When last we hung out in the Florida Keys with the Rayburn clan, things had just gone from bad to OMG, how can it get any worse for these people? Then it did… brother Kevin killed Marco, the cop who was John’s cop partner, sister Meg’s one-time fiancée, and the investigator who was starting to put together that the Rayburns were involved in the death of their black sheep brother, Danny.
Bloodline Season 3, available for your binge-watch pleasure May 26 on Netflix, continues with the non-stop drama, which wraps up at the end of Season 3’s 10 episodes. Yahoo TV talked to Emmy-worthy star Norbert Leo Butz, who plays Kevin, about how it all continues to get worse for the Rayburns, what’s at the heart of the family’s dysfunction and tragedy, and what he thinks will be a satisfying series finale for fans.
The two-time Tony winner, who just opened in a new play in New York, also shared his desire to do more TV, tells us whether or not the Rayburns are good people who did bad things or just bad people, and reveals there were lots of gag reel-worthy moments off camera, but they may be too naughty for us to ever see.
It’s the final season, so let’s start with: How do you feel about the way the series ends?
They did a great job with really ending it with a period. They didn’t leave strings hanging. I think it’s going to be satisfying for people who really stuck with it the whole three seasons.
That’s the hardest thing to do, nail the ending with so many intense stories up in the air.
Totally. Especially since they had to sort of restructure their original narrative. It was meant to be several seasons longer. There were some political things that happened in [Florida]… we lost a big tax incentive to have production down there, which increased the budget enormously. As you can imagine, it’s a very expensive place to shoot. So, yeah, they were kind of… it forced their hand a little bit, but I think they did a great job. It means this season moves like a bat out of hell. It really, really lurches forward very aggressively, which I think is thrilling.
How did you feel about the shortened series run?
There was some disappointment. There was also… a fair amount of ambivalence and I don’t mean that in a negative way. It was the greatest job I have ever had… especially after so much stage work, and small roles in indie films, it was my first chance to really get to stick with a character for three seasons. That’s a huge gift. But for me personally, it was a ton of commuting. I have three kids I’m raising here in Jersey. So, it was a lot of travel, a lot of time away from home. My kids loved it in the Keys, but we were sort of living in two different towns and racking up hundreds of thousands of miles of air travel. Yeah, it was a whirlwind, but one that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
Is there anything that had to be excised from the storyline with the shortened run that you wish you had gotten to play out?
Not necessarily. I mean, it would have been interesting to see Kevin have more “sober time.” He struggles so much with substance abuse and alcoholism in the first two seasons, and finally kind of begins to turn things around the middle of the second season, and then, of course, by the end of the second season, he’s back in the sh*t hole. So it would be fun to have continued to play that addict element of him. But Season 3 picks up, as you know, immediately where we left off, so they had to really pare down the narrative, just get right to the bones of it, and these people are fighting for survival. That’s really what the season is about. For Kevin, just keeping my nose above water level, just trying to suck in any air that I can so that I can support my family.
I will say that I think it’s really brave of [the writers] and very… they challenged themselves by picking up both with the second and the third seasons right where the previous season had left off. A lot of the streaming shows or the cable shows that have long periods between seasons, sometimes over a year, sometimes a year and a half, whatever it is, they jump forward three years or two years or you go back four years. I think that it can be a little bit of a cop out. [Our writers], they paint themselves in a corner, and then they have to find a way out. I think that’s really cool.
There are several overall themes throughout the series: the sins of the father, and mother, as we learn more about in Season 3; one lie leading to another; and the one that, in Season 3, I would argue becomes the theme of the whole series, the idea that your secrets make you sick. That ultimately sums up everything that has caused the Rayburns to spiral.
I would really agree. I think that’s really astute. I think you can pare it down to that because if you remember, the entire narrative is predicated by the death of this little girl [Rayburn sister Sarah]… this is a family that has had an unspeakable tragedy happen to their family, and lacked the emotional intelligence or the emotional maturity to actually deal with that death. They lied. The whole show is predicated on a lie. So I think that you’re right. My wife likes this metaphor. She heard it, I think, I don’t know, from a therapist or a self-help book or something, but, “You plant a seed of a lie and you grow a forest of lies. You plant the seed of truth and you grow a forest of truth.” I know that’s a little cheesy and Hallmark-y, but you’re exactly right. That is the overreaching theme of, I think, the show, that generational, systemic maladaptive behaviors, abuse, addiction, violence, these are things that, like cancers, they’re in the DNA of a family that continues to not deal with them. I know that lots of shows and books and movies have explored that theme, but I love our show because it’s not afraid to take on those big, almost Greek-size, Shakespearian-sized themes and put it in this gorgeous cinematographer’s dream.
Kevin, for me, despite what he did at the end of Season 2, is one of the characters I’m most rooting for in the end. Without going into specifics, he says to John at one point in Season 3 that they have to try to move forward with their lives, try to forge some happiness because if they don’t, everything that has happened truly was pointless. Do you think he truly believes that? Does he truly believe that that is possible?
Absolutely. He believes it… whether he has the internal resources to actually do that, or the mental health capacity to do that is another question. What I love about Season 3, and you may have noticed it too… in Season 1, the siblings are real archetypes. You’ve got the bad seed. You’ve got the golden boy. You’ve got the screw up, immature brother, which would be Kevin. You’ve got these archetypes, and these very entrenched roles that they play within the family, and I love when the show touches on this idea and sometimes the characters realize it. “Hey, you need me to be the screw up so that you can continue to play your part,” and this idea that we assume roles in our family structures to kind of maintain it, even if it’s dysfunctional, just to keep it going. In that scene that you’re talking about… John is really serious and Kevin’s like, “Hey man, let’s keep moving forward. This is going to be OK.” They switch roles a little bit, and they do that a few times throughout the season.
You see John really, really struggling with his mental health through the season, and there are long stretches where you think, “Wow, Kevin’s really going to get this together. Is he the one that’s going to be OK, as OK as he can be?” And yes, I do think Kevin thinks… as simplistic as he is — no one would ever call Kevin the sharpest tool in the Rayburn family shed — but he does have a sense of loyalty to his family that I think John doesn’t have, and I do think he has, it’s naïve and it’s childlike and it’s maybe even regressive, but there is a hope, I think, in him that they’re going to be able to get through this.
You just capsulized what’s so endearing about him and why you do root for him. To me, it isn’t that he’s simple, but he has kind of the simplest hopes, the simplest desires. He wants a family. He wants to provide for them. He’s so proud to be a father. I think it’s what makes the family’s situation even a little extra more tragic with him because he does have these simple hopes and he keeps going for them, but he seems to just attract chaos.
Yeah, If I was talking about Kevin in Season 1, this is a guy who would just love to drink beer and coach baseball for his son, be a community leader, go to ball games, and do charity work. He wants just this simple, provincial life, and the fact of the matter is, with this family, that is never going to happen for him. So it is a lack of self-knowledge that he has about himself, and that is something that he gets from his immediate, biological family. Just this inability to really know himself, because there have been so many lies and misperceptions, and they’re all in this huge identity crisis. They believe they’re one thing, and they’re totally something else. [The Rayburns] really believe they’re this upstanding, together, beautiful family, tons of fun to be around, pillars of the community, super close… and they’re none of those things. I think that’s relatable to people. I really do. I think the families that we put forward, what we put forward once we walk out of our front doors with our spouses, or our partners, or our siblings, or our kids, is very different from what happens within the privacy of your home. This show is one big active surgery on this family.
That voiceover from John, that the Rayburns are not bad people, they just did a bad thing. So many bad things have piled up by the end of Season 2, and more pile on in Season 3. At what point do they become bad people?
That’s a huge question, and this whole idea of morality, moral ambiguity… the writers challenge that all the time. I don’t believe they’re bad people. I don’t believe people are bad. I don’t think that morality works that way. I think that there can be so much damage done to one’s mind, one’s soul and that damage can be internalized. So the behaviors that come out of that person, or that group, or that community are negative. They’re maladaptive, whatever word you want to use. They’re not good. But bad people are not born, they’re made because they behave badly. They usually behave badly because they’ve been treated badly, is my takeaway. There’s that saying, “Hurt people hurt people.” Again, I know that’s kind of a pat saying, but I think there’s real truth to it. I think there’s universal truth to that.
Has doing Bloodline made you want to do more TV?
I do want to do more, and this wonderful thing is kind of happening. I actually hadn’t done a play in a long time. I’ve been working on Bloodline, and another show for PBS called Mercy Street. So I haven’t been on stage in a long time. Actually, I just opened a play on Sunday night that I’m doing in New York City, off-Broadway, and I’m loving being back on stage right now. I feel like I learned some things not working in front of a live audience, but working in front of a live crew and working with cinematographers and lighting people, that’s informing my work on stage. So, I’m going to be doing this play this summer, and then, yeah, I’d love to jump in front of the cameras again, whether it’s a film or a great miniseries or a TV series. I hope I’ll continue to be able to do both, because they really do inform each other, and they really exercise different muscles, and I think I just would grow as an actor in a kind of holistic way if I’m able to do both. So, yes, definitely.
What is the play you’re doing now?
I’m doing a play off-Broadway called The Whirligig. It’s written by a brilliant actor named Hamish Linklater. Hamish… he’s on Fargo and he was in The New Adventures of Old Christine with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and he’s a brilliant stage actor in New York City. He’s a good friend of mine, and he wrote this gorgeous play, also with some similar themes of generational addiction. He’s a really promising writer, Hamish is, and it’s a wonderful cast. Zosia Mamet from Girls is in it, and she’s brilliant, and a wonderful British actor named Dolly Wells, who’s on that show Doll & Em with Emily Mortimer, and she plays my wife. And some really great New York City stage character actors. It’s a far less dark world view [than Bloodline]. It’s a comedy, really. But yeah, I’m just loving doing it, and I’m loving to see how simple I can be on stage.
Is it a relief to do something a little bit less dark and intense right after finishing Bloodline?
Yeah, definitely. I mean, the play has some very, very heartbreaking moments to it, but the characters use humor throughout as a way of coping… rather than fratricide.
I love doing comedy, and I would really love… I’m looking for something that’s even silly, even absurd, even madcap and really joyful. I think that would be a really fun thing to work on. Bloodline was an amazing show, but there was just no getting around the fact that they were not out for laughs, they were not out for feel-good-TV. They wanted to tell a story with a really dark heart to it, and they were true to that. But it takes its toll, definitely.
Are there gag reels that exist from Bloodline?
There are definitely gag reels, and it actually is a very funny group of actors. Even through some of those really long, dark nights with very upsetting material, you find a way to go through it together. Not just the actors… it’s a crew that I was with for three years that I love dearly. The crew becomes as much your scene partner as any of the actors. You see them far more than you do the rest of the cast. And yeah, they always helped to lighten the mood when things started to get too weird.
There should be a release of the gag reels. Those would be fun to see, I think, for viewers who’ve been watching this intense drama for three seasons.
They could, but that show put everybody in a really weird mindset. I don’t even know if they’d be viewable. They’d probably be X-rated. The humor got pretty sick down there. It had to be. It was a ball.
Bloodline Season 3 premieres on May 26 on Netflix.
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