'Bloodline' Star Kyle Chandler on John's Descent: "He Could Jump Off the Edge"

The actor talks about what motivates his candidacy for sheriff as he goes to extremes to prevent others from discovering that he killed his own brother.
Courtesy of Netflix
Kyle Chandler and Jacinda Barrett in the second season of Netflix's 'Bloodline'

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

When Kyle Chandler's John Rayburn killed his older brother Danny (Ben Mendelsohn) at the end of Bloodline's first season, it seemed like an accident, that the siblings' fight on the beach just got out of hand.

But by the end of Bloodline's second season, in order to cover up his role in Danny's death, John has willingly accessed hacked security camera footage, broken into a car and kidnapped and nearly killed someone else.

It's a far cry from his Emmy-winning role on Friday Night Lights, and that's exactly what Chandler said he wanted when he signed on to Bloodline — something edgier and different. Now that he's crept closer to the edge onscreen, Chandler talks about what its like to play the character of John and what's motivating his second-season actions.

Before the series premiered, you talked about how you were excited to take on a darker role. Now that you've had a chance to do some of those types of things, what's that been like?

I never know what the scripts are going to bring me. I don't ask questions until the end. But it's been enjoyable; it's been challenging. I know that the character of John has got a pathology that's very intricate and his psychology allows him to do what he does and keep it under control. It's been enjoyable to get inside and play those little intricate alterations with him, within the character. When I'm onscreen working with the other characters, there's so much going on in the background of my mind, it's really fulfilling. There's just so much to play. Maybe not so much that you see onscreen other than [my character's] actions, but as an actor, my mind is just full of lots of different colors swirling around, and there's so many options for me to play the scenes in so many different ways.

The way John interacts with other people varies depending on what they know about Danny and other things. He doesn't tell his wife, Diana (Jacinda Barrett), what happened. He's a little more honest with Kevin (Norbert Leo Butz) and Meg (Linda Cardellini). Do you feel like there's anyone he's completely honest with or is it always something that he has to think about?

I would guess that there's no one that he's completely honest with. I don't think he can even be honest with himself because if he was to do that, the stack of cards would fall. It's very hard for him to look in the mirror in the morning. If he does, it's a side glance. We've never seen John really deal with what happened and what he did other than through his reactions and actions with other people. I can imagine what he did, playing the character, but you never see onscreen John alone dealing with the pain or what have you. And I think that's good because you just don't know. But I would think that he's a very messed-up character. He's got a tremendous depth of pain and anger. He's got a lot of dark corners that are not explored yet that are possible for him to go to. He could be very self-destructive. I think he could hurt other people. I think there's a point where there's almost — his mind could push him from behind into anything, without him doing so willingly, which is very dangerous.

What is driving John as he's trying to cover up Danny's death? Is it just protecting his reputation and his family?

I think all of those things and some more on top of that. It's survival. It's possible eventually it could turn into a game. There's a place where eventually John could believe this can't last forever, might as well enjoy it because it's got to end sooner or later, which could push him into even further places to go. Maybe he could jump off the edge.

How much do you want to know about what happens to John?

The first season I think it's fair to say they were writing as we were going. And you can ask questions but they didn't really get you very far. It's been really enjoyable on this show to not know what's going to happen next. They ask us to perform scenes in different ways to give them options and you can really go outside of the box, because you really don't know the definition of what the box is. Because you don't know what's going to happen in the next script, it makes it a lot of fun. I guess it's sort of selfish of me, but it's so enjoyable to do one script and then think about what I'm doing, enjoying what I'm doing and then find the next script and maybe some of the things I would think that doesn't necessarily match with what just happened; however, when it shows up onscreen, what a great choice that turned out to be. It's sort of a grab bag. When I watch the season, I can't wait to see what they've done and what choices they've used. … [You find yourself thinking], 'Why didn't they use that take? Oh, they chose that take.' It's pretty dynamic watching it. I watch [the show] far different than anyone else would.

Why is John running for sheriff?

If John had the chance, he would not want to run for sheriff. Even in his personal life before [he killed Danny], it's not something he would have wanted because intellectually he was in a good place. Sheriff brings on the politics. He doesn't want to get into politics. However, after what occurred, he has to go against that because [running for sheriff] purely gives him power of information. And if he can control the information and control what goes on around the information, he can stop any problems that would occur as far as law enforcement or a legal effect on him and his family. He's almost forced into having to do that in his own post-beach intellectual capabilities. As we keep doing more and more episodes, I'm learning about what he has to do to protect not just himself but the world around him. The possibilities of his actions are limitless due to the pressure that one would be under under his circumstances.