Tom Pelphrey talks to Awards Daily about his powerhouse performance as Wendy’s brother Ben on Season 3 of Ozark.
It’s a tough task for a new character to come into a hit TV series late in the game. The actor can either be a great addition or one that ultimately backfires and severely alters the course of the show.
Tom Pelphrey, who came into Season 3 of Ozark on Netflix as Wendy’s (Laura Linney) drifter brother Ben, has proven to be a strong addition to the dysfunctional Byrde family narrative. His character pulls out a lot of interesting, new aspects of characters we’ve grown to know over the past two years, including a softer side to Ruth (Julia Garner) and a bit of history on Wendy, who at one time had more of a Southern twang in her voice that she now hides.
Pelphrey could make Ozark a contender in all four major Emmy acting categories this year, with his performance figuring strongly into the Outstanding Supporting Actor Drama race. He’s really heartbreaking. When we first meet Ben, he seems like a typical brother jackass we’ve seen in other shows, but skillful writing and Pelphrey’s performance work hand in hand to make this character a pivotal one for the series.
I had the pleasure of chatting with Pelphrey about the research he did for playing a mentally ill character, what drives his connection with Ruth, and what he thinks happens after Wendy makes that crucial call.
**Ozark Season 3 Spoilers Ahead**
Awards Daily: Were you a fan of the show before you took the part? How did the role of Ben come about?
Tom Pelphrey: When Season 2 came out, that’s when I watched Season 1. I binged Season 1 and Season 2 on Netflix within the first week. And then they were casting for the role of Ben, I went in and went on tape with Alexa Fogel, who casts Ozark, and two weeks later they called and said I got the role.
AD: Wow. So coming into Season 3 of a hit show, were you concerned that you would disrupt the chemistry of the cast? I imagine every actor who comes late into a hit show fears they will be like Oliver from The Brady Bunch.
TP: (Laughs) That’s so funny. That’s hilarious. I didn’t worry. I guess I was just too excited to worry. I was just so excited to go on the show and get to play with these actors that I love so much—Julia, Laura, and Jason. No, I didn’t worry about that. Plus, I was excited as a fan of the show, that my character got to live in the basement, where Buddy used to live. I loved Harris Yulin (who played Buddy) on the show. I thought his role was genius. I was pretty much just excited. Maybe I didn’t take enough time to worry. (Laughs).
AD: No, that’s good! What kind of research did you do for this role? Your character is bipolar, which I would imagine would require some consideration.
TP: I looked into a few books. The one that I found to be the most helpful was An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison. It’s basically this woman’s memoir about her own struggles with bipolar. It’s almost written like a journal. She talks about the onset of bipolar when she was a teenager, how she dealt with it, how it progressed as she got older, how it affected her friendships, relationships, and career. It was very informative, and to top it all off, the woman who wrote the book is a mental health professional; she’s a doctor. So as she’s relaying her very personal experiences, she’s also talking to you as the doctor about what’s happening. That book was extremely useful.
AD: When I see adult sibling relationships on TV, I always wonder what they were like as kids. Do you have any idea of what kind of dynamic Wendy and Ben might have had?
TP: I always imagined that Wendy was really protective, bossy, strong, and tough, and Ben was following her around like a puppy. I think she stood up for him and taught him about right and wrong. She protected him. She probably basically raised him and took care of him. So I think that she obviously shaped him in a very, very real way.
AD: Ben makes a romantic connection with Ruth this season. Why do you think Ben is attracted to Ruth? And vice versa?
TP: I think there is a feeling of kindred spirit. Ben views Ruth as an outsider. First and foremost, I think he finds her hilarious. He really gets a kick out of her personality and how straightforward and tough she is. I think Ben is someone who prizes honesty and candor, and Ruth has honesty and candor to spare. And again, I think perhaps Ben sees Ruth as someone who’s treated unfairly and taken advantage of, and Ben has a real problem with people being treated unfairly or taken advantage of.
AD: Wendy makes a decision concerning Ben toward the end of the season. If she doesn’t make that crucial decision, what do you think happens?
TP: (Sighs) If she doesn’t make that decision, I think Ben finds his way back to town and the cartel is forced to take out the Byrdes and Ben and potentially even Ruth.
AD: We don’t see what happens to Ben, but do you imagine he puts up a fight or just submits to the situation?
TP: I would imagine that Ben would put up a fight if he had any idea what was happening. However, I don’t think he has any idea what’s happening. Ben never saw Nelson. He doesn’t know who that person is walking toward him. And I also would imagine that being the professional that he is, Nelson would do it fast as a way not to draw attention. I think he would fight if he knew what was happening, but I don’t think he knew what was happening until it was too late.
AD: So you don’t think Nelson takes him somewhere else? So you think that he gets him right there outside of the restaurant?
AD: I thought maybe Nelson took him with him somewhere else.
TP: I suppose anything is possible, but that’s how I pictured it. Very fast and quick, right there. Yep.
AD: Up until this point, do you think Wendy is a good sister? Or even after, do you think she’s still a good sister? I feel like Laura Linney is the ultimate pop culture sister, in the The Savages, You Can Count On Me, and now this.
TP: Yeah, I think she’s an amazing sister. Obviously, she’s fighting for Ben. She’s doing everything within her power, and possibly some things she should not have done to try to protect him and keep him safe. As a credit to the writing, I think they wrote the perfect tragic ending, as she had no other choice. It would either be her and the rest of her family and Ben included, or just Ben. And so she made the only decision she could make. yeah, I think she’s a great sister. And yeah, Laura Linney is the embodiment of sister energy.
AD: I hope your next role is a little happier.
TP: (Laughs) That’s what my mom said.
Season 1-3 of Ozark are streaming on Netflix.