John Cameron Mitchell & Kyle MacLachlan on the Rivalry of ‘Joe vs. Carole’

John Cameron Mitchell as Joe, Kyle MacLachlan as Howard in Joe vs. Carole
Mark Taylor/Peacock

“If you liked the original Tiger King, you’re gonna love this one because you really get the real people. You go deeper,” John Cameron Mitchell, who plays Joe “Exotic” Schreibvogel on the Peacock limited series, says.

Joe vs. Carole dramatizes the rivalry between big cat enthusiast Carole Baskin (played by Kate McKinnon here), who sets out to shut down Joe’s venture after learning he’s breeding and using his animals for profit. The rivalry escalates and reaches dangerous heights.

With this series, “you find out where both Joe and Carole came from, the survival artists that they are, who dealt with homophobia, misogyny, abuse to create their own little kingdoms,” Mitchell tells TV Insider. While he calls it “admirable” for each to defend their kingdom, that’s also what “ultimately leads to the destruction of both of them — her reputation and his life.”

When it comes to how Joe reacts to the rivalry with Carole, Mitchell looks back at his childhood that “toughened him,” explaining, “he grew up a little gay boy in an inhospitable land. Being gay was often a death sentence, whether through suicide and self-abuse or getting beat up by somebody. When you have that kind of abuse in your life, it’s hard to stop it. The vicious circle continues and he sees enemies all around him. Carole is the most convenient and Joe is the most convenient enemy for Carole. He symbolizes this toxic masculinity. She symbolizes all the people that tried to hurt him and they’re locked in a death battle.”

By Carole’s side is her husband, Howard (Kyle MacLachlan), and you’ll see more of him and that relationship than the docuseries offered. “He is a loving, supportive husband, and there’s a lot of ups and downs in their relationship because of the stress and the trauma that they go through,” MacLachlan says. “They are supportive of each other. They believe in each other. They have a lot of fun together. They like to tease each other. They’re very playful.”

Kate McKinnon as Carole Baskin, Kyle MacLachlan as Howard Baskin in Joe vs. Carole

Mark Taylor/Peacock

Howard is “very proud of his wife and all that she’s been able to accomplish,” he continues, and the same is true for the actors, with MacLachlan praising McKinnon’s work in the more emotional scenes. “There was one scene where she has a breakdown and Howard sees her, and she didn’t expect him to see her in this state, something that she’s been hiding all along, so she doesn’t know how Howard is gonna react and he’s quite sympathetic and empathic to her and supportive to her and caring of her,” he recalls. “I think it’s exactly what she needs. And Kate just did a bang up job in the scene. She had to go very, very deep in it, and it was really beautiful to be in that moment with her and watch her go through that. I don’t think it’s a place that she goes to very often, at least not in front of the camera, and she was really powerful.”

Joe and Howard do cross paths, briefly, which the actors enjoyed playing. Howard tries to navigate that by going back to being a lawyer. “He’s a very pragmatic and practical person and realizes the best way to deal with this is through the courts of law,” according to MacLachlan. “It really got down to two men who could maybe work something out, get to some kind of an understanding. I think Joe calmed himself down. I think Howard got a little bit heated in the conversation.”

Adds Mitchell, “Howard is obviously very faithful and a defender of Carole, but he’s a reasonable man, he’s a businessman and he wants to compromise. Unfortunately, Carole doesn’t go for it. Joe kind of wants to. After his bravado, he says, ‘I didn’t really mean all that. I just did that for the camera.'”

For Mitchell, he “wanted to find [Joe’s] real self,” and he thinks he was that with “the two real loves of his life,” Brian (Nic English), his first husband, and Travis (Nat Wolff), with whom the actor found scenes “very tender.” Brian “really took care of him” and “was the levelheaded one,” while Travis and Joe “unburden themselves with each other and they have a sense of ‘we both have gone through a lot and we can get through the rest of it together.'”

While there is a bit of “camp” and “fun” in the Peacock limited series, “you go underneath the hood,” Mitchell says. “You find out who they are, you sympathize, you might find yourself shedding a tear right after a big belly laugh. That’s why I was attracted to this. I wasn’t attracted to the docuseries. I found it empathy free and just freak show-ish. But here, they’re real people.”

Joe vs. Carole, Streaming Now, Peacock