In Season 2 of Dark Winds, Lt. Joe Leaphorn (Zahn McClarnon) and Sgt. Bernadette Manuelito (Jessica Matten) reunite with Jim Chee (Kiowa Gordon), their former deputy turned private eye, when their separate cases bring them together in pursuit of the same suspect (played by Nicholas Logan). In this Q&A with amc.com, we caught up with Logan (The Blond Man aka Colton Wolf), to talk about the inner workings of this season’s complicated villain, Colton’s physical and mental journey as the season progressed, and his most memorable scenes with McClarnon. [Warning: Spoilers ahead!]
Q: What drew you to the role? Were you a fan of the Hillerman novels before auditioning or maybe you had just seen Season 1 of the show and were intrigued?
A: I had a lot of auditions coming in and this one was interesting… and quiet. There was something intriguing in the audition scenes themselves. It was the scene with me and the first detective, and then I kill him, so I was like, "Oooh, this is interesting. Who is this guy?" I didn't know much about the show or the character until I got the part. Then I got the book [People of Darkness], and the show scripts and I was like, "Whoa! Okay, well this is a well of darkness that I guess I'm just going to have to jump right into." Colton is definitely one dark individual who's very broken. What really ended up drawing me more and more into the character and the work, was that to me he essentially became an embodiment of the travesties, the wrongdoings, and the inequities that have been done upon Native peoples throughout the history of this country. And that became an interesting idea to play with.
When reading the book, Hillerman sucks you right in and the book gave me license to take him into strange places. When we learn about his history and dealing with his mother, it's like, "Where do you go with that?" To me, that then became about more of a tell. All serial killers have a tell where they're throwing a flag in the air and they're waiting to see who's going to be smart enough to figure it out. They always put their little mark out there and they're like, "Hey, it's me! Who's going to figure it out?" And I decided that with the private eyes, that that was his way of going about that. It was his way of putting himself out there. Because on some level, I think Colton does want to get found out. He can't bring himself to do it, but I think he does want out and I think he does have a sense of his own impending doom. His body's starting to break down and he's starting to lose his mind and his physical abilities to a degree. To explore all of that is not really something you can easily put your arms around, but it was really exciting to get the challenge and be entrusted with that endeavor.
Q: Well, I gotta say I've never been so terrified of a metronome in my life! Your character is an extremely meticulous, detail-oriented person with definite quirks and idiosyncrasies. How did you prep for this character and get into his headspace?
A: Yeah, he's definitely OCD. That's for sure. So, the question becomes, how far do you take that, right? You don't interrupt the flow of the character himself, so you start to find it in particular places. Whenever we were doing anything physical, I tried to keep everything in a tight line. Everything needed to be relatively neat, direct, and focused. For me, a lot of acting is writing out trains of thoughts and exploring those trains of thoughts and then seeing where those trains of thoughts can go. People are like, "Oh, you memorize lines really quickly!" But what I'm really doing is memorizing trains of thoughts and exploring them — the words kind of come through there. But with Colton, it was really interesting, because he just sort of came into my arms in this really weird way. That’s the best way I can explain it. It was really creepy honestly. It was like he would reach into me.
At the very beginning of working on the show, John Wirth and I were trying to figure out, if this guy is such a great killer, why does he not just kill Joe and Chee right off the bat, right? Of course, if he does, there's no show, so that can't happen. But it's like this guy should be able to just do that quickly. But we thought, “what if he has arthritis? What if his hands don't work like they used to, and he feels this sense of his end coming?” Because in a lot of ways, for Colton at least, this is the story of the last week of his life, you know? So, what if he feels this breakdown happening and it's why he's missing shots. It's why he's starting to question things. It's why he's giving himself to Joe. He wants to bring Joe in, and almost like one last bomb, blow up Joe's whole psyche with him and get Joe to choose this path, choose the dark side. "Come here." Like, "Come with me and you can do it by killing me. You know you want to. You have every reason and right to. Why don't you just do it?" And I think that's what makes the show really fun in a lot of ways this year. What Colton brings is "Hey, Joe, what are you going to do? Who do you want to be, Joe? Who are you going to be?" That’s a question that I know that John, Zahn, all of us struggled with. I think it's still an interesting question for them heading into a possible Season 3.
Q: In Episode 5 we finally learn a bit more about him and we learn about the childhood trauma that deeply shaped who he became. He talks so much about his mother in previous episodes and speaks of her in the present tense, but it’s implied that he in fact took revenge on his mother when he was a child and killed her for her actions... which begs the question: what was this search for his mother actually all about?
A: Well, I think that’s another reason why this was such a great puzzle. I think it’s what art is all about and what's so great about art is that you often don’t have the answers. I don't know if John Wirth or Tony Hillerman had the answers. I don't think anyone could have the answers except for Colton. I don't think you're wrong though. Colton is very ill and very broken. I think that's a lot of what he means when he says, "We are the same." He’s talking about the broken nature of both of their souls and their capacity for violence.
I think from a practical standpoint, I think he was doing it, as I mentioned, like his calling card. It was Colton’s tell. It was his game of cat-and-mouse. You play that game long enough as an ill man, especially as a hermit and someone who really does not engage with the outside world and the characters in that game start to become the people that are the most alive to you, right? So, I think in a lot of ways he was still looking for his mother and I think sometimes he probably confused himself. I think sometimes he would get lost down memory wells. I think sometimes he’s very capable of acting as if he didn't do that and then maybe remembering it is so painful that he shuts down. I can’t even imagine what matricide must do to your mind.
When Colton makes intricate meals for himself, as stimulus, as the appreciation of beauty and all that, I was originally going to ask, "Hey, can I just get a second glass of wine and set a place for my mother?" Because what those meals became to me were a time for Colton to have dinner with his mother, that he was actually cooking these meals for her. I think that was his way of processing, accepting, and forgiving himself and her. It's a lot to unpack.
Q: There are so many amazing action sequences involving your character — with Chee and Leaphorn at the burn site, with Leaphorn and Bernadette at the trailer, with Chee at the hospital, and of course with Leaphorn in the desert — what was it like playing such a physically demanding character and how was it working on location to bring these heart-pumping scenes to life?
A: Man, it was fun! And it was intense, and it was hard! Especially when it would blizzard. We had some days out there where I didn't have a shoe on, and it was blizzarding and we are walking in the snow. After that whole talk where I'm telling Leaphorn about how sepsis is going to set in, at one point he stumbled and fell down and started to roll down the hill. I was in Colton mode, so I got really excited and I thought, "Oh good, I need to jump on him and kick him in the face and then take his gun and run off." And I had that thought and then my immediate follow-up thought, thank God, was "Uh no, Nick. That's not Joe Leaphorn. That’s your buddy Zahn McClarnon who's a wonderful man that you love, and he’s falling down a hill. He did not mean to do that. You need to save him and make sure he's okay." I jumped and grabbed him and held onto him. So, there was a lot of that kind of stuff going on. It was definitely trying at times and difficult. I mean, the scene where I'm dragging Zahn up the hill was intense too. That stuff was exhausting because the air is so thin out there because you’re at elevation and you're in the desert, so we would just be sweating and panting. But it was fun! I love doing all that stuff. And our stunt team is great. They were just wonderful, and we had a blast doing it.
Q: Your scenes with Zahn, especially in Episode 4 as you're being lead through the desert, give you both a chance to really get into the psyches of your characters and how they differ. What was it like working with Zahn on those dialogue heavy scenes? It’s so great to watch those scenes and then watch the silent stare offs you have in Episode 5 as well. The tension is so palpable!
A: Yeah, it's really cool! I mean, I will say Zahn's just a total pro, a great leader, and a great man. He was so generous, humble, and kind. He would just be so complimentary and so humble saying to me, "God, you're great." I mean, it's like, "I think you're the one crushing it out here, buddy, but I appreciate the love and the kind words." But because he was such a wonderful leader, it made it really easy to work with him — Colton was the difficult one to work with! [Laughs] It was cool because by the time we got to shoot that stare-off moment we had really been through a lot, he and I. So, you're doing all the technical stuff obviously, but there's a couple moments where we were shooting that and I was looking at Zahn and he was across the room, and it felt great because we really had been through it together. We kept it very fun, light, and professional on set, but between takes we were having a good time. When we got to that stare down, I did feel like we had experienced a lot together.
It definitely comes across. There’s so much energy in Episode 4, so to see moments of tension where there's also quiet was a nice juxtaposition between both of those episodes.
Yeah, I can't wait to see them because it was certainly fun to play and to work through the manipulation, plus we had a great director. You know, Chris [Eyre] and Billy [Luther] were wonderful especially in Episode 5, but Episodes 3 and 4 with Michael Nankin were really great and that really helped me with working into a lot of that dialogue. Michael, Zahn, and I got together and talked about these characters a lot and it was a great experience to get to work with those two because they're real pros.
One thing I will say is when people are like, "Oh, who’s the villain in Season 1?" And they’re like, "It's Noah Emmerich?” My reaction was… “Ahhhh! Great… because that guy's amazing." I grew up watching The Truman Show all the time, so I’m a big fan. So, to follow that and have to fill that guy's shoes at all, I was definitely intimidated! But as far as villains go, Colton is a monster. I'm glad he's dead. It was funny because everyone would go, "No! We need you back next season!" And I'd be like, "Guys, Colton has to die! Colton must die! That guy cannot live!"
I love how he sees that crow in the tree before he leaves this plane of existence. It was beautifully done.
I was excited about that, but more importantly I just want to say that I’m just very proud and grateful to have gotten to be a part of Dark Winds and the telling of this story and the highlighting of Native peoples. To learn what it means to the Diné and what it means to Native peoples at large. I do hope that the popularity of this show helps to continue to get support and highlight issues around land rights, in addition to the atrocities that took place around women's reproductive rights. It’s really powerful stuff that they're delving into, and I hope it leads to action taken towards addressing those wrongdoings because that's really ugly stuff. I'm just proud to get to be part of a story that's trying to help shed light on that.
*This conversation took place before the SAG-AFTRA strike.
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