In its hour-long series premiere, HBO’s new comedy The Righteous Gemstones knew exactly how to build enough intrigue for viewers to return for more blessed debauchery. Episode two successfully switches perspective and the audience begins to understand what Jesse Gemstone’s eldest son has been up to, and what his motivation is for reigning havoc on his dad’s career and personal life.
So who exactly are Scotty and Lucy, and why is Gideon using them to seek revenge on his holier-than-thou family? We caught up with Skyler Gisondo, who plays Gideon, to get inside the character’s head. Gisondo may be playing the straight man in a Danny McBride comedy with all sorts of outlandish performances, but the 23-year-old actor is nonetheless a name who should be on your radar; he plays a pivotal role in Gemstones going forward and had a hilarious turn in one of our favorite films of the year, Booksmart.
Gideon’s identity is quite the twist at the end of this episode. Had you always known the role you would be playing was Jesse Gemstone’s son or was that a surprise for you too at the end of the script?
I remember I wasn’t sure what to think. Before any audition, I’ll usually read the whole script to get a better sense of the character and what’s going on in general. In this case, HBO wasn’t releasing the scripts. There were two audition scenes. In the first, casting told me to prepare the lines for a character named “Third Man in the Van.” In the second, I was told to read the lines for “Gideon.” I knew Gideon was Jesse’s son, but I had no idea if “Third Man in the Van” and Gideon were the same person. I also didn’t know how big or small of a role it was. After I had been offered the part, production sent the scripts over for all nine episodes. I immediately flew threw them. It was a unique experience to read the scripts after having already agreed to do the project. As such a huge fan of Danny, David and Jody’s, it really didn’t matter how major or minor the role was. I would have been happy to have been involved in any capacity. I remember my jaw dropping when I read the big reveal. I never could have imagined how amazing the role would be.
What were the initial conversations like with Danny and the creative team about this character?
I got the part about two weeks before filming began, so those conversations sort of happened on the fly. Danny and David Gordon Green FaceTimed me right after I’d gotten the news. That whole conversation was a blur. I think I said the sentences, “I’m such a huge fan of you guys,” and “Oh man, I’m just so stoked” about a dozen times each. I also couldn’t stop smiling the entire call. I definitely looked like a maniac. I admired both of their work so much – it was such a surreal moment.
Once I got to Charleston, I got the opportunity to sit down with Danny, David, and Jody Hill and ask a bunch of questions about the character. They answered almost every question with some variation of, “Oh you got it man/Your audition was great/Whatever you think, we dug what you did in the audition!.” Once production began, they would have always have awesome ideas and suggestions while still giving me a ton of creative freedom and instilling confidence at every turn. They’re just the best.
Backing up a bit, your character spends time in close quarters with Scott and Lucy. What was it like acting alongside Scott MacArthur and Virginia Gardner in the car, the hospital, and the hotel room, away from the rest of the cast for the most part?
It was a ton of fun. Scott is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. Any scene we were in together, trying not to burst out laughing and ruin the take proved to be a real challenge. We only got to work with Virginia for that first episode, but she crushed it as well and was so much fun to work with.
For the majority of the show, Scott and I were working away from the rest of the cast. We quickly became great friends. Also, since the show features such a big ensemble, we had a lot of days off, often times only filming two or three days a week. My girlfriend, Ari, spent two months out in Charleston with me. During those two months, Scott, Ari, and I really carped the diem. From frisbee golf courses to minor league baseball games to swamp tours to bluegrass concerts to chasing down the best fried chicken sandwich in Charleston… a toss up between Leon’s and Boxcar Betty’s. We had the best time.
Speaking of Scott, your characters have a hell of a fight scene with Gideon breaking out some karate moves, and Scott still kicking his ass anyway. How was shooting that? I imagine there was quite a bit of stunt work to observe and work around.
It was so awesome. Scott and I were given a ton of time with the stunt coordinators and stunt performers to map out how we wanted the fight to look. HBO also brought in a professional MMA fighter the week before to show us how to look cool. Production built the hotel room on a sound stage, so we had the green light to just go crazy. Everything from the lamp light bulbs to the tables to the TV stand were built to easily break. When it came time to shoot, Scott and I were able to do a good chunk of the fighting. When the shot required a little more intensity, the stunt doubles took over and made us look like bad asses.
As we all saw, Scotty licks Gideon’s face at the end of the scene. The thing is, by that point, we had been filming for hours on end and I was sweaty. I mean real sweaty. Scott and I were debating who had the short end of the stick in that situation – him having to lick my sweaty face, or me having my sweaty face licked. Scott woke up very sick the next morning, and went on to have the flu for about a week. So in the end, it’s safe to say it was Scott who got the worst of it. Scott, again, I’m so sorry man.
What is Gideon’s motivation for wanting to bring down his family?
That’s an answer that I think will gradually unveil itself to the audience over the course of the season. I can’t say much without giving anything away. What I will say is that there is a lot more to Gideon’s motivation than financial gain.