With each passing week, this season of ABC’s “American Crime” (from executive producer John Ridley) has raised the emotional stakes — and the conclusion of episode six (spoiler alert if you aren’t caught up) left Taylor Blaine (Connor Jessup) in even more jeopardy.
Set up by Eric Tanner (Joey Pollari), Taylor was lured for a late-night meeting but found himself targeted for a beating by the basketball team — led by Kevin LaCroix (Trevor Jackson) — who were primed for revenge.
Here, Jessup gives Variety a preview of this week’s pivotal episode, which finds Taylor ever more isolated and desperate. “It takes a pretty dark turn,” he says.
Things didn’t look good for Taylor at the end of last week’s episode.
Things are perpetually not good for Taylor. He has been building towards a breaking point the whole series. He felt so helpless and powerless and ineffective and lost and increasingly alone. He feels like he’s lost Evy (Angelique Rivera), and his relationship with his mom is the worst it’s ever been. And then with what happens at the end of episode six, it’s just piling problem on top of problem on top of problem. Episode seven is about a lot of things. But at its core, it’s about Taylor finally coming to the conclusion that it’s not going to vanish. It’s not going to disappear on its own. And he’s going to to have to do something. He’s in a very fractured and increasingly difficult mental state when he comes to that decision. That’s the direction he decides he has to go in episode seven.
How did he end up so isolated? Do you think he actively pushed people away or are people abandoning him now that he’s been outed?
There’s a bit of both. He was not the most social kid. He didn’t have a wide circle of friends or family. He led a relatively contained life. He had Evy, but now after the revelations of episode four [that he’d texted Eric], for good reason, he feels like that’s over. His mom has become so focused on what’s she doing and trying to get back at the school to defend him that she’s created this distance between them. He has no interest in that; he just wants her to let it go and forget about it. So there’s this divide that’s opened up between them. And she’s not at her best mentally. She’s showing signs of fraying. She has a history of instability. So he doesn’t feel like this is something he could or should burden on her. And his therapist is increasingly impotent. He’s given him a journal to write in. Fantastic. So part of it is his own doing and part of it is the circumstance.
He’s also showing an increasing reliance on drugs. How much does that fuel what happens?
I wouldn’t say he’s an addict, but he’s very fragile. And with what happened at the end of six, he’s also in a certain degree of physical pain on top of all of his psychological pain. I think when you get into that situation, you start look for relief of it. Drugs are an easy relief. That’s what it seems like. That’s how he get there. Obviously that doesn’t help anything. It exacerbates everything. It’s one of many unfortunate choices he makes in episode seven and forward.
How would you describe Taylor’s sexuality?
What’s interesting about Taylor to me is that there’s a fluidity to his sexuality that isn’t very represented in television. What you get presented with in television is the gay best friend, who’s very much gay, and the straight characters who are very much straight. There’s very little spectrum between the two. Taylor very much exists on this spectrum. That’s something I hadn’t put a lot of thought into but I think is important to put thought into.
How did you prepare for the challenges the scripts ask of you?
The scripts are very full-bodied. If you just show up and try your best, when you’re sitting across from people like Lili and John is sitting behind the monitor, it just comes to you. And John kept telling me how hard it was going to be. My first week was miserable, to be honest. John would tap me in the shoulder and say “it’s going to be hard. And it’s going to get more difficult,” but without any details. Which left me incredibly reassured. So the first week was a nightmare.
It’s not just about what’s on the page, but also John’s filmmaking style.
I’d been on a show for a number of years where it was a pretty solid rule where if you weren’t speaking you were not on camera. As an actor, it trains you to try to fit everything you want to do into when you’re talking. And one of the coolest things about this show is there’s a lot of time when the camera’s just sitting on you listening. It’s really rare for network TV. That for an actor is an incredible opportunity…. It’s a show that taught me how to be on it.
“American Crime” airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on ABC.