Toward the end of the first season of Patriot, the hilariously morbid series from Steve Conrad, intelligence officer John Tavner (Michael Dorman) botches his covert operation in Milwaukee for a variety of silly reasons. One of the more significant ones, at least in the eyes of his boss and father Tom Tavner (Terry O’Quinn), is “doobies.” “That’s what started all of this,” he chastises the increasingly depressed John while driving late at night. “Because you were smoking on the weed.” It’s one of many equally ludicrous scenes from Patriot season 2, all of which begins streaming this week on Amazon Prime. Metro spoke to O’Quinn, best known for his performance as John Locke in Lost, ahead of Friday’s Patriot season 2 premiere.
Lost star Terry O’Quinn on Patriot season 2 and what makes him laugh
Was this your first big experience with a more comedic role?
It was the first experience that was, as you would say, “comedic,” although that’s not how any of us approached it. I think the way it’s written is kind of brilliant because you don’t ever do anything in an effort to be funny. You simply play it as straight as you can. I think the situations that Steve creates are darkly funny. Sometimes, I think you’re a little shocked at what you’re laughing at. I think it’s bizarre. I’ve talked to a few people who are involved in intelligence and those operations don’t always go smoothly, and sometimes it’s almost funny because of it. If life or death weren’t involved, it could be perceived as funny. So we can sit at a distance and laugh at these things, but it reality these aren’t necessarily the nicest people in the world.
What was your first impression of your character, Tom?
My first impression was that he was the director of intelligence for some unnamed American government arm or agency. Steve told me the bare facts, and even when I read it, it didn’t strike me as all that funny. That’ just something about his work and the way he operates. It often has to do with the way this thing is shot, which is pretty remarkable. Sometimes the shot itself is funny. How Jim Whitaker, the director of photography, and Steve decide to set up these shots is often funny, but without being self-consciously funny.
Family plays a big part in Patriot. Tom is John’s father. He also has a brother who just so happens to be a politician, and season two introduces his mother Bernice, a government official played by Debra Winger. In many ways, it’s a family dramedy dropped in the middle of nefarious covert operations. I suspect that dynamic is where much of the “shock” you speak of comes from.
I think the familial aspect is a big part of Steve’s makeup. In some of his work, family, redemption and being lost or saved play a huge role. These are themes that run through much of his work, and it’s certainly evident in this. We haven’t been saved yet, but let’s hope we all get a chance to be, at least. Plus, Steve brought a great group of people together for this. He put a cast together that is happy, interactive, professional and a pleasure to work with. It’s another one of his many gifts. I can quite honestly say that, if I could spend the rest of my career just working with these people on a project like this, I’d be perfectly satisfied.
Steve does a lot on Patriot, be it writing, directing, producing or even working on the musical score. As an actor, what’s that experience been like, working with a showrunner who does a little bit of everything?
It gave me a complete sense of confidence. A lot of times you think that you have to paint the picture, so the director gives you some paint, the writer gives you some words to say, then the cinematographer and many others help filter it all through to the final product. With Steve, it all goes through one filter. You’re basically the paint and he’s doing the painting. You can, of course, add the subtlety of the colors that are available to him, and he encourages that, but he’s very particular about what he wants to see. I thought it would be stifling at first, but it was actually reassuring. I felt very safe with what I was giving to him and the project.
You literally just answered this before I could ask it, but having had this experience, is this the kind of work that you want to do more so now? Whether it’s more seasons of Patriot or a similar project in the future?
I would absolutely like to do more work like this. As I said, I would like to keep doing this. If we could have another 10 seasons of this, I’d be pretty happy. I can probably settle down and put my feet up, but I would absolutely love to do more like this. It’s so wonderfully written. I was at a writers conference recently, and anytime anyone asked me what I like most about a job, or at least what attracts me to a job, my first answer is always the writing. After that comes the part, the cast, the director and all of those other things. But my first answer is always the writing. The fact that Steve has written this so that it can be acted straight but funny is so unique. It’s remarkable that I can sit there and go, “Wait a minute, I just laughed at somebody getting thrown in front of a bus.”
Patriot season 2 streams Friday on Amazon Prime.