The TNT series Animal Kingdom has thrilled viewers since its inception (and was recently renewed for a fifth season!), though this season has been particularly gripping. Between the scenes set in the 1970’s featuring Leila George as a softer (somewhat) Smurf to what is happening in the present day, including the Codys seemingly turning against themselves and the somewhat complicating matter of Adrian talking to the DEA and Deran finding out, the beach front-set series is heating up even more lately. There are late season fireworks ahead for Animal Kingdom fans as the season finale approaches.
In order to get the scoop on tonight’s episode, titled ‘Julia’, as well as on the remainder of the season, Brief Take chatted with series breakout Spencer Treat Clark, whose character Adrian has experienced incredible growth this season. Clark has appeared in some diverse projects this year and we got to hear about all of them and more from the talented and versatile performer.
The following is a condensed and edited version of a spirited conversation with Spencer Treat Clark about Animal Kingdom. *Slight spoilers for tonight’s episode ahead*
Brief Take: What have you liked most about playing Adrian on Animal Kingdom?
Spencer Treat Clark: I love playing the character of Adrian and working with Jake Weary, who plays Deran. We have so much fun stuff to do together, and getting to tell their story over the course of this season has really been a pleasure. When I worked on the show in season one, I certainly didn’t expect it to go beyond a few episodes. Especially in this season, we’ve got to answer some questions and deal with a subject matter that really hasn’t been around in the first three seasons. It’s been really special for me because we’ve gotten to take things a little bit further. In the first season, in particular, a lot of their obstacles are centred around Deran learning to be secure in his identity, whereas Adrian was out and just wanted to be in a relationship with Deran, and that was sort of a secret to his family. Finally, once Deran and Adrian seem like they’re on the cusp of happiness and normalcy as a couple, Adrian suddenly goes and screws it up by getting in trouble with the law. It’s this whole new storyline on which I’ve gotten to work.
BT: Today’s episode, Julia, is directed by Shawn Hatosy. Tell me about collaborating with him as both a co-star and director?
STC: So wonderful. I honestly wish that he was able to direct more. I know it’s a big undertaking when you’re both in the show and directing, and he’s so talented as an actor. He’s so generous, and sometimes with television you’ll have directors who aren’t as familiar with the show, but Shawn has an intimate knowledge of the show and knows the characters so well, and that’s not an experience you get with every director. And obviously getting to know him over four years, you have this rapport that is also really cool.
There’s a scene in today’s episode between Deran and Adrian that Shawn really, really helped shape. I’m looking forward to seeing it, because it felt really great the day that we did it and it’s really a testament to Shawn and what he brought to the table.
BT: The episode leaves off with Deran waiting on the passports for him and Adrian so that they can leave town together. What are your hopes for their future?
STC: That’s been the motivating factor for Adrian since day one, is he wants to be with the person that he loves. So obviously I’m rooting for that and I know a lot of the audience is rooting for that as well – for Deran and Adrian to finally get to be happy and have some sense of normalcy.
BT: Your scenes with Jake are fantastic. Tell me about working with him and crafting the Adrian-Deran dynamic.
STC: We’re super different, but I think we have really great chemistry and trust in one another. Jake has such awesome instincts as an actor and it’s so much fun to show up and have some sense of how a scene might play, and then all of a sudden it morphs into something else. With Jake, we really get to play with our material and take it in different directions. Especially this season, we’ve been working together so consistently, it’s been really a lot of fun. I’ve also never really had that opportunity to build such rapport with one specific actor over a long period of time. To have it be with someone like Jake, who is really talented, has been really cool. We get to play really fun characters and there’s been a really positive audience reaction around our characters. The show’s fans are so awesome. I really can’t say enough about how much that’s meant to me and to play Adrian and to bring this relationship to the screen.
BT: Speaking of the fans, have you had a particularly memorable individual fan encounter that has resonated with you?
STC: I’m terrible at social media and can be better at interacting, but I will say that there are some big fans online, this season more than ever. I was at the grocery store and someone came over and said hi and how much they love the characters. I will say that the coolest takeaway has been the audience reaction from the LGBTQIA+ community. It feels so wonderful to have people reach out. On occasion, there’s been some negativity around having such prominent queer characters on the show and that obviously pisses me off. But that just makes it that much more important to tell these stories. I’m definitely more likely to lean into one of those kisses in our scenes. [laughs] But the people reaching out positively about these characters has been truly wonderful. I’ve never had this much engagement before with a fan base and it’s been really cool to be a part of that. I love this relationship, so it is awesome to see that other people do as well.
BT: What would you like to tell the fans or people who are just discovering the show now for the first time?
STC: For people seeing it for the first time and for longtime fans, we do not take it for granted that people watch the show. It means that we are doing something right. We work really hard on the show and we love it and I’m really glad that other people do too.
BT: In a previous interview, you mentioned that Adrian, having grown up with the Codys, was complicit in their actions. Yet it seems the family is their own entity and their bond is with each other. Do you think Adrian could ever be a part of that family bond?
STC: That’s a really interesting question and something that I’m not sure I can answer. It’s one of the big questions throughout the show, even to the extent of ‘What constitutes family?’. Julia, Pope’s twin sister, who we never got to meet, is outside the family, and there’s the Nicky character who’s living in the house, and Angela, too. So it’s ultimately it’s a question that I cannot answer. It ‘is not necessarily about wanting to be a part of the Cody family with Adrian, it is wanting to be family with Deran, the man that he loves. That’s also a question that Deran has to answer – can he have both? Can he have the Cody family and this family with Adrian? That is a huge motivation for what I get to do and what Deran gets to do.
BT: In this avenue do you think the relationship Smurf has with the boys is unhealthy or symbiotic?
STC: I think the Smurf relationship with her boys is decidedly unhealthy, I think that any relationship involving Smurf is decidedly unhealthy. [laughs] It will be fun for you guys to get to see the next 3 episodes because that backstory will continue to evolve. As a fan of the show, I’ve loved watching the stuff from the ’70s, that cast is so awesome. It’s a shame that apart from the table reads, we don’t get to spend much time with them because they’re so great. I think it’s really inspired work by the writers this season.
BT: I loved your mini Mad Men reunion with Kiernan Shipka on Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Tell me about working with her and also collaborating with series creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa.
STC: Roberto is actually a friend, which is a large part of why I was involved in the show and that season. He’s so talented! We worked together on a film called The Town that Dreaded Sundown, which he wrote years ago. I love his work. I’ve read so many of his plays too, so it was really fun to get to play with those guys up there (in Vancouver). The tone of that show is completely different from Animal Kingdom, so it was fun to get to be big and broad and really get to play with things. And Kiernan is such a pro! She’s just so talented and so sweet and just works her ass off on that show. A lot of that show’s success has to do with her as an actor and as a person. I couldn’t think of a better person to build a show around, she’s such a pro.
BT: It’s been an incredible year for you, with Animal Kingdom, Sabrina and Glass. You’re such a versatile craftsman in your work. Tell me about reuniting with Bruce Willis on Glass, with whom you hadn’t worked since Unbreakable.
STC: It was such a joy. From a personal perspective, getting to reconnect with that period of my life and all these great actors, it’s hard to match that. Also as an actor, to have a backstory with a character…so much of acting is going in and finding motivations and creating the scope of the characters, outside of what’s written on the page. To have some of that experience myself, it was pretty cool and a unique experience. I go back and watch Unbreakable and there I was, in such a different period in my life, but it informed everything now twenty years later.
BT: You’re very active in hiking, camping, climbing, and surfing in your down time. Does being among nature and away from the bustle of set life give you perspective on the industry and where you’d like your career to go from here?
STC: Interesting. I’ve always loved being outdoors. I’m from the East Coast and went to school in New York, so I started surfing when I moved out to L.A. and it was a way for me to be outdoors. I’ve really taken to the sport, I spend a ton of time surfing and mountain biking as well. It’s a really great way to stay in touch with the outdoors and also a great reprieve from the hubbub of living in the city. One of the joys of living in Los Angeles is you live in this huge metropolitan area and suddenly you step outside and you can be on your own. Being outdoors is a great way to reflect and get away from things for a little bit and get some perspective. In that way it has been really therapeutic for me.
BT: What have you liked watching lately?
STC: Oh man, there’s so much good television right now. I’m saving the last two episodes of Euphoria. My girlfriend is travelling right now and when she gets back we’ll watch that. I’m desperately trying to avoid spoilers. Fleabag season two also. I just saw Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood. I’m a huge film fan and it’s a great time to be a fan of film and of television, there’s so much great stuff out there right now. I’m watching it all!
BT: Tell me about some of your future projects.
STC: American Bullet was a short I did awhile ago, so that marketing might be a little deceiving. [laughs] As you mentioned, it’s been a big year for me, I’ve been working non-stop since November. When we finished on Animal Kingdom, I traveled with my girlfriend in South America for a couple of weeks. Now that I’m back, I’m looking to new projects to see what’s next. Animal Kingdom has opened some doors for me that weren’t as readily available as before, so that’s been fun to see. So I’m trying to figure out what will be my next step.
BT: Who is a co-star that you’ve worked with in the past with whom you’d again like to work?
STC: I would love to again work with James McAvoy and Sarah Paulson. Watching them act was so incredible! I’ve also worked with some amazing directors, but I would truly love to watch Sarah and James do their thing again. I’m a huge fan of theirs and they’re at the top of their game right now.
Tune into Animal Kingdom airing Tuesdays 9/8c on TNT