8 Things You Should Know About Sundance Channel’s New Series ‘The Red Road’

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Sundance Channel is ready to premiere its new original series, The Red Road, tonight, but before you delve into this exciting drama, here are a few things you should know about the show.

These were collected at the Television Critics Association (TCA) Winter Tour, where cast members Martin Henderson (Harold Jensen), Jason Momoa (Phillip Kopus), Julianne Nicholson (Jean Jensen), and Tamara Tunie (Marie), alongs with creator/co-executive producer Aaron Guzikowski and executive producer Bridget Carpenter made an appearance.

Inspiration

When asked about his inspiration for the story, Guzikowski shared, “I think originally I had learned about the tribe. I lived in New York City for some time, and I had known about them, and I started reading articles and became interested in them. But I also had a lot of just ideas for different kinds of stories I wanted to tell about families, kind of thriller-type stories that have to do with just human relationships that this seemed like the perfect setting for, and that was kind of the order in terms of creatively putting it all together. And then I created these characters and then eventually teamed up with Bridget and we just started trying to parcel it all out and find the right way through.”

The Look/Feel

Speaking about the series and its feel, Guzikowski explained “I think we tried to make a show that was very cinematic where every episode is — you get sort of the full experience of watching a feature film-type thriller, and I think Sundance was very attuned to that sort of goal, and they were really great to work with on this.”

Meet Harold

Speaking about Harold, Henderson said, “You know on the surface when we meet Harold at the beginning of the series, there’s a sense of had — what happened at the end of Episode 1 when Jean hits the kid, that his life is sort of ticking along fine, but what we then realize is that in his past, there’s an event that he regretfully chose to lie about. He has skeletons that have been pretty much dead and buried, but the culmination of the hitting of the kid and then Kopus (Tom Sizemore) coming back into town sets off a chain of events.”

He added, “He’s haunted at the beginning of the show, but the ghosts become awakened by him coming back and his past revisiting and his mistakes, so he’s in this position where he has to fight for his life and defend what he loves, which is his family, and that the deal he then makes with Kopus is a deal with the devil, and so he’s compromised so he makes decisions that corrupts him. And he has to live with that. But he’s doing it, in his mind, for good reasons.
And I think that’s what makes him, like all of the characters, very three-dimensional and interesting. You look at them and you can’t readily judge them for being good or bad, and I think in a typical cop thriller, which this certainly is not, it’s pretty easy to identify with the good guys and the bad guys, whereas that line is continually being blurred, and as a viewer, and as an actor, you’re constantly trying to figure out where that line is, and it makes it very interesting to play because you’re not just playing the good guy, you know?
So I’ve personally really loved this role and getting to explore some darker stuff too. There’s a lot of themes that come up in this show about guilt and shame, but all encapsulated in love.”

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Meet Phillip

When asked about what attracted him to the role of Phillip, Momoa shared, “As an actor, you don’t really want to have too many limitations on what you want to play. I have been very fortunate to have played fantasy and sci-fi. It’s fun because there are no limitations in this worlds. When this came along, much in the same way that “Game of Thrones,” when Drogo came up, I was like, “This is my role. This is perfectly made for me.” He added, “So, Phillip, there’s a lot of things in my own personal life that I want to explore, and I wasn’t raised like this guy, so it was really challenging as an actor. It’s definitely the most challenging thing I’ve ever done.”

In terms of research, Momoa explained, “I actually went to go study with the Ramapoughs, and the character’s extremely interesting because being Hawaiian, being born there and being removed from there, and I was raised in Iowa, my character, even though I am native, wasn’t raised in it as much. And in this, I’m raised by a drug lord named [Jack Kopus (Tom Sizemore)] as my dad, and even though I’m native, my character is kind of a lone wolf, just because he is that, the tribe doesn’t really like him.
You can just see how this character was created by the choices he’s taken, and he’s not all that bad, but I wanted to represent the tribe right. So going there, putting images in my head to have as a home, and then leave that home and be in prison for six years and come back there, it’s like he’s almost finding his roots again. You don’t see it at first, but as it continues on, he’s going to slowly unite with the tribe, not necessarily because he chose it, but it’s going to find him again, and I think that’s interesting to stretch him.”

Meet Jean

Nicholson grew up in a house with her mom and stepfather in western Massachusetts, with no electricity or running water for seven years. While this familiarized her with the world of The Red Road, her character, Jean, and her journey, is a bit different than hers.

Nicholson said:

“My character grew up with more privilege. Now she’s more working class, married to a cop and raising her family. Her dad’s a politician and they live in a beautiful home. And so yes, I understand that world, but that didn’t really come to play for Jean so much. And she is struggling. She’s heard voices for about 17 years, and she’s never admitted it to anyone and actually has taken the road of claiming that she’s an alcoholic because she feels easier with that as the definition.”

Nicholson also did some research, “I read a lot about schizophrenia, and I was surprised by how many people actually on our production that had people with schizophrenia in their families, where people shared a lot of personal stories with me. And I was very relieved to know that it looks different on everyone, which made me feel a little more relaxed and gave me a freedom to just sort of use these beautiful words and my imagination and what I read and heard and create her version of that. And I just loved the script. It leapt off the page. It’s my hardest role I’ve ever played, also, the more exciting.”

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Meet Marie

Jason Momoa is not the only one who felt a deep connection to his character, Tamara Tunie was also very attracted to the role of Marie. She said:

“Like Jason, when I read the script and I saw the role of Marie, I completely wanted to grab ahold of that character and play that role, because Marie’s character, and her ancestry is very similar to my own in real life. I have Native American blood. I have African blood. I have European blood. And so it was the first time that a role was presented to me that actually completely embraced my entire DNA makeup, so I was really excited, and I loved the script, and I was very excited about being able to embrace that part of my heritage and be able to portray that on screen.”

The Tribe

In order to get their fictional tribe to feel true, they met with a tribe and hired a consultant who helped them make the world feel as authentic as possible.

Guzikowski explained, “We had a good relationship with the tribe, and not so much them kind of dictating to us what was real and what wasn’t, but just kind of a conversation that I think creatively inspired us.”

Carpenter added, “we worked with a consultant named Autumn Wind Scott. She’s Native American. She’s a member of the Ramapough tribe. We have an excellent relationship with her and with the tribe, and one of the ways that we worked with her was that she would read scripts. She would flag things or bring our attention to things that did not ring true, that were not authentic, to the experience. We would look at those moments. We would have a creative discussion, and we would address them.”

Fun Fact

Carpenter admitted that she wasn’t able to keep her poker face during Nicholson’s audition and really teared up, which she rarely does.

The Red Road premieres on Sundance Channel tonight, February 27th, at _____ .