When Todd A. Kessler premiered Damages with his brother Glenn Kessler and writing partner Daniel Zelman, the show opened with a bang.
“Damages had the elevator doors, Rose Byrne exits and starts running bloodied through the streets before we cut to six months earlier and she is interviewing as a job for a lawyer. By the end of the Pilot it looked like she had killed her fiancé who is dead in a bathtub,” he recalls.
But in the new thriller Bloodline, the plan was to have the story creep up on the viewer more ambiguously. That makes it a prime candidate for the binge-friendly, slow-burn of Netflix, launching in Australia today.
The series stars Kyle Chandler, Sam Shepard, Sissy Spacek, Ben Mendelsohn and Norbert Leo Butz as a dysfunctional family living in Florida, whose ‘black sheep’ son returns home.
“We intentionally have the first episode like the first 20 minutes of a movie. If you think about a film like Fatal Attraction, in the first movement of a thriller you are in the characters’ lives,” he says.
“So we are intending for the audience to draw their own conclusions and experience people in different situations, hear the siblings repeat themselves about dynamics within the family.
“Our experience of family is that things are said over and over again. You can not see your family for 2 years then you come back for a holiday dinner and you’re talking about the same thing.
“And you realise those conversations have been happening since high school or even before then.
“The experience of Bloodline is you’re dropped into this family setting and you see the characters and what’s going on in their lives, then the thriller and the plot kicks in.
“So we understand it’s a start to a series where there aren’t shows that are telling stories like this, right now. It’s one of the things that is intriguing to us.”
Kessler references other films including Body Heat, Cape Fear, Crime and Punishment as inspiration and says there are hints in the opening episodes that warn of bigger revelations to come.
“It definitely takes off and takes you to a place which by the end of the series is strikingly different from where it began,” he explains.
“Giving those hints we’re signalling to the audience that this is going to take you to a place that’s unexpected. We had a lot of conversations internally about ‘Do we need to give those hints? What would an audience think if those hints weren’t there?’
“Structurally because there’s a large ensemble, the series is constructed so that there’s a lot of storytelling in the first episode with Danny (Mendolsohn) and John (Chandler), the second episode the brother Kevin (Butz) has a lot more and the third the character of Meg played by Linda Cardellini has more. By the fourth episode it starts to even out.”
Kessler was drawn to Ben Mendelsohn’s work principally by Animal Kingdom. While he has appeared in US roles in Girls and various films, Bloodline could be about to catapult him to a wide audience.
“He has such a tremendous capacity for vulnerability and sensitivity, but there’s also this menace to him. The family sees him as the ‘black sheep’ but his friend doesn’t. So Ben is a master at wearing different hats for different people within the character’s life,” he insists.
“Also for Americans he’s not as well-known so there is a ‘newness’ of discovery. Kyle Chandler is very beloved in the States for Friday Night Lights, as are Sam Shepard and Sissy Spacek.
“But his time of not being well-known is basically over with the launch of Bloodline in the States and Worldwide as of last Friday.
“It’s similar to James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano. He was not such a well-known actor and it allowed the story in many ways to feel real because he was lesser-known.
“We’re so thrilled to have him as part of this.”
Bloodline is now streaming on Netflix.