'Bloodline' Creators Reveal 'Damages' Roots of Kyle Chandler-Starring Netflix Series

The executive producers talk playing with audience expectations, crafting characters as they went and viewing the first season as a movie.
'Bloodline'

Bloodline creators Glenn and Todd A. Kessler and Daniel Zelman insist that their new Netflix series is different from their last show, critical darling Damages. But there are elements of the Kyle Chandler-fronted family drama that were inspired by and will feel familiar to fans of the Glenn Close-fronted legal thriller.

Like Damages, Bloodline features flash-forwards of a mysterious, violent event, with more clues about what happens revealed as the season goes on. And as with Damages, things on Bloodline may not be the way they initially appear, including characters and the show itself.

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While Damages was framed as a legal drama, it became more of an interpersonal thriller. While Bloodline is a family drama, there's more to it than that.

"As we wrapped up Damages, we decided to try to tell a story about a family and all the things thematically we've been discussing and we continue to live, and really try to explore a family drama in a way we hadn't seen recently or if ever, in a similar way that when we created Damages, we were trying to tell a story set in the legal genre, but it was reflective of our experiences entering the professional world," Todd A. Kessler told reporters at Bloodline's recent press day in New York. "This is our spin on a family drama, but really about things we've been discussing our entire lives."

The family drama centers around the Rayburn clan, headed by Sam Shepard’s Robert and Sissy Spacek’s Sally, who run a Florida Keys hotel. When their adult children return home, including Chandler and black sheep Danny (Ben Mendelsohn), secrets start to emerge.

As the Kesslers and Zelman discovered on Damages, they enjoy playing with people's preconceived notions about various actors, including Chandler.

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"We had had experiences casting actors throughout Damages and recognizing the value of playing off of an audience's assumptions about that actor and the characters that actor plays," Glenn Kessler explained. "And [Chandler's Friday Night Lights character] Coach Taylor was such a beloved, solid, whole person and family man and coach that it was exciting to us to get Kyle to play this role. We know the assumptions an audience makes about Kyle. But now, as you're watching him [as his Bloodline character John Rayburn], you have to start to call into question some of the things he's telling us and some of his actions because they don't seem to match up with what he's doing."

And the Kesslers and Zelman weren't afraid to let the actors' work help determine how their characters and the story developed, another approach they took on Damages.

"We're very responsive to actors in terms of figuring out who the characters are. And the byproduct of that is sometimes not always where the story is going. And that's been true since Damages," Zelman said. "To us in many ways the character's a blueprint until it's cast. And then you actually see how that actor's interfacing with the character. There's no question that the way the actor interfaces with the role at times suggested different story approaches for us."

Even the actors didn't have a complete picture of their characters when they started filming.

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"Initially, to get the arc of the show, they'd say, 'Well, this could happen or it could possibly be this.' They hadn't written all the scripts," Spacek said. "But one of the things that I really respected they did, they watched what we were doing, they watched what was happening on the screen, and when they'd see something that they loved, that just happened, they'd think, 'Oh, let's follow that story.’"

The opportunity to help create her character was one of the things that convinced the veteran film actress to embark on the TV series.

"I'd never worked on a television show where you're in at the beginning and you're a part of creating the character, and that was intriguing to me," Spacek said. "And it was a little scary, and that was intriguing to me as well."

Spacek added that she "didn't want to miss out" on being part of all of the "good work" that's being done on TV.

Bloodline is a series, but since all 13 episodes will released at once, the executive producers were able to approach it like a movie. The Kesslers cited Cape Fear and Fatal Attraction as particular film inspirations.

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"In both of those movies there’s someone who is perpetrating acts that get more and more provocative toward his target, but you understand there's an underlying feeling of having been wronged or of vulnerability," Glenn Kessler said. "And for a while you're watching these people trying to figure out who, what they are."

Bloodline's Florida Keys setting is wildly different from Damages' New York location, but there were thematic reasons for that locale beyond wanting a change.

"We like the contrast that this family, their job is to sort of welcome people to paradise, but they have their own dark current running beneath them. And the Keys is just so fascinating in that way because it’s a strange place with a strange history,” Zelman said. “A lot of people go down there to kind of drop out of their lives. Even in terms of the topography there were swamps and sharks. There’s danger kind of everywhere. And then there was a quality too of the heat down there, in keeping with that sort of, like, American gothic thriller tradition. And it was important to us that this family's well known within their world, so that when their darkness bubbles to the surface, there's no place to hide. It's these islands, and you can't really get away from who you are, your past, what you've done."

Bloodline begins streaming on Netflix on Friday. Check back that afternoon for more on what to expect from the family drama. Netflix may be releasing all 13 episodes at once, but The Hollywood Reporter will be treating the show like a weekly series, so check back on Fridays for more about key episodes in the first season.

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