Tom Pelphrey Reveals All About His "Dream Job" in Ozark Season 3

Tom Pelphrey reveals how he prepared for playing Laura Linney's brother in Ozark season three.

By Alli Rosenbloom Apr 09, 2020 9:00 PMTags

It's been a few weeks, but Ozark season three is still at the top of mind, especially the tragic end. Warning, spoilers follow for the third season of Ozark which debuted March 27 on Netflix.

About that ending to the thrilling third season? We can thank actor Tom Pelphrey in part for that, his scene-stealing performance as Ben Davis tugged heartstrings from start to finish.

"The whole role, from start to finish, the start of it at least, was a dream job. It was a blast," he said.

Pelphrey, a two-time Daytime Emmy winner for his role on the soap Guiding Light, played the brother of Laura Linney's Wendy Byrde. In the season, brother he returned to his sister's life and unwittingly shook things up. But he never got a chance to properly exit.

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Through the Ben character, who was bipolar and off his meds, viewers got an honest point of view of what an outsider sees when looking in on how the Byrde family operates. The combination of being thrust into a life of crime, falling in love with Ruth (Julia Garner) and struggling with his mental illness put Ben in a precarious position. Once he realized that, it was all too late. Ben's arc was a slow burn that served as the backbone for various storylines throughout the season.

The conversation about mental illness this season was in-your-face thanks to Pelphrey's raw performance. "The more that we can remove the stigma of mental illness, and the more we can encourage people to feel safe to openly discuss mental illness and openly seek help for mental illness, the more we can do that, then the better off we are because there's no reason for people to be suffering in silence. Because there is help out there and people should have it," Pelphrey told E! News.

Below, Pelphrey gets candid about playing Ben, working with Linney and Jason Bateman and how he bonded with Garner.

A huge theme for Ben in Ozark is delving into a discussion about mental health. What did you learn about mental health and coping with it for this role that you are applying to right now during the pandemic?
I think that any mental health issue, because there can be so many, all of them exist on a spectrum, and I believe that all of those issues are very specific to each individual. So, I think that if there's any kind of lesson that can sort of be a correlation between those big, vast topics, it's the importance of self-care. It's the importance of having compassion for people who might be dealing with mental illness and if you yourself are dealing with one, to have compassion for yourself. And really getting over the stigma of shame or having any kind of guilt around the topic so that you can ask for help, get help, talk about it, and feel supported. Because, the truth is, there is so much support available.

There is so much potential help available, but unfortunately, a lot of the times you have to ask for it. People won't necessarily know to come to you. So, yeah, I would hope that the thing that we're moving toward, and I think we are in general, is getting over the stigma of mental health issues being something that you should be afraid to talk about or be ashamed of because the opposite is true, and the more that you can talk about it and the more that you can ask for help, I think the more we can be a healthy society by and large.


How did you prepare for that aspect? And during filming, how do you come down to that level and then how do you come back up? It's got to be a roller coaster.
I found a great book called An Unquiet Mind by a woman named Kay Jamison. Very helpful. It was her story. She's bipolar and also a doctor specializing in mental health, so you kind of got both sides of the coin in terms of the personal, human, vulnerable experience about the onset of the disorder and then how she coped with it. And then you also got the side of the doctor. She's kind of giving you all the logistics and the technicalities and explaining what's actually happening with the disorder, so it was very helpful in terms of research.

For myself, the writing was spectacular so you do as much research as you can, so you show up as prepared as possible and then you kind of give over to the writing. I never wanted to feel at any point like I was trying to force anything I'd learned onto the scripts or that I was trying to impose my will in any way…You want to do your research so you're prepared and then, especially with writing that's that good, you kind of want to get out of the way as much as possible. There was some awareness of where it was going, understanding for myself that I would have to have a certain amount of energy or stamina, so just taking care of myself physically so that that could happen…And so you just have to show up in the right physical and mental space to be able to do your job.

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With all that serious content, you also have hilarious actors that are on set. Who was the funniest?
I think the funniest person on that set was Jason Bateman...

Is there something that you learned from Jason or about him that surprised you?
It's probably corny to say, but he's just such a good guy, you know? It's not a very surprising thing to learn, I suppose, but he really is such a grounded, gentle, kind human being—and very thoughtful. I think very aware of wanting to create a healthy workplace environment and he succeeded. You learn things about Jason from Jason, but you also learn things about him from the show and talking to the crew. Some of these people have worked with him for years and work with him on anything he does, and you realize that with a wide range of personalities, they all adore him, and that almost says more about him than he could say about himself. I was just really impressed by the kind of man that he is, and that's a good example of something as an actor that I want to emulate.

Watch: Why Laura Linney Signed on for Netflix's "Ozark"

What was the highlight of working with Julia? Was there a specific day or a scene or an off-set moment that was memorable?
Yes, I had a blast working with Julia and I really enjoy her sense of humor. There was a night early on where Julia, Charlie [Tahan], and I went to the movie theater and we weren't sure what we were going to see. We saw the movie Ma and it was amazing. It was such a weird movie. It was like a Friday night, the movie theater was packed, and it was like a talk-back session. Everyone was talking at the screen. Charlie was providing a running commentary and I have never laughed so hard at a movie in my life. It was just such a great movie-going experience. It was really enjoyable, so that set the tone for Julia and Charlie just having great senses of humor and it being a lot of fun to be around them.


Is Laura Linney's Wendy the best sister or is she the worst sister?
I remember as a fan reading the scripts toward the end and feeling that the writers did a great job at making it so that Wendy had no choice. So, they do a great job of creating a situation in which it was super clear that it was either Ben or it was Wendy and her children. I thought they did an amazing job of forcing her into a corner of where she really had no good choice, but I think she's a great sister.

Is there a movie or a show of Jason's or Laura's that you were a fan of prior to working with them?
Oh my god, I mean, I'm sure that I speak for the world when I say that I'm obsessed with Love Actually as far as Laura goes, right? I mean, how many times have you seen that movie? With Jason, Arrested Development, I mean, that show is hilarious…Although I also love Bad Words. I remember when Bad Words first came out, I was working on a job in Charlotte, North Carolina, and discovering it streaming and then watching it three times because I thought it was so good. I didn't realize at that time that he was the director, so that was kind of a happy surprise that movie.

You have an exciting movie coming up next too, Mank. What can you share about it?
It was a really great experience. I'm really excited to see what everybody thinks of it. The little part that I've seen is absolutely gorgeous. I think people will be happy.

Ozark season three is now streaming on Netflix.