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Tribeca Film Festival 2016: Ellen Barkin talks Animal Kingdom

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Ellen Barkin was every bit as tiny and every bit a magnified presence as she took the stage at the Tribeca Film Festival alongside her Animal Kingdom costars, Scott Speedman and Shawn Hatosy, and executive producers, John Wells (Shameless, The West Wing) and Jonathan Lisco (Southland, Halt and Catch Fire), as you might anticipate. But that’s pretty much where expectations went out the movie theater’s nonexistent windows.

Animal Kingdom is a new drama series premiering on June 7 on TNT, which held a premiere of sorts during the New York City festival on Sunday. The show is a spin on the 2010 Australian film of the same name which earned an A- review from EW and an Oscar nomination for Jacki Weaver for her role as the boss of a crime ring with her four adult sons. Barkin is taking on that role of Janine “Smurf” Cody (yes, they really call her “Smurf”) and bringing her own special spin to it.

“The first thing I did [after getting the part] was I watched Animal Kingdom [the movie] a few more times. Because it was such a wonderful performance and such a powerful performance, I wanted to find a completely different way in, so I just flipped her,” Barkin said in a talk following the pilot episode. “Whereas she started out kind of maybe a little benign, you don’t really know where she is until 3/4 in, I thought, let me just start her off where [Weaver] ended her and then let the more vulnerable parts expose themselves as we go along.”

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That dynamic between diminutive Smurf and her hulking boys (and her teenage grandson though whom we are introduced to this family) undoubtedly lives in a dark grey area — the pilot shows her rubbing one of her sons’ backs while he does lines of cocaine in her living room, for example — but Barkin refuses to approach the role that way.

“I think she’s a very good mother,” Barkin said to an audience that erupted into laughter. “She’s a good mother within a different kind of world. … She’s a very demonstrative woman in general; she’s physical with everybody. It doesn’t always come from a good place. There’s something about too much physicality that can be intimidating, so she can use it both ways.”

We’ll be able to see more of that when Animal Kingdom premieres on TNT on June 7.