Emmett J. Scanlan Interview: AMC's Kin | Screen Rant

Family is everything in the new Irish thriller series Kin, which debuts on AMC+ this week. After a death rocks the Kinsella household and younger brother Michael (Charlie Cox) returns from his stint in prison, the crime family must face off against enemies even more powerful than they are – not to mention their own demons.

Related: Maria Doyle Kennedy Interview: Kin

Emmett J. Scanlan, who plays the older Kinsella brother Jimmy, spoke to Screen Rant about defending his character and understanding the complicated dynamics at play.

Screen Rant: Talk to me about Jimmy's role in the family.

Emmett J. Scanlan: When I was doing a lot of study over the character and all that sort of stuff, I studied quite a lot about snakes, because he owns exotic snakes. I watched many documentaries, and I read much material about his love for these animals.

Then I came across this beautiful quote by Nietzsche, "The snake that cannot shed its skin must perish." And it just stuck with me, for whatever reason. I wrote it down on my little black pad, and I carried it with me every day. It's just little nuggets that I'd find that I'd never [been] looking for. It's almost like finding answers to questions you didn't even ask. For whatever reason, this quote stayed with me. And I thought that this is a perfect description of who I think Jimmy is.

I think he's very adaptable to situations. I think he sheds his skin to whatever environment; he could have been born into any family and he would have just adapted to it. That saves him more often than it doesn't. He's ferociously loyal. In my humble opinion, he's probably the most loyal out of all of them. He's viscerally and unapologetically, to some extent, vulnerable. He wears his heart on his sleeve, and that's certainly how I played him. That's how Peter McKenna wrote him, and I loved how subtle and layered his scripts were - and what an ensemble piece it really was, which it felt like when I was reading it. And that's always my favorite part of a job: reading the script.

Is he somebody that has ambitions to take over the family? Which was a question I remember being asked yesterday. I think the thing with Jimmy is his family comes first. Love comes first. Loyalty comes first. He loves the bones of Amanda [Clare Dunne]. And while I loved playing him, he was also incredibly difficult for me to play because of the places I had to go to at the beginning of that series - let alone anything else, you know? I remember some of those scenes were so heavy and difficult to play that it was exhausting.

On those scenes - even though the director would say, "Okay, that's a cut," and everyone would go home, I'd stay in that scene. Or that scene would play out in my head for hours, sometimes days, afterwards. The faint echoes would reverberate in my heart, and that was quite hard for me to deal with. In retrospect, of course, it was very cathartic and therapeutic, and it was a beautiful experience. Don't ask me why or how I think it's therapeutic; it was just a feeling, and I can't describe a feeling without kind of belittling it.

Peter McKenna has done a brilliant job of crafting this show and the characters. Can you talk to me about working with him as a collaborator?

Emmett J. Scanlan: He's a wonderful, hugely talented individual, and I'm really excited for the world to see his writing on such a global scale. And for him to get the recognition that he so richly deserves as a writer, and as a creator of this gorgeous world that he's done.

This job came about in 2020 when the pandemic and the first lockdown happened. It presented itself to me, and I remember reading the script and going, "This is beautiful. This is so subtle. This is very clever, thought-provoking writing. It's proper drama. It's storytelling." It's a gangland story, but it's also a family drama.

Ireland is a nation of great storytellers, and I think Peter is one of them. Anyway, I digress a bit, but I remember getting it - and that's always my favorite part. The reason why I sign up [for] many gigs is for the TV series or the movie I see in my head when I'm reading that script. That's what I sign up for. And what I saw there was the potential of what this could be; it was something that I couldn't not invest 100% in.

And he was wonderful through the audition process. It was him and Ciaran Donnelly, the co-creator, who championed me and got me on board. And he was always on hand to steer me, should I need to be steered, and the director as well. But when I wanted to talk about character, he was very humble. He would say, "Listen, at the end of the day, you'll know this character more than I will, because of the time that you're going to spend in it. So, if there's anything that you feel that doesn't sit right with you, talk to me and let's discuss it." And there was no ego in that.

That's what you need in a creative environment. It's not a competitive environment. The creative environment is devoid of ego, and it's everybody collaborating together; all getting on the dance floor at the same time and just moving to the beat of the music.

Amanda, played by Clare Dunne, doesn't want her boys in the family business. Can you talk to me about how Jimmy's opinion may differ from Amanda's in the show?

Emmett J. Scanlan: She obviously doesn't want our boys to be involved in the business, and that's completely understandable. Why would you want your children to be in anything that's high risk like that? And I think Jimmy's look on that is, "It essentially has nothing to do with you. It's the boys' choice." That's where he would probably come from, just like it was his choice to get within the family. Their parenting styles aren't that different. He just wants the best for his kids.

If you look at the iron scene, I came at it from a different point of view. Because Jimmy could have gone to anybody. He's high up in the family; he doesn't need to go collect a little bit of cash off somebody. I think he brought his son there on purpose to show him what that world is like. He wants to show him how vicious and how unforgiving that world is, and that's almost like throwing your kid in the deep end. "You want to learn how to swim? This is the world that we live in, and these are the sharks that you swim with." He does that on purpose to his son Jamie, saying, "This is the way..." without having to say anything. "This is the world that you choose to be in, and if you still want to be in it, that's up to you. I will support that."

In my opinion, at least where I was coming from, he does that to deter his son without having to say that he was going to agree with Amanda. Because, straight after that, the boy fills out his college form and is ready to go to university. And Jimmy's happy; he's almost done his job for him.

Do you think Jamie views Jimmy differently after that experience?

Emmett J. Scanlan: I don't think Jimmy thinks that, but I don't know what Jamie thinks. That's an interesting question.

I guess he knows that when he goes down this path with his son, who is quite adamant about wanting to get into the family business, he knows that this is the road of no return. The consequences are quite high, or the costs of doing something like this - should it go the opposite way - is quite high. But I think that's a risk that he's willing to take to show his son the real colors of the family and the real business. I just think that's what he does. And then, of course, when Jamie decides to go to college, he's more than happy to facilitate that.

Michael, who is played by Charlie Cox, plays your younger brother. He always looks at Jimmy as his protector. Can you talk to me about how Jimmy feels about Michael coming back to the family, almost as the prodigal son? And exploring that relationship now that he's out of prison?

Emmett J. Scanlan: The introduction of Michael back into the family has a domino effect on every person there. There's a complexity that Michael brings back to the relationships, some very intimate relationships with the family members. I don't think he knows the Pandora's box that's about to be opened - nobody does - with the reintroduction of Michael.

Michael is his younger brother, and Jimmy protected him and looked after him when he was younger. He'll always be the older brother - and I think he'll always be, in some way, the protector as well. Like I said before, family is everything to Jimmy. So much so that he's able to turn a blind eye to certain things.

What did you want to bring to Jimmy that wasn't necessarily on the page?

Emmett J. Scanlan: I don't think there was anything conscious about me wanting to bring anything that wasn't necessarily on the page. I'm a ferocious worker, and I'll delve deep into absolutely every project that I throw myself into. I want to do my homework so well and so thoroughly that I can almost forget about it. So, by the time I step on set, everything else that happens is just going to be organic, and I'm able to flow. I'm able to go in one direction or another - almost like what Bruce Lee said about water. Put water in a cup, it becomes a cup. Put water in a bowl, and it becomes a bowl. I need to do so much work in order to allow that or facilitate that to happen.

I cared for Jimmy. I cared for the character that I was doing. At the beginning of this, in some cases, I would fight for Jimmy. I would have discussions with Diarmuid Goggins, our director, or Peter McKenna, our writer and creator, and I would fight for him. I found myself, in the first couple of weeks, coming to Jimmy's defense, because he was so raw and vulnerable. I felt for him dearly. And I realized that I shouldn't be trying to impose myself on the character because I've got absolutely nothing to do with it. So, I had to stop that immediately.

I had to recognize that, have the awareness of what I was doing, and then immediately get out of my own way. I'd just sit in the material, get on set, and allow whatever happens [at] that moment to be okay. And that's how I did it. I had no plans to do anything else or to bring something different to it, other than to breathe life into an already beautiful script. Hopefully, I give it something that can reverberate and that can even touch people when they see it, so they can relate to it in some capacity.

Next: 14 British Shows Like Gangs of London

New episodes of Kin premiere on Thursdays exclusively on AMC+.

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