The Killing’s Brent Sexton Talks Stan Larsen’s Conflict, Secrets & More
AMC’s clever and moody crime drama The Killing is midway through its second season, and according to the show’s developer/producer Veena Sud, we are just a handful of episodes away from knowing definitively who killed Rosie Larsen. Last week I had the opportunity to sit down with Deadwood and Life alum Brent Sexton and explore his character Stan in deeper detail, as well as address some of the criticisms leveled at the show following its controversial season one finale.
As Brent points out during our interview, The Killing is a show in which everyone is hiding a secret, and we are only now coming to terms with the details of Stan’s past as an enforcer for the Polish Mob. Yet despite his past (or perhaps because of it) Stan elicits strong empathy from audiences as a grieving father torn between a violent past and the desire for redemption. I begin by asking Brent what it’s been like to be under the skin of this complex character for two seasons.
“The situation with these people is grief,’ explains Brent. “They’re trying to process grief and gain some resolution. I was told a long time ago by one of my great teachers that anger is an end result. It’s all the other colors underneath – fear, grief and so on – that’s what’s really going on with somebody when they’re angry, but they’re probably unconscious of it. So I thought it was more important to show that than to show the anger, because that’s what is really going on with Stan. As he said in the first season, Rosie really was his salvation. She got him out of the mafia. And of course, he still carries massive guilt and regret over the way he got out. I think in his own way, he thought the best way he could best deal with that was to save Belko from that life and to become a family man, and to own a respectable business.”
Fans of the show were aware early in the first season of Stan’s Mob connections and the past he so desperately wants to put behind him. But the past doesn’t seem to want to let go of Stan, and flashes of the violent man he used to be shine through at unexpected moments, including in the brutal beating of Rosie’s teacher Bennet Ahmed (played by Brandon Jay McLaren). With so many new revelations, I am curious to know if Brent thinks Stan’s currency will become used up at some point this season.
“I truly can’t imagine how the audience is going to interpret the character,” he admits. “As far as whether he’s sympathetic or not, I don’t really consider that necessarily. My main focus is ‘what is the conflict?’ and presenting that to the best of my ability. Six people are going to like it and six people aren’t. I think it depends on an individual’s values and how they’re perceiving the situation and whatever their belief system is. for me personally, it’s more about how I can play the conflict correctly behavior-wise.”
In Episode 6, Openings, we saw Alexi (Tyler Johnson), whose father was murdered by Stan, and who was a prime suspect in the investigation for several episodes, making a statement that his original intention was to kill Stan but that Rosie saved him from that course of action. There seems to be a lot of potential to explore that idea in further detail.
“Yes, there’s a lot of history in that,” Brent agrees. “That history needs to be resolved in some way, so we’ll definitely see a little bit more on that.”
We’re at the half way point in season 2 and we’ve been promised we will know who killed Rosie Larsen by the end of the current season. I ask Brent what he can tease about what’s in store for Stan in upcoming episodes and he laughs heartily.
“Jennifer! It’s so tough figuring out what to tell you!” He considers for a moment before answering. “So we’re at this half way point. Each episode is chronologically a day but we film them over the course of seven or eight days, so when I go back to think about it, I have to do a little more work in my mind. We don’t shoot everything in chronological order. What I remember – and I’m going to land the plane now,” he laughs, “There was a certain point in reading the script there was an immense momentum created throughout all the story lines and it really became this heart-pounder. Then there’s this moment where all of a sudden you’re like ‘Holy Cow’ and when you hear that musical montage they do at the end of each episode, you’re really going to want more! I think it’s going to be a great story.” He pauses and asks “Was that ok?”
“Well, I would have preferred minute details on absolutely every episode to come, but I guess I can’t have it all,” I joke.
He laughs again. “Details! You want details! “Ok, well for the first season Stan was essentially frozen. He wasn’t really taking care of himself. He was putting his family and his business first. He didn’t really take his own time to grieve until he got to a point where the energy just had to come out.”
“In the second season, he wants to take a little bit more action. Stan’s basically in conflict with the past, the present and the future and he’s trying to gain resolution on them. But when he gains resolution in one area it causes conflict in the other area. And so he just sits there and spins back and forth between both states. You’ll see him start to take more action. He knows the police screwed up earlier with the backpack and all of that so he doesn’t necessarily trust them, but Linden (Mireille Enos) is one of the people, besides [Polish crime boss] Yanek, that he is forced to deal with. It’s really a struggle for Stan on how he can get some resolution before he becomes that guy he was before.”
Overall, Season two’s pace is noticeably different from that of last year in which the audience found their assumptions flipped by the end of each and every episode. So much so, some complained about the show’s ‘red herrings’ particularly leading up to and including the controversial season finale. With more time this year for character development and back story, does Brent consider it a better storytelling model?
“I don’t know if it’s better or not, but it’s certainly been more fun for me to play,” he says. “I think all of the actors have enjoyed what their characters have had this season. I’m hesitant to make the value judgement of better or not. One of the things our executive producer Veena [Sud] said is that everybody has secrets on this show. And a lot of that is coming back [this season].
“You mentioned this idea of red herrings, and I guess I don’t have the same opinion as the people who think that. To me they’re just clues and clues need to be researched. Clues need to be followed until they pan out or they don’t pan out. I know Veena did copious research and the detectives that she talked to said ‘Yeah, we arrest the wrong person all the time.’ And so when I thought about that I said ‘Well if a person is giving off a vibe that he or she is guilty of something, whether it’s that thing or not, you’re going to pick up on that energy, y’know?’ You can tell when somebody is hiding something or being evasive or something like that, so you sort of have to follow it. But this whole idea of red herrings, I don’t agree with. It’s really just clues that need to be followed until they pan out or not.”
I point out that some so called red herrings are coming back in recent episodes as being quite relevant to the story. I mention a tiny throw-away remark made early in season one about the fact that Stan’s sister in law Terry allowed Rosie to borrow her credit card. Later it is discovered that the credit card was used at the casino, and Terry was working for ‘Beau Soleil’ the escort agency linked to Rosie’s disappearance. Details on the casino, the construction company, the Indian reservation and Mayor Adams all seem to be circling as important pointers to how the season finale is going to play itself out.
“That’s awesome!” laughs Brent. “You’re very observant. I’m so glad you said that.”
“No, it’s important!” he insists. “I had a director once say to me if you’re going to use the gun in the third act you have to show it in the first act. So if we look at the show what was shown in the first year? What is going to come back around? What was the purpose of showing some of those things? I’m so glad you said it!”
“It’s going to be an interesting season finale, I think,” I comment.
“I think so too. It was a great experience actually, to film that finale.”
“You’re finished filming?”
“Yes, we’re wrapped for the season,” he says.
“So who killed Rosie?”
“I know you won’t tell me,” I say. “But I had to give it a try. Does everyone ask you that question?”
He gives a weary laugh. “Yeah! Everybody does. Everybody does.”
“Do you get fed up hearing it?”
“I hear it a lot, I must say,” he admits. “And besides not answering, I don’t think people really want to know ahead of time. I think if they were to know ahead of time, the impact would be lost, y’know? The idea of what’s going on in the second season, and the getting into the character side of things – that’s really interesting to me. It’s the journey. It’s not the result. So in terms of the people who ask ‘who did it?’ I think they’ll be happier when they discover it on their own.”
I think he’s right.
The Killing continues on AMC Sunday 9/8c.