While Kingdom on Audience Network is playing out its final season, Jonathan Tucker is doing some of his most compelling work at Jay Kulina.
As the former (and future?) MMA fighter turned real estate broker and family man, Tucker is called on to dig into some very heavy emotions with a plot that was an utter and delightful surprise after a time jump thrust the family into Kingdom Season 3.
While Tucker was at the ATX Festival to recall his show gone too soon, The Black Donnellys, I took the opportunity to schedule some time to talk about his more current material. Portions of the engaging conversation I had with the gifted actor follow.
Jay has gone through a huge change for the third season, and the arc is wonderful. What was it like to come back and put on a suit and have a steady, decent girlfriend and a baby?
Jonathan Tucker: The welcomed opportunity of working in television as a medium is that you get to build these authentic characters and you get to see how they handle and respond to new and different stimulus.
That is part of getting to make 40 episodes of a show. You live with a character like Jay, and you don't see who he is in two hours, you get to dance with all of the different arrows that come his way. Getting to sell real estate and have a stable sort of life is a part of that process. It is very exciting.
On Kingdom Season 3 Episode 4, things kind of fall apart.
Yeah, they really do, and it feels like revisiting not the worn ground that we've seen over the past few seasons of Kingdom, but the worn, steady ground that has been Jay's life up until this point. This idea that there is so much potential in this young man, so much talent and so much goodness and possibility.
But, of course, Jay consistently gets in his own way and is fearful of succeeding and having to deal with whatever that best version of himself is, so we see that come to quite a head in the episode.
Only someone who is really afraid of succeeding would do things like giving Amy the extra push she needed to go out the door because he's afraid it's going to end anyway, and this way he doesn't have to wait through the sorrow the closer he gets to her leaving.
Yeah, and of course, this is the apex of it in somebody's life, in anybody's life, literally and spiritually. We've seen this happen in Jay's life many times and in many ways, from fighting to relationships to just getting his life together.
But this is unique because it's this baby that has given him, for a brief period of time, a grounding and an insight into a sense of authenticity that he didn't really know existed to that depth.
A lot of people were kind of freaked out over the end of Kingdom Season 3 Episode 1 when the three of them were laying in bed together, and Jay just held the baby and made the decision to baptize her. What was in your head during that scene, and what do you think was in Jay's head?
So much about Jay's journey on our show has been about redemption and cleansing. It's been about redemption through, oftentimes, self-flagellation. We have had a lot of biblical scenes that have found their way into our story, subconsciously or consciously.
This idea of cleansing is so important to Jay, I think, and if there's anything that's pure on this earth for him, it's this baby and this little world he's created with his girlfriend.
This little pure bubble, so if he can bring a sense of purity and cleansing and redemption, it's a very stark contrast to the process that Jay himself has had to go through until this point.
I can't imagine where the series is going to end at this point. Hit me with it. We're going to be angry when it ends, aren't we?
Yeah, episodes nine and ten are a gut punch. They're like when you and I were on the playground as kids and got the wind knocked out of you which doesn't seem to happen much anymore for people.
It really does kind of virally take your breath away, so I think you're dealing more with the emotional impact than the anger that the show is ending or how does this whole thing conclude.
It's a very painful ending to the show. I don't know; maybe it would have been nice to have had another season where we could have done a big, positive, different sort of theme. Such as how do you deal with success versus where we've been for four episodes.
But maybe this is also where we needed to end it. Maybe it's the voracious conclusion to a show that has cared about nothing more than authenticity.
The Kulina family hasn't had happiness following them around, so maybe it wouldn't have been authentic to try to sweep in with a big happy ending.
I think storytellers write consciously and subconsciously, and it's so many people's jobs on a production to interpret that person's work.
Byron [Balasco] is one of the most dynamic and courageous storytellers that I've had the chance to work with. I think your point about the Kulina family not having happiness or not always getting what they want; I think maybe that's come out in a larger format while concluding our show on that note.
Don't scare me, Jonathan!
Oh, I know. But I'm sure it's like writing. Once you've done all the legwork, writing is joyous, and it comes out fluidly. It's like when you take all the notes, and then you lose the notes, and then you go and write something, and then you come back, and all the notes you'd written are all in the article. They just found themselves there organically.
That's kind of like storytelling. Any good athlete who works on parts and processes of the game and then comes to the court, the field or the park, they allow what they've done to find them organically.
Oftentimes, we're surprised at how much work we've done does find you because it's usually when you're in that place of intuition and gut rather than ego and fear.
Do you think if Jay and Ryan had stayed on the outs Jay would have had a better chance of surviving in the new life he created for himself?
I think the easy answer is yes, but I don't think that's true. Nobody makes an alcoholic drink. Nobody makes somebody commit suicide. You have to hear those voices getting louder and be unable to acquiesce. You can make things easier, maybe, but you can't ultimately pull the trigger for somebody.
Jay is an addict, and Jay wrestles with so many of the problems that Jay deals with and there's a sort of inevitability with Jay that is beautiful and painfully tragic.
So the only good thing about Kingdom coming to an end is you'll have more time to spend as Low Key Lyesmith on American Gods.
Yeah, that's a really fun character, and Bryan Fuller is a similar sort of storyteller as is Michael Green. And to be frank, Michael Gaiman is, as well. All three of those storytellers could demand a certain presence in the different departments under them and they really empower, particularly their actors to bring something to the table.
They are excited, not just tolerant, but excited about new ideas that might not fit squarely into what they had perceived a certain character to be.
You do have a bigger part in American Gods Season 2, right?
There's nothing set in stone and there are no dates yet, but I think so. I love the character. I had a really good time shooting the pilot episode. I love working with the team of Bryan and Michael; they're just fantastic. The commitment to the show isn't prohibitive of doing other things, as well.
Do you have other things in the works?
Yes. I don't know that they've sewn everything up yet, but I look forward to telling you about it when they do because I think you'll be really pumped about it.
Is it in the area of TV or film?
It is TV.
Oh good! Because that is my area, you know.
I love working in television. A number of years ago there was that line that we had set up, really, up until recently. It's so blurred at this point, I'm hard pressed to find films that give me the same opportunities that I find in television.
While Tucker and I spoke a bit longer and more on the topic of film versus television, suffice it to say that if all goes well, we can expect him to stick around the small screen for a while longer.
Just like we here at TV Fanatic, Tucker loves nothing more than digging into a good character (one with a lot of plot!), and the era of Peak TV is providing him and many others with some of the best parts in the entertainment industry.
For those of us watching Kingdom, American Gods and his previous roles on programs like Justified, Parenthood and The Black Donnellys, Tucker's talent hasn't been lost on us. I certainly cannot wait to find out what project he will be a part of next and know I'll be watching.
If you haven't seen Kingdom because it's not available to you, DVDs of the first two seasons are now available exclusively at Walmart and will be available everywhere on August 2. Yes, that's very old school, but sometimes it's worth the effort, and Kingdom is that time.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.