Exclusive Interview: Hulu’s Battleground Series Star Jay Hayden Talks About His Character Tak, Upcoming Episodes, Crazy Production Schedule and Homeland


How far would you go to win?

That question is one that is constantly asked to the Chris ‘Tak’ Davis, the principal character of the new Hulu original series Battleground, a workplace dramedy set in the world of political campaigns, which premieres today with its first episode. Taking place in Wisconsin, Battleground follows Tak, played the very charismatic Jay Hayden, the head campaign strategist trying to win a Senate seat for his candidate.

TV Equals had the chance to talk to Jay about what drew him to his character Tak, what is coming up in future episodes and why Homeland is his favorite show on TV. Check out what he had to say below and don’t forget to watch Battleground which starting today will be available every Tuesday on Hulu with the first episode already live (Bonus: Scroll at the bottom of the article to watch the first episode embedded)

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How would you describe this series to someone who’s never heard of it?

Jay Hayden: That’s a good question. I think I would say the show is about campaigning. It is a show about elections. It’s not just a show about politics. It’s a show about relationships and personal and professional loss, sacrifice. It’s about the roller-coaster ride that goes on behind the scenes of someone trying to get elected. The show doesn’t fit into a perfect little box, like, ‘This is a comedy or this is a drama.’ It’s something else. It’s got it’s own unique voice which is a lot of fun.

You play Chris Davis, also known as Tak. Who is Tak?

Jay Hayden: Tak is the guy who grew up in the shadow of his father. His father is a famous head campaign strategist who has done campaign strategy for presidents and congressmen. He – without a mom – grew up watching his dad run campaigns. Then from an early age he was a volunteer and then a strategist with his dad until something happened and he kind of moved away from that. Then he picked the career back up, but in a different way. Instead of following his dad’s lead he’ll only work for people that he believes in and not just believes in professionally, on the platforms that they run on, but ethically and morally, people that he feels are sound. For some reason he can’t work for people that he doesn’t believe in anymore.

What attracted you to that role?

Jay Hayden: Well, he struggles with a lot. He struggles with knowing what the right decision is and struggling with not being able to make that decision sometimes. He struggles with morality and ethics. He struggles a lot personally. He’s got a lot going on in his personal life that’s taken a backseat to his professional life which is tough. Men of our age, it’s different than when our fathers were men. They got a job and they brought home the food and they ran the household and in the twenty first century, our generation, being a man and juggling work and being a father and being the man of the household, that definition has changed a lot. Tak struggles with that and he struggles with being a leader and making the right decisions for people that look up to him when he feels like he’s not someone that should be looked up to. So, there’s a lot of things in this role that I really wanted to dig into my own soul and figure out anyways. I was very attracted to the role.

The show really feels authentic, like you’re following a campaign. How does the show accomplish that and did you feel it while you were shooting it?

Jay Hayden: What’s funny is our shooting schedule was crazy. We shot the thirteen episodes and a week of rehearsal in two months flat. So, we were out in Madison, Wisconsin and it really did feel like just in a campaign where it’s twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. You eat, breathe and live the campaign and you live with these people. You work with these people and you live with these people. We had the same experience. As a cast and a crew we did everything together and we were all staying in the same tiny little hotel in the middle of nowhere in Wisconsin together. So, we felt what it was to be campaign because everyday was a crazy, hectic day with, of course as you know happens on any set, problems arise. Something happens. Something goes wrong. We lose a location. We have to juggle this. So, the craziness of a campaign in the story was reflected as well in just the set life everyday. So, I felt like we did really experience the campaign as we were shooting it.

The cast seems to have a great chemistry, like you’ve known each other for years. Did the environment that you described helped the chemistry?

Jay Hayden: I will admit, because in other things that I do, you book a role and they expect you to show up on the day and be prepared and be an awesome actor and ready, set, go. The production felt very strongly that they wanted to get us out to Madison as a group and have a week of rehearsal. Coming from a stage background I was like, ‘That’s all well and good, but in terms of scheduling we should start shooting.’ But they felt very strongly that we needed a week of rehearsal, and I’ll always admit it when I’m wrong. I was wrong.

The week of rehearsal was amazing. It helped us build chemistry together. We got very comfortable with each other. The director and Hulu and the producers were also really great about letting us improv off the script at times. Once we were comfortable with the material and jumped through this world and got inside of it, the improvs that we were coming up with seemed to flow right into the story a lot. They didn’t have to be, like, ‘Well, that kind of doesn’t work.’ It all started to work, and so by the time that week of rehearsal was over it was kind of like we were already a kind of family. Those kind of deep relationships came out in what you see on the show.

What can viewers expect to see this season on the show?

Jay Hayden: As you know from the first episode Tak struggles. He basically struggles with the urge that his dad set inside of him to win, to win at all costs, no matter what. As you know he meets that character, Ben, who’s kind of the canary in the coal mine in the show, basically. The good parts of Tak that might not be there anymore or might be hidden deep, Tak sees a lot of himself, the good parts of himself in Ben.

So, their relationship will kind of be put to the test throughout the season in terms of moral and ethical situations that come up that demand a decision. Are you going to do something the right way, or are you going to do something that at the end of the day you might not be so proud to say that you did? I think that you’re also going to see professional relationships become a little personal between the volunteers and the people that work for the campaign. I think that you’re going to see a lot of problems, putting out a lot of fires throughout the season. You’re definitely going to see Tak interact with his father, played by Ray Wise.

He’s really good.

Jay Hayden: And he was such a pleasure to work with. That guy was great. I mean, I couldn’t have had more fun with him.

The series does a good job of not divulging if the candidate is liberal or conservative. Was that on purpose?

Jay Hayden: Well, yes. I think I would say, the thing is that the show is about the group, the campaign team. The show of course deals with the candidate and in this case her election, but I think the director and the producers and the creator of the show, J.D. Walsh, really wanted to make sure that the audience was onboard with the fact that the show was not about politics and the person running so much as it was about the people that believed in that candidate that was willing to sacrifice so much personally and professionally and do whatever it took to get them elected.

Do we ever know?

Jay Hayden: I think so.

At some point someone says something, right?

Jay Hayden: I’m pretty sure that she’s running for the democratic primary seat for the senate. I’m almost positive, but I don’t know if it’s ever blatantly said, honestly.

There’s a portion of the series where each character gets a confessional, or at least in the first two, but not your character. Do we ever see you like that?

Jay Hayden: That is a definite intentional thing that I can’t talk about. That’s one thing that I can’t talk about. Yes. They do not interview Tak. They are looking back however many years in the future, in these interviews. They’re looking back upon this campaign sometimes with affection, sometimes with a little dismay. Sometimes with regret. Sometimes with happiness. But they’re looking back on this and currently in these interviews you don’t hear from Tak.

Do you have any other upcoming projects?

Jay Hayden: Right now I’m doing a lot for Hulu in terms of promoting the show. I think that they would rather me be taking a seat on the bench and waiting for the show instead of jumping on to another series. So, right now I’m finishing my pilot that I wrote with my writing partner, Jay Malone. We’re doing our sketch comedy news show, ‘Rapid Fire Tabloid News,’ and just working on that right now. I’m also a father. So, spending two and a half months in Wisconsin away from my three year old girl I have some daddy/daughter time to make up.

If you could guest star on any other show on TV right now which one would it be?

Jay Hayden: I would have to say ‘Homeland.’ I really like that show. I really like Damian Lewis. ‘Friday Night Lights’ isn’t on anymore so I can’t say that. I think I’d go with ‘Homeland’ right now. I love the premise of the show. I love the idea of a main character where you don’t know if they’re an antagonist or a protagonist. I love that and I think in a very slight way there’s a little bit of a parallel to our show in that way.

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Curious about the series? Watch the first episode below: