You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Shawn Hatosy on His Directing Debut in ‘Animal Kingdom’ (Guest Column)

I’m standing in the middle of a downtown Los Angeles warehouse, wearing a bulletproof vest under my wardrobe, sweating. It’s mid-May 2018. The sun is setting.

Today I’m a first-time director on production day three of eight for TNT’s “Animal Kingdom,” currently in our third season. I’m also playing the role of Pope (a complicated psycho with a heart of gold).

Loren Yaconelli, our director of photography, taps me on my shoulder and points to a wall of west facing windows. “We have an hour and thirty minutes left to film in here…”, she whispers, then hustles off. This is s–ty news. I have at least three and a half hours worth of filming to complete this scene. There’s a good chance I’m not going to make my day, and it feels like everything is riding on this moment. My future directing career? My reputation? My children’s school tuition? Things would actually get worse (damn squibs), but I’m ready for it; I’ve been preparing for this since I was 13.

Why would I want to be a director?

It was 1989. I was a curly-haired 13-year-old kid with auburn locks and my fair share of acne — the spitting image of Huckleberry Finn if he were styled by Boyz II Men (offensively busy cardigan over a turtleneck). I was as surprised as anyone when I booked a role in a Pepsi commercial. “Zip, Zero, Nada! It’s a winning deal!” Those were my first words on camera. Shakespeare it was not.

There I was, standing underneath the lights, a film crew bustling all around me. It was exciting and terrifying. What I remember most about that day (aside from the candy at crafty) was how the director communicated with me.

Director guy: Could you give me one more read, kiddo … a little less on “nada,” bigger smile on “deal.”

Me: (lost…) Hmmm-hmmm.

Countless, agonizing takes like that, my words and emotions being twisted into mindless, senseless, gibberish. I remember ending that day in my dressing room, confused, exhausted and filled with self-doubt.

Over the next 30 years, I’ve been lucky enough to continue working as an actor. I’ve had a lot of success and made a lot of mistakes. I’ve developed my career by taking scenes, dissecting them and figuring out how to make them real. Along the way I’ve collaborated with many talented and respected film, television and theater directors. Some have become my mentors. I often lean on them when I need advice and others I’ve watched closely, filing away their successful directing techniques into my toolbox.

What inspires me to direct are the ones who let me down. I hope my biggest strength will be my ability to communicate with the actors and crew in a creative language that we all understand, unlike my experience on that Pepsi commercial.

You only get one first time.

Back in Los Angeles, the sun is setting and this warehouse is Swiss cheese. The scene I’m directing is a cinematic chess match, a climactic confrontation between the Cody Family led by Smurf (Ellen Barkin), squaring off against Lucy (Carolina Guerra) and their rival gang. It ultimately goes sideways resulting in tragic consequences for both families.

Kim from make-up wipes sweat from my forehead, giving me an actor touch-up, which reminds me, for the briefest moment, that I’m also still acting. I’m going over some last minute blocking with the cast, I’m using Hot Wheels and pieces from the game Sorry I raided from my kid’s closet to map out the choreography (a trick I learned from Michael Mann.)

Barkin and I get into a thoughtful discussion about whether or not Smurf should also have a gun like the rest of her boys. It’s not scripted that way, but she makes a strong case for why she believes her character should have a gun. Her point is one that I have to seriously consider.

I take a moment. I’m in a location I selected, working with an incredibly talented cast, three cameras and a techno crane. I blocked this scene and I’ve been thinking about how to photograph it for weeks. I read it on a piece of paper and I’m bringing my vision for it to life. Sure, this will end up being my worst day as a director, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. I watch this crew that I’ve become so close to over the years busting their asses, each stepping up in a big way. The level of support I feel gives me an overwhelming sense of pride.

My attention lands back on Smurf.

I’m not looking at Ellen Barkin. The woman I see before me is Smurf, standing near some lights. She’s facing me, back lit.

What an image of power, I think to myself. She just embodies it, her posture, the way she holds her head up. The stillness. Her black leather jacket catches the light and she looks more fierce than I’ve ever seen her.

I go to her, and say “Ellen, in the world of ‘Animal Kingdom’ there is no character more powerful than Smurf. She doesn’t need a gun. She’s not afraid of anything or anyone. She is Queen.”

(And yes, I made my day… minus a few shots.)

Shawn Hatosy stars in “Animal Kingdom.” He makes his directorial debut with the episode that airs tonight, August 7.

More TV

  • Disney Channel Fires 'Andi Mack' Actor

    Disney Channel Fires 'Andi Mack' Actor Arrested for Plotting Sex With Minor

    Disney Channel has severed ties with “Andi Mack” actor Stoney Westmoreland following his arrest for allegedly trying to arrange a sexual encounter with a 13-year-old. “Stoney Westmoreland, an actor working on the series ‘Andi Mack,’ was arrested in Salt Lake City today,” a Disney Channel spokesperson said in a statement Friday. “Given the nature of [...]

  • Russian Doll

    TV News Roundup: Natasha Lyonne's 'Russian Doll' Sets Netflix Premiere Date

    On Friday’s roundup, Netflix announces the premiere date for “Russian Doll” and Benedict Cumberbatch’s “Brexit” film has a premiere date on HBO FIRST LOOKS Showtime has released a new teaser for the upcoming comedy series, “Black Monday,” which will premiere Sunday, Jan. 20 at 10 p.m. ET/PT. The series stars and is executive produced by Don [...]

  • Vanity Fair Review

    TV Review: 'Vanity Fair'

    There’s something comforting about the predictability of a period piece novel adaptation in the Masterpiece Theater tradition. Knowing the story, or even just the rhythms of the genre, there are rarely many surprises. The women will toss off witticisms and cry careful, pretty tears; the men will steel their jaws and declare their love, ideally [...]

  • FILE - In this April 5,

    CBS Claims Commitment to Ending Harassment. Its Actions Say Otherwise (Column)

    At this point, a new breaking sexual harassment case at CBS isn’t exactly a surprise. Over and over again, powerful CBS company men from producers to executives to the ex-CEO himself have made headlines for propagating decades of harassment and abuse, with dozens of witnesses affirming that the pattern was business as usual. But as [...]

  • Willow ShieldsVariety Portrait Studio, Beautycon Festival

    'Hunger Games' Alum Willow Shields Joins Netflix Drama Series 'Spinning Out'

    Willow Shields has been cast in a series regular role in “Spinning Out,” the upcoming ice skating drama series at Netflix. She joins a cast that also includes Kaya Scodelario, who was announced as the series lead on Thursday, taking over the role originally held by Emma Roberts. Shields will star as Serena, Kat Baker’s (Scodelario) [...]

  • Adam Levine Cardi B

    Maroon 5 and How the Super Bowl Halftime Show Became Music's Least Wanted Gig

    Who would have thought that the Super Bowl Halftime show, an American institution watched by more than 100 million people, would become the least wanted gig in music? But thanks to the ongoing controversy concerning the NFL’s stance on a player’s right to protest, brought to the forefront by football’s top conscientious objector Colin Kaepernick, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content