Animal Kingdom: Shawn Hatosy Directs, But Will Pope Lead?

Shawn Hatosy, who plays Pope on TNT’s gangster drama Animal Kingdom, takes to the director’s chair for this week’s emotional episode.

Shawn Hatosy plays the eldest brother, Pope, in TNT’s Animal Kingdom, which follows the Cody family’s criminal exploits and the betrayals and emotional highs and lows of their lives together, but the actor also made his directorial debut with the show last season. This Friday’s episode titled, “Julia,” marks Hatosy’s second time in the director’s chair in a season that has brought his character to new lows while exploring the origins of the family’s life of crime. We spoke to Hatosy just after the news of the show’s season 5 renewal was announced to get a feel for this turn in his career.

DEN OF GEEK: First of all, congratulations on the Animal Kingdom season 5 renewal! Where were you when the good news was announced?

HATOSY: I found out about the renewal when John Wells, our executive producer/showrunner, sort of like our god, emailed. He just sent an email out the day before the news was officially released. So I was sitting at lunch with my wife, and I got a little ding on my phone and read the email, and I thought, “Well, here we are, man! We can eat for another year! This is great news!” It was very happy; I was pretty confident that we were going to get another season, but it’s always nice to get the official word from John.

Pope has a sensitivity about him, but he’s also quite ruthless. How do you balance those two sides as an actor?

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I think with Pope, for the family anything goes. There’s like this rule, these laws that they abide by within the family, so he can easily separate himself… That’s his burden. Pope’s burden is handling the dirty things in the family that nobody else really wants to deal with, although J is proving that he can handle it, too. Outside of the family, it’s easy — he’s an emotional guy; he’s pretty normal when it comes to feelings and rejection. That’s been one big motor for Pope all these seasons is how people perceive him. He’s desperate for normalcy; he craves it.

Was your second time directing on Animal Kingdom easier than your first time last year?

I think it’s a natural fit! When I look at the artists I admire, you’ve got Robert Redford and Sean Penn and John Cassavetes and Orson Welles and Ron Howard; these were all actors that started at a young age. I’ve been doing this since I was 12. So just naturally being around it, being involved and working since I was young, gives me a confidence and understanding of how things are done that… it just becomes like second nature.

It’s a challenge to schedule this kind of thing with an actor/director, so I quite honestly couldn’t do it without everybody being on board and lifting me up, which everybody did. The nice thing about this season’s work for 411 was there’s two storylines, one in the present, one in 1977, so obviously Pope isn’t in 1977. And I was able to really spend a lot of time working on that. It was nice! It’s almost like doing my own little movie…

It’s a love story! The emotional heartbeat of 411 is their love story, and in many ways it’s the Smurf origin story that as a fan, I just find fascinating! You get to see how and why she has become the person she has become in the present day. I was just struck by how she’s able to show Colin unconditional love, and it’s a side of Smurf we’ve never seen. And it’s clear that she’s pregnant in this episode, and we audience members know that Pope is the oldest and he has a twin sister. So it’s pretty obvious what’s in her belly, so me playing Pope, the emotional aspects of this episode were coming to the surface for me in being able to tell the story.

Did you get to do anything that’s more challenging in your directing this time around, like a big action sequence?

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That’s always the challenge with episodic TV and our show in particular. It is a high action show, and we shoot our episodes in eight days… And I did have a pretty big action sequence. There’s always one scene where you’re going, “Oh, it’s not going to make this day!” And I had that; it happened in 1977 when a pretty exciting event occurs. That’s the biggest challenge as a director: trying to infuse point of view in those big sequences when you have to get it all; you only have so much time, and you’re firing three cameras. But you know, the first time around I had a pretty big action sequence as well, so that prepared me for what I was going to face in season 4… And next season when I direct, hopefully, I’ll be that much more prepared.

It looks like things are headed for a showdown between Pope and J as Smurf leaves a power vacuum. Is Pope ready to lead?

Pope is not motivated by that! Even when Baz was around, he was totally cool with Baz leading. The jobs he likes because they work together and he gets to do fun stuff that he likes to do that he’s good at. You see fans discussing, “Well, could Pope lead?” That’s just not what he wants; he doesn’t care about that. I’m not saying that he could or he couldn’t… I think J wants to lead, and I think he’s probably capable of leading… so I think the best solution would be them together. But you never know.


Watch the Shawn Hatosy directed episode of Animal Kingdom when it airs on August 6, 2019 on TNT. The episode “Julia” will no doubt build towards an exciting finale for the show’s 13-episode fourth season. You can hear the full audio of this interview on The Fourth Wall podcast, in which Hatosy shares much more about the character of Pope, his MMA training in season 4, Smurf’s current dilemma, and the recurring role for Emily Deschanel of Bones.

The Fourth Wall seeks to allow creative people behind the scenes to break through the illusory “fourth wall” of stage and cinema to speak directly to the audience of their work. Our interviews with authors, composers, set designers, and others give voice to a whole host of artists we wouldn’t normally get to hear from. Subscribe so that you never miss an episode, or simply listen to the latest episode below!

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Michael Ahr is a writer, reviewer, and podcaster here at Den of Geek; you can check out his work here or follow him on Twitter (@mikescifi). He co-hosts our Sci Fi Fidelity podcast and coordinates interviews for The Fourth Wall podcast.