'Kingdom' Creator Previews Nate's Sexuality Struggles, Navy Street's First Female Fighter

"This next batch of episodes is really about the painful ascent of success," executive producer Byron Balasco tells THR. "It doesn't always drag everyone at the same pace."
Courtesy of Direct TV

It's time to get back into the ring with Kingdom.

DirecTV's mixed martial arts drama is going into season two with the confidence that not many other series can boast, having already scored a season three renewal before the second season began production. But creator and executive producer Byron Balasco reveals that the early renewal didn't change the way he approached planning out this season.

"It didn't really have an affect," Balasco tells The Hollywood Reporter. "I go into every season optimistic that we're coming back and if for some reason we never did, the season will still be satisfying. But I don't want to change the storytelling for a hypothetical. You know what I mean? But luckily we're coming back so it's all good."

While the first season didn't end on any cliffhangers, the MMA series is going to look extremely different when it returns for season two, since the premiere picks up after a big time jump. Balasco spoke with THR about what to expect from the new characters coming onto the show, as well as the same struggles the Kulina boys will find themselves facing again and again. 

What did you learn from season one that you're going to apply to season two?

We learned what we're good at, production-wise, and what we can really achieve, budgetarily. And how our filmmaking works and the tone of that and the vibe of that. But from a writing point of view, you get to spend time with these actors and you get to learn about them more and more and understand their voices more and more, so you start to write better for them, to be honest. And they start to own the characters. We did a pretty good job of making these characters feel lived in from the very first season. Now, we're able to go deeper into that the more we all understand these characters. That's been the biggest blessing of having a season under our belt. And we went straight to series so we were working without a net in the sense that there was no pilot. Luckily everyone came in and really inhabited these characters from the start and we went full steam ahead.

What are the biggest changes viewers can expect from season two?

We jump ahead a fairly significant amount of time. They're in a new gym – they've upgraded. And a few more characters are coming into the gym to shake things up for us. This next batch of episodes is really about the painful ascent of success and it doesn't always drag everyone at the same pace.

Going into season two, Lisa (Kiele Sanchez) is pregnant with Alvey's (Frank Grillo) baby. How is this going to affect their relationship?

It affects the relationship in that, at the end of season one, things were not going so well between them. This pregnancy was an unplanned thing between the two of them, so they're navigating how to make this work while dealing with the deep problems in their relationship. They're two people who really love each other and are connected to each other, not only through this business that they share together but also a certain understanding of two people living in an extreme world. But the problems between them remain, so they need to navigate that while also figuring out what's best for the child.

By the end of season one, viewers learned that Nate (Nick Jonas) might be gay, but at the start of season two he is dating a girl. How much are we going to see him struggle with his identity this season?

Yeah, that's one of the bigger stories we're telling. He's in a world that is not necessarily the most accepting of being gay. Nate really struggles with that. A lot of it is that he's afraid to re-contextualize to his father and his brother and everyone he knows. His whole life is fighting. I don't think he knows how people would react. He assumes and fears being seen as different or other than or being held at arms length from this world. We're going to tell that story in the most honest way we can which is not always a birthday cake and congratulations about coming out. For some people it's much more difficult in terms of their environment and their surroundings and where they grew up.

In the premiere, Jay (Jonathan Tucker) is having a tough time: he can't get fights, he's back on drugs, he's lashing out. Is this something we're going to see him struggle with all season long?

That situation he deals with is actually very common to this world, if you have a talented fighter where there's not a lot to gain by fighting him for these other guys. That's just one of the many obstacles that Jay is going to be facing but he's very focused. He's got a glimpse of the life he wants and he's going after it for his fighting career. He's going to try. But he's Jay, so things don't always go the way he's hoping.

Ryan (Matt Lauria) also has a really tough time in the premiere, and things are only going to get worse. What is his season-long journey going to look like?

Ryan is still trying to adjust to the outside world and figure out who he really is like a lot of people on the show. It's about trying to understand your identity and who you are and where you fit into this world and this extended family. Ryan is still struggling with that. There are two people within Ryan and they're constantly at war. Sometimes, the other guy wins. He's just trying to figure out how the hell to win.

There's a new fighter coming to Navy Street, and she's the first female fighter on the show. What is she going to bring to the table that the other fighters didn't in season one?

The inspiration for her was to just be as authentic as we can. We just try to be true to the world and every gym you go into there are female fighters training right alongside the men and accepted the same way. But there's always the same drama that happens between men and women too. We wanted to tell the story of a female fighter, but it had to be the right actress. We got Natalie Martinez who is a certified ass-kicker in real life and can really do everything we need from her. If I couldn't find an actress who could believably do it, I wasn't going to do it.

What surprised you the most about how fans responded to season one?

You're just surprised that anyone has seen anything you've done. (Laughs.) It also surprised me how much the audience fell in love with these characters when there isn't really any good or bad guys on the show. There's no hero, no villain. Everybody's flawed, and you just have to hope that because you didn't pull any punches or water them down in any way, that people will still love them. These people on the fringes should still have their stories told in a true and honest way.

Kingdom season two premieres Wednesday at 9 p.m. on the DirecTV Audience Network.

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