It all starts with the walk. For Shawn Hatosy, building a character like Animal Kingdom‘s Pope is a process that begins with the exterior: How he holds himself, the shirt he’s wearing, how his hair looks. “It’s like a Lego,” Hatosy says. “Once the clothes are right, it’s how he looks out of his eyes. Then you bring in the emotional attributes that shape Pope’s DNA. That’s how you get that monster.”
That monster is arguably Animal Kingdom‘s sketchiest character. Pope is the eldest Cody brother, who, having recently returned from a serving a prison sentence, feels similar to an animal that’s been set free after years of captivity — living life with no concern about society’s definitions of right and wrong. But believe it or not, Hatosy’s portrayal of the unstable brother is somewhat lighter than Ben Mendelsohn’s performance in the original film.
“Ben Mendelsohn’s portrayal of Pope was very dark,” Hatosy says. “I figured if I was going to succeed for a season or multiple seasons, I wanted him to be a little bit more ambiguous. I know that he’s creepy and dark and disturbing, but I also feel like you have to trust him, at least within the family. The one thing about Pope is he is the emotional center of the family. He is also the most fiercely loyal.”
And yet, the family that Pope remains so loyal to is the reason he spent time in prison. So perhaps the unease with which Pope seems to live his life does have justification. “All the Cody boys will do what Smurf says and she has a way of telling one person one thing and another person another thing and creating this friction within the family. But as far as Baz goes, that’s what I latched onto from the get-go as Pope’s biggest hang-up.”
Not only is Baz the adopted brother of the Cody family, but he also once had a romantic relationship with Pope’s late twin sister. “She’s sort of exiled because of Baz and that creates a little bit of Pope’s trauma going forward, so the relationship with Baz is very, very complex,” Hatosy says. “And once Baz is brought in by Smurf, she gives him responsibilities that she doesn’t give Pope. She manages Pope and Pope feels that. He hates being managed.”
Furthermore, Pope has a very specific grudge to hold against Baz. “Baz is the one that made the error in the process of doing this robbery and Pope protects him and ultimately does time and keeps his mouth shut,” Hatosy says. “So when he comes out [of prison] and Baz is now the leader of the family — that is Pope’s hang-up throughout this whole thing, and that motivates and drives him.”
For Hatosy, playing Pope means walking the fine line between the man who has been betrayed by his family and the man who will do anything for said family, no questions asked. When combined, you get Pope, an unpreditable character who seems — and probably is — capable of anything.
Animal Kingdom airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on TNT.