There are certain guys in Banshee who exude toughness and authority without a lot of dialogue. Meet Tom Pelphrey, the New Jersey born actor who inhabits the tortured soul that is Kurt Bunker on the Cinemax series. As season 4 preps for launch, I revisit my chat with Pelphrey from after Season 3 in March.
Bunker comes from a dark past that involves Nazi White Supremacy and enough guilt to fill a river with. He enlisted at the Cadi to become a deputy and has proved himself quite useful. Pelphrey put on a performance in the Season 3 finale Friday night that will live on for months. A Hall of Fame no holds barred achievement for any actor may have been just the tip of the iceberg for Bunker on Banshee. I reached out to Pelphrey to talk about those final scenes of the season and how he channels the rage inside the character.
Dan Buffa-The finale featured loads of action and resolution, but the most soulful poignant story(stoked with some raw firepower) is Bunker’s past colliding with his present. How has it been pulling the layers off this classic tough guy character?
Tom Pelphrey-Well it’s the kind of role that any actor would be excited about. What makes it really great is that the writers have allowed for the layers to be exposed and peeled away over time; perhaps more importantly we learn more about Bunker in situations where learning more about Bunker arises naturally from the given circumstances in the storytelling. For example in Episode 5… Bunker tells Alison about his past and what led him down the road he traveled. All hell has broken loose, the stakes are very high, and quite naturally Alison is afraid and unsettled… and she’s in the basement with a dude who’s covered in swastikas and carrying an automatic weapon!! And so telling her about my past comes from the desire to help her understand so that I can calm her down and make her realize she is safe with me… otherwise you just have an expositional monologue. The writers were really smart. It’s been very exciting for me to explore the character. Someone who would cover their body with such hateful images has a lot of pain, anger, and confusion… as we see in episode 10 there is so much going on that Bunker himself can barely articulate it. A lot of shame, regret, rage, and self hatred… and yet he’s trying to do the right thing, turn his life around and seek redemption. It’s all very compelling stuff and the kind of material that I live for.
DB–I feel like Bunker’s a boiling pot of water that finally popped off these final two episodes. A man holding a lot of rage inside and eventually, those things boil over in Banshee. Is that an accurate description?
TB-Totally accurate. Again, someone who would go SO FAR as to cover themselves in tattoos of swastikas and hateful images is operating from a place of a lot of pain. Even when that person chooses to turn their life around and make different choices, that pain doesn’t just go away. The question becomes can Bunker learn how to work through it and channel it in a positive way? Can he find redemption and healing for himself?
DB-Bunker’s past provided him with quite a few tattoos. Did you and Geno challenge each other for time in a makeup chair?
TP-Hahaha!!! I think we were pretty even. A lot of Geno’s tattoos are much larger pieces which means you have to be very careful when you place them… I have more tattoos but they are smaller and not connected so you end up with 6 of one and a half dozen of the other.
DB-In my opinion, your scene with Servitto towards the end of the finale was the best of the episode, the season and quite possibly the series. So powerful and emotionally bare. Actors have to channel that rage somewhere. Where did you go to for that scene and how long did it take to prepare? All of that can’t be on the page. Was it method or just getting into a role?
TP-Well I’m not sure that I know exactly where I went for that; and I’m not sure that I would tell you if I did know. : ) I’m never sure what people mean when they say ‘method’… it’s used by so many different people in so many different ways that to me it has become an ambiguous dirty word! haha. For me what’s important is being able to identify what the character is going through and understand it intellectually. Once I have that I try and break it down to it’s most fundamental essence, and understand that for myself emotionally. If you lay the foundation correctly you then sit back and let your imagination take over. The emotional access gets easier from years of training and performing and learning. To me it’s a muscle that gets stronger over time with repetition; so it’s much easier to go there now then it was ten years ago. All of that aside; I show up on the day and say “Fuck it” and work off of my partner to the best of my ability. And as I’m sure you’ve noticed, I have a plethora of beautiful talented partners who would make any actor look better! Servitto is a PRO and made that scene so easy for me.
DB-Speaking of Servitto, this cast is a group of true pros. How has it been mixing it up with Antony and company?
TP-We must be simpatico because I’m answering and referencing some of your next questions before I even read them! The cast has been phenomenal to me. Truly wonderful and open and very welcoming and supporting. It makes it SO MUCH EASIER for me to do my best work when I feel like I’m in a safe and supportive environment. I always think of a cast like a sports team… you can have some talented individuals but you really kick the shit out of a show when you have a team that works well together and supports each other. Obviously the captain of this team (especially for my storyline) is Antony. That is a hard working actor who really cares about the quality of the show and believes in what he does. He’s also tough as hell because physically they put him through the ringer! And to top it off he’s super fucking talented and very intelligent. I’m glad he’s our lead. Servitto is all of those things as well… and one of the most generous partners that you’re ever gonna work with. He never lets the ball drop. Most of my time has been spent with those guys on set… but as I’m sure you can tell we have an entire cast of hard-working, super talented, creative actors who are total fucking gamers. Everyone is in it together. I really am very grateful to join them.
DB-Moving forward, Bunker’s duel with the brotherhood is far from over, with the last image of Bunker showing his brother literally burning the swastika off your chest. It has to be exciting knowing the Cadi won’t be quieting down anytime soon.
TP-I can’t wait to start reading scripts for Season 4. They have set things up so well… high stakes and infinite possibilities! Talk about a cliffhanger huh?
DB-With Starr potentially moving to full time criminal, the first thought in my head was a Hood-Bunker clash. Now, we all know that fight starts out with Bunker saying, “With all due respect sir….punch…slam!! That has become the signature nice tough guy line for you.
TP-Hahaha!! Now that would be a brawl. I have to say though I think it would take ALOT for Bunker to ever go after Hood. He gave the guy a chance when no one else would. He didn’t dismiss Bunker and he gave him a chance to prove himself and earn his trust. I think for someone like Bunker that goes a long way.
DB-With production in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for season 4, have you been officially asked back or is that still pending or under wraps?
TP-I’m not sure if that’s under wraps or not… but yes I have been asked back and I couldn’t say yes fast enough.
DB-What is your personal favorite moment from Season 3?
TP-In episode 4 I thought the scene between Hood and Deva when he says he’s leaving was really well done. That could’ve been a throw away or a tough guy moment but Ant loaded it and it was very touching. In that same episode the scene with Carrie and Hood was beautiful too. I loved when Brock shot Emily’s tires out. Just so perfect to me I couldn’t stop laughing. It was so crazy and yet made absolute sense. Perfect Banshee. I loved when the fat guy gets popped like a grape by the truck in Episode 3. In the first episode Gordon asking Hood to leave him Deva, leave him his daughter? So heartbreaking. It was just so honest and pathetic. Every scene with Sugar and Job. I also LOVED the scene with Proctor, Burton, and Rebecca in the meat locker when she shoots the dude in the knee and then they just blast the hell out of them. Loved the way Lili played that. Cheered out loud when Carrie beats homeboy’s ass in the bathroom of the bar!! I dunno I really could go on… I would be a fan of the show even if I wasn’t on it. *I was reading this over and I remember something else that really struck me. Epidode 3: Aside from the fact that the Burton Nola fight was EPIC, there was a quick flashback to Chayton coming to get Nola in whatever shady den she was nodding out in. I think she mumbles to him “I don’t want to die”, and he replies, “You’re already dead. Now I want to show you how to live.”—or something to that effect. I’m getting chills just writing it out. That KILLED me. So beautiful and so fucking sad. Which also brings me to say that before he killed Siobhan, half of me was rooting for Chayton!! And I think that speaks to Geno’s performance. Ok I’ll stop now.
DB-Tom, you never have to stop my sir. Keep talking. Thanks for answering the questions. Take your time sir. I’ll probably publish this weekend. I hope to stay in touch throughout the year and reconnect for a chat for Season 4. Being a 1982 soldier, I must tip my cap. Thanks again for taking the time.
TP-Thanks so much Dan! Great questions. Looking forward to more!! 1982. : )
That last part was a nod to the fact that Tom and I are both 1982 kids. I won’t put it on my resume but I share a year with Badass Bunker. Pelphrey is the latest entry to Banshee and brings the prerequisite along with him. Emotional baggage and inner torment. A certain breed of actor is required to play that. Pelphrey more than fits the description. Throughout Season 3, fanshees got a taste and in the final two episodes, they got it all. When Season 4 returns, I’ll be looking for Pelphrey to chat more Bunker.
(Photo by Gregory Shummon/Cinemax)