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Ozark Boss Tackles Killer Final Season Mystery: Is
Really Dead?
By Michael Ausiello

If a TV character dies but you don’t actually see the death are they really, truly dead? When it comes to the off screen murder of Wendy’s troubled brother Ben in Ozark‘s third season, the answer is an unequivocal (and unfortunate) yes.

During the Netflix drama’s Virtual PaleyFest panel, showrunner Chris Mundy quickly, regrettably shot down the fan theory that Tom Pelphrey’s dearly departed alter ego may still be alive. “I love the fact that people love [Ben] enough to come up with that theory,” he said. “I wish it were true. But it ain’t true.”

Mundy added that Ozark‘s relatively high body count has become “a weird double-edged sword” storytelling-wise in that, “The deaths wouldn’t matter if the [actors] weren’t so good and they didn’t care so much.”

Mundy went on to hint that Marty and Wendy’s complicity in the execution of Ben will heighten the stakes as Ozark heads into its fourth and final season. “I think you’re gonna learn what they want their endgame to be,” he teased. “And they’re going to have to reckon with it a little bit… If they’re trying to [find] an out, they’ve got to figure out if that’s what they want. And, if so, what’s the version of it that they want?”

 

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‘Ozark’ Showrunner Chris Mundy Hints At “End Game” Storyline For Final Season — PaleyFest LA
By Jake Kanter

Ozark showrunner Chris Mundy has dropped a small hint about what’s in store for the fourth and final season of the Netflix series when it returns to screens for a two-halve run.

Speaking during a pre-recorded online session for PaleyFest LA, Mundy said the fourth season marks the final chapter in the Byrde family’s journey from suburban Chicago life to their criminal enterprise in the Ozarks.

He told fans: “You’re going to learn what they want their end game to be, and they’re going to have to reckon with it a little bit. There’s that great scene between Laura [Linney] and Tom [Pelphrey] when they’re in the megastore parking lot in the car, and there’s a line Miki Johnson wrote, when Wendy says [something] like: ‘When you’ve been running for your life, everything else seems exceedingly dull.’

“If they’re (Marty and Wendy) trying to look to see if there’s an out, they’ve got to figure out if that’s what they want, and if so, what’s the version of it that they want. Then reckoning with that after so much chaos — that’s going to bubbling under the surface.”

Bateman plays Marty Byrde, a financial advisor-turned-money launderer for a Mexican drug cartel, who moves to the Lake of the Ozarks to make good for the cartel. Linney stars as his wife Wendy, who becomes wrapped up in a series of schemes, including casino operations, in Season 3.

Produced by MRC Television, Ozark is a slow-burning hit for Netflix with a loyal fan base — some of whom have spent time concocting theories about the death of Tom Pelprhey’s character Ben Davis in the third season. Some think that because his death was not shown on screen, he may still be alive.

But Mundy quashed the rumors. “I love the fact that people love the character enough to come up with that theory. I wish it were true, but it ain’t true,” he said. But Linney couldn’t resist a playful dig at the showrunner during the PaleyFest session, joking: “Isn’t that what they said about Jon Snow?”

Jason Bateman, who stars in and directs the series, said Season 3 benefited from the lockdown, which helped it rack up just under 30M views in the first four weeks after its March 27 premiere. He said: “We had a captive audience. Like people watching on an airplane, you gotta watch it.”

The drama, which launched in 2017, has scored 14 Emmy nominations with two wins, to date, for Jason Bateman for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series and for Julia Garner for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series and a nomination for Outstanding Drama Series. It is executive produced by Bateman, Mundy, Mark Williams, John Shiban, Patrick Markey and Bill Dubuque. Linney will also be a co-executive producer for Season 4.

 

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"She Sticks Her Finger Right Into the Socket": How 'Ozark' Star Julia Garner Became a Scene-Stealer and Emmy Favorite

Nominated for her second best supporting actress award, the 26-year-old reveals the angst of not acting during lockdown, what happened when she met the imprisoned real-life subject of her coming Netflix show from Shonda Rhimes, and how she became one of TV's most sought-after young actresses.
It was a failed audition for a Nickelodeon show at age 15 that steered Julia Garner toward her ultimate fate. Garner had recently begun taking acting classes to help overcome her shyness, and thought she'd try to book some roles. On her third or fourth audition, "The casting director stopped me in the middle," Garner says. "She was like, 'Honey, you're great, but you shouldn't be here.' I've never been stopped in the middle. I was like, 'Excuse me?' "

Garner is recounting the story over Zoom from a makeshift music studio in her home near Lake Hollywood in early August, shortly after she was nominated for her second Emmy for her performance on Netflix's Ozark. Behind her are two keyboards that belong to her husband, Mark Foster, the lead singer of the band Foster the People, and just outside the door her English bulldog, Biz, is snoring. Today, the 26-year-old, Bronx-born actress is most known to audiences as Ozark's best-loved character, swaggering Ruth Langmore, a poor young woman who wields improbable power in a criminal family full of men. It's an outsider's role that makes the most of Garner's electric delivery, her pale skin and tight blond curls.

But back in that New York casting office, all her teen awkwardness was going to waste. "[The casting director] is like, 'You should do independent films,' " Garner says. "I was too natural maybe in terms of acting. I was just too weird-looking. When you think about teen actors, you think of them having this gorgeous, luscious hair and being so pretty that you're like, 'You would never be the shy girl in high school.' I was definitely not [the luscious hair girl]. My style, it's still the same. It's been the same since I was 6 years old, which is a black turtleneck."

Eleven years after that audition, Garner has crafted the kind of career that capitalizes on her distinctive talent, one in which her daring, naturalistic performances often leave viewers wondering, as her director on The Assistant, Kitty Green, thought after seeing her on The Americans, "Who is that kid?" In The Assistant, which Bleecker Street released early this year, Garner almost wordlessly holds the screen as a subordinate to a powerful, abusive Harvey Weinstein-like industry figure. In her next meaty role, she'll play con artist Anna Delvey in the upcoming Shonda Rhimes Netflix series Inventing Anna.

Lately Garner has been adjusting to her new public profile, one that is only higher after Ozark's third season received a viewership boost thanks to the timing of its release, March 27, just as homebound audiences were beginning months of lockdown-induced binge-watching (according to Netflix's first-quarter earnings report, 29 million members watched the show in its first four weeks).

After winning the Emmy for Ozark last year, this time Garner is nominated for a season in which Ruth revealed a sensitive new side in a love affair, even as she plotted and spat out obscenities, including a memorable showdown in which she called Laura Linney's darkly maternal Wendy a "bitchwolf." Ozark collected a total of 18 Emmy nominations this year, including nods for drama series, actress for Linney and actor for Jason Bateman.

"Julia throws herself into her work with an abandon," Linney says. "She doesn't even remember what she's done after they yell cut. You can see her face morph in ways that you cannot do if you're self-conscious. She sticks her finger right into the socket."

For Garner, becoming so lost in a scene that she forgets what she's done on a take is the goal. "I never like the feeling of remembering a scene, because that means that I wasn't present," she says. "If you're hearing yourself talk, you're not listening. It's the same thing when you're acting. If I remember what I did on a take, I ask to do it again."

Garner's first act of reckless abandon on Ozark was an audition in front of a casting assistant in a small New York office in 2016. Ruth doesn't appear in the show's pilot, so Garner was given a mock scene to perform, a monologue that she delivers to her character's cousin, Charlie Tahan's Wyatt, about Ruth wanting a better life for him. "I remember thinking, 'Oh my God, this character is amazing,' " Garner says. " 'There's so much to it. If I don't get this, I don't think I can watch this show.' And I don't think like that. I'm usually like, 'One bus comes, one bus goes, try to get on the next bus.' This time, I was like, 'I've got to get on that bus.' "

Garner had recently made a film with a Missouri accent (Tomato Red) and figured she'd use it on the audition. But when she arrived, she overheard through the casting office's paper-thin walls that none of the other young actresses there that day were reading with an accent. "I was like, oh my God, I'm going to be that actor that is super annoying, so actory," Garner says. She tried to drop the inflection and found she couldn't remember her lines without it, so she delivered the scene in full-bore Ozark-ese. Walking out, she called her mom, dejected, and said, "Yeah, I'm not getting this. This is a nope."

Instead, says Ozark showrunner Chris Mundy, he, along with star/executive producer Bateman and casting director Alexa Fogel, saw on Garner's tape exactly the kind of feral performance they were looking for in a character who would become a linchpin of the series. "We just loved the idea of this 19-year-old woman, in this land of overly macho men, who was actually more powerful than all of them. And yet there was a sadness to her, too," Mundy says. "Julia embodies it. She's 100 pounds sopping wet. But there's a real power to her."

Ozark's writers always envisioned Ruth as a key character, but as they've seen Garner's abilities, they have expanded the scope of what they ask of her. "Julia has an innate vulnerability to her that runs as a really interesting juxtaposition to her ferocity," Bateman says. "She's as sweet as she is sour, as much of a beauty as she is a beast, and her ability to toggle between those polarities … the writers write to that."

To summon Ruth's cockiness before a scene, sometimes Garner listens to '90s hip-hop — Notorious B.I.G. is a favorite. She has also created the character through focusing on details like her costume. Before the first season, Garner requested a pair of wedge Styrofoam flip-flops — "the kind you get at CVS" — to find Ruth's walk. For season three, when Ruth is trying on a more professional persona as the manager of a casino and attempting to fit into the show's upper-class Byrde family, Garner asked for French tip press-on nails. "She's trying to be something she's not," Garner says, gesturing at her own red manicure, leftover from a recent photo shoot. "And in the middle of the season, she takes off the nails."

According to Mundy, it is Garner, more than anyone on Ozark, who is recognized by followers of the show when they're shooting in Atlanta. (The series is produced by MRC Television, which shares a parent company with The Hollywood Reporter.) "Early on, fans were surprised to learn that I've never been to Missouri in my life," Garner says. "I actually like it when people don't know where I'm from. You want to keep that distance, because you want people to forget that they're watching you."

Garner's childhood in the Bronx's upper-middle-class Riverdale neighborhood, as the youngest in a raucously communicative Jewish family, steered her almost inevitably toward an actor's life. Her mother, Tami Gingold, was a comic on an Israeli sketch show similar to Saturday Night Live who later became a therapist; her father, Thomas Garner, is a painter and art teacher from Ohio; and her older sister teaches English and English as a second language in a New York high school. "I feel so lucky that I grew up in the house that I did," Garner says. "It's crazy — don't get me wrong — but it's good crazy. … You know how every family has their family fights? Ours would be for hours because it would be like a group therapy session. It would start off with just one person, but then each person had to have their own hour. And how did that affect that problem, and this and this. It benefited my acting, to be honest. You can only imagine a house full of therapists and teachers."

Her family was devoted to Turner Classic Movies, and Garner developed a youthful affection for Bette Davis. Asked to name an actor whose career she'd like to model hers after, she mentions one who might not seem an obvious inspiration for a 20-something ingenue — Richard Dreyfuss. "I love a really intense energy on the screen," Garner says. "Your eye just goes straight toward that actor. They don't even have to say much, they don't even have to move their face much, but there's something that almost feels like you don't know what they're going to do next, you're guessing."

For Garner, acting is a meditation, the way she learned to feel at home in the world after multiple learning disabilities prevented her from being able to read until she was 10. "Even after I learned how to read, it still affected my confidence to the point where I was so shy. Everything that I said, I felt stupid," Garner says. "I started taking acting classes to overcome my shyness, and I fell in love with it." Garner took the subway to school in lower Manhattan before switching to home schooling in her teens, when her acting began to take off.

After the Nickelodeon rejection and a couple of student films, Garner booked her first significant role, as a cult inductee in the 2011 independent film Martha Marcy May Marlene. More indie film work followed, including her first major lead role, in 2015's Grandma, as a teenager trying to get an abortion with the help of her eccentric grandmother, played by Lily Tomlin. "I've never been in those girl-next-door TV shows because they never hire me," Garner says. "But it all happened perfectly in a way. Every part has to be different from the last — for me, at least."

Her TV work has been similarly rich and definitely wider-seen, and has included roles as a questioning member of the Branch Davidians in the Paramount Network limited series Waco, a spoiled Valley girl in Bravo's true-crime anthology Dirty John and a Lolita-esque CIA agent's daughter in FX's The Americans.

Writer-director Green's drama The Assistant gave Garner the opportunity to try a much more contained performance than the one she's called on to deliver in Ozark. But thematically there are some parallels between playing an underestimated criminal mastermind and playing the beleaguered assistant of a Hollywood sex offender. "We were looking at sexual misconduct through the eyes of someone with very little power, in a system that's essentially structured against her, but she's also a part of that system," Green says.

Roughly one-third of Garner's young career has taken place post-#MeToo movement, and she has noticed changes on her sets, most visibly the use of intimacy coordinators while shooting sex scenes on Ozark and on the Amazon Prime romantic anthology series Modern Love. "I feel very fortunate that nothing ever happened to me, I've always been a part of a good set," Garner says. "But after #MeToo, sex scenes are just much more comfortable. They're not pushing women the same way that they would."

In The Assistant, Green was inspired in part by Chantal Akerman's Jeanne Dielman, a seminal 1975 feminist film that essentially follows a woman as she cleans her apartment. "I told the casting agent I wanted someone infinitely watchable," Green says. "Because she's doing a lot of mundane tasks, this banal routine. I needed someone who people would want to keep their eyes on. I was looking for presence." When Green met the actress for coffee, Garner was wearing a turtleneck — this time an asset, not a liability — and Green copied the look for Garner's character in the film.

Garner's closest friends are ones she grew up with in New York, but among industry confidants she is tightest with her Ozark co-star Tahan. When shooting in Atlanta, the two get apartments in the same building. "Even if I have friends in Hollywood, I don't have Hollywood friends," Garner says. "They're in your life, in and out, temporarily. I'm one of those people that once I make a friend, they don't go anywhere."

In early March, as the dangers of COVID-19 were encroaching, Garner was spending 18 hours a day in a Brooklyn subway station shooting Inventing Anna, which is adapted from a 2018 New York magazine story about Russian scammer Anna Sorokin. In 2013, Sorokin created the fictitious identity of German heiress Anna Delvey, ultimately defrauding wealthy New Yorkers and hotels. "She might be the hardest character I've ever played," Garner says. "She's a genius. You can't judge your characters. I want people to understand why she did this." During production, Garner flew to Buffalo to meet Sorokin at the nearby Albion Correctional Facility, where she's serving a four- to eight-year sentence for larceny and theft. "It got super meta because she's like, 'So how are you playing me?' " Garner says. "I said, 'Well, you're very complex. Your accent's really hard.' She's like, 'Oh my God, how do you sound like me? You have to do it.' She just was freaking out."

Inventing Anna was shooting episode five of 10 when the pandemic forced a halt in production. Though it was miserable timing for the show, the pause was in some ways healing for Garner, who has been working steadily now for about a decade. The intensity of the past four years of work has left her little time for much else. "I haven't had a really good night's sleep in the last four years," Garner says. "So for the first two or three months, I just slept." She also cleaned out closets, read scripts and worked on her accents. (Asked what she does for fun when it's not lockdown, Garner pauses. "Go to the doctor?") It's unclear which she'll return to first, the fourth season of Ozark, which is scheduled to start shooting in Atlanta in October, or the last five episodes of Inventing Anna, in New York. "It depends on which state is deemed safer," Garner says. "It's a question I'm curious about every day. They're complicated roles. It's very tiring to be two different people at the same time." Five months away from a set has been destabilizing for Garner, though. "Something I learned during COVID that I was struggling with was, for me acting is like meditating," she says. "I had a problem. I was like, why am I not feeling so present? It was because I haven't been acting."

Lockdown has meant welcome time with Foster, whom she married in December at New York's City Hall while wearing a white Danielle Frankel pantsuit. She was in the middle of production on Inventing Anna, Foster was preparing to go on tour, and the two planned to get hitched in June. "For some reason, I was like, 'You know what? Let's not wait until June. Let's just do it, because who knows?' " Garner says. "We were both so busy." Garner and Foster had met at Sundance in 2013 but didn't exchange contact information and didn't start dating for a few years. Before she started on Ozark, he connected with her on Instagram. "I was like, 'Who's this guy liking all my photos? Is this a stalker?' I clicked on him and I was like, 'Oh, Mark. Oh, he's cute. I'm going to follow him back.' Then he DM'd me."

Garner is tentative about social media. "I'm still figuring that out, to be honest," she says. "I'm not as good as I feel like I should be. But at the end of the day, it's not the most important thing. The most important thing is that you work on your scenes and you work on the script. The good work is always going to be there. A post disappears after five minutes." When news photos circulated this summer of revelers blithely ignoring social distancing recommendations over a holiday weekend at the Lake of the Ozarks, Garner wondered if she should have made an Instagram post of Ruth chastising them. "Oh my God. I got so furious about that," she says. "The one thing I regret this year is, I wish that I put out a video, like, 'Ruth does not approve.' "

Last year she attended the camp-themed Met Gala in a Zac Posen gown inspired by a Ziegfeld girl, a look that enabled her to slip into a character, a more comfortable space, for the night.

Stepping onto the stage when she won her Emmy last year, wearing a royal purple Công Trí dress, was dizzying. "I did something stupid," Garner says. "I made eye contact with Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, and he was looking at me and there was a second where I froze. It reminded me, 'Oh, I'm at the Emmys. These people do not know me. I know them. But they do not know me.' "

But they're getting to know her better, and Garner is getting more comfortable revealing herself. At this year's Emmys, which will be a virtual ceremony because of the pandemic, she plans to wear her pajamas. "It's the only time it will be socially acceptable to wear pajamas to an awards show," she says. "I'm going to wear nice, fancy pajamas."

 

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Change and growth play pivotal roles in Season 3 of Netflix’s original series “Ozark.” The show, recently renewed for a fourth and final season, features a divergence from its signature color palette as well as moments of integral character development.

Members of the “Ozark” cast and crew joined Variety‘s Marc Malkin in the Variety Streaming Room to discuss how Season 3 saw shifts within the series’ characters and production. Actors Laura Linney, Julia Garner and Jason Bateman, who also directs and executive produces the show, were joined by showrunner, writer and executive producer Chris Mundy, director Alik Sakharov, cinematographer Armando Salas and production designer David Bomba.


(video in the link above)
 

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How Murderous Character Arcs & A Shocking Season Finale Propelled ‘Ozark’ To Emmy Nomination Haul – Deadline Virtual Screening Series

By Mike Fleming Jr

Deadline hosted a lively panel to celebrate the Emmy nomination haul for the third season for the always surprising Netflix series Ozark. Taking part were Jason Bateman — Emmy winning director, EP and star as the money launderer Marty Byrde; Laura Linney — who plays his ever ambitious wife Wendy Byrde; Julia Garner — the Emmy winner who plays Ruth Langmore; showrunner, writer and EP Chris Mundy; and casting director Alexa Fogel all took part. Alik Sakharov, who directed the final four episodes leading to arguably a shocking season-ender for the ages, could not find his way into the Zoom call but contributed quotes later.

The slow peel of characters played by Bateman, Linney and Julia Garner — each of whom is nominated — took their characters to unexpected and often painful places as each is forced to face who they really are and what lengths they will go to get what they want. Key to this was the introduction of Wendy’s bipolar brother Ben — a standout turn for Tom Pelphrey — and the growing ambition of steely mob lawyer Helen Pierce (Janet McTeer). Suddenly, Wendy faced an impossible choice regarding her unstable brother and her cartel masters, the results of which fractured the Byrde clan’s relationship to Ruth, who fell in love with Tom and unwisely got him sprung from the mental hospital Wendy stashed him in for his own protection. And Wendy found herself pitted against Helen for control of the loyalty between the Byrde’s money laundering casino and the cartel, an outcome played out in the last moments of the finale. All this has set a world of possibilities for the fourth and final season, which will be played out in two seven episode segments, with a start date a bit up in the air because of the complexity of shooting in this COVID-19 era.

You can hear how the show’s brain trust feels here about the accomplishment of the terrific season, but director Sakharov said one of his joys was watching the growing ambition of Wendy, who scared even her husband Marty with her ruthlessness. “Wendy Byrde has definitely emerged as a force not to take likely,” he said. “She is smart, determined, resolute. And she certainly shows her ‘teeth’ when pushed or cornered.”

As for that shocking ending, Sakharov said it was shot in a single take. “I wanted for it to have a slightly imperfect, unpremeditated natural flow,” he said. “If that natural flow was to be violated by the unexpected gun shot I thought the effect would be much more surprising, dumbfounding.”

 

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Well deserved!!!

‘Ozark’s Julia Garner Thanks Jason Bateman & Laura Linney After Winning 2nd Consecutive Emmy Award
By Amanda N'Duka

A visibly shaken Julia Garner secured the Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series at Sunday remote ceremony for her role in the Netflix drama Ozark. It marked her second consecutive win for her scene-stealing performance as Ruth Langmore.

After overcoming her shock, Garner expressed gratitude to her fellow nominees Meryl Streep, Laura Dern, Thandie Newton, Samira Wiley, Fiona Shaw, Helena Bonham Carter and Sarah Snook. “You are the reason why I’m acting in the first place,” she said from her home.

She also thanked her co-stars Jason Bateman and Laura Linney for “bringing me under your wings and not only teaching me how to be a better actor but a person.”

 

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Ozark: Alfonso Herrera Among 5 Joining Netflix Drama's Cast in Final Season

Ozark is experiencing a population surge ahead of its super-sized fourth and final season, with the Netflix thriller adding five new cast members (including Exorcist alum Alfonso Herrera as a villain)...Herrera will play Javi Elizonndro, a previously unseen member of the Navarro family who walks a fine line between being the obedient lieutenant and scheming to take over his uncle’s cartel...

Ozark Season 4 will be released in two, seven-episode parts, with Part 1 arriving in 2021 and Part 2 bowing in 2022...

 

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Milk that sucker dry. They did the same thing with Lost. S1-25 episodes. S2-24. S3-23. Then the milking began. S4-14 episodes. S5-17. S6-18. I'm sure there are others, but Lost is the first that came to mind.
 

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Don't forget BB, which split its last season.

Of course Ozark has been accused of copying BB to an extent.
 

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What is BB?
 

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Jason Bateman Promises ‘Ozark’ Will End in a ‘Very Satisfactory Way’ (Video)

And then he gives out a money laundering tip


Jason Bateman dropped by Jimmy Fallon’s “Tonight Show” set on Thursday. Bateman was just down the hall rehearsing “Saturday Night Live,” so it wasn’t much of a commute — or a risk.

Among the topics the two discussed was the unfortunate fact that Bateman’s excellent Netflix thriller “Ozark” will be coming to a conclusion with Season 4, which will be divided up into two 7-episode runs.

“We do land the plane in a very satisfactory way,” Bateman assured the NBC host, who is a few episodes behind.

“You’re happy with it?” Fallon asked.

“Yeah,” Bateman, who also directs on the series, replied.

That’s all we can ask for. Beyond a change-of-heart about a Season 5 — you know, kind of like fellow Netflix drama “The Crown.” (OK, so that one was for a Season 6, technically, but you get the point.)

Bateman, who plays accountant-for-the-cartel Marty Byrd on “Ozark,” then handed out a key money-laundering tip.

“The only thing I’ve been able to absorb about money laundering through [doing the show], is that you need fake receipts,” he told the few people in the 30 Rock studio (and many more at home). “If you can get fake receipts, guys, we can all retire tomorrow.”

Last month, Netflix announced the addition of five new cast members and the promotion of two others for the fourth and final season of “Ozark.”

Felix Solis, who plays Mexican drug cartel boss Omar Novarro, and Damian Young, who plays the right-hand man of Kansas City businessman (and big-time GOP wheeler-dealer) Charles Wilkes, will be upped to series regulars after being recurring players in the third season. Alfonso Herrera, Adam Rothenberg, Bruno Bichir, CC Castillo and Katrina Lenk are the newbies.

We do not yet have a premiere date for the first half of Season 4.

Jason Bateman hosts “SNL” this Saturday starting at 11:35 p.m. ET on NBC.

Jason Bateman Promises ‘Ozark’ Will End in a ‘Very Satisfactory Way’ (Video) (thewrap.com)
 

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Best of 2020 (Behind the Scenes): Going inside Ben's heartbreaking Ozark taxi ride

By Derek Lawrence

The third season of Ozark shined a new light on the dark Netflix series. Released in late March, just as audiences were beginning their long year at home, the addictive crime drama reached new levels of popularity, both critically and commercially. And much of Ozark's rise can be credited to the explosive performance from Tom Pelphrey, who debuted as Wendy's troubled, bipolar brother Ben. Here, the Mank actor and his collaborators take EW inside the heartbreaking taxi ride that served as the beginning of Ben's end.

"I know it might be tacky to say this about something I had a hand in, but it blew me away."

Writer Miki Johnson cried the first time she watched the opening scene of "Fire Pink," the penultimate episode of Ozark's third season, for which both she and director Alik Sakharov would score Emmy nominations. "I was soaring with pride and emotion," she recalls, pointing to Tom Pelphrey's performance. "Just amazing."

Described by Sakharov as an "internal," "unique," "slow-burn" of an episode, he believes "Fire Pink" can be watched and enjoyed even if you have zero knowledge of Ozark. "Because of how acutely dramatic it is, I think you can still be moved and touched by it," he says of the Ben (Pelphrey) and Wendy (Laura Linney) spotlight installment.

As if the Byrdes weren't dealing with enough, between a growing criminal enterprise and a drug war, their household was rocked by the early season arrival of Wendy's younger brother Ben, whose unstable nature would soon begin to cause trouble for the family's money-laundering operation. After a violent outburst and short stay in the hospital, Ben confronted cutthroat cartel lawyer Helen (Janet McTeer), putting his life in jeopardy. Ben wouldn't make it out of "Fire Pink" alive, but he'd bring life to the episode, beginning with an intimate taxi ride, chilling monologue, and an "actor's dream" scene.

"The first time I read [episode 9] I was reading it like an audience member and I was just crying," Pelphrey says with a laugh. "Towards the end of the script I was having a hard time seeing the words."


"At Ozark, we usually do a pretty painstaking design of the teasers — the first part of the show that you see before the O for Ozark comes up on screen — but on this particular episode, the teaser was not broken down," explains Johnson. "We had a few ideas for it, and one of them was Ben riding in the taxi, but we hadn't landed on anything. And when I went to write it, I honestly just wrote my heart. I relate to Ben. Ben is bipolar, and I'm a person with a long history of mental illness, too, and these thoughts, the thoughts in the monologue — thoughts about pain and the human struggle, Tom Petty, parents, war vets — they just vibrate in me, and I wrote them down. It was a real meeting of character, actor and me."

Johnson says she wrote the monologue in one sitting, aided by the knowledge of the "master actor" she was dealing with. "I was able to tap into that flow because I knew Tom had the soul for it, the guts, the depth, not to mention the agility and the technical skill," she shares of the Ozark newcomer. "I absolutely, 100 percent, wrote that monologue for Tom Pelphrey."

Sakharov, a seasoned TV director with time spent on Game of Thrones and The Sopranos, was tasked with shooting the final four episodes of Ozark season 3, and he says the "Fire Pink" opening jumped off the page upon his initial reading. "I thought to myself, 'Oh my god, how will this person be able to do that?'" he shares. "Because there’s so much to memorize and all this stream of consciousness. I knew that there was something special there."

With Sakharov onboard, the season's final stretch would be shot as a block, meaning they wouldn't be filming in order. "It just requires very careful prep and really understanding where the character is at the particular time in the timeline of that particular episode," he explains. "It’s not hard to shoot out of sequence if you understand what the emotion is, what the tone is, what the delivery is." But the timing did give Pelphrey the advantage of multiple weeks with the script. "For me — given what’s going on with the character and given the way the speech was written — I think the best approach here is to be as prepared as humanly possible," he says. "It was all just drill that writing, play with it at home, run through it in a million different ways and see what pops or hits, because on the day you just want to be able to give over and let the writing sort of dictate itself to you. As much as possible I didn’t want any of my mediocre ideas being opposed to what was there. I’ll tell you right now, never as good as you thought it was!"

As the actor and director worked together for weeks, they stayed away from discussing the taxi monologue, which was set to be filmed on Pelphrey's final day and the second to last day of season 3 production. "I left it alone for a long time," says Sakharov, who wanted to avoid overtalking things. "I don’t want to tell the actor what to do before he does it." When it finally came time, they took inspiration from David Fincher by shooting the car scene in a studio modeled after one the filmmaker used on fellow Netflix original House of Cards.

According to Sakharov, Pelphrey came in extremely prepared, with the monologue "chiseled into his memory like you carve something into marble." He says that made it all the more easy to "extract the depth of the performance." The duo had a short discussion beforehand, with Pelphrey showing what he was thinking. "We talked about the intensity," recalls Sakharov, "and that once the intensity goes through [Ben] it would release him and give him an energy like when you go through something very heavy and you overcome it and then you feel lightness."

Technically, Sakharov says it was a "simple" setup, with two cameras going simultaneously and shot from three angles: front, side, and outside-in. "The rest was just performance," he says. "And allowing the actor to really blossom and take shape, take after take." In the end, they'd need only four takes. "Every single time he ran it he just nailed it," says the director. "It was second or third take where I asked him to take his time, like really take his time, really go deep into this scene, and really feel every emotion that might come."

This direction proved crucial when it came to editing. "He gave me these beautiful prolonged pauses," says Sakharov, "which allowed me to dwell on him while he was sort of thinking." This inspired the decision to create the "surreal blend" of putting Pelphrey's voice over images of Ben's silent contemplation.

And the reaction to Pelphrey's performance was similarly quiet on set — at least at first. "[Showrunner] Chris [Mundy] kept texting me to tell me that Tom was destroying it, and you could hear a pin drop," shares Johnson. But once things were over, Sakharov says the volume jumped up a few decibels. "We did a standing ovation [for Pelphrey]," he reveals. "Not only because of how beautifully he performed the scene but how beautifully he performed the entire season. That man was an absolute showstopper."

 

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I couldn't stand the character.

I won't deny that it takes acting to create a character who annoys and irritates viewers. But many viewers probably wanted him off the screen ASAP, not give him so much air time.

Really the character's story arc was mainly to show how far the Byrdes, especially Wendy, to survive the threat fro the cartel, even if it means sacrificing her brother.

Imagine if the brother was doing good works, loved by everyone, but for whatever reason the cartel wanted to kill him? That would have been a bigger demonstration of Wendy's moral decline.

But are there not other deserving supporting actors this year?
 
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