Tom Pelphrey, 37, the latest addition to the acclaimed drama, Ozark, now in its third season, stars as Ben Davis, the brother of Wendy (Laura Linney). The popular Netflix series which has, to date, garnered two Golden Globe nominations, both for Jason Bateman as Best Actor. In the latest season, which began airing at the beginning of the COVID-19 quarantine, Davis causes trouble for the family’s money-laundering business, eventually forcing him to go on the run along with his sister.
The New Jersey-born actor is a former soap star, best known for playing Jonathan Randall and Mick Dante in the TV series Guiding Light and As the World Turns, respectively. He also starred in Banshee and the Netflix series Iron Fist.
He will next play the titular role in Mank, David Fincher’s biopic of Citizen Kane co-writer Herman J. Mankiewicz.
What was it like joining Ozark? Were you a fan of the show?
Yes, I was. When the second season came out on Netflix, I found it and I binged the first two seasons in a week. I was really excited to join the cast.
What was it like to join a cast that was already so well established? Was it an easy transition for you?
Yeah, they made it very easy. The credit goes to them. It’s a very special set that they’re running there, and Jason and Laura immediately made me feel very welcome. Within a week, I felt as if I had been on the show with them since Season One. I was treated with a lot of respect and just felt like part of the family. Obviously, I’ve had plenty of other jobs where that wasn’t the case.
How did you establish the level of chemistry with Laura to make you seem believable as her brother?
I think we developed a really nice friendship. I’ve watched her work, and I’ve looked up to her for a long time now on stage, film, and television, but when I met her, within five minutes I’d forgotten all of that. She’s very kind, very down-to-earth. She really went out of her way to be generous with her time and her attention. She’s just really friendly, and it made that job a million times easier.
What’s Jason (Bateman) like as a director?
He’s great. He’s completely unflappable. I never saw him lose his cool, I never saw his heart rate rise. He’s very easy, he’s very comfortable, and he’s not wasting any time. He’s been doing this forever, and because he’s such a talented actor himself, the way he works with other actors is incredible. It’s really a bonus.
Tell us a bit about your background. How did you get into acting?
I had a really amazing high school teacher. I wanted to play football, but I got hurt. Then somebody told me to audition for the school play, even though I couldn’t sing or dance, but I landed a little chorus role and got in through that. The guy who was directing that show eventually became my acting teacher. He was amazing and really changed my life.
How did your parents react to your decision to pursue acting professionally?
They were very supportive. I remember a conversation I had with my father when I was in my early 20s. I had been on a soap, where I’d had some success, and I asked him, “How is it that you were supportive of my going to college to get a degree in acting?” He said to me, “You knew what you wanted to do from the time that you were 14, and you never wavered. I didn’t want to get in the way of it.” I thought that that was kind of a cool answer.
Was there a Plan B in case your career hadn’t taken off?
No, which is the beauty of youth (laughs). If I knew then what I knew at 30, maybe I would have had a Plan B (laughs), but I didn’t.
Tell us about Mank.
Mank was really a great opportunity. I got to work with David Fincher, who is, I think, one of the best directors that there is, and a real master at what he does. And I got to work with Gary Oldman. I had Gary’s poster up on my wall when I was 18 years old as a young actor starting out, and he’s always been kind of one of my heroes. So Mank was a pretty amazing job. It was a lot of me sitting on set and not saying a word and listening.
Did you tell Gary that you had a poster of him on the wall?
I did. Yeah, I told him. Gary got a kick out of that (laughs).
What’s it like for you during the COVID crisis; how have you been sheltering-in-place; are you on your own? Can you talk a little bit about that?
At first, I was in upstate New York, where I live. In the last month-and-a-half, I’ve been going back to the city as things are starting to loosen up – and things are starting to open up, although obviously I am going places with a mask. It’s strange. On the one hand, the last few months feels like it’s been a week, and on the other hand, it feels like it’s been three years, and the world’s changed. I’m just trying to make use of the time in the best way possible.
While we’ve all been binge-watching Ozark, what have you been binge-watching?
I have watched Sex and The City, all of it! I had never seen it before (laughs), so I’ve seen the entire series of Sex and The City. Then I started watching Plot Against America, and I just started the second season of The Deuce.
To what do you attribute Ozark’s popularity?
Excellent writing and a great cast. One of the things that I really love about Ozark that really differentiates it from a lot of other shows, is that it’s walking that really fine line where on the one hand it has this horrible, graphic violence and drama with high stakes, but also, it’s really funny. It’s really laugh-out-loud funny in a dark, comedic kind of a way. And the show really walks that tightrope. And of course, it doesn’t hurt that it has Jason Bateman and Laura Linney. It’s well done.