Re-imaging a critically acclaimed film for television is a precarious business. Sometimes it works—Noah Hawley’s Fargo is a good example, as is Bates Motel—but most of the time it doesn’t. Adapting 2010’s Animal Kingdom, the first full-length feature from Australian writer-director David Mîchod, is perhaps particularly risky. Part of what made the film so special was its stellar cast: James Frecheville as the protagonist J, a teenager who has lost his mother to a heroin overdose; Jacki Weaver as J’s grandmother, a Machiavellian matriarch of a family of criminals; Guy Pearce as a concerned law enforcement official; and Ben Mendelsohn, Sullivan Stapleton, and Joel Edgerton as J’s hard-living uncles and family friend. The film won the audience award at Sundance, earned Weaver her first Oscar nomination, and launched Mîchod’s career.
Last night, however, Animal Kingdom the television series premiered on TNT. There are several obvious differences between the new series and the original film, most notably that the Melbourne, Australia setting is replaced by Southern California. However, for Finn Cole, who stars as J, the show is not about translating the original for an American audience, but rather delving deeper into the existing narrative and characters. “There was potential in a story that hadn’t been told; there was more to these characters that wasn’t explored,” he explains over the phone. “Not that the film was lacking in anything—it was one of my favorite movies—but there was definitely something that could be explored further and that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re seeing a different side of these stories,” he continues. “Seeing someone do a character in such a fantastic way and then being able to take that and try your own thing is a great freedom to have.”
Raised in South West London, Finn Cole is the fourth of five brothers. His oldest brother Joe is also an actor, and the two currently play cousins Michael Gray and John Shelby in Steven Knight‘s Peaky Blinders, another show about a family of criminals.
HOMETOWN: Kingston, London
INTRODUCTION TO ACTING: I first became interested when I was in school. I was surrounded by people who were into acting. I had a teacher who I got along with, one of my favorite teachers, and he got me into it. Trying to entertain was something I always got a kick from. It excited me quite a lot. Growing up, it was a hobby, always something I did with friends—we’d put on shows. Then I joined the National Youth Theatre when I was 17, which was great ’cause we it’s a bunch of young people like myself.
FIRST PROFESSIONAL GIG: My first real experience of acting was Peaky Blinders. That was the most intense experience. In those situations you learn so quickly, and I did. My brother had the script for the second season—they had already done the first—and he said there was a great part for me. One thing led to another and I found myself in the audition room with Colm McCarthy, Shaheen Baig, and Laurie Borg. I had a confidence about me because there was no pressure; there was no feeling that I had to get it. I was so pessimistic about actually getting the role.
FALLBACK CAREER: I was always interested in water sports, water activities, and engineering. I was always good at fixing things growing up. I wanted to work on boats. That was what my dad did.
THE WORLD OF ANIMAL KINGDOM: It’s a surfer family in Southern California that is kind of lower class, but they have money. It’s all those things intertwined and slightly incestuous—and there are drugs and there’s sex. It’s very interesting to explore that within our world and we have the actors and the formula to make it really, really good.
THE PROCESS: We get scripts weekly. We shoot about eight days per episode. We’re learning as we go along. Shooting in chronological order is fantastic because it’s a very natural reaction when things start to change. I didn’t want to know so much because J doesn’t know so much. For me, it means that I’m an impartial character in this. I’m exploring this world and this family with the audience; I’m seeing it almost from an audience perspective. Everything that I uncover, I uncover at the same pace as the audience does. It’s very much through J’s eyes.
We didn’t shoot like that on Peaky Blinders. We had pretty much all the scripts before we started filming, and every day we’d be jumping around from episode to episode getting things done. It’s definitely different way of shooting but I think that I’m getting to use it.
THE SHELBYS AND THE CODYS: These characters are antiheros. That’s definitely a similarity between the two shows. They’re very, very intelligent people, capable of many things. Often I think that they could be successful in so many other lifestyles, but it’s the thrill and the freedom. Both are families that have gone down the wrong path, but that are very intelligent and very good at reading and understanding people to benefit their own situation.
MICHAEL VS. J: Michael is definitely a far more intense, slightly sociopathic character, which is quite exhausting, but I’m in fewer scenes. With J, he’s a survivor in this animal kingdom, as it were. He’s gotten good at is not giving anything away and avoiding showing his emotions and his plans. It’s very difficult to read someone like J. They’re two very different characters, but they have their similarities—they’re young and new to these families and these lives and these gangs. They’re different in how they deal with situations and where they find themselves. J is trying to find himself and where he belongs; he’s not a predator at this stage. Michael is a predator. He wants to be at the top and he’ll do anything to get there.
To get into them is always very fun. I stay in an American accent all day when I’m playing J just to keep my focus. The immaturity is important as well. I don’t stay in Michael’s accent. I might do that next time because my accent is not great. With both characters, and all characters I play, they are parts of me that I’ve always wanted to explore, they’re pieces of me. Finding that and getting into that is always quite easy for me because it’s always something I’ve felt. The way they react is sometimes how I’d react to situations. They have thoughts that I’ve definitely had. It’s something that I take from myself and push a little bit further
The costume is also a huge difference. With Michael, it’s always well fitting. He always looks formal and he’s always wearing a tie. He’s always in dark suits. The hair is always perfectly in shape. He’s very meticulous. J is quite messy but he’s doing it to get by.
POLLY VS. SMURF: They have different methods, but they’re as intimidating each other and as intelligent as each other. They have different ways of manipulations and very different morals, but the same intentions to a certain extent.
ANIMAL KINGDOM AIRS TUESDAY NIGHTS ON TNT. THE FIRST THREE SEASONS OF PEAKY BLINDERS ARE NOW AVAILABLE ON NETFLIX.