Shawn Hatosy on Directing ‘Animal Kingdom’ & Working With Emily Deschanel

Animal Kingdom - Shawn Hatosy

Is there ever a time when tensions flare and danger is close to the criminal Cody family on TNT’s Animal Kingdom? Not really but it’s not every episode that the director lensing the powerful scenes on the drama is also one of its main actors.

Tuesday’s episode will see Shawn Hatosy, who plays Andrew “Pope” Cody, direct for the second time in the series (his first time helming an episode was during Season 3). And he picked a doozy as Pope’s closeness with his deceased sister’s friend, Angela (Emily Deschanel), hits a major bump after she falls off the drug wagon she’s been on the past three years.

How much is that tied to the memory of his sister, Julia, and how much does it have to do with manipulations by Pope’s nephew, J (Finn Cole) that we saw play out in last week’s episode?

To find out about that and more, TV Insider hopped on the phone with Hatosy. He told us about being on both sides of the camera for this week’s episode and just how much more tense things can get in the rest of the Season 4 episodes. (Thankfully, the series has already been renewed for a fifth season).

With this episode being later in the season, does that change your approach at all directing just knowing that the tension is increasing as we head towards the season finale?

Shawn Hatosy: In terms of intensity, it’s layered into the script and, of course, I have the luxury of knowing what’s happening in Episode 12. In terms of prep work, though, Danielle Nathanson, the writer, she hit it out of the park with this one and for me, as both the actor and the director, it split nicely between the 1977 storyline (with a young Janine Cody, played by Leila George) and then the present day stuff. So I had a lot of time to just spend as the director and not having to worry about Pope as much.

Since this wasn’t your first time behind the camera, was it any easier because you’ve done it before?

Yeah, it was. I would say it was easier, for sure. I think it also is because there’s two narratives going on. The 1977 thing breaks it up. When I think about artists I admire, people like Orson Wells, and John Cassavetes. And Jodie Foster, and George Clooney, and Ron Howard, Sean Penn, Robert Redford — these are all great filmmakers that were actors first. And most of them started acting when they were very young. Just being involved and working since I was young, it gives me a confidence and understanding of how things are done and I think of all I learned from being around it for so long.

Animal Kingdom - Emily Deschanel

Emily Deschanel in ‘Animal Kingdom’ (TNT)

Going into the episode a bit, the last thing we saw was Pope knowing Angela started using again and locking her in the bathroom with the skateboard, as you do!

[Laughs] Whatever’s around, Pope’s gonna use it to lock the door! The episode is called “Julia”, and with Pope’s attraction to Angela, she uses the Julia relationship to manipulate Pope. I think the way Pope looks at her and the way I approach it as the actor, Angela is kind of a ghost of Julia. Seeing her fail and relapse is a trigger for Pope, so in many ways it’s a chance for him to fix what he didn’t get right with Julia, and that’s a reason why she’s been around for as long as she has, Angela. It’s because of him trying to get it right.

How would you characterize his feelings for Angela? Is Pope falling for Angela or is it really all just about his sister? Or maybe a little of both?

I think it’s a little bit of both. Also, she knows what buttons to press with him and I think she’s also conscientious about what Pope craves in terms of intimacy. Also, with Smurf’s [cancer] diagnosis and how Smurf is handling it, he’s not really wanting to talk about it and not really handling it with any kind of normal emotion. Angela picks up on that and is ready to just step and take over that role, you know?

Angela’s timing’s really on point.

She’s really, really a solid, solid, solid lady when it comes to that. With her timing and her questions.

How has it been working with Emily Deschanel this season on this storyline?

It’s been great. That scene in Episode 10 where Pope discovers that she just relapsed, it got physical, it was brutal. I remember rehearsing it thinking, “OK, we’re just going to do this, and it’ll be like faking it.” Then they rolled and Emily was not letting me get that shoe off. I had to fight her to get it off! At the end when we cut, I was like, “Look, we’re going to be here for awhile, and this is going to hurt both of us. So maybe just, you know, fake it a little.” She was like, “Oh, OK.” Then we rolled again, and it became evident that she was going to make me fight her to get that shoe off, which I thank her for, because it ended up being very real. Now the next day we were both bruised and hurting, but it was worth it.

When you’re directing, you’re also in your co-star’s storylines quite a bit, probably more than you are when you’re just playing Pope. How was that for you?

That’s what I have to offer [as a director], because I’m in a unique position because me and the other cast members, we’ve spent so much time together. Over four seasons, discussing and carving out the dynamics of each relationship. As a director, it’s vital to understand which character’s point of view the scene will be viewed through. Because I know these characters as well and I know my real family, the decisions come effortlessly.

I’m guessing the Pope and J relationship will be really going through it in the coming episodes because of Angela falling off the wagon. What will we see in these next episodes?

Pope doesn’t give a lot of people a second chance, and J got one. Pope is coming to the realization that J lied to him about something that is very personal and directly affects the dynamic between Pope and Angela. So it doesn’t seem that this thing is going to go in a positive direction for the two of them. Just because you can’t set boundaries with people, particularly with the way that Pope is, the kind of person he is. When he says something he means it, and here J goes and messes that up.

Animal Kingdom, Tuesdays, 9/8c, TNT