Octavia E. Butler’s spectacular sci-fi novel comes to life in the new FX series Kindred, which premiered on Hulu. The 8-episode first season was adapted by showrunner Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, who spent several years vying for the opportunity. The seminal work of fiction is about time travel, but it’s also a raw look at America’s legacy of slavery and how its effects have endured to the present day. Of course, when Butler wrote the novel, it was in the ’70s, so Jacobs-Jenkins updated the half-century modern script.
Kindred follows Dana James (prowess played by newcomer Mallori Johnson), an aspiring writer who recently moved to Los Angeles for a fresh start. However, her family does not welcome her with open arms and she finds herself violently dragged into the harsh environment of an Antebellum plantation. As she travels back and forth in time, she learns that the cruel Weylins (played by Gayle Rankin of GLOW and Ryan Kwanten of True Blood) are bonded to her in ways she never could have imagined.
. spoke to Rankin and Kwanten about Thomas and Margaret’s deeply unhappy marriage, their own connection to the Kindred source material, and the time period they would travel to if they had to choose.
Gayle Rankin and Ryan Kwanten in Kindred
.: Did any of you know Kindred when you first took on this role? What struck you the most in the script’s interpretation of the story?
Ryan Kwanten: Familiar, yes, but in the sense that you read something once and it affects you. But when you live and breathe characters like us, you want to dive a little deeper. So you read it again, and you take notes with your highlight, and you kind of get what you need out of it.
We were lucky in this case that it was almost an embarrassment of riches to have the book as a resource, but then to have Branden who so wonderfully and beautifully channeled Octavia’s work into eight hours of gripping television. And his dialogue was so easy to learn. This for me is always a catch point; if I can learn a lot of dialogue in a short time, that usually means the character is speaking through me. And Branden has such beautiful lyrical prose for him; it was a real treat.
Gayle, aside from who your characters are and your position in society, House Weylin doesn’t seem very happy. How does Margaret feel about her respective position in this household, given her husband and his relationship with their son?
Gayle Rankin: I think she feels really unstable. She is a rather unbalanced, unstable, unmoored woman. And she reacts like this. She is a bit lost. You meet her at obviously different stages of her life, depending on how absorbed she is and [what] they crossed together as a couple and as a family. It’s interesting, where we leave it at the end of the season, where it arrives and where it is pushed.
Ryan, while the Weylins’ way of treating slaves is obviously unconscionable, it’s interesting that Rufus mentions, “He doesn’t treat me that much better.” He also treats his family like property to some extent. What is his deal?
Ryan Kwanten: I think he has more affinity with ownership; to the plantation itself as a piece of land than he does to its inhabitants, including his family. And it’s a bit of a sad situation. It comes from a man too proud to see the error of his ways.
His own righteousness gets in his way, and he’s about as flawed as it gets. But he shows bravery for the good of society, and even for the good of his son. He has yet to believe that his son is capable of continuing this legacy he is building so vehemently. He can’t help but think that Margaret is etching this legacy, and not in a good way, [which] favors a lot in family fights. And then you have the addition of this enigma that is Dana that also throws a spanner in the works, so Tom is like a wrecking ball.
I loved Sheila in GLOW, but I didn’t recognize you in Kindred at first. It’s so different, and you totally lose yourself in the role. What spoke to you about the role?
Gayle Rankin: That’s good. Yeah, I kind of think that’s my business card. I’m just responding to the material; to the character. I don’t think there is any guideline or anything in the choices presented to me, because I’m so lucky to be able to do that. It’s such a privilege, especially this kind of project, so I was thrilled to transform. We’re both very different on the show, and I bleached my eyebrows. It was great.
Ryan Kwanten: You’ve done more than that. It was amazing. It was really amazing to play with her. There was so much fun to be had between the dialogues.
There’s this great scene where Kevin is teaching our son Rufus to play the piano, and Rufus is giving this performance for the first time. The time came to decide where our characters want to sit, and we said, “Well, let’s put them together on the two-piece couch.” We just have to figure out how we will sit during these 15 to 20 minutes that pass; understanding that physics dynamics was so much fun. She’s also kind of a physical extraordinaire. If there are eight people on screen, your eyes are naturally drawn to Gayle. She just has that X factor.
Gayle Rankin: I feel the same for him. It’s fun to find a good partner and work with an actor who looks like, “Oh, it’s really nice not to feel so weird. “We have such a different dynamic, which is really nice.
Obviously being trapped in a moment when you have no way out of where you are being treated very badly is not the idea of a good time. But if you could, for educational purposes, see another time period or place first-hand, what would it be?
Gayle Rankin: Maybe that would scare me, but in a way, I would like to get a glimpse of the future. I’m just going to be a bit general because I have a lot of fear about it and a lot of concern, but I think it’s coming from a place of hope.
Ryan Kwanten: Yeah, probably the 70s for me. A small musical revolution.
As Dana, a young black woman and aspiring writer, begins to settle into her new home, she finds herself pulled back and forth in time, emerging on a 19th-century plantation and confronting secrets she did not know how to cross his blood.
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All 8 episodes of Kindred are currently streaming on Hulu.
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Kindred Stars discuss their twisted family dynamic | Pretty Reel
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