Jonathan Tucker spoke with Awards Daily TV on his admiration for character Jay Kulina and the difficulties of saying goodbye when Kingdom ends.
Jonathan Tucker creates a bond with his own characters in a way that makes them all seem intensely personal. The way he speaks about Jay Kulina would make anyone think he is a close friend or brother, not the MMA fighting, drug-addicted character he plays on Kingdom. That passion for his characters and dedication to his work extends to American Gods, Parenthood, Hannibal, and Justified, the latter of which he is particularly proud of.
Tucker spoke with Awards Daily TV after a minor injury from showing off his MMA skills from the show on Entertainment Tonight. In our conversation, he spoke on the final season of Kingdom, his gratitude for working with a showrunner like Byron Belasco, and his struggle with saying goodbye to a character like Jay.
When we last saw Jay at the end of the second season he seemed to have hit rock bottom. At the beginning of Season 3 where do we pick up with Jay?
Season 3 skips forward about a year and a half but those demons that haunted Jay over the last three episodes are still knocking at his doorstep. Jay is holding them off with one arm while holding his baby in the other. We open where Jay is living a very normal life. Normal as that is it is fraught with difficulties, similar ones but at an even rougher level than we have seen in the past. On top of that he is trying his very best to be a mature adult in a mature adult world. As deep as that spring is pushed down in the first few episodes. Unfortunately throughout the rest of the final season that pressure will be relieved, and it’s as rough and raw of a trajectory that audiences will witness in the final eight episodes.
Just in the first few episodes alone we see Jay’s tendency for self-sabotage begin to creep out. Where does that tendency for self-sabotage lead him as the series begins to wrap up?
In the second episode of this season, Jay’s boss tells him that he’s a dynamic guy with all of this talent but that he can’t seem to get out of his own way. I think that’s a constant theme that has been haunting him since he was in elementary school. Not being able to get out of his own way. He can’t allow success to find him. It’s an unfortunate pattern that follows in his father’s footsteps, and the only difference between the two of them is that Jay can recognize that while Alvey [Frank Grillo] cannot. This problem of self-sabotage is in many ways a fear of actually succeeding because it would reveal mean exposing who he really is causes the only thing that caused him pure happiness to abandon him, his daughter and his daughter’s mother.
As the show comes to an end, why do you think Jay has resonated so strongly with audiences and become such a fan favorite?
There is so much of Jay to admire. He has an unwavering sense of fidelity, loyalty, faith, and purity – purity of heart and purity of spirit. There is nothing mean about Jay. He will make mistakes but they are never out of malice. When Jay disappoints people, which he does from time to time, it isn’t because he wants to. He’s an addict so there is so much in Jay. There is something welcome about a character that follows his intuition without any sense of embarrassment initially. There is an animal instinctiveness about him that is really fun to watch and be a part of, but of course that also comes with tragedy. His tragic fatal flaw of addiction allows him to have all these so-called great times without being a “bad” guy.
I read online that the touching scene between Jay and his brother Nate [Nick Jonas] was actually unscripted and that the two of you worked with Belasco to create the moment organically. Are you given opportunities like that often to play with the characters and what does that add to your experience?
Byron is a fearless showrunner and by that I mean he is so comfortable in who he is and what his skillsets are that he doesn’t feel threatened by collaborating with other artists from the cast to the props department to the entire team. That is an ownership that he allows everybody, and it creates an environment where nothing is by accident. Everything we do is on purpose, and it comes from the script. In the end, we are encouraged to treat the script as a greater theme, idea, character, story, and journey. Byron is so inclusive in his process that once we have done all of the homework when we come to set it’s a time to dance and he just turns on the music.
What I love about this process in terms of Jay is that he is such a free spirit that in an environment like that there is no governor on the speedometer and you can drive that car as fast and reckless as you want.
Over the past couple of seasons a passionate fan base has begun to form around Kingdom. Why do you think the show is resonating with fans so strongly?
I think audiences are hard-pressed to find the authenticity that our show is lucky enough to have. The wonderful thing about television as a medium is that when a show has such dynamic characters it’s exciting to watch them respond to different stimulus to see how they respond and react over the course of a longer journey.
Byron with the cast has developed these real characters that are an authentic reflection of human beings in this subculture that hasn’t been brought to screen before. Audiences get to live with these characters and watch how they navigate different waters. That is very gratifying, and storytelling is as close to life as we have.
What was it like filming that final season? Was it difficult to say goodbye or was there a sense of relief to stop revisiting such a self-destructive and tumultuous character?
To be honest I am still wrestling with it. It’s still a process I am in the middle of. Letting go of a character isn’t something they teach you in an acting class, and it’s not in any of the major guides you can pick up at Sam French. I haven’t been given a guide to let go of a character that I have shared my life with for the past three and a half years so I’m not quite sure how that works and I am having a hard time with it.
Is there a specific moment or scene from the show that sticks with you the most?
I don’t want to spoil anything, but there is a pretty challenging goodbye that I have to give that was remarkably personal.
What do you hope audiences take away from the final season and what do you hope Jay’s legacy is in the modern TV canon?
I hope that audiences take away the fact that as a group we honored and gave nobility to the entire world of mixed martial arts. I think Jay was a very voracious reflection of a lover, a brother, a son, who sadly battled the demons of addiction his entire life.
Where can fans catch your work next?
Currently I am playing Low Key Lyesmith on American Gods which is currently airing on Starz. I’ll also be around for the second season. I’m also currently shooting the videogame Call of Duty which has been an incredible two year process. That comes out in November. The fan response has been immeasurable. Overall I feel very lucky to be a working actor.
The final season of Kingdom airs Wednesdays on the Audience Network.