Trevor Long may have only had a few scenes in Ozark season one, but as Cade, the incarcerated patriarch of the Langmore crime family, he made every one of them count. We discussed what life on Ozark is like, including his expanded role for season 2 (debuting August 31 on Netflix). We also fit in some time to discuss Seeds, the indie psycho-thriller he made with his brother, Owen.
How did you come to Ozark?
I worked with Chris Mundy, the showrunner on another show back in 2013 called Low Winter Sun on AMC. Chris and I kept in touch and I reached out to him the summer they were getting ready to prepare Ozark and said I don’t know what you are doing, but I’d love to work with you again, and he said he was working on a show called Ozark and I’ll definitely bring you in. I actually auditioned for a couple of roles prior to getting Cade. Chris kept bringing me and I finally got Cade.
The part of Cade doesn’t give you a lot of scenes, but he looms over the show and particularly the family as a larger presence than the screen time might suggest. How did you prepare for a role that didn’t give you many lines, but had to be of major impact?
I first wanted to get the reality of the accent and where these guys are from. I did a lot of research. Watched some documentaries. I tried to watch as many YouTube videos of people from the area as I could. One of my favorite inspirations is the film Winter’s Bone, because they really get that (area) right. That’s where I started. I knew from the get go he was going to be in prison. I watched a lot of documentaries on prison too. Other than that, I really went with what I was given to explore the inner life of this guy and the relationship (with his daughter) which is key. This is a guy who has a lot of power over his family and they are afraid of him. Even his daughter, Ruth. There’s a stillness that Anthony Hopkins has in Silence of the Lambs and that was something I found important for Cade. There’s a stillness there and a control that is commanding and frightening to his young daughter. I didn’t want to play him scary. I wanted to focus on what made him tick and allowed him to manipulate his daughter. So much of it is in the writing. The lines that Cade has in the prison are so good, you try to keep it as simple as possible.
Being from Kentucky and familiar with Appalachia, I thought Winter’s Bone really got it right too.
There’s also a movie called American Hollow that follows a poor dysfunctional family through the hollars of Kentucky. That was a great inspiration.
I have not seen that. I was literally born in a hollar.
Oh! You have to see it! It’s fantastic and heartbreaking. It really captures a family in the poverty of that area.
Where are you from originally?
I’m from Rhode Island. I work out of New York, but I’m from Rhode Island.
Cade actually reminds me of a couple of my uncles. When I look at him I feel like I know him.
Thank you. When we were shooting season 2, one of the transport guys, a real southern guy. Big guy. I didn’t interact with much in the beginning, he was just in charge of my truck. He started bringing me tins of Copenhagen because we had some chewing going on. He asked a member of the crew where we got this redneck guy from. He wondered if I went to his school or if I was from Alabama. He found out I was from New York and he couldn’t believe it. Which was a great compliment. We became friends after that. We talked a lot and he shared stories with me. He’s a great guy.
Cade and Ruth have a very complicated relationship. The scenes you have together when you are manipulating her, while still holding love and admiration for her as well, are really tricky. What is like to be in that moment with her character?
It feels great when it’s working. The first time I met Julia (Garner) was the day we shot our first scene together. She’s so easy to work off of. She just has everything Ruth is going through right there. I trusted that we could go to these places that are pretty ugly for strangers to go into and act. It turned out to be a lot of fun. We shot those scenes in a real prison. An active prison in Atlanta. So, I would see the inmates quarantined, walking down the hallway handcuffed. Which was interesting. It felt good to be in a real prison and not on a soundstage. That was exciting.
She’s a remarkable actor. If you look at her work in The Americans and then in Ozark, it couldn’t be more different. She’s very formidable. What did you take from working with her?
I got to know Julia really well in season 2. She is completely the opposite of Ruth. She’s from New York and she’s a very good human being. I took from her being fully prepared and just ready to go and play and have fun but being totally in it. She was just in Ruth when she was on camera. Just fully there. That was inspiring. To see someone who’s 24 be able to pull of what she’s doing. She’s so good and fearsome in our scenes even while she’s showing vulnerability. It’s just easy to work off her.
One of the things I found interesting is Cade has chosen his daughter to be his surrogate to lead the family while he’s behind bars. On one level he intimidates her, but he also has a level of respect for her toughness and intelligence. How did you manage that balance?
The language in those scenes was so good. It really fueled my imagination. I tried to get into this place where I’m stuck in this situation of being in prison and I have an opportunity to not only save myself, but my family, and I’m going to use the best means I have available to do it, which is my daughter, who is very strong and intelligent because I trained her. I looked at Cade’s reasoning as if I can get this money, I can possibly get a top lawyer and get out of here. Something Cade needs very badly. Clearly, he’s in there for a very bad reason, being in maximum security. But I thought it was very important that this was a man who loves his daughter. He’s not just using her. He really loves her, but he just can’t channel and express it in a way that’s healthy. Which he learned from his father. I imagine Cade having a very abusive father. That’s what he learned from his dad and he translates that over to how he deals with his family to get what he needs. I really wanted to communicate that the love underneath and the vulnerability there is what makes Cade so strong with her. He has to be that way to save his daughter and his family and himself.
The Cade character is drawn pretty mysteriously too. We don’t learn a ton about why his family is so afraid of him, or even why he’s in prison. Did you feel a need to create some backstory for yourself?
I did ask Chris some questions. I had some ideas about it. We had discussions that helped me. I also liked the idea of keeping it so clean and simple, and letting the audience fill in with their imagination. He could be in there for anything. You don’t have to do much to let the audience start feeling in their own minds that this guy is bad news. You don’t have to push that envelope because (the character) is set up so well and (Ruth’s) reactions to Cade when she sees him are so brilliant because she’s clearly a very different person when she’s with him than when she is outside.
That’s an interesting point. Because despite being a small person, when Ruth is with the rest of her family, you sense a real power coming off of her, but she practically shrinks in front of her dad.
I’m not by nature a big guy, but as quickly as I could, I wanted to add some more size to me. I worked on that to have a bigger physical presence then I normally do in real life to help me feel like I’m living in this environment and that I’m physically imposing to a degree.
Did you do that through diet and lifting?
Both. I was definitely hitting the gym and eating a bit more. I didn’t have a ton of time in season 1, but I did in season 2.
Without getting into any spoilers, do we learn more about Cade’s background in season 2?
You will learn more about Cade. He definitely won’t be as mysterious. I’ll be out of prison from the get go and stuff starts to happen pretty quickly. I think you are going to see other sides of Cade that are different than what you saw in prison.
With Cade being out of prison, I imagine you have more scenes this year.
I was pretty happy to learn that I was (going to be) in every episode. Cade is definitely a much larger presence in season 2. It’s going to be exciting to watch.
I have to say, even though I had watched Low Winter Sun, I didn’t immediately recognize you. I thought your performance in Ozark was a real revelation. Did you get the sense that this was a big opportunity for you?
I give Chris (Mundy) a lot of credit. I’m not the type of actor for this role who someone might think “let’s call Trevor Long”. So, that was exciting. Going into season 1, I didn’t know if there would be anything for me in season 2. I didn’t read the last episode until right before shooting. After doing so, I thought there could be an opportunity for Cade in season 2, but I had no idea. I didn’t know until a month prior to shooting. I thought he’d have a couple of episodes and maybe that’d be it. I was pleasantly shocked and surprised when Chris called me and said you are in the entire season. Jason Bateman had indicated to me too. He told me to get ready to do some work, you’re getting out.
You didn’t have any scenes with Bateman in season 1, can you say if you do in season 2 without giving too much away?
I do have scenes with Jason. He (also) directed me in the first two episodes. He really makes the environment so comfortable and fun, but he’s very precise and he’s going to get what he wants. There was one time we were working on a scene together and he’s directing (at the same time) and he just stops and says, “let’s try this”. I was thinking how do you do that? One eye is on the director and the other eye is on the actor and he does it so seamlessly. It’s amazing.
The show has been really well received by critics and has garnered Golden Globe and Emmy nominations. Did you feel like you were working on something special when you were doing it?
Yes and no. I knew the lineup of talent in season 1 and the script I read was great. That being said, take Low Winter Sun. Great writing. Great show and it didn’t get a second season, which took the rug out from all of us. I’ve been doing this for a long time. I try not to have any expectations. You just can’t predict any of it. Going into it, I knew it was a significant piece of work, but none of us I don’t think knew it would do what it did. And now going into season 2, we know it’s a hit show, but you try to forget that. You can relax on one level, but now you have the pressure of being on a hit show and knowing you have to deliver to the fan base.
Do you ever feel like Bill Russell before a game? He used to throw up before every tip off, but once the ball was int he air, he just played.
That’s exactly right (laughs). You are about to throw up before showtime and then you get there, and people are cool, ready to get to work, and get the job done. Then it becomes exciting and things start to happen.
Let’s talk about Seeds too. I watched the teaser last night and it doesn’t give away much beyond a very creepy vibe.
We actually have a new trailer being cut for Fright Fest because they want a little more information. We deliberately made the first trailer artistic, but the new trailer is, dare I say, a little more commercial. Just to give a more straightforward approach. We showed the film at Cinequest in San Jose, and from what I’m hearing it went very well. I think it’s a film people haven’t seen before and it’s a film that makes people very uncomfortable. It’s disturbing, but I think in a good way. It’s a unique film. I think you can see from the trailer, it’s the complete polar opposite to Cade Langmore.
Physically, emotionally, mentally, this is a different guy. He’s very wealthy. A guy who’s very intelligent, soft spoken, internal. Nothing like Cade. I liked having the opportunity to take that challenge.
You don’t even look like the same guy.
Yeah, I lost about 45 pounds. At the moment the film begins the character is not in a healthy place physically or emotionally. He’s frail. I wanted to make sure I didn’t look healthy and robust. That was very important.
The sense I took from the trailer is that it’s more of a psychological piece than a straight horror movie. Would that be correct?
That’s correct. Fright Fest is a horror festival and we were pleasantly surprised, because they show a lot of slasher/horror (movies), but they also take films like Seeds, thankfully. Seeds is definitely more in the vein of The Shining going head to head with Lolita. There’s not a lot of outward horror. It does have horror elements to it, but it’s definitely more psychological.
Can you describe the basics of the plot without giving too much away?
Something happens at the top of the film that goes horribly wrong and the man I play goes into seclusion to his family home where his niece and nephew are, who he has to watch when his brother goes away. While he’s there he’s faced with these inner monsters that he’s dealing with and he’s losing his mind. Throughout the film we don’t know if the things are really happening to him or if it’s in his head. There is this creature element that does physically come into the film in very subtle and indirect ways. This creature exists and is hunting him. He’s also struggling with his relationship with his niece. Then he starts to spiral.
You made this movie with your brother, Owen.
Yes! He directed it. We discussed the story together before hiring a writer. It was his story and we found we needed a professional writer, so we hired Steve Weisman. He wrote the script in about five months. My brother created the role for me. I thought maybe he should hire another actor. Someone with a bigger name. I had my fears about it. I didn’t know if I could pull it off. It was vastly different than anything I’d done, and it’s a character in nearly every shot of the film. That was very daunting to me. I’m very close with my brother and I was worried what if this doesn’t go well? What if we don’t work well together? But we jumped in and did it and it was a great experience.
And that comes out this week, correct?
Yes, that premieres on the 24th in London.
I’m not familiar with the actor in the trailer, Andrea Chen. She has a very striking, expressive face. Does she play your niece?
She was really great. The character calls for someone who’s around 16. She was 28 when we shot it. She looks much younger. She came in at the last minute. We had been looking for a long time and we had a woman from Korea who is pretty well known over there, but she fell through when the government wouldn’t give her the visa. So, we had about six weeks. We’d been looking for about a year or so, and then we had six weeks (before shooting) to find a new lead actress. The DP, Eun-ah Lee, had done a short with Andrea and suggested we audition her and then we cast her shortly after.
This is one of those worlds of independent film stories, isn’t it?
(Laughs) Yeah! Yes! We had no success. We went to all the major agencies and were told they had no one who could fit the bill. It was so frustrating. Her character is as much, if not more important than mine. It’s such an important and difficult role to pull off, and she did it.
So, with these two projects coming out by the end of the month, what’s next?
At the moment I’m just auditioning. I’m back on the grind. I just went in the other day for a new show on Amazon. I’m ready to hit and get another job going. A third season of Ozark would not start shooting until March.
Does that mean there’s a third season?
I don’t know (laughs). I’m optimistic. But if there is a third season they will shoot for an early spring start.
Sasha, Ryan, and Clarence have been stuck with me since April 27, 2018. Co-creator (with Ryan Adams) of the Reframe feature, staff writer, interviewer du jour, and a proud member of GALECA and the Indiana Film Journalists Association. I also scribe on boxing at NY Fights. My essay "My Black Grandpa" was shortlisted as "Best of Folklore" by The Bitter Southerner in 2018. My first work of fiction, "Eat 'Em Up, Tigers!" was published in Detroit Stories Quarterly in the 2020 summer edition.