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BWW Interview: Norbert Leo Butz Discusses Working with his Idol on Netflix's BLOODLINE, His New Album, More

BWW Interview: Norbert Leo Butz Discusses Working with his Idol on Netflix's BLOODLINE, His New Album, More

Anyone paying attention over the past decade knows that the best television shows don't appear on the major networks anymore. In fact, increasingly, the best TV, isn't even on TV. Beginning with HOUSE OF CARDS' landmark Emmy win in 2013, streaming internet providers have become the venue for some of "television's" most beloved and buzzed about programs.

On March 20, Netflix released its newest critically acclaimed drama BLOODLINE. This dark and twisted tale, which feels like a Southern Gothic novel, tells the story of one seemingly stable family in the Florida Keys, and how their world comes crashing down with the return of the family's black sheep. The show has been hailed as Netflix's best original series by over a dozen major publications, and was picked up for a second season less than two weeks after its debut.

The series' cast is comprised of a who's who of acting heavyweights. Kyle Chandler (FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, ZERO DARK THIRTY) leads the ensemble as John, the responsible son who became a local detective. As the family's parents are Academy Award winner Sissy Spacek (COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER, CARRIE) and Academy Award nominated actor (THE RIGHT STUFF) and Pulitzer Prize winning playwright (BURIED CHILD) Sam Shepard. Also on board are two-time Tony winners Norbert Leo Butz and Katie Finneran, Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn, Broadway star Steven Pasquale, and many more talented actors.

Recently, I spoke with Butz about working on such an intense show, collaborating with the incredible cast, the recently announced second season:

BWW: Congratulations on BLOODLINE and getting picked up for a second season. Once I started watching, I binged through all 13 episodes in about two and a half days, so needless to say, I really enjoyed it.

N.L.B.: Good, good, good.

For those who haven't seen it yet, can you give them a little thumbnail of what the show is about?

It's a story about a family who lives in the Florida Keys and owns a vacation resort. They are an upstanding family in the community, well-known, well-connected. At the beginning of the series, the family is about to be honored by the community and have a pier dedicated to them. The family consists of a mother and a father, and four adult siblings. The oldest of the siblings is sort of estranged from the family. He is a highly destructive, disruptive guy, who has a history of erratic and unstable behavior. He shows up at this family reunion, and that's where the pilot starts. As the season unfolds, you find out that the family, who appears to be the model, close Southern family, you find that there is a pretty dark and tragic history that gets exposed.

That's a long way to get to the general idea; the show is really about family dynamics and the way that, for a lot of families, there are secrets and there are tragedies that get repressed. And how the people closest to you, that have that shared painful history, can sometimes be the people who are the most threatening to you. I see this series as a great American tragedy.

You talk about this show essentially being about the family dynamics and the shared tragedies of the Rayburn family, but we are so used to seeing TV dramas be about the procedural, bad guy of the week. BLOODLINE really seems to break that mold, and almost feels more like a film, or an adaptation of a novel, than something that is on contemporary television. Is this a show that you think could have worked outside of the Netflix, streaming platforms, or would it have had to change dramatically to fit on a network?

Perhaps; I have to be completely honest, I am so not a TV watcher. Maybe it's because I've been raising kids for 18 years, or because I gravitate more towards film when I want to watch something. I feel like I'm often left out of the conversation of modern television (laughs). I've never seen MAD MEN; I've never seen BREAKING BAD; I've never seen THE SOPRANOS; these sort of seminal shows. I've seen bits of them, but I do think your point is well made about it being novelistic, and I really love that about the show. I think that is what is going to turn on adult audiences.

Like a novel, or long-form cinema, you can work at a slower pace; you can explore more psychological depth and character. You can explore more detail in the cinematography; the camera can take its time in setting up that really strong sense of time and place. I love that, I think it makes the context for the narrative much clearer.

I definitely think that attention to detail shows through. I also want to talk about your character a little. You play Kevin, the youngest brother in the Rayburn family, and he's got some issues that he's dealing with. He's described as the family hot-head, and always seems to have a drink in his hand, but in one of the last BWW Interview: Norbert Leo Butz Discusses Working with his Idol on Netflix's BLOODLINE, His New Album, Moreepisodes, Danny, the oldest brother, talks about how much Kevin hates himself. What exactly is it about Kevin, and his place in the family, that he has such a difficult time with?

That's a really good question, I think what's amazing about Ben Mendelsohn's character (Danny) is that for as erratic and scary as he can be, he is a truth-teller. I think he's telling Kevin the truth (in that scene). I think there is a certain amount of self-loathing (in Kevin).

The whole family is a damaged bunch, and I think it is damaged in that Eugene O'Neill way (laughs). I've always said that this show reminds me of a contemporary LONG DAY'S JOURNEY, in that, similarly how O'Neill works with family dysfunction, it is a systemic, generational thing. It's that "sins of the father" ethos, and so it's a family that is built on this pattern of lies and duplicity, so the truth is always sort of out of reach for these people.

Kevin would love nothing more than to be a provincial guy, for nothing to change. He wants to live a simple life in his community, work hard, have the perfect marriage, have a couple kids, coach baseball, he wants that completely pedestrian life, and thinks he has it. But, the fact of the matter is that that's never gonna be his life (laughs). There are all of these unearthed secrets, and lies, and issues that he hasn't dealt with. That is the stuff that gnaws at peoples' psyches, and that's what's happening with Kevin. He's presenting an idea of a fun-loving, salty dog kind of guy, but at night in bed, there's a completely different story going on there.

John and Danny mention a number of times during the first season that they picked on Kevin and beat him up when they were younger; so the more we saw how you played Kevin's evolving issues, it really rang true for me knowing that he had been the butt of his older brothers' jokes, as well as their punching bag.

I really relate to this idea of family dynamics, and especially between brothers. I actually have seven brothers in real life, and we're all very close in age. We basically go no more than two years between any of us.

So you understand how sibling rivalries work.

Yea, yea man. It's an alpha dog environment. It's a matter of survival (laughs). I had a loving household, but it could be latent with male testosterone.

You mentioned Ben Mendelsohn and all of these actors that make up the Rayburn family, and the cast is really incredible. You've got movie-stars, TV stars, obviously you've got stage stars. What was it like working with this group, especially on a show that is so character and relationship driven?

I can't say enough about this group of people; the immediate (Rayburn) family specifically. There were some really, really difficult shooting days; the subject matter is heavy-going, there's just no getting around that. Couple that with the fact that you're shooting down there in the summer, which is just brutal in terms of the heat and the bugs and the rain and all of it; so by the end of the seven months, it was intense, and hopefully that translated into the type of tension that the viewer will see.

In spite of all of that, we laughed way more than we complained or stressed. It was a very fun-loving, light-hearted group of people; thank God. You'd be amazed at how many times we were cracking up just before shooting some of the BWW Interview: Norbert Leo Butz Discusses Working with his Idol on Netflix's BLOODLINE, His New Album, Moremost heinous things you could imagine (laughs).That was a real blessing. We all knew that we had to counteract the heaviness of the piece.

Working with Sissy and Sam was almost surreal. Sam Shepard is, I didn't tell this to Sammy, but if I had to point to one artist that made me want to do this for my life, it's Sam Shepard. I did BURIED CHILD in college, and it changed my life; it completely changed my focus. I don't know where I would be if I didn't have the experience of doing that play, and then I have to show up on set with him. It was just wild, and the same thing goes with Sissy. Her film work is incalculable how much it affected me; COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER, BADLANDS, IN THE BEDROOM, which is a stunning film that she did. She's one of the great American film actresses; and also the coolest, funniest, sweetest, wisest woman in the world. It was just an embarrassment of riches.

I wouldn't mind seeing you and Kyle Chandler do a TRUE WEST where you go back and forth and alternate between Austin and Lee. That could work.

(Laughs) It probably could. I love working with Kyle; a great guy, a natural leader. Just a career that every actor should study and emulate. He's somehow attached himself to such high quality work, some of the best television ever made, and great, great film work, and yet seems to exist outside of the bubble of Hollywood. I think he's the coolest.

I wondered since the show uses a lot of flashbacks and scenes are out of chronological order, was it like a traditional network series where you get one script at a time, or did you know the whole arc of the story from the beginning of filming?

We only had the vaguest storyboard. We knew where we started, and we vaguely knew how we ended up.

Kind of like the viewer.

Yea, very much like the viewer. We had no idea how to get there. We would shoot the flash-forwards early on, so you had no idea what a scene meant. I tell people, I read the script for the second episode, my character, who in Episode 1 is a fun-loving guy, in the second episode, I'm in my underwear, covered in bruises, with a gun and a big pile of cocaine, and I was like, "Do you guys want to tell me what happened between yesterday and today?"

When you ask the KZK guys (Creators and Executive Producers Todd A. Kessler, Daniel Zelman, and Glenn Kessler), they give you a roundabout answer. I think what they like to do is to keep their narrative options open, so that they can create and edit story as it goes along; and suit it more and more towards the actor. So, as an actor, you are left with, "I don't really know what came before or what comes after; I'm just going to shoot this scene like it is its own mini-movie. And not worry about not knowing."

Once you can submit to that, it's really, really fun actually. You don't show up with a bunch of preconceived ideas. You've got to discover it there, in front of the camera. It's scary, but it's really invigorating.

And I would imagine that it forces you to have a much different process as an actor than you would on a film or on stage, where you have the whole story and the whole script ahead of time.BWW Interview: Norbert Leo Butz Discusses Working with his Idol on Netflix's BLOODLINE, His New Album, More

Yea, but I was pretty well-versed in this kind of work. Most of my work in New York has been on new musicals. And all through the preview process, they throw you new songs, new lyrics, new choreography, new scripts; you're constantly getting new material. You might get it in the morning and put it in the show at night. It happens every single day, so those muscles are pretty toned.

Other than getting ready for Season 2 of BLOODLINE, do you have anything else coming up that people might want to keep an eye out for?

Yea, I'm almost finished with an album that I finally, finally have gotten around to. One of the beauties of being in the Keys, and being so isolated down there, I was able to start writing music again; which I did a lot of in my 20s. So, I put together an album, and we've got most of it recorded, and we're going to release it in time for the holidays. It's my own music, it's soul music. I would call it soul-infused country music maybe; it's the music that I feel most comfortable singing. I'm excited about that.

Did you travel down to the Keys to visit the Rayburn family? What did you think of Netflix's new hit drama? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, or on Twitter @BWWMatt. Also, don't forget to follow @BWWTVWorld on Twitter and Like us on Facebook for all of the latest TV news, reviews, and recaps.

Photo Credit:
1) Norbert Leo Butz | Saeed Adyani, Netflix
2) Norbert Leo Butz, Kyle Chandler, Sissy Spacek, Ben Mendelsohn, and Linda Cardellini | Saeed Adyani, Netflix
3) Sam Shepard and Norbert Leo Butz | Saeed Adyani, Netflix
4) Sissy Spacek, Linda Cardellini, and Norbert Leo Butz | Saeed Adyani, Netflix

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