Sam Trammell takes on the role of a complex serial killer in the Netflix crime drama ‘Reckoning.’ HL spoke with the actor about the game-changing ending, diving deep into a ‘dark’ headspace, and more.
The role of Leo Doyle in Reckoning, which is now streaming on Netflix, is unlike any role Sam Trammell has ever played before. Leo Doyle seems like a normal dad and husband, but he’s hiding a terrible secret. He’s also a serial killer known as the Russian River Killer. The final moments of the first season are downright jaw-dropping. Serrato confronts Leo out in the open about his secret. This leaves the door wide open for a possible season 2.
HollywoodLife talked with Sam about that shocking cliffhanger and how he thinks Leo will handle Serrato’s speech. He also talked about the very different dynamic between Candace and Leo now that she holds the cards in their relationship. The actor opened up about his research process to play a serial killer and exploring the many shades of Leo Doyle. Read our full Q&A below.
Okay, we need to talk about that ending, especially those last couple minutes where Serrato tells Leo that he knows what he did and knows who he is. What was your reaction when you read that final script and you realized that the show was going to leave on that cliffhanger?
Sam Trammell: It was just so huge. Just to stop right there was pretty incredible. I was also really just so moved by Detective Serrato’s speech to Leo about how he’s just been trying to save all these women. That just like hit me so deep because it’s exactly right, you know? I just thought it was a beautiful speech and a great way to go out. This was sort of shot with the idea of maybe three seasons in mind, and I guess that’s still possible that we would do a second season. The creator/writer David Hubbard already has a whole second season planned that’s brilliant.
After Serrato’s speech, Leo looks stricken. How do you think Leo’s going to move forward after that?
Sam Trammell: That’s a great question. Leo’s really good at assimilating into his environment and his circumstances and making the best of a situation and working himself into the community in a seamless way. He really fits into that community. He’s the wrestling coach. He works well with kids. He’s really good with people. He’s good at living with secrets. So this would be something he’d have to live with and deal with. I don’t imagine he would freak out. I think he could handle it, but he would be very, very cautious. He’s really smart. I think he would be a tough person to nail. Also, there’s the proof. The next-door neighbor, John Ainsworth, already admitted to the crimes and apparently committed suicide. So it would be a great cat and mouse game, but what David’s figured out that he would want to do is much more interesting than just a simple cat and mouse thing. It would be really, really good.
Over the course of the season, we really get to see the good and the bad sides of Leo. He wants to be a better man, but there’s that side of him that is a killer. By the end of the season, do you think Leo has really changed?
Sam Trammell: It’s such an interesting dilemma that he has. It’s sort of like he doesn’t really want to kill. It’s not really what he wants. He wants to save people, but he has to choke them out in order to revive them. And then there’s the sort of natural thing of once they run he has no choice. That’s the interesting thing about his wife. He’s going to have to live with his wife knowing that he probably is the killer and was going to kill her, but she didn’t run. His wife is going to have the power in that relationship in a huge way. But I don’t think it’s one of those things that he can let go of. He has this need to be connected to his mother, and that’s how he connects to her. He watched her get killed. He feels guilty and feels like he wasn’t able to save her. It’s just this weird physiology in his body. It’s an event that happened that affected him. I think he would still have that need, and he would push it away. He’s like the Tony Soprano. He’s the guy that is flawed, but also has these qualities that make you like him. He doesn’t want to be bad, and he’s fighting it. It’s like an addiction to getting close to his mother through these other women.
Were you surprised that Candace stayed with Leo?
Sam Trammell: Yes, I was. When I read that script, I just thought, “Oh, this is just so incredible.” Because she was literally in that exact situation that we saw in episode 7 in Alaska, with the nurse who was in that situation, but she didn’t run. She just stayed, and I could see her point in trying to survive a situation like that. You might try to befriend the person who has attacked you because you don’t want to provoke them to finish the job. She does that but ended up staying with Leo, and they never talked about it. That’s the crazy thing. You think about relationships, how there are these silent absolutes that you both know but don’t talk about. They both knew what happened. They just never talked about it. For my character, Leo, he begins to wonder if she doesn’t realize what happened to her. Maybe she does think that he just saved her. When we see her come to that realization of what happened before he ‘saved’ her, it’s just chilling. When the audience comes to realize that she was a victim, too, and she stayed with him, I just love that storyline.
Do you think there is an element of fear on Leo’s end now that Candace knows about Leo?
Sam Trammell: Oh, absolutely. I definitely think Leo is scared of Candace after that. He sees that not only can she turn him in, but she could also say he’s suspicious. She could leave him, and he cannot be left. I think that would be the biggest thing for him. Candace has been a real bedrock for him and a source of stability in his mind and his heart and his spirit. So if she left him that would be devastating. What’s great is that we also see that she’s capable of big choices and violence. She burns down that shed, which is really a huge move. It’s a massive fire. It could burn the whole house down. But she doesn’t care. She’s capable of damaging him in a number of ways, but he needs her. So that’s a great new dynamic that would play out.
This is a much darker role for you than what you’re usually playing. It was great to see that Jekyll and Hyde aspect of your performance. Did you do any research into serial killers to prepare?
Sam Trammell: We really had a lot of questions, David and I, about how many psychopathic elements or qualities he might have. We decided that he wasn’t a full psychopath in the sense that he is someone who can feel empathy. He does have that tender side. But it’s gray. He’s able to compartmentalize. He’s able to kill and then not feel too much. He’s able to just keep living. He does have that element to him, and I did read a bunch of books on psychopaths and what that is and how that feels. The great thing about this part is that it’s not just black and white. There’s a lot of gray in between. He’s able to fit into the community and support kids. He’s got his relationship with his dad who he really cares about with dementia, and his wife and kid. He is such a well-rounded character. You really look for that as an actor.
Sam Trammell stars in the Netflix series ‘Reckoning.’ (Elissa Anderson)What was it like for you to really dive into that gray area of Leo and really embrace yourself in that? That’s a lot of heavy stuff.
Sam Trammell: It’s so heavy. I feel like I gave a pound and a half of flesh for this role. I filmed this in Sydney, Australia. I was in Manly Beach. The north beaches were where we shot and where the set for father’s house was. I was really isolated. I was away from everybody — my family and my friends — and I just dove into this. There were moments that were so dark and so intense. The episode where you actually see me with the nurse who I take out, that is such a tragic thing. She was somebody who was supportive of Leo, and then I happen to run into her after seeing my dad and she has a tattoo and it happens. That scene was just one of the most chilling and intense scenes that I’ve ever done. I just really connected to this character and the story of this character. It was really a really dark place to go. I used a lot of music to get into that headspace, and I had all day to get into that headspace. It was really fulfilling. What we like to do as actors is explore extreme sides of ourselves, whatever side they are and corners that you’ve never explored. This part was really, really fulfilling.