Prodigal Son star Michael Sheen on the 'absolute joy' Martin takes in the Claremont murder
The actor takes us inside the mind of a serial killer.
Warning: This article contains spoilers for Prodigal Son season 2, episode 4, "Take Your Father to Work Day."
The titular offspring on Prodigal Son had plenty of time to bond with his serial killer father on this week's episode of the Fox procedural.
When a murder took place right under Martin "The Surgeon" Whitly's (Michael Sheen) nose, his son, Malcolm (Tom Payne), and the NYPD crew were brought in to help solve the crime — and as you can imagine, Martin was just delighted at the prospect of quality time with his boy.
Of course, Ainsley (Halston Sage) wanted to tag along to see if there was a newsworthy story to uncover, but once she started remembering more about what happened the night of Endicott's (Dermot Mulroney) death, she turned to her father for answers about what was going on. To make the family reunion complete, Jessica (Bellamy Young) also found herself calling her murderous ex for some insight into their children's minds.
With all the drama taking place inside Claremont, the prison where Martin is incarcerated, the episode allowed for a lot more time spent with Sheen's bafflingly charming serial killer. We chatted with the actor about getting inside a murder's mind and what's to come for the Whitly family in the show's second season.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: In this episode, the team is in Martin's territory. Is this the most screen time you've had in this series so far?
MICHAEL SHEEN: It's a funny, the thing about the way we shoot the show, and particularly the way we shoot my stuff, we now shoot multiple episodes at the same time. I can sometimes find it quite difficult to remember what's in each episode. But this particular episode was a very, very different field for me. My experience of working on this show has been a kind of opening up as it's gone on. There were actors in the core cast that I hadn't even met, let alone worked with, when we got to the end of the first season. I didn't get to do a scene with Aurora [Perrineau] or Frank [Harts] or Keiko [Agena] until really late in the first season. I would just do scenes with whoever walked into my cell, unless it was a flashback, and then it'd still be with people within the family. So things have opened up more and more as it's gone along. So in this episode, the fact that the investigation comes into Claremont opened it up again, and of course for Martin that is just absolute joy.
Right, it's safe to say Martin is having a lovely time throughout most of this episode.
Yes, because they're all coming into his world and I meet Edrisa [Agena], and Gil [Lou Diamond Phillips] has to come in, and my kids come in! I'm working with my own son on a case in my prison. Martin's just in heaven. It was very enjoyable to do because I got to work with people I haven't worked with before and work with the same people in different ways. I got to play basketball, for instance.
Yeah, you got some outdoor time!
It's funny because Martin would love having outdoor time. Michael doesn't love it that much because it's quite cold. I quite enjoy being in my cell with my cardigan on.
One of the people Martin gets some quality time with in this episode is his daughter, Ainsley. How much do you think he's enjoying this newly discovered murderous streak in her? Or is he more interested in just spending time with her regardless of the reason?
I think it's a lot of things for him. There's a real delight in seeing this flower that has grown in the dark. Malcolm is the flower that has grown in the light, and that he has watered and fed as much as he possibly can to try and bring to bloom. She's this extraordinary flower that is actually grown in the dark, without him feeding it at all. There's a special delight to that. For all of Malcolm's experiences that are on the edge of murderous and psychotic and violent, he's never quite tipped into just pure murder, and Ainsley has, whether she's aware of it or not. That creates a special connection for Martin.
That's kind of terrifying.
Yes, it is terrifying. For Martin — and I always try to see it from Martin's point of view — it's both the opportunity to feel known in a different way because somebody else has experienced the thing that he experiences, and it's also an opportunity to feel connected and bonded to someone. It's the same way as a couple of episodes ago, where there was that scene where Malcolm talks to Martin about what it feels to walk around having got away with murder, and that the scary thing is that it didn't feel bad and all that. Martin can now talk about those things that have been such a part of his secret life with someone who's also experiencing aspects of that. That's even more so with Ainsley, because the part that Malcolm hasn't done is to actually feel the liberation of murder, and Ainsley potentially has.
Well, so as not to play favorites, Martin also had a couple of really intense scenes with Malcolm. How much do you think Martin resents Malcolm deep down for sending him to prison? Is that something we're going to get to explore more?
Yeah, I think so. The version of Martin that he allows people to see is such a tiny portion of him. It has an oversized place in the world because it's how he interacts with the world. Even before he was put in prison — when he was still actively pursuing his addiction to killing — the reason he was so good at it was because he was able to develop a persona that put people at ease, that made people like him and not suspect what he was doing. That is a construct he has created. What is actually going on for him is very different. We just don't see that very much because it works for him for people not to see it. But for someone who is so obsessed with control and needs control, there are moments where he loses it and we do see something else. We get a sense of what's really under there. I think there are currents within him that even he only vaguely understands. There are times when stuff comes out that he has decided to let come out, but there are times when stuff comes out that he hasn't decided to come out. In that moment in the cell with Malcolm, something comes out that he's not even aware of. I think he really does have the capacity to feel strong, positive emotions towards Malcolm, but I think he also has massively negative emotions towards Malcolm, because Malcolm is the one who ultimately — as far as he sees it, anyway — took away his control. There is huge oceans of rage in Martin.
It's so great when you're watching it because you can find yourself siding with him and believing he could be a good dad.
Yes, because it's in his interest for people to not think that he's a monster. It works great for the show because the more I hear and read people saying, "Oh, I can't believe I really like the serial killer," I'm like, "That's right. That's how it works." You use what will work for you. There were people who had crushes on Ted Bundy. Use what you've got. Martin uses that and it works very well for him, and it still does in prison.
Do you know a lot more about Martin's past than we've learned on the show so far? Have the writers filled in some of those years of serial killing for you?
We've had conversations about that, and we've got lots of different ideas of things that we could explore. It sort of depends on what the big picture is for the show and what is useful to go into and what's not. A lot of the time it's quite useful for people to not know his past. We know more about him than the audience does, and as to how much we reveal about that — who knows… We'll see.
We'll still be finding out about people he's killed come season 10. So Martin and Jessica also had a cute — but not really cute at all — co-parenting moment in this episode. Is there anything you can tease about what's to come between them this season?
In a way, that's the motor of the show, isn't it? That you've got a family where there's one member that everyone would really rather not have to deal with, but they have to. Jessica is never going to be free of Martin. At the same time, you also don't want to overplay that, so when the moments come between them they're able to have zing to them. I think that that scene between them says so much about the relationship, particularly from Martin's point of view, that he's able to lie so easily to her. He takes a real pleasure in knowing how much she's been duped by him and shocked by him and how much she doesn't know about him. Having spent years and years deceiving her, she now knows who he is and he's still able to deceive her. There's a very special enjoyment in that for him, which is very dark. There's also a real rivalry between them, a parental rivalry. When he has something that connects him to them that she doesn't have, whether that's a piece of information or a connection, both of those things delight him in different ways.
Eek, poor Jessica. Speaking of women in his life, Catherine Zeta-Jones is joining the show soon. Can you tell us anything about her character and how she'll affect Martin?
I think what will be enjoyable for an audience is not knowing what's going on at any given point. What I will say is that it puts Martin into new territory and therefore the audience will be in completely new territory, in terms of what they're seeing Martin doing and how he's reacting to things — and that's really exciting.
Prodigal Son airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Fox.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.