Tag: tom pelphrey

Banshee’s Adam Targum dishes on the show’s final season

“Season 4 is going to be the most memorable, mind blowing experience ever for Banshee fans.”

Gregory Shummon/Cinemax
Gregory Shummon/Cinemax

All good things must come to an end, especially on television. When the master team behind Cinemax’s Banshee wrapped Season 3 and began prepping Season 4 nearly one year ago, a thought started to lurk inside the group that includes creator/writer/executive producer Jonathan Tropper, director/executive producer O.C. Madsen and writer/executive producer Adam Targum. Was it time to end Banshee? When news broke last month to fans on the internet, there was a mini explosion. Why now? Well, I have some answers.

I had the chance to discuss the show, past and present, with Targum over the phone as he uncoiled in Los Angeles mere days after wrapping production on Season 4 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Dan Buffa-Banshee really started something for Cinemax, sort of like a trailblazer for the cable network.

Adam Targum-It really did what it needed to do for Cinemax, putting it on the map as a scripted drama destination. That’s where television is going, away from network television. They can’t compete, because they are programmed for a broad audience. On Cinemax, we program to the audience that understands us. That’s why we are successful. We write and craft the shows that we want to see. 

Buffa-In the same way that the Wire and Sopranos did for HBO…

Targum-Yes. When Steven Soderbergh was asked why he brought The Knick to Cinemax, he said that any place that will support and put something like Banshee on the air is a place I want to work. 

Buffa-One of the things you do with the show is push the limits of normal storytelling and keeping it fresh. Does Season 4 continue that? 

Targum-I think Season 4 is going to be the best season yet! Season 3, we did our best to create the most action packed, over the top, heart pounding adventure that we possibly could. That was our goal. In the offseason, we realized we were never going to top that and there was no reason to try. In season 4, we took a different approach to the storytelling in trying to maximize these incredible characters. We found the perfect balance between action, character and story. This season is more serialized than ever with each episode fitting very snugly with the narrative. Instead of bringing these different antagonists for Lucas Hood to deal with, we wanted to used the existing characters and turn it all inward. The story lines intersect, thus making a more richer, more thought out story line. 

Buffa-Season 4 is the end. When did you and the rest of the gang know this was it.

Targum-We had a sense that this could be happening really early on. Jonathan, O.C. and I had conversations about what we could do to carry the story forward and while Jonathan was open to a season five, it was very important to him that there was an organic story line and that the characters had a real place to go. He didn’t want to rehash old story lines. We spent several months spitballing the ideas for a Season 5, and at the end of the day, we realized we had done everything we could do with these characters. It was important to honor Jonathan’s original vision in taking these characters as far as we could take them and make sure we were delivering the audience the most fitting conclusion we possibly could.

While it’s bittersweet, this is the perfect time to bring this story to an end. As Jonathan said in that great Grantland piece, there’s nothing more tragic than a show that sticks around too long. We didn’t want people to watch Season 5 and think, “Man, I’ve seen this before. This episode feels like the one from Season 2.” It’s really exciting because of the freedom it gave us in crafting the perfect finale. 

Banshee-2-550x366Buffa-A lot was left on the table at the end of Season 3. Lucas and Kai had that chat that seemed to bury the hatchet between them. People died. Job was kidnapped. What can you tell us about the jumping off point of Season 4? Is there a time jump?

Targum-The best way for me to answer that question is to tell you to watch episode 1 in January of 2016 and see where it goes. Coming out of Season 3, we did lay some significant story pipe to be addressed. We had Lucas walking away from being the sheriff, and it felt different than it did in the past. It felt like it had more finality to it. A truce between Proctor/Hood possibly. Deva’s state of mind. Carrie’s state of mind. Job’s whereabouts? It left a lot of rich opportunities for us to explore. And we address all of those dangling hanging chads when this season starts up. That doesn’t mean people will be happy with the way we address them. That’s the thing about Banshee. Everyone doesn’t like the choices that our characters make. Ultimately, the audience understands why we make them and that is because it is best for the characters. 

The other thing that is really exciting about Season 4 is that within the first five minutes of the first episode, we turn a lot of things on their head. There are surprises and big turns that the audience won’t see coming. That’s the mandate as a whole, and that’s constantly push the envelope of the show. Do things that only Banshee can do. That has to do with how we tell our story. We aren’t precious with our characters, as the first three seasons showed. We do kill characters that audiences love and that’s not to enrage our viewers. Sometimes, we need catalysts that drive our characters in different directions. As I always say to people..in real life people have sex. They kill each other. They are cruel to each other. There is incest and trucks do blow up. As much as our set pieces are heightened at times, the thing that brings it back to reality is that the characters stories are very grounded. These people are struggling with regret, lost love and that makes it relatable. 

Buffa-There has to be consequences for the characters on this show and Siobhan’s death was proof of that.

Targum-It was a very difficult decision for a number of reasons. First, we love Trieste(Kelly Dunn) and she is a very important part of the family. Also, we knew this was the final hope Lucas Hood had at salvation and a chance for love. Ultimately, we decided that Lucas Hood doesn’t deserve to have those things. As painful as it was for me to write it, watch it get shot and see it air, it wasn’t something haphazardly done. This was the best move to drive Hood forward in his narrative. The fact that fans mourned her like she was a real person is a testament to the people who work on this show, most notably Trieste, the writing team and directing team. In season 4, they will see why we made that decision and why it’s best for the show.

Buffa-Each season seems to build on the last. 

Targum-They do. I mean, we wrapped Season 3 in mid September and by the end of September, Jonathan and I were sitting in a restaurant talking about Season 4. We took time in talking about each individual character before we started plotting. We knew when we got into the writer’s room, in November, both of us knew the beginning, middle and end of each of these characters. Season 4, for all intents and purposes, could be an eight hour long movie. 

1280x720-nccBuffa-How important is Antony Starr to the production? He seems to eat, sleep and bleed Lucas Hood.

Targum-He truly is, but we have a lot of people like that on this show. There’s no question. Ant is the #1. He’s never about vanity. He doesn’t care how he looks on screen. It’s always about “what would Lucas Hood do?” Antony has incredible story instinct and in Season 4, he took a very hands on approach with us in making sure that the narrative was as tightly woven as we needed it to be. I will say though, that Ivana and Ulrich are also big parts of that process. Ulrich will not just give us notes on his scenes but on the episodes as a whole. We have a cast that really cares about the show.

There are new faces this season in Eliza Dushku, Ana Aayora, Jennifer Landon and Fred Weller. They immediately fit the bit and were committed to the project. There’s not a weak link this season. Having such versatile actors allows us to push the envelope even further. That made it especially hard to wrap up, knowing this kind of group may not come together again. 

Buffa-The move from Charlotte, North Carolina to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania must of been a little rough.

Targum-It was a culture shock in a lot of different ways. In the end, we found a good balance of the old and the new. There are things that will look different, and we explain very effectively why they do. It will look like a fresh show, but also feel like Banshee. In a pragmatic sense, we had to build new sets and bring in 75% of a brand new crew. What we found was that the new Pittsburgh crew came in with a lot of enthusiasm. A lot of the crew were fans of the show and went out of their way to get hired onto the set.

I walked around on set, feeling this energy from these 200 people who were fans of the show now working to make it new. When we wrapped the show and speeches were being made, there were a lot of tears and melancholy but also a huge sense of pride in what we had made. We screened the first episode and they were blown away, saying that this was the Banshee they always wanted to make.

Buffa-For most of these actors, it’s like burying a character you’ve grown attached to. 

Targum-It’s immersive. We all live away from home for months shooting this show and there are a lot of long stressful days. I joined the series in Season 3, and Jonathan and Greg immediately gave me the opportunity to put my voice on the show. In Season 4, O.C. and I were running the day to day operations, working with Jonathan, and it helped take the show to another level. Season 4 is where Banshee matures. It feels like a more sophisticated show. And that’s a testament to everyone who works on the show. From the craft services to the #1 person on the call sheet. It’s truly magical. I wish January was tomorrow.

Buffa-It just gives me more time to tell people to watch the show.

Targum-Banshee is a word of mouth show. People walk up to me and have no idea what it is and I tell them it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen on TV and they say whatever. When they come back and say, “oh my god that’s unlike anything I’ve seen on television today,” I say, now you know, so go tell a friend.

Buffa-I recently told someone they should go make friends with a neighbor they don’t like if that neighbor has Cinemax. 

Targum-(laughs)Yes. The truth of the matter is that Cinemax is very affordable. Anytime people tell they don’t have it or can’t afford it, I tell them call your cable provider because the extra 6 or 7 extra dollars is well worth it. Especially now with Cinemax putting an emphasis on scripted drama. They are becoming a top notch destination for top rate drama.

Buffa-One of the things I am most looking forward to is more of the Bunker brothers, played by Tom Pelphrey and Chris Coy. The end of Season 3 really started something there.

Targum-Yes it did. Pelphrey has brought an incredible amount of heart and humanity to Kurt Bunker, the neo Nazi, which I will say is not an easy thing to do. When we came up with characters for season 3, what an interesting notion to have a reformed hate mongering neo nazi who has given up the hate and ideology but still has the exterior signs on his body. What better place for him to come to than Banshee. Tom is unique talent, and has so much range and soul. That’s where we came up with the idea of his brother, played by Coy.

I’ve known Chris for 6 or 7 years. I cast him in a small film called Rogue River, a little horror film we shot in Oregon in -12 degree weather. Chris refused to get warm throughout the shoot because he knew the character didn’t need to get warm.  I knew he was the real deal right there. He’s a true method actor who immerses himself in the role. We really advance that story line of the two brothers in this Neo-Nazi brotherhood. We explore the backstory of these two brothers. How Kurt was recruited by the brotherhood and how he brought his brother Calvin into it later on, leaving him with tremendous guilt. We throw real conflict between these two and from beginning to end, it’s explosive.

Buffa-I can’t stop thinking about Pelphrey’s scene in the finale in the basement with Brock Lotus(Matt Servitto). That’s my favorite scene from Banshee, all time.

Targum-That scene Jonathan had written as an audition scene for Kurt Bunker. It grew and finessed so it could fit into the story line. Jonathan wrote this monologue that really embodied what we were looking for in Bunker and Pelphrey did it and was incredible. As we were moving forward in Season 3, that scene came up and it was a perfect moment for us to put it out there. During his three minute monologue in episode 305(Tribal), Tom showed such range that we decided to take that other scene and adapt it. We shot that pretty late. Tom, wrapping the belt around his hand, which was something he did on his own, blew us away in that first take with his level of emotion and intensity. Matt Servitto came over to me afterwards and said in the beginning of the scene he wasn’t acting but simply trying to calm Tom down. It was such a powerful performance. I remember watching the crew react to the scene and seeing how visceral it was, knowing it was going to be one of our best scenes. We only did 3 or 4 takes because it was so intense. 

What’s most important about that scene is the relationship being built between Bunker and Brock. It’s Brock becoming a father figure for Kurt, who never had a real father. 

Buffa-I remember telling someone these are the scenes that separate Banshee from other shows and people’s perception of the show from the outside. 

Targum-I’m happy to hear that because I will tell you, there is a lot more of those type of scenes in Season 4. It was very important to the entire team that we found more of those moments where the actors could dive deep into these characters. This season, there is a scene around 8 minutes long that is one of the most powerful scenes we have shot. It will be a show stopper in Season 4 because when you have characters opening themselves up, it gives viewers a window into who they really are that a fist fight or gun fight can’t really do. That’s a testament to the work Greg, Jonathan, David, and O.C. did in Season 1. Since then, it’s evolved. In Season 4, we found the perfect balance in putting the viewers in these characters minds. 

In the end, Jonathan, O.C. and I make television that we want to watch. That’s what separates it from the rest.

Buffa-You can tell when there’s passion and when there’s just effort.

Targum-You can. It shows. I was a fan of the show before I came on. The people who worked on the crew this season were big fans. When we handed out scripts, we had to use extra security. You don’t want to spoil the surprise. It is fun to see the fans speculate online and while 99 percent of it isn’t true, it’s always nice to know we are going to surprise the audience because they have a different expectation. 

Buffa-The last thing I wanted to ask about was Lucas and Carrie, the lost soul couple at the heart of the show. One thing on people’s minds is the idea of them coming back together in this final season. What do you have in store for them this time around?

Targum-Anything is possible.They are always going to be at the forefront of the fiber of Banshee. Their complicated relationship and past was such an intricate part of the pilot that it will always play a part in the story. They share a daughter together in Deva. We spent a lot of time servicing those two characters. They love and care about each other deeply, but the external world doesn’t care about that. We do spend quite a bit of time this season exploring their relationship and come to a definitive conclusion on what happens between them.

Buffa-Shooting Banshee has to be a roller coaster in itself. What are your best memories from making Banshee? Any definitive moments?

Targum-So many of them. The making of episode 305, Tribal, last season was the most intense experience of my career. We spent 8 or 9 days inside the Cadi shooting that episode with O.C. Madsen and a good part of our cast. There were 3,000 squibs and thousands more. We were all there, in it, and covered in debris. It was hot and muggy. No air conditioning. It was oppressive. Those hardships are up on the screen and I couldn’t have been any prouder of that episode. It has signature character moments. It’s the end of Siobhan. The moment where Brock stands up to Lucas. We made Chayton into this monster.

Season 4 was special because I got to spend so much time collaborating with O.C., who is a true visionary. He was there from day 1 and brought a different level of character to the show. Jonathan Tropper, who has become a close friend, directed an episode in Season 4. It was satisfying seeing him translate his words to the screen and make all the decisions.  It was also incredibly hard this last week. The last week of production was challenging for us. We had to say goodbye to the actors. Every time we did, the crew would gather around, and we were all so connected. It was a special moment, and on Friday night, we wrapped the final part. Lots of hugs. Tears. Throughout, it was an overwhelming sense of pride. 

It was important for us to honor the audience. When they walk away from season 4, they feel like we did them justice and we did the show justice. I’d love for them to feel a little sad because there will be no more new episodes, but I think they will be satisfied with what we have done.

Buffa-So now, you guys go into post-production?

Targum-From the moment we start shooting, the post-production team and editors start on the assembly. Half of the episodes have already gone through director cuts, producer cuts and gotten notes from the network. Sound is mixed. Things are cut together. Now the intense post-production begins. We also shot origins this year, and they focused heavily on Sugar Bates, played by Frankie Faison. Matty Rauch(aka Clay Burton), got to write and direct some of the origins. He gives 100% and it was gratifying to give him the room to explore the other creative needs he has. 

Buffa-If you had to pump fans up with one line about Season 4, what would it be?

Targum-Whatever expectations you have, we are going to exceed them. We are going to shock, surprise and take the fans on an emotional roller coaster ride. I truly believe this will be the most memorable and mind blowing season yet. We are going out with a bang!

In the make believe business, everybody is a creator. The producer creates the possibility. The writer creates the reality and world the characters live in. The director frames those characters in that world. The actors make them come alive. Adam Targum’s effect on Banshee in Season 3 was seen in nearly every episode, whether it was the Burton-Nola fight or the Tribal shootout. He’s got a wicked mind that extends to an original form of violence, action and power as well. The whiff you got of his talents in Season 3 comes full circle in Season 4, along with Madsen, Tropper and the cast.

Instead of crying about the inevitable end, think of the way a show like Banshee, which blows originality out of the water on a weekly basis, will go out. Think of the spectacle. Forget Game of Thrones. Winter is coming folks. It’s name is Banshee and it arrives in January. Consider this the official tease.

Tom Pelphrey: The New Badge in Banshee

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.

DBI 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)