‘Bloodline’ executive producer and writer Todd Kessler talks to Awards Daily about creating the Rayburn family.
Bloodline co-creator Todd Kessler graduated from Harvard University with a degree in dramatic literature and playwriting. He made good on that promise in such high profile projects as The Sopranos, Providence, Damages, and most recently Netflix’s Bloodline. So, when asked to advice budding writers, Kessler gives apt feedback.
“People who are interested in writing or involved in the arts whether its acting, writing, or directing should really, really invest in themselves and believe in the stories they want to tell. Really make things as personal as possible,” Kessler explained. “For me, it’s about making things only you can make and not worry about whether or not it will sell. The most important thing is to be writing and expressing things that really matter, and everything you need to learn comes from that.”
That begs the immediate question: where does Bloodline‘s troubled Rayburn family come from? And, as a follow up, should audiences worry?
The Genesis of the Rayburn Family
No worries, though. Bloodline stems strictly from the untroubled minds of Todd Kessler, brother Glenn Kessler, and longtime friend Daniel Zelman. Their previous project, Damages, outlined their experiences in the professional world set against a legal world backdrop. That acclaimed series whetted their appetite for another joint effort, one that would explore families in a unique way.
“All three of us are all from families of three sons, and both sets of parents had been married for over 50 years,” Kessler remarked, “So there were a lot of similarities within the family structure. We really wanted to explore the roles we play within our families. We had a desire to take an adult look at family relationships.”
While Season 3 marks the series finale, Kessler and team originally conceived of Bloodline as a longer series. They wanted to invest their time in a story that held the potential to run five or six seasons. Each season contained a targeted theme with a clear end game in mind. However, as the best laid plans often go awry, Netflix ordered Season 3 with the desire to wrap the series at the end.
“It really just meant looking at what we’d intended for Seasons 4, 5, and 6 and kind of shaking it out to what we thought what would be a very fitting and emotionally satisfying ending for the series at the end of three instead of six,” Kessler explained.
To be certain, the shortened series runway resulted in a crisp, focused Season 3 hailed as a series best.
What Should Audiences Take Away from the Rayburns?
Part of Bloodline‘s joy resides within the emotional catharsis it offers. Face it, the Rayburn family does bad, bad things. In fact, the series often takes on the appearance of a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Only one in which the reader makes all the wrong choices, resulting in certain disaster for the protagonists. The series paints imagery with such dark colors that audiences wonder how good the main characters really are.
As John Rayburn (Kyle Chandler) claims early in the series…
“I always thought the greatest thing that happened to me was being born a Rayburn. Now I’m not so sure. I’m gonna tell you everything. It’s not very pleasant. But it’s the truth. What we did to our brother we had to do. Please don’t judge us. We’re not bad people. But we did a bad thing.”
To Kessler, Bloodline lives in the grey between the good and the bad. In the justifications people make to vindicate their actions. To Kessler, that trait is an extremely human trait.
“We’re all capable of doing anything, so where the show came alive is through what John does in the first season to his brother Danny. That really gets us to a starting point,” Kessler says. “Similar to Crime and Punishment, it’s really about wrestling with how we perceive ourselves, how we try to justify our actions, and what it would mean to say, ‘I’m a bad person.’ Is it bad temporarily? Or is a person who does one good thing?”
Kessler believes the DNA of the series, perhaps the theme for the entire series itself, includes an exploration of the Rayburn family as a very public entity. Matriarch Sally (Sissy Spacek) runs a popular inn in the Florida Keys, a place of celebration and romance. In the Bloodline world, people project that surface happiness on the family and assume their lives as a perfect as the idyllic world they sell.
“We take the audience behind the swinging door into the back room to show what’s really going on with the family.”
As the Bloodline swinging door swings shut, what future projects will Todd Kessler next explore?
“I’d love to write a comedy. I’m actually working on a script now that’s a relationship comedy to do as a film. Obviously, the desire there is to go somewhere lighter than Bloodline, but also to design something with a beginning and an end when I start filming. I really look forward to being able to start a story, discuss it with the actors, and have the end at hand while we’re living the beginning.”
A light choice may be wise. The Rayburn family takes it out of you, but the journey remains thrilling. Thank Todd Kessler and team for that.
Bloodline Season 3 drops on Netflix today.