As the doomed Danny Rayburn in Netflix’s Bloodline, Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn once again embodies a villain, only this time with a sympathetic twist. Known in recent years for a series of borderline-sociopathic criminal roles, starting with Animal Kingdom in 2010—and rumored to be circling a lead role in the Star Wars spinoff Rogue One opposite Felicity Jones—Mendelsohn plays the chain-smoking bad news brother of a seemingly perfect family. With the sweltering Florida Keys as a backdrop, the moody, humid drama builds and swells at a sinister-slow pace as layers of family secrecy are peeled away and Danny seeks to find resolution and retribution. Also starring Sissy Spacek, Sam Shepard and Kyle Chandler, with Chloe Sevigny as Danny’s love interest, the series allows Mendelsohn to show off his dramatic chops to full effect, despite having revealed his character’s ugly fate from the get-go.
How do you think being designed for streaming affected Bloodline?
It’s got a lot more room for nuance and an assumption that people have started from the beginning. Bloodline ends up being like a really good novel. It’s intricate, the characters are very fully realized, so I think that has moved the ball forward and, from what I’m aware of, it’s the most designed for streaming, from the very beginning—the way (the creators) approached it, the way they wrote it and not having to recap. Just the intricacy and the delicateness. Also, I think, personally, that it’s designed very well for a second and possibly even a third viewing. Certainly that was something I was trying to do, to put in stuff, bits and pieces, for people that might come back and watch it again.
You’ve played a series of villains recently—do you seek out those roles?
It’s simple, it’s Animal Kingdom. It’s the after effect of that. I think once these associations start to take place, they take place. It wasn’t like I was doing a bunch of them before Animal Kingdom, either. I was playing dads and boyfriends, but (in) the post-Animal Kingdom landscape, no.
Viewers know Danny’s fate right from the start—how did that affect your portrayal of him?
I don’t know in what way it did particularly. I was concerned, as the creators were concerned, that Danny’s way of seeing the world was very important. I don’t think that knowing his fate at the start made me consciously do anything differently.
Did you ever feel that Danny was really a villain? Or was he always redeemable to you?
I never saw him as a villain and I still don’t see him as a villain. I think of him as being really fueled by a very profound sense of someone that’s being wronged and compromised in their life, someone who feels like he has to get retribution. None of them can really confront (each other), and I think that’s the tragedy of that family.
How did you handle the scene where John, Kyle Chandler’s character, drowns you?
I think it took the better part of two days, and the logistics were quite involved. The tragedy of the whole thing is that this is just about someone that wanted to be embraced, wanted to be able to feel his family, as opposed to being absent from them without the trouble. But it was a very gnarly couple of days. They were tough days. Towards the very end of the shoot, it was just difficult stuff to be doing.
Danny always looks a lot sweatier than everyone else—was that a deliberate “villainous” detail?
I think it’s probably just that I do sweat more than the rest of them, but also we didn’t dab me down as much. I was probably raw-er in that sense. There was supposed to be a side of Danny that was very elementary and organic. This was a guy that had actually sort of lived and that was a lot more present at any given moment. He was meant to have a slightly more visceral quality, so that’s the whole sort of sweaty thing. But I tell you, do a summer shoot in Florida, in the Keys, and yeah, you know, it gets warm.
You’ve worked a couple of times with Ryan Gosling now, on The Place Beyond the Pines and Lost River—what makes you guys work so well together?
When we worked together we found something really good out of a start that was really not great. I think we shot a day and I think it was pretty bad. But then we flipped a few things around and it really popped into something that felt really good and it was actually a fantastic shoot on Pines. Then when Ryan was doing his film he asked me to come on board, and of course I was thrilled. So off we went and did Lost River.
What’s the latest on the Star Wars: Rogue One situation? Are you doing it?
Well… I know that it’s something that’s being talked about. That’s what I definitely know. I’m waiting for them to call me and say, “Hey, here’s the start date,” but you know, none of that’s yet taken place, but you know I’d be very happy to do it, let’s put it that way.