Animal Kingdom
The cast of TNT's "Animal Kingdom:" Jake Weary (from left), Finn Cole, Scott Speedman, Ellen Barkin, Ben Robson and Shawn Hatosy.

‘Animal Kingdom:’ Don’t test Ellen Barkin

The criminal Cody family will explode onto TV screens beginning June 7 in “Animal Kingdom.” 

The TNT series centers on 17-year-old Joshua “J” Cody (Finn Cole), who moves in with his law-breaking relatives in the surf community of Oceanside, Calif., after his mother dies of a heroin overdose.

The Cody brothers—Baz (Scott Speedman), who runs the business and calls the shots; Pope (Shawn Hatosy), the oldest and most dangerous of the Cody boys; Craig (Ben Robson), the tough and fearless middle son; and Deran (Jake Weary), the troubled, suspicious “baby” of the family—aren’t so sure their nephew should bear witness to their activities.

Family matriarch Janine “Smurf” Cody (Ellen Barkin), has a different thought.

“He’s blood, baby,” Janine says in the opening episode. “He’s in ’til he proves he isn’t.”

And you don’t cross Janine, who warns someone, “Go ahead, test me.”

Janine is capable of “great menace and emotional cruelty,” said showrunner Jonathan Lisco at the Television Critics Association’s winter press tour in January.

“It never really answers the question whether or not her capacity of cruelty or her capacity for love is the scarier component of her character. I know that’s something we want to explore in the course of the series,” Lisco said in Pasadena. “I think that’s a rather bottomless pit when you have an actress like Ellen Barkin.”

Barkin plays the same character for which Jackie Weaver received an Oscar nomination for the 2010 Australian film of the same name. She said at TCA she used the film as source material, like an actor might use a book, and her Janine will be different from Weaver’s.

During her extensive research about the real Australian family upon which the film was based, Barkin learned that the matriarch wore a glass eye because she had been shot in the face.

“I tried to convince John [Wells] and Jonathan to let me have a glass eye,” Barkin said during the show’s panel.

When I spoke with Robson, who played Kalf in History’s “Vikings,” he had only shot the “Animal Kingdom” pilot. He said he’s thrilled to work with Barkin and the “really incredible people” behind the new series and to inhabit a new character.

He plays middle son Craig, who is finding his position within the Cody family business.

“He’s volatile, wears his heart on his sleeve, [is] a bit of a substance abuser. He drinks; he’s up for a good time,” Robson said. “I think he’s someone who just lives for the moment and is very present in everything that he does. That’s very fun to play.”

The family has a strong bond, Robson said.

“They’re very loyal to each other and very good at what they’ve done,” he said of the Cody clan. “Otherwise they wouldn’t have been as successful as long as they have been.”

Molly Gordon stars as Nicky, J’s steady girlfriend. Daniella Alonso plays Catherine, Baz’s de facto wife and the mother of their 3-year-old daughter, Lena.

John Wells Productions produces “Animal Kingdom” in association with Warner Horizon Television. Wells and Lisco serve as executive producers along with Etan Frankel and Christopher Chulack. Wells directed the pilot from a script by Lisco. Andrew Stearn also executive-produced the pilot.

The film’s producer, Liz Watts, and writer-director, David Michôd, also serve as executive producers on the series.

Related: Jake Weary on playing DeranBen Robson on playing CraigMore fun with the stars