Ben Robson Bares All About Being the Wildest Member of ‘Animal Kingdom’

Animal Kingdom - Ben Robson
Michael Muller/TNT
Ben Robson as Craig on Animal Kingdom.

Things are getting primal on Animal Kingdom. Based on the Australian film of the same name and now in its just-started second season, TNT’s gritty-sexy-cool crime drama about the Codys—a mash-up family of SoCal thieves led by Smurf (Ellen Barkin)—is aiming to change the dynamic within the group by having Smurf’s boys break free and begin working jobs without her often-controlling oversight. How they do remains to be seen, but so far drug-addled Craig (Ben Robson) and closeted, kid brother Deran (Jake Weary) have figured out that they need to recruit their motherless nephew J (Finn Cody) and keep an eye on the women we all know is willing to kill to keep her sons in line. Here, scruffy scene-stealer Robson talks about Craig’s penchant for self-destruction, his possible rise to power and, yes, all of those butt scenes.

OK, so what is going on with Craig this season? We talked last season about how he’s this adrenaline junkie, but he’s also got a serious drug problem, correct?
Yeah. I wouldn’t say it was normal. [Laughs] As an actor, it allows you to bring a little [bit] of unpredictability to the character, just because you just don’t know what you’re getting or how high he might be, how un-high he might be. It makes it a constant challenge, in terms of trying to work out where you believe he is. Also, it’s understanding the highs and the lows and the need for the next fix and everything else that goes with it.

Which gives you levels to play. He’s very complicated.
There’s a lot of comedic effect, but obviously it comes with some pretty serious and severe repercussions, not only to himself but to the family and others. It can become a bit of a liability in many aspects of it. It’s a challenge; I enjoy pushing myself through and getting through. I don’t enjoy shoveling protein powder and sugar up my nose as regularly as I have.

Is that what that is?!
Yeah. We were gonna use proper cocaine, but then I wouldn’t actually be able to do the job anymore. [Laughs]

What are the actual side effects of snorting protein powder?!
It’s why I got so big, you see. I grew! My muscles got massive. [Laughs] No, honestly, it’s pretty horrible. After so many times, it gets really gooey. Then you just get these pounding headaches…yeah, it’s not that pleasant.

Good god. Now that the guys think they can run jobs without Smurf’s leadership, it feels like Craig most of all would be the loosest cannon. Can his brothers handle him the way she could?
I actually don’t think he knows even how to handle himself. For Craig this season, that is brought to the story, him losing the anchor, his mother. And like any kid leaving the nest, they tend to have their own ideas of how things can be done when you really do cut ties. Smurf, for Craig, is the only thing that keeps him in check in terms of financially, because that’s the only restrain that he has put on him—Smurf gives him the credit cards and lodging. As soon as that’s taken away, he’s very much on his own. That can go two ways for the people. Sometimes they just go right off into the deep end, realize how they got there and that they’ve made a big mistake. Then you also have the other side, where people really figure out what they need to do in life and start taking responsibility.

Where does Craig fall?
Definitely both angles of that are investigated through this season. It’s an amazing arc for Craig this year, because obviously once he’s off and has his own ideas [about jobs], which is an interesting thing. It happens with all the boys. They all have their own opinion of how things should be run.

Without spoiling anything, what is coming next for this guy then?
You actually start to learn a lot more about Craig this year. He’s someone that I think is seen as this bit of an asshole. He’s very loyal to his family and surprises a lot of people in that way…his loyalty and the way he looks out for Deran (Jake Weary), especially, but really his whole family. I think we saw an element of that last year when he checked in with Deran about being gay and saying that he was completely fine with it and supported him all the way. We begin to learn a lot more about the principles that Craig holds himself accountable to. Even with all these crazy addictions and reckless behavior—and bottom line, being a criminal—he does weirdly have quite a strong moral code.

Robson with Scott Speedman and Jake Weary in the “Animal Kingdom” pilot.

Sullivan Stapleton from Blindspot played Craig in the film version of Animal Kingdom. Have you talked to him about doing the show?
No, I haven’t, but I’ve actually met his manager or agent, just after I’d shot the pilot. We took a photo with her and she sent it off to him. I’m a huge fan of his. I actually watch Blindspot, as well. I really wanted to see how he was doing on it and it’s a great show. He was amazing in the movie. I’m not surprised he’s doing as well as he is. He’s just got such a great quality about him as an actor. Everyone from that movie speaks volumes for how great the performances were, because every one of those actors have gone on to do some really incredible things.

So much attention was paid to your butt last season.
[Laughs] Yeah, a lot actually.

Did you spend extra time in between seasons doing a lot more squats? Anything just to keep everything right and tight for all of Craig’s copious pantless scenes?
[Laughs] I was not only working on my squats, I actually started working with some models to work on my catwalk, so I could really have a better walk down the corridor next time!

It’s honestly not an episode of Animal Kingdom without that thing showing up.
You know what, I really had no idea it was going to be like that. I think the first scene that I shot actually of the whole show was the kitchen scene [where I walk in naked], which was a pretty crazy moment. But I think at least with our show, a lot of it isn’t really gratuitous. It’s getting the show across about how free he is and how crazy he is.

It totally fits with Craig because he’s such a hedonist that he wouldn’t have any of those hang-ups.
That’s just it! I think that’s very much the culture, as well. I think that in surf culture, you’re only ever really wearing a pair of board shorts. When you get up to the things that Craig does as regular as he does, you’re bound to catch him naked quite a lot. And I have definitely become very close with the costume department because of the lack of costumes I’m wearing and the amount of robes and stuff you need to be put on you before people can come back on set!

Aside from that sort of daring, did you get to do any really amazing action sequences this season?
Oh, yeah. I got to do some pretty cool stuff last year, but this year it has been pumped up in a whole new way. We were jumping off cranes, we did more stuff on the bikes, which was fun. Just ripping through the streets around there. They actually, unbelievably, had us surfing with sharks two or three weeks ago.

Was this when there was like, 15 sharks spotted off the California coast?
I’m not kidding you when I tell you that we were in there and I was told that once we got out, they saw shadows under where we were. The next day, sure enough, [that beach] was closed down for great whites.

I would never leave the house again. And speaking of houses, is the Cody living room on your set where everyone tends to hang out anyway? It looks so comfortable.
You know, it’s funny. Obviously, we have a whole lot of built-up sets and the Cody home is a working and livable home. The bathrooms work. The sinks work. The bedrooms all work. There’s air conditioning in there. There’s a pool. Last year, we had a pool table there. When we’re filming around the other places in the studio, we’ll just go back to our trailers. In the house, people will just go and sit in the living room and read magazines, check phones. And hang out. It really is. I would be very happy in life if I manage to get a house like that one day. Just maybe not living with the Codys. [Laughs]

Yeah, no. You don’t even want them as neighbors.
I think it’d actually be worse if they were neighbors because you wouldn’t know when they were coming to get you. [Laughs]

Animal Kingdom, Tuesdays, 9/8c, TNT