'Kingdom' Divided: Matt Lauria Talks the Potential Fallout From Battling Jay

"He doesn't deal with hurt feelings in a very balanced way" Lauria tells THR about the "lengthy" season two storyline.
Courtesy of Direct TV

[Warning: The following story contains spoilers from Wednesday's episode of Kingdom, "Broken or Missing."]

The fighting on Kingdom is about to get personal.

DirecTV's drama about the mixed martial arts community has always managed to portray cage fights in a very sportsmanlike manner, showing how the violence is just a sport between two athletes who leave it all on the mats. But what happens when two fighters who are so close they call each other "brother" are thrown in the cage together for a title fight?

Wednesday's episode introduced the idea that Jay Kulina (Jonathan Tucker) could improve his spotty reputation as a fighter if he goes against his BFF and current title champ Ryan Wheeler (Matt Lauria). If he wins, his career will skyrocket. But no matter who wins or who loses, their gym Navy Street will take a hit. Fighters and coaches would have to pick sides. The Kulina family itself would be split, with Ryan's ex Lisa (Kiele Sanchez) coaching Jay, while the father of her baby and Jay's father Alvey Kulina (Frank Grillo) coaching Ryan. Should this fight even happen?

The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Lauria about the fallout from a potential Jay/Ryan cage fight, a possible new romance brewing within the gym and his efforts to repair his relationship with his father.

Ryan has come a long way since the series began, when he first got out of prison after putting his father in a wheelchair.

This season is largely, for Ryan, about evolution. What begins to become evident this season is how much Ryan has taken a 180 from where we met him in season one. We heard these tales of who this Destroyer was or may have been. Everyone labels him as a monster or an animal, manipulative, a diva. But he's not like that anymore, and we've gradually begun to see these other facets of his personality.

Ryan might have a potential fight with Jay coming up. Jay is interested for the obvious reasons, but how does Ryan feel about that?

Because this season has shown such an evolution for Ryan, the response to the idea of fighting Jay begins in one place and ends in another. It's all, "This is my boy, we're friends, he's one of the closest people to me in the world and the most loyal." Ryan doesn't know about this fight yet, and as he becomes aware of that, he goes through a whole variety of feelings about it. But largely the place he stays at is, "It's not personal." It's all business for him, but it gets raw and sensitive. Jay is so close to him that several layers of skin are peeled back and everything is felt a little more intensely. Jay seems to be rejecting Ryan in some way or trying to one up him in some way or if Ryan senses any tiny fracture in their friendship, then all of that gets magnified and it hurts all the more. And that will set Ryan off. He doesn't deal with hurt feelings in a very balanced way.

How would their fight affect Navy Street? Is this going to create a divide in the gym or in the Kulina family?

It's definitely the opposite of comfortable. (Laughs.) You'll see this play out over several episodes and I don't want to give away specifically what happens. I have to be very vague, but what I love about Ryan and what I love about the show is that the best intentions are laid. But when things become personal and things that the characters value are at stake, then these best intentions become tarnished and sometimes crumble. This is going to be a lengthy storyline.

Ryan and Alicia (Natalie Martinez), Kingdom's first female fighter, are starting to get close. What is their dynamic is going to look like?

It's a maelstrom of ferocity and passion and adrenaline and competition, just like every great relationship. (Laughs.) From the very beginning, Ryan can tell that she's a shit-stirrer. Right when we first met, she's asking me about the gym, saying all the shit that people have talked about Alvey, wants to know about Alvey and Lisa's relationship, and it's like, "I don't even know you." Ryan knows better from his time in prison not to engage or give anything away, so he knows exactly who she is. And both of them are competitive, alpha individuals. When that collides, it's pretty explosive. It's definitely going to be high octane and oddly competitive, which Ryan gets some juice from, because – and this is going to sound sexist but it's not meant like that – it's like he's trying to tame this wild bull. It's a little terrifying and probably unhealthy, but also thrilling and fed up.

Ryan is starting to help take care of his dad after having a tense, strained relationship with him ever since he assaulted him and put him in a wheelchair. How does Ryan feel about repairing their relationship?

This whole episode is a pivotal tipping point for Ryan, and this whole situation with his dad is huge. One, his dad is actually inviting him over which is huge; two, offering an apology for punishing him; and three, is basically welcoming him to be a part of his life again. The small gesture of asking Ryan to put eye drops in his eye, as prideful and strong as this man has always been, [it shows] he's willing to be vulnerable in front of Ryan. It's beyond Ryan's wildest hopes and expectations, desiring this reparation with his dad, because even from childhood they never had this dynamic, but now it's happening and it's gigantic for Ryan. So you're going to see his ego begin to rejuvenate and take a hold of him for the first time since he got out of prison.

Kingdom airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on the DirecTV Audience Network.

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