The Cody brothers in Animal Kingdom are keeping secrets from their mother, but none more dangerous than what closeted son Deran, played by Jake Weary, is hiding.
Weary stars as the youngest son of Janine “Smurf” Cody, a force of nature as portrayed by Ellen Barkin. In the most recent episode, viewers learned that Deran has been hooking up with surf board designer Adrian (Spencer Treat Clark), who rents his surf shop from Smurf.
Neither Smurf nor her other sons, Pope (Shawn Hatosy), Baz (Scott Speedman) and Craig (Ben Robson), know about Deran’s sexuality.
“This is such a hyper masculine family and his masculinity is tested every day,” Weary said during a recent phone call. “Deran does identify as gay, but he’s struggling with it because it could be detrimental to his position in the family.”
The series, inspired by the 2010 Australian film of the same name, comes from Jonathan Lisco and John Wells, who previously teamed on “Southland.” It airs at 8 p.m. CT Tuesdays on TNT.
Smurf has groomed all her boys to be contributing members of the family’s criminal enterprise. The arrival of her 17-year-old grandson, J (Finn Cole), into Smurf’s house after the drug death of his mother has put all her sons on edge. They don’t know if they can trust him to keep quiet about the family’s criminal lifestyle.
Deran immediately grew jealous of his nephew, and got downright annoyed when J unwittingly embarrassed him during a robbery organized by Pope.
An incident in a public restroom didn’t help the relationship. J caught Deran and Adrian—er—polishing each other’s surf boards. Deran immediately pretended Adrian had made a pass at him, and encouraged J to help beat him up.
J tried to ease Deran’s fears by telling him he saw nothing in the bathroom. Still, Deran threatened J by holding him underwater in the family pool. Turns out he’ll go to extremes to keep his secret.
“I think in dealing with his sexuality he acts out and he sometimes acts irrationally and physically. That’s his way of coping with this kind of internal conflict,” Weary said. “The title of the show is ‘Animal Kingdom’ because they are like animals, and they don’t really think before they act.”
Viewers will see more of Adrian, Weary said, but obviously he couldn’t say whether Deran’s brothers or mom will learn his secret.
Deran’s biggest fear, Weary agreed, is how Smurf will react if she finds out he’s gay. Despite the heightened dynamics in the fictional Cody family, Weary says he hopes people who have struggled to be accepted by their parents or other family members will relate to Deran’s journey.
“That’s got to be just the most terrible thing in the world. We all want is to be accepted for who we are,” he said. “I think that is Deran, man. He’s so terrified that he won’t be accepted for who he is and his role will be diminished in the family.
“I’m so happy that I get to play this person. It’s really an honor.”
Weary, the son of actress Kim Zimmer and director A.C. Weary, and I talked more about his role, co-stars, surfing and how working on “Animal Kingdom” has inspired his songwriting.
Related: Animal Kingdom stars on sibling rivalries
Related: Ben Robson finds his inner animal
What drew you to this role and to do this project?
Jake Weary: It wasn’t just the excitement of, “Oh this is a crime show about a crime family so … we’re going to rob a bank or go do all this stuff and it’s going to be all Point Breaky and fun.” It was really the family and the dynamics—our relationship with our mother—that drew me to it. I liked all the nuances in the script. I just feel like it’s something that hasn’t really been done on television before and I really wanted to be a part of that.
Do you see one script before you decide or were you able to see more than that?
If you’re auditioning for a pilot you just get the pilot script. Half the time they don’t even know what’s going to happen. … It’s kind of difficult sometimes, especially with pilots, because you’re making such a big decision on just the pilot script. It could be a show that goes for one season, it could go for nine seasons. You only have that bit of information about your character so you don’t really know what’s going to happen with your character.
It’s kind of exciting and it’s kind of terrifying. You just have to trust your gut and trust that you will have much more to work with. That’s the exciting thing about television; everything is written as it goes so everything feels way more organic and natural and has this kind of real life flow. It’s kind of how we all live out our lives. It all happens and progresses as the days go by. I think that’s something that’s really cool with television.
Tell me about Deran and what you like about him. What made you want to play him?
He’s the one character from the movie that hasn’t really been developed and I saw it as an opportunity to see what I could bring to the table and kind of create a character. … He feels like kind of a new character. It’s really exciting being able to dive into this character and see what I can bring to it. And maybe I get to bring something new to this story and this family and add even more depth to the dynamic within the family.
How does he fit into the whole family dynamic in the relationships?
Before J comes in he’s the youngest and in real life I’m the youngest in my family, so I could relate to him in that sense. Being the youngest in a family, especially a big family like this one in “Animal Kingdom,” you have a little more leverage. The baby of the family always has a stronger connection with the mother in a way because he’s the last child.
Deran maybe gets away with more than his brothers … because he’s the youngest. The rest of the family doesn’t expect him to take responsibility for the bigger issues in the family. When shit hits the fan, so to speak, he can act out and he can be emotional and act irrationally and it doesn’t really affect the family. He can take off. He likes to just kind of take off when things get crazy and when he feels like he needs space from the family. …
When J shows up it knocks Deran off balance, doesn’t it?
Totally. There’s a shift in dynamic when J arrives and I think he definitely feels threatened by J’s presence and he is no longer the baby in a way. The amount of coddling from his mother is slightly diminished with J’s entrance.
After Craig gets shot, the scene where Deran is crying in his mom’s lap was interesting. That scene quickly explains that relationship. Later he acts out when scolded by Smurf. It’s a very interesting way of showing the shifting dynamics.
Honestly, that’s how a lot of this show conveys the relationships. I think a lot less needs to be said because it’s such a physical show and it’s such a hyper masculine show in the sense we all kind of act like animals. We just kind of act on our emotions and we’re not the best at talking and coping through conversation. We kind of cope through primal instinct.
It’s a cool shift because there’s so much competition amongst the brothers and there’s so much testosterone and he’s really the only one who can openly cry in front of everybody. It’s kind of a different dynamic and it kind of adds a little more emotional depth to the family.
Does Ellen hold her own on set with all that hyper masculinity?
Oh, absolutely. She can crack the whip. That’s got to be hard being really the only woman in the family—and she is dealing with a bunch of knuckleheads. She’s such an amazing woman and it’s an honor to get to work with her. She knows how to have fun and she also knows when to take things seriously. I think that’s a really nice balance, because when you do have a bunch of guys on set it can get a little rowdy. Sometimes we try and have as much fun as possible because it is such an intense drama. She can definitely crack the whip and reel it in when we joke or just be boys. It is really nice having her on set. She kind of grounds everything in a way.
You have an amazing cast and creators.
There’s just so many good people behind this and the performances are so fucking incredible. John Wells, who is such a genius, is just doing such an amazing job. The same with Jonathan Lisco—they work so well together.
They’ve done so many good shows. It’s nice seeing all the “Southland” folks in this, too.
I know! I’m telling you, I feel like Shawn doesn’t get enough credit for his work. Shawn is one of my favorite actors. I grew up watching him. “The Faculty” was like one of my favorite movies when I was a kid. I know “The Faculty” is kind of a campy horror movie, but something about his performance just captivated me. Everything he does is like that—“Alpha Dog.”
I’m telling you, if this guy doesn’t win a fucking Emmy for this I’m going to cry. He’s putting so much heart and soul into his character and it’s going to pay off. He is just doing such great work and I can’t wait to see what he does. It’s weird because there’s so much of it I don’t get to see, but when I’m in a scene with him, man, I feel just so engaged and just so there and present and it’s such a fucking honor to work with him. He really is amazing. So no wonder they brought him back.
You guys get to surf and jump out of planes. You daredevil off the roof in the pool, ride bikes, speed around in cars. Is this just a kid’s dream job in that way?
It really is. I’m not kidding, I think like 90 percent of the stunts we do. There’s so much prep that goes into it, which is really fun. I’ve been on other shows where you really don’t get to do anything and you have a stunt double there and they jump in and get to do everything.
On this they’re adamant about making it feel real. We are, too. We all went through surf training. A lot of us weren’t really surfers before, so it was really cool being able to train for that.
There’s a moment where we’re out in the water in Oceanside and we had a little break in between scenes and me and Ben Robson went surfing for about an hour. We got out of the water and walked on the beach and they were actually shooting like a scene that we weren’t in and we just waved to everybody in the cast and the crew and we’re like, “Hey guys, we just went surfing. How are you?” We just looked to each other and we’re like, “Are you kidding me man? This is our job? Like this is our life.”
It’s so humbling and it’s so amazing that we get to do what we get to do on this show. It really is. It is kind of a dream come true for me. I’m sure the other guys would say the same.
I talked to Ben earlier this year and he said he was really looking forward to getting to surf a lot more once you started shooting.
You really have to commit to learning something like this. Technically, it’s our job and we have to do this stuff. It’s not a bad thing; I mean we’re getting paid to surf! It’s a hobby that I otherwise probably wouldn’t spend the money to do. It’s really truly an amazing thing.
I’m so excited to even see what else we get to do on this show. The opportunities are limitless in a way. That’s why it’s so exciting getting a new script every week; you’re like, “What’s going to happen now? What are we going to get to do?”
You’re a child of New Jersey/New York. Is it fun diving deep into this California culture?
Totally. I’m a New Jersey kid at heart. Go New York Jets, baby. But and I actually grew up in California. When I was one we moved to LA, in Valencia. I lived in Valencia, Calif., until I was like four or five or something. When the Northridge earthquake hit we moved back to Jersey. My mom is an actress, so we bounced around. … Initially I came back to California when I was 18 to go to school at Cal Arts and I just kind of ended up staying. So there is California blood in me and it is nice being able to kind of tap into that mentality doing this show. I do feel like I’m part of both coasts in a way, so it is nice getting that. You get to dive into the California dream.
You said you were the youngest in your family. Any parallels between your mom and Smurf?
I can’t wait until Ellen and my mom get to meet each other, because I think they’re going to absolutely love each other. They’re very similar. They’re both incredible actresses. They’ve lived a very similar lifestyle.
I think with Smurf and my mom—I don’t know. My mom definitely is a tough cookie, man. But maybe not. Smurf is such an interesting kind of intense woman and my mom is a very emotional woman. … I’m a pretty emotional guy and I think I get it from my mom. I think Smurf has iron for bones. She does have an emotional side, but it rarely comes out unless it needs to.
There’s so much people will recognize watching this even though it’s an extreme family. I can see things about my mom in Smurf.
It definitely is a heightened version of what we all tend to find in our mothers, yeah. They’re fixing your shirt and licking their hand to fix your hair—all those little quirky things.
Actually the other day we were shooting a scene where she makes a pie for us and I get some ice cream out of the fridge to put on the pie. I run off to have my ice cream and pie and Smurf says, “Hey, wait, wait, wait. Put the ice cream back in the fridge now.” My mom can make a killer pie. I swear to God, I can’t tell you how many times my mother said that to me or I’ve gone off to go do something and she’s like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Put the ice cream back in the fridge.” …
That’s why I love this job. I come here every day for those little “A-ha” moments when you relate to the character. I think that’s the beautiful thing about acting; you can kind of tap into someone that isn’t necessarily you and be in their skin and feel what they feel.
Has this experience inspired any new songs from you?
I’m actually writing like crazy. Honestly it really does inspire me. I have an EP of like five or six songs that I have kind of stored away that I’m waiting to release to the public. So I want to kind of wait until the show comes out and kind of ride that wave for a little bit. And then on our time off I’m going to maybe focus on that, focus on music for a little bit and just clear my head and have some free time for a bit. I’m looking forward to that. This has been so time-consuming, but in such a great way.
You played Vince Keeler in “Chicago Fire.” I live in Chicago. What do you think of the city?
I love Chicago. I have a lot of family from Chicago and I have an affinity for that city. It’s an amazing city. I was there for about a month or so and I would love to go back and shoot something there. It’s such a powerful city. I like it, even with the wind in the winter; that bitter cold just slaps you right in the face.