'Bloodline' Star on Family Dynamics: "There's Already So Much Resentment"

Norbert Leo Butz, who plays younger brother Kevin, offers insight into his character's attitude toward black-sheep brother Danny.
Courtesy of Netflix
Sissy Spacek, Linda Cardellini and Norbert Leo Butz in 'Bloodline'

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the second episode of Netflix's Bloodline.]

Of all the Rayburn siblings, youngest brother Kevin (Norbert Leo Butz) seems the most suspicious of Danny (Ben Mendelsohn), the black sheep brother.

So when their dad, Robert (Sam Shepard), ends up in the hospital early in the second episode, Kevin is convinced Danny is to blame. Seeking to confirm his suspicions, Kevin finds the two fishermen Danny says saw him talking to his father and asks them what happened, giving them money to encourage their cooperation. Kevin then confronts Danny, who snaps, "I hit him over the head with a paddle," and they start fighting.

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At the end of the episode, viewers see that what Danny initially said is true: His father was kayaking and toppled out of the boat. While Mendelsohn told reporters at Bloodline's recent press day that he couldn't reveal why he lied "in good faith," without spoiling future episodes, he did shed some light on how Danny views Kevin.

"Kevin's a pain in the ass. From Danny's perspective, he's a jumped-up, nasty little gnat," Mendelsohn explained. "And [Kevin]'s to be dealt with with a degree of contempt."

In this episode, more of the Rayburn family secrets start to emerge. Viewers find out that Kevin and his wife have separated, and there are flashbacks and dubious-sounding accounts of how Danny hurt his shoulder. The audience also gets more information about what happens at the end of the story, courtesy of some flash-forwards.

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The Hollywood Reporter talked to Butz about Kevin's feelings toward Danny, his need to protect his parents and filming flash-forwards without knowing the entire backstory.

How would you characterize Kevin's mindset when Danny comes back at the beginning of the season?

There's already so much resentment built up. The self-sabotaging, addictive behavior, the manipulation and, more than anything, watching him slowly erode the spirit of our parents, especially our mother, is something that has been happening for years. In my imagination, Kevin is someone who probably has made a lot of effort to forge a relationship with his brother, and that has proved impossible.

It seems like Kevin is more suspicious than Danny's other siblings.

[Kevin is] a few years younger than Danny, and [he doesn't] have any guilt or baggage about how Danny has ended up. Where Kyle [Chandler]'s character sees redeeming qualities based on childhood memories that they share, I think probably Kevin and Danny share very few childhood memories. So I don't think Kevin feels any particular loyalty to Danny, and he's also not privy to certain things that may have happened in the past that might explain Danny's destructive behavior. Kevin tends to take people at face value. Danny has shown Kevin no loyalty, no consistency, no brotherly love or guidance or any of those things.

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When Sam Shepard's character ends up in the hospital, Kevin is convinced that Danny did something to put him there. Is this just what Kevin was waiting for — just waiting for him to screw up?

Kevin jumps to conclusions because he doesn't communicate what might be his suspicion. He's basing it on — for years and years — every time [Danny] leaves town, their mother is weeping, their father is highly stressed. I don't know if Kevin's convinced that there was a physical altercation, but there was some sort of extremely upsetting conversation or some terrible news or some large amount of money that he owed or something he needed help from. And that stressed out our father so much that that somehow contributed to this downturn of health.

I think that explains why he so quickly believes the fishermen when he's trying to get information about what happened.

Exactly. He starts handing these really, really impoverished, probably illegal fishermen $20 bills. They would say anything. Every time they open their mouths, he hands them another $20. And so this information is coming in, but he doesn't have the perspective to say, "Hey, maybe the $100 in cash you just handed these guys had a little to do with their response."

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One of the other things that we find out in this episode about Kevin is that he and his wife aren't together anymore, but he hasn't told his family. It seems like there's huge importance placed on image and how the family presents itself to other people.

That duplicity from Kevin doesn't come from a bad place; it's just everyone has enough to deal with, so we can't have any more. I can't contribute to any more bad things in this family.

At what point in the process of filming this season did you shoot those flash-forward scenes?

Very early on. It's a very strange experience to start trying to get a handle on who you're playing, and you get a script that says in three days we're going to see you in your underwear with a gun with bruises all over you. And they don't really tell you how you got there. So, at first, you're kind of freaking out, like, "How can I act this when I don't know what happened?" But then this kind of cool thing happens where you just get into the not knowingness of it. You shoot these scenes, and you're like, "OK, eventually the audience is going to find out. Eventually I'm going to find out how I got here." You just kind of approach each scene as its own mini movie. We did it all in one extremely long, difficult, strange night.

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What would you tell viewers who have just watched the first two episodes about what they can expect from Kevin the rest of this season?

Kevin actually grows a lot after the second episode. In the third episode and the fourth, you see him really start to take responsibility for his anger issues and offer an olive branch to Danny and, for the family, really makes an effort to forgive and forget, which in my mind, he's done over and over again.

THR will be treating Bloodline like a weekly series, so check back on Fridays for more about key episodes in the first season. What did you think of the second episode? Sound off in the comments below.

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