altercation with the son of a rival neighbor clan. At the same time, a mysterious void appears in the family’s ranch, one that has far-reaching implications for the family. Finally, a strange local camper, Autumn, seeks to stay on the family’s land… but she’s someone they just can’t trust.

I spoke with Perry Abbott himself, Tom Pelphrey, about the excellent series, as well as his time on another just-wrapped but fan-beloved entry, Ozark.

Perry goes through quite the journey and he sets off the story by killing Trevor, and that really sets in motion a whole set of issues for the Abbott clan. Tell me where he’s at at the series beginning?

Tom Pelphrey: Yeah, I mean, it was one of the really challenging things. One of the exciting things about the role was that we come in and find that Perry’s stasis is [as] kind of a broken man. You know, his wife has been missing for nine months, he doesn’t know where she went or why. Doesn’t know if she’s alive or dead, the audience doesn’t know really what’s happening… so he’s trying to raise his daughter without being able to really help her with where her mom is, or have any closure. […] It’s obviously a necessary part of the storytelling, because he’s in such crisis… and then they get the news that the FBI is going to stop looking for [his wife] Becca. Because he’s in that crisis, that news sets him over the edge, into the alcohol when he’s drinking with Rhett, and it’s the perfect storm when Trevor says something about his wife. It just kind of unleashes all this fear and pain and upset out of Perry, and he kills Trevor.

As the actor, it’s a real challenge because, you know, when we watch movies or TV shows we come to love characters, we spend time with them. We go on their journey with them. And often when things happen later, we’re sort of moved by what they experienced, we sort of feel like we’re with them, and so their pain is ours. But was it was a challenge because you’re asking the audience to accept a man in so much pain, right off the bat.

We don’t get to spend any time with him, we don’t get to know if he’s a good guy or not. We just see a human being is really struggling, and that was a challenge. You want to honor the truth of the circumstances, and also try and find some moments to give the audience just a glimpse of the man that he was nine-months-and-one-day ago, because he hasn’t always been the guy that we see.

Absolutely. You can see that in your performance, and also in the interactions with the family. And it’s so interesting that he to start a character out while they’re broken, I think it’s very powerful.

TP: Yeah, it’s a really cool thing. I thought it was a really interesting choice to have a character start in crisis, and really be ambiguous with the audience about why… I mean, we can piece it all together by the end of the first episode, but it’s never really hammered over the head, which I also love. I feel like, in general, our show really treats our audience with a lot of respect, and that’s always fun, to be a part of that kind of storytelling.

Totally. I want to kind of jump ahead in Perry’s story a little bit. At the end he makes the decision to jump into the Void, not knowing exactly what would happen but knowing what had happened to Royal. Tell me about where he’s at and why he chooses to take the leap.

TP: I think at this point, for a character who mostly… for most of the season, I felt like he was back on his heels. He was reacting more than acting. He was just desperately trying to get answers and trying things, and I think that meeting Autumn and hearing what she had to say about the hole and about Royal, and confronting his father, who here he felt was not being truthful… the combination of feeling like ‘you’re hiding something’ and then what Autumn tells Perry, I believe that Perry believes what Autumn says about the hole and believes that there is an opportunity for him to reconnect with his wife. That being said, the arc is so wild, because he’s doing that knowing that that also means he has to leave his child.

It’s certainly a fateful choice. It’s also interesting that Amy becomes Autumn at some future point—which, for the record, I called in Episode Two.

TP: What was the moment?

It’s hard to pin the exact moment, but there was this moment where Autumn’s obsession with symbols was emphasized, and at the same time I think it was paralleling her desire for water and Amy’s desire for water and I just put a few things together, a bit of a Hail Mary. Obviously, Amy goes off with the mother. If it gets renewed for Season Two, and I hope it does, that’s going to be pivotal in her becoming who she becomes. Would you say that Perry has a role at some level in that process?

TP: We’ll see. Honestly, everybody wasn’t told everything. I was told… we had access to all the scripts before we started filming, which was a nice luxury because of COVID and everything. So we had all eight scripts, and you’d read some of the scenes between Perry and Autumn. Brian would put in the stage directions that there’s some kind of magnetic, you know, chemistry there. But it’s not sexual, you know, which tracks for me, because I don’t think Perry is interested in anything other than finding his wife.

But then it’s like… what do you mean? What are we trying to see if we can capture, here? Eventually he told me when you realize that that name is his honor, and so, therefore, on a level that is subconscious or level that’s sort of metaphysical, a chemistry that is, without being… consciously aware of it, you’re in the presence of your family, you know this person, but you don’t know why you know, which I think is so cool. It’s such a trippy idea. So, without trying to force anything we were always trying to be mindful of, like, how do you do that? You know that feeling, it happens in life. Like ‘man, I feel like I’ve known you for such a long time, and we just met!’

Yep, absolutely. I can see that. You know, looking back over the series and putting a few things together, I have a theory about the future of your character. There are parallels that are pretty clear between Royal and Kronos, right? We find out later that Royal killed his father. That would kind of make your character Zeus because he’s the oldest, so… Zeus kills Cronos in Greek mythology… will Perry kill Royal?

TP: Oh wow. That would be intense.

Right? I mean Zeus’ daughter was Athena who had no mother, and Amy didn’t have one at the series’ start. Maybe Royal takes a turn…

TP: Wow, that would be so cool. I love that idea… Looks like if we get picked up for a second season, I gotta put you in touch with the writers.

I would LOVE that. Do you have any inkling of where your character would go in a second season?

TP: I truly have no idea. I can tell you this: when I first read the eighth episode in full, we even started filming… first of all, I went right to Brian, I said ‘man, this is a big swing… you’re trying to hit a home run, or we’re gonna strike out.’ […] It just felt like an ambitious thing to do, which is so cool and exciting. And then the second thing I got when I finished the last episode, he spent this whole time building this world and introducing us to all these characters and kind of telling us the rules of how this goes, and I felt like […] by the end of the last episode, I was like, ‘you kind of tore it all down, in an exciting way that really feels like you could go fucking anywhere.’ Did you get that feeling?

Oh, absolutely. That’s part of the reason why I like it so much. They did such a good job of making it like larger than life, and the Void connects back to way earlier periods… You could do a ton with that, and who knows what else can come out of that thing? That’s a blank check.

TP: Dude, I agree… and so, truly in that way, I have no idea what they’re gonna do with Perry, I have no idea what they’re gonna do with anyone. I don’t even know if they know.

There are so many memorable scenes. What was your favorite scene to film?

TP: One of my favorite scenes was in the truck bed with Autumn… I think that was episode five. It was satisfying and gratifying to finally hear Perry talk about his wife. I also thought it was really beautiful and smart that he opens up to her… the emotional and energetic truth of having them go to a cowboy metal bar, and thrash and get all the adrenaline, you know what I mean?

So yeah, then there’s something and they’re drinking, and that’s that, so then there’s something in him that’s open, because I don’t think he’s the kind of guy who talks like that. Ever. Just the details of that just makes you so in love with the writing, right? After that kind of night, maybe that guy could talk that way. That was probably my favorite one to film.

Another interesting scene was in the diner with Imogen, Perry and Autumn. I think it’s episode six. In the beginning of what seems like a manic episode, she’s kind of talking to him about Royal and talking to him about calling the police. It was so interesting, because I sort of came in with some ideas about what the scene was and then just completely threw everything out the window and was just reacting off of what Imogen was doing.

That was wild, because every take was different. They did an amazing job of cutting it all together. That’s so electric, because just being in the presence of somebody, no idea what they’re gonna do next… it’s dangerous, and you really need them to be quiet, but you’re in public, so there’s only so much you can do to control it… that was a real tight rope of a scene, that was that was really exciting.

She was so powerful in that scene! And in the series as a whole.

TP: Yeah, now we had we had an amazing cast man, up and down. I mean, I was just so impressed with everyone’s work, and great people too, it was a really special part of the job… everyone does beautiful work and had a great time being together.

I want to pivot a little to Ozark… though it just wrapped and Ben was dead in Season 4, that death really set all the gears in motion. Do you have any stories from Ozark that people might not know?

TP:

You know, it was it was really a very, very special time for me to film that, and play that character, and work with those people. I don’t know if I’ve talked a bunch about that, but there’s one scene towards the end of Season Three, I guess it was in Episode Nine where Ben and Wendy are in the parking lot of a Big Box store, and they just have fries and a soda or whatever and they’re sort of talking. It’s when they’re on their drive and it’s right before he tries to run away again, the writing of that scene was so beautiful, it was like a three or four page scene and NIKKI JOHNSON co-wrote it.

It felt like a play, and Laura Linney is someone that I’ve always admired and respected. Linney is… I’ve gone and seen her on stage, I’ve seen her act on Broadway, and I do theater as well. She just always had a really special place in my heart and in my respect, and all that, so to get to sit in a van, just the two of us, and play the scene that goes all over the place that feels like a play. And we had Alex Sakharov, beautiful, beautiful director there, and playing the scene, and letting it be different and letting it come to life, and really just finding things as we go. I think we did a few takes before I even really understood the kind of shape of it.

I just turned to Laura at some point during that evening, and I was like, ‘Laura, I could honestly do this with you forever,’ and she said ‘I feel the same way.’ You know, it was just such a magical… the whole thing was magical, but that night in particular. There was the 19-year-old in me who got to see Laura on Broadway doing Sight Unseen. There was that 19-year-old in me that was like… ‘man, this is special,’ you know?

That’s such a lovely memory. I’m sad the series is over, but thank you for sharing that. It’s so wonderfully performed and scripted. For my final question… they announced that Disney+ will be getting a Daredevil series, which I’m a big fan of. Do you think there will be any chance we see Ward Meachum in the MCU?

TP: […] I have no idea if we’ll see him or not, but I love the character, and I’m excited that they’re going to make that show. I really hope they put Charlie in, he’s so talented. I would love to watch that.

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