Spoiler Alert: Do not read unless you’ve watched this week’s episode of TNT’s Animal Kingdom. Major plot points discussed ahead.
One of Ellen Barkin’s son has a big gay secret that is coming out whether he’s ready or not.
Of course, we’re talking about Barkin’s fictional youngest son, Deran Cody (Jake Weary), on the new TNT show Animal Kingdom. Inspired by the 2010 Australian film, Animal Kingdom is a drama series about the Cody family, a band of criminals headed by its matriarch, Smurf (Ellen Barkin). When Smurf’s estranged daughter dies of a drug overdoes, her 17-year old grandson, J, (Finn Cole) joins the household and is quickly pulled into the family business.
In this week’s episode, we found out that Deran has been hooking up with his buddy, Adrian (Spencer Treat Clark), and is ready to go to any lengths to keep his secret.
L-R: Adrian (Spencer Treat Clark) & Deran (Jake Weary). Photo by Doug Hyun.
“I do think he’s struggling with his sexuality and he does identify as being a gay man in this totally hyper-masculine family where his masculinity and his manhood are tested everyday,” Weary tells us. “Even with his mother, too, it’s kind of a weird relationship and super complex and complicated.”
In the series, each of the sons has a close relationship with their mother (often verging on incestuous). With J arrives, Deran immediately feels threatened, especially after J finds Deran in a compromising position with Adrian.
“For Deran, this is such a big secret and something that he’s struggling with everyday,” the actor explains, “and as soon as there’s that potential leaking of the truth or that person who could give him up, he’ll go to the extreme to keep this secret and that’s something that’s so interesting about him.”
In this week’s episode, J tells Deran that he’s fine with him no matter what, but Deran, who admits nothing, decides to torture the young Cody by holding him under water. “I’m pushed to the point of killing this kid to keep this secret,” Weary says. “Deran’s way of coping with all this is acting out and acting irrationally and physically because I think the overall theme of the show is these people are animals. They don’t really think before they act. They’re reckless and they’ll do anything to protect themselves and who they are, really.”
When Weary took on the role of Deran, he had questions for executive producer John Wells (who also produced Shameless, Southland, and ER, all of which include LGBT characters and storylines), which informed the character’s backstory. “I think there was a moment where maybe something had happened between [Deran and Adrian] that was a little more than friendship and I think that was the wake-up call for him,” says Weary. “'I’m in love with this person and what are these feelings and maybe I am gay?’ It’s all the more complicating when you have brothers that are so hyper-masculine and kind of pigeonholing you and cornering you and expecting so much from you.”
Photo by Doug Hyun
Weary’s first time being associated with a gay TV role was in 2005 when he played Luke Snyder on As the World Turns, but he left the role just before the character was about to deal with his sexuality. At the time, many in the press said Weary was homophobic for abandoning the character, but the actor candidly responds now, “It was embarrassing the fact that someone could actually try to create something out of nothing and turn that into a big deal.”
Weary states the change in storyline was also going to mean an increase in work load, and only 14-years-old at the time, he says, “I wanted to play sports and be a normal person and be with my friends. They wanted me to work more hours because that storyline would require a lot more time. Unfortunately, someone found that as an opportunity to make remarks about who my mother is, too, and I think there were rumors that she took me off the show because of it and it’s just bullshit. And I’m not trying to have this role [on Animal Kingdom] to be like ‘A-ha! I’m not homophobic! I’m playing a gay guy!”
Speaking of mothers, we’re not sure if Smurf knows what’s going on with Deran. “This is something Ellen talked about,” Weary says. “Does she know? Does she know where I’m going all the time? Does she choose to not say anything for my benefit? Is there some weird jealousy involved and part of the reason why he cannot come out to his mother? It’s complicated, you know?”
Just how intensely will Animal Kingdom explore Deran’s sexuality in the first season? Weary could only hint that we have not seen the last of Adrian. “He’s definitely a pivotal character in Deran’s storyline,” he says.
Animal Kingdom airs Tuesdays at 9pm on TNT.