How to Get Away With Murder star Tom Verica on that Sam bombshell: 'Shocking is an understatement'
Even the actor behind Sam Keating said 'What the f—?!' when he learned about that huge reveal.
Warning: This article contains spoilers for How to Get Away With Murder season 6, episode 13, "What If Sam Wasn't the Bad Guy This Whole Time?"
"What the f—?!"
That was Tom Verica's reaction (and likely yours too) to Thursday night's episode of How to Get Away With Murder, where it was revealed that Sam Keating (Tom Verica) had committed incest with his sister Hannah (Marcia Gay Harden). Not only that, but Frank (Charlie Weber) is actually their secret child, making him Sam's son.
The episode was a shocker, delving into this secret abuse in Sam's past, leading to Annalise's (Viola Davis) ultimate discovery about the true identity of Frank's parents. It follows Sam through another period of mourning for his and Annalise's baby, where he tries to seek comfort with Vivian (Marsha Stephanie Blake) and his still-living son Gabriel (Rome Flynn).
In the present day, Annalise uses legal resources to investigate the incest theory, realizing that Sam was so good at managing her with sex because he'd been a victim of abuse himself. Meanwhile, Connor (Jack Falahee) and Michaela (Aja Naomi King) have to contend with the FBI wanting to change the terms of their deal due to their interactions with Annalise. Ultimately, Michaela believes they negotiated a way to keep the old deal, but Connor reveals to Oliver (Conrad Ricamora) that he did not.
Back in the past, Bonnie (Liza Weil) and Frank intensify their relationship, until Sam catches them having sex in the basement (Bonnie has done a lot of taboo stuff in that basement, huh?). Fearing that Frank's own violent past might endanger Bonnie, Sam orders Frank to break up with Bonnie, and still feeling guilty over his role in the death of the baby, Frank acquiesces.
We called up Verica to get the dirt on how long he's known about this very Chinatown-esque twist, how he feels about Sam now in light of it, and just what this could mean for Frank and Bonnie going forward.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How long have you known about all of this? Was this a J.K. Rowling, Alan Rickman situation where you’ve had to carry this secret around for years?
TOM VERICA: I wish I would've known that because as actors we look to add nuance to it, but I discovered when I received the script, mere days before filming. The incest I remember was mentioned in season two or three but it felt like an innocent dig at the time when Annalise had said that. But therein lies the kernels of gold that Pete Nowalk has taken and repurposed and fleshed out more in-depth. I did not know any of that, in particular the Frank thing. I was completely stammered by that and then, of course, I replayed in my mind all the scenes we had, asking was there anything that could have affected how we played our scene?
What was your reaction when you found out?
I said, "What the f—?!" I couldn't immediately go to the rationale of everything, but it was just "Holy s—." I've known this character so long as one thing, and it certainly gave a complete foundation that didn't seem to be there for the first five or six seasons. It really opened up potential for understanding and vulnerability about some very real things in life that people have experienced. You get past [the disgust] to understand the human toll of him being a product of a very dysfunctional environment. Then, the reveal of Frank, when I read it for the first time, it was was delicious and fun. I had sort of an out-loud reaction to it as I think many people will. Knowing Charlie for the years that I've known him, it was shocking. Shocking is an understatement.
How did knowing this change your perception of Sam’s relationship with Frank? I mean, with this information, that means he had his son kill his pregnant girlfriend?!
Yeah, and also kept him from Bonnie. I go back to the scene that we had where I throw him up against the wall of the hospital when my son was killed. I went back and watched that scene, and with this knowledge, now you could almost see layers of that. Pete shared that really opened up their relationship in a way [and] I don't know if that was a spark of his idea of going in that direction. In hindsight, you can look at it and say, "Oh, there's a strange sort of paternal thing" and me going to visit him in prison. There is this layer and blueprint of things that were in there, that on a surface you may not look at, but in hindsight, with this, it's really genius.
Is it possible Sam never actually knew, only Hannah?
That was one of the questions I asked immediately of Pete because of panic over how I played things the previous five seasons. He thought that I did know. It did affect a little bit of how we played the scene in the basement where so much of our history has been very kind of confrontational and anger-ridden and so much conflict. We kind of explored, with this knowledge, not needing to be so heavy-handed and finding a little more nuance and vulnerability in not only the protection of Bonnie but in the relationship between Frank and Sam. I do have to say I think it gave us a different layer of playing our relationship in a way that certainly leans into Sam being aware of this and never bringing that out.
For the last six years, Sam has loomed over everything as the villain that got them all into this mess. Now, we learn it’s a lot more complex than that. I'm sure you've always seen him with more compassion, but were you appreciative that before things wrap up, we get just this much more shading and perspective into who he was?
There's been on social media, when I've done interviews and stuff like that, people are fiercely protective of Annalise. It was an easy target to go after Sam as he's the one who if he hadn't done these things and met with his murder, then we wouldn't have a series. Part of me as an actor liked it. I liked it because I've done so many good guys in my career. It's nice to have this character that was heavily flawed and be the point of anger for a lot of the audience. People are so invested and that's what you hope for. But I found myself constantly defending Sam saying, "Well wait a minute, his hands aren't the only dirty ones." This validates what we naturally do as actors, which is to find those gray areas and find those human elements with each of these characters that we play.
Do you think he really loved either Vivian or Annalise?
I do. Vivian was obviously later in our story. I knew I had a wife, and my initial approach into this was there was that classic the first person you're with, there was a lot of attraction and physical [connection], but maybe not as fully realized and enlightened. Annalise encapsulated everything that Sam had hoped to have, which is a powerful woman; the sex was great; and it had all those elements of a real challenging and fulfilling relationship. Even though we've had some knockdown, drag-out fights. People say some really nasty things in the heat of the moment. They don't truly believe those things. It doesn't mean that they don't love that person. I've always held on to the fact that Annalise was a true love that he always, always wanted. And it wasn't just transactional.
Why doesn’t Sam want Frank with Bonnie? Is it purely jealousy? Knowing Frank’s true identity?
Jealousy, that's the more salacious [answer] that people will read into that. That's okay. But even despite my checkered past with Bonnie, there was a real protective nature for Bonnie. There really was simply he's a dangerous element and this poor young woman was abused in a very horrific way as a child. Identifying that there were things that I had problems with [in] my childhood, and it was really fiercely trying to be protective of Bonnie in a way. That's where I liked playing that level of not anger and threatening Frank, but just saying, "Come on, you know who you are." Really trying to appeal and reach to him in a different level I haven't tried before. That might have been what a father might do to a son as opposed to just some angry guy saying "Stay away from her. You're a scumbag." It's a mixture of all those things.
How much is this new information likely to once again threaten Bonnie and Frank’s relationship?
I have not seen the last two episodes, so I'm not sure where it's going to go, but as long as those things are on the table, and how complex each of those characters are, I think that threat exists.
Will we see Sam again in the final two episodes? How much is he or Hannah going to end up playing into this trial?
It's safe to say that I'm not in the two that are left. But that doesn't mean that references or the exploration of the characters and what our roles were in the Annalise trial can't play into that. They certainly set up Hannah. I'm not aware of where the story goes in the final two, but it seems like it tees it up that she is making a play.
If Sam had survived, what do you think would’ve happened? Would he have ever got help? Left Annalise? Been arrested for Lila?
I think this was destined that it was going to end up tragic. Whether it happened then or at some point down the line, it would be living with the guilt and the shame and the constant need for acceptance and trying to protect the lies that have been building up. I don't know that he would have become enlightened. Maybe that's another show that he has amnesia and he's suddenly a good person. He would have continued to probably make enough mistakes that led him to where he is today, six feet under. It's tragic, but I think he was on a collision course for tragedy.