The Outsider star Ben Mendelsohn opens up about shooting that brutal, horrific finale
Warning: This article contains spoilers for the finale of HBO's The Outsider.
The Outsider came to a horrific, bloody, and terrifying end Sunday — in an episode that still haunts star Ben Mendelsohn. "They were some of the worst days," says the Australian actor, who played Det. Ralph Anderson in the HBO crime series based on Stephen King's novel of the same name. "Those were tough days, intensely difficult… awful f—ing days."
Don't hold anything back, Ben! Here, the actor expands on the final moments of The Outsider, in which a semi-possessed Jack Hoskins (Marc Menchaca) guns down several people before Ralph and Holly (Cynthia Erivo) confront the supernatural creature in the cave. Plus, did Holly's final words to Ralph mean there will be a second season of The Outsider? Mendelsohn tells us what he can — that is, after he recaps the bloody hell he went through to give us that fantastic finale.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let's start with those caves. Where were they?
They were in the great state of Tennessee or the great state of Alabama. I know we were staying in one and traveling to the other, so they're in the borderlands. But name them? I might have erased them due to the traumatic PTSD thing [after the shooting]. By the time we hit those caves, boy, we were in bad shape. The caves were like OMG. We'd done the shootout and that was an incredibly tough series of days. But we kind felt like, okay, that's it. We've just had it as bad as we can get it. Forget it. We were wrong.
Now, here's the thing… I believe as an entertainer, as an actor, and as a person that has bright benefits in life, you do not come across sulking about the conditions. But it is important for people who dug The Outsider to understand they were brutal locations and we had gotten to a point in the shoot that it was truly horrific for us. It started to become a body count. People were dropping. So the shootout was horrendous, and then we immediately shot the cave scenes and were gobsmacked. But look, here's the thing about shoots like that: My philosophy is if you get it on the screen and it works and people enjoy it and they're immersed, then we win. So you had a bad day at work; that's why they call it work. Sometimes it ain't easy. So I'm not moaning, I'm not complaining. What I'm trying to do is illustrate that if you all were on the journey [with him], you'd have known the horror was real in a different way. But it really like, oh man. They were some of the toughest weeks I have worked in my 30-odd years.
It was kind of crazy that you and Holly go into the cave after that shooting to confront the creature.
We had to! If we didn't go and get him, if we didn't go in and finish the job… I'm not trying to be trivial here. I stress that. That's really important that I say that. But there are people who genuinely put their lives on the line to keep the rest of us safe, and God bless those people because they make a huge difference to the quality of our lives, right? If Ralph and Holly can't, who can? That's the whole point. It was almost impossible odds, but you have to do it because the alternative is unthinkable. You've got to follow through.
That moment when Ralph walks out of the cave and sees the ghosts, that's a projection from the creature, right?
I couldn't be entirely sure, but that was my guess. I saw that as a sort of a psychic attack.
There's something else that kinda confused me and other people on social media: That line when Holly says, "Who is Terry?"
Yeah, it's great, isn't it? And I love that they are confused about it because there's an aliveness to it. I am wary of wading in with a definitive answer — first of all, because I don't have a definitive answer, but I've got a couple of ideas of what it might be. I might say at that moment, who gives an F? It doesn't matter to her. Or Holly is such a savant that she might not be able to recall anything about anything, that's what is so deep and profound about her connection. And then there's another deeper and scarier and weirder possible answer that I have, and that is: Who is Terry?
What about that look you shared with Holly after you threw the rock down on the creature? Is that another one up for interpretation?
I really do think so. I think it's the look of two people who think, "Have we concluded? Are we done here? Or WTF was that?" That's part of the joy of the success of the show, that it leaves enough spice for people who are into it, that they don't get ripped off, that they get more than they paid for. That's important to me as a participant, that people get genuine value out of what we do. It matters an enormous amount to me that people who sit down and watch this thing forget everything else and genuinely get taken away. I believe we need stories. We've always needed stories. And the great thing about the HBO/Netflix era is that it's the time of the storyteller more than any time else. There's not a writer that I know and love who doesn't hold Stephen King up as one of their favorites because he's so clear, because he never rips you off, because he's prodigious, because he's generous and above all, he loves people. When you have a writer that serves you up a dish that is really beautiful and that can sustain you… it's got very little to do with me, the success of the show. I am delighted it's turned down as well as it has.
I have to ask you about Holly's look when Ralph ask her what else is out there. She smiled!
Isn't that great? Isn't that f—ing awesome? I was so proud of her of that day. You have no idea the love I had for Cynthia when that was her reaction. Like, I just was so happy. She just made me feel 10o feet tall. She just made be feel like I'd been cuddled by the strongest, most loving woman on earth, like a super-mother. It was just beautiful. At the same time as she's saying, "Baby you ain't got no idea," there's also a sense of "But you can do this."
So, is there a next chapter of this? What are they telling you?
This is the God's honest truth: I've been told some way, somewhere, someone is writing, and somewhere that person who's writing is saying, "Go away until I'm finished." So no one knows. No one knows whether there'll be another, who'll be in it, what it will be about, any of those questions. I'll put a bet that they make another, but as to who is in or out or what that's about or anything else, I couldn't tell you. That's the God's honest truth.
Were you sad when production on The Outsider was over?
No, I wasn't sad at all. Make no mistake, that was a brutal one.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.