Lodge 49 Q&A — Brent Jennings (Ernie Fontaine)
Brent Jennings, who plays Ernie on AMC's Lodge 49, discusses the current state of his character's life, the story behind his relationship with Connie, and the connection between him and Dud.
Q: What stood out to you about the story and/or Ernie when you first read the script?
A: My first thought was that it was really good writing all around and it was a show that was hard to categorize and easily describe, which was fascinating. Most of the things you read or come across are pretty routine and recognizable. This one was different. The tone and the characters were very unique. I had a conversation with my son some time ago and he said to me, “You know, Dad, most people are not just one thing.” That’s what fascinated me about the characters. They were flawed but also valiant in their own way. They were strivers. They all had this resilience. They were all very literate in their own way. The way the characters communicated with each other in some instances was poetic. It was a really unique voice from [Creator/Executive Producer] Jim Gavin. You couldn’t call it a comedy or drama. Sometimes it’s farcical and sometimes it’s poignant. It was a real ride. The more I worked on it, the more I loved it.
Q: How would you describe who Ernie is and where he is in his life as the story begins?
A: You can’t put him in a box. He’s down on his luck, living check-to-check, trying to make ends meet and at a plateau in life. The underlying question through the show is: What is life about? Is it meaningless? Is it meaningful? He’s very dissatisfied. He’s looking for more out of life. In Episode 1, in that scene with Connie, he says, “I want to be in charge of something. I want my face on the wall.” There’s this whole quest to be [the lodge's] Sovereign Protector and have a big business deal. He’s feeling like the window is closing shut and if he doesn’t do something, his life will just be a life where no one ever knew that his feet walked on the planet. [Being] a guy who’s come and gone – that’s his biggest fear. And he’s lonely. He doesn’t have anyone but a cat. [Laughs] So, he’s without love. He’s experienced some loss in his life. He’s wandered around and had periods of his life where he was aimless. When we meet him, he’s trying to find some fulfillment.
Q: How did he become involved in the Lodge? What does it offer him and mean in his life?
A: In his backstory, there was a point in his life where he was somewhat destitute. He was running around with the wrong people and getting involved with bad things. One day, he decides to break into a car and steal a radio, and it turns out that this happens in front of the lodge and it’s Larry’s car! Larry comes out and sees him and rather than call the police, a conversation ensues and Larry invites him in. They sit down and watch a baseball game. He went off into the Navy and after about eight years, he comes back and gets a job with a plumbing company. He’s driving around one day and sees the lodge and remembers that incident he’s had and goes in and Larry’s there. That becomes his introduction to the lodge. The lodge, for Ernie, offers him a sense of community and it validates his existence. Outside of the lodge, he doesn’t have a lot of friends. His life revolves around the lodge and the people in it. It offers him a sense of brotherhood and belonging. I think it inspires him to give back to the lodge and be prominent in the decisions that affect the future of the lodge. His desire is to move up into a leadership position.
Q: What do you think Ernie makes of Dud (and his interest in the lodge) during their first meeting?
A: There’s almost like a chain here. Ernie was adrift when he met Larry, and Dud is the same way when Ernie meets him for very different reasons. Dud has suffered an extreme loss and the circumstances of his [father’s] disappearance aren’t quite known, so his family is left with this loss of their father and leader as well as their business and home. He’s just trying to put it all together. Grief can leave you where you just don’t know what to hold onto. He comes to the lodge, which is also kind of a dying place because not many people are knocking on their door for membership. What Ernie sees in Dud is the same thing as Larry saw in Ernie, which is a piece of himself. Ernie knows what the lodge did for him. Dud immediately connects with the possibility that exists for him within the lodge and sees something that grounds him for a minute.
Q: What similarities do you see in Ernie and Dud? At what point do you think their friendship really begins to take hold?
A: An underlying concept of the show is this knight-squire metaphor that gives it this fable-like quality. I think it’s a relationship that certainly, by the end of Episode 2, you see forming. Although they’re years apart in age, they’re two people who are at the same point in their lives. Ernie’s employed and has a house. He’s not adrift in the same way that Dud is, but he’s trying to figure out what life is all about and put together pieces. I think there’s a spiritual connection. By the end of Episode 2, when Dud comes in and confronts him about the membership dues, that encounter helps Ernie understand what the lodge really is about. He had forgotten what it meant to him, so Dud puts him right back on track. Their relationship hits another level and they attach themselves to each other. I don’t think it was a planned thing. Two people meet at a place where they have a good feel for each other. They both need a friend.
Q: What does it say about Ernie's desperation that he swindles Dud out of $2000? Is Ernie surprised in Episode 2 when Dud finds out but doesn't make a big deal of it?
A: In Episode 1, when Ernie decides to just throw it out there and see if $2,000 makes this guy blink, that portion of that transaction ends with Ernie laughing and saying they’ll deal with all of that when Dud comes for the soirée at the tavern. Ernie’s desperate. He knows it’s not the right thing to do, so it’s a lot of duplicity in that moment. Even at the end when Dud pushes the envelope to him, he hesitates. In Episode 2, he tells him he was going to pay him back. He crossed a line he didn’t want to cross. Dud is the one character on the show who, in my opinion, has an innocence and purity about him. I think Ernie sees that in him. A person can be very wise and childlike at the same time. He’s like that. He’s a very unique person with a deep heart. Ernie has no intent of doing him harm or not paying him back. He wants to get to know him. Ernie has this tunnel vision of becoming Sovereign Protector and finding Captain that he kind of forgot what it was all about. Dud reminds him. You have to admire that Dud comes in and says, “Take this $2,000 and I want in.” I think it deepens Ernie’s understanding and respect for him.
Q: How would you describe Ernie's relationship with Connie?
A: Connie and Ernie were high school sweethearts. This interracial relationship was broken up by her parents and she was sent to a school in northern California and he never saw her again. He doesn’t see her again until she walks into the lodge one day with Scott. He’s had relationships since that time, but, hey, if my high school sweetheart walked into my house, I might say to my wife, “Look, we have to go to dinner. I’ll be back!” [Laughs] That first love is a very strong love. When it’s snatched away and you’re at a point in life where you’re trying to get everything you most deeply desire, it’s hard to resist the urge. That pain is there from that loss and from that hurt and he’s trying to soothe that pain by reuniting with her. Once again, these characters are flawed. Maybe in a perfect world, he would just say, “She’s got somebody. Too bad.” But he’s not at that point in his life. He goes for it just like he’s going for everything else. Is it the right thing to do? No. Can he resist doing it? No.
Q: Does Ernie really believe "Captain" might be the answer, or does he just need something to chase after to give him hope?
A: He thinks this really is the answer. He needs it to be the answer. He’s going after it. There’s no half-stepping. The desire is stronger than his ability to look at it and assess if it’s possible to get a contract like that. He’s basically a low-grade plumbing equipment salesman. He knows that the kind of development that’s going to go in there would be a very lucrative contract for anyone who secures any part of it. He really believes that if he gets to Captain and gives a great sales pitch, his company can get it and his commission will set him up and give him security. The need is much greater than any rational judgement.
Q: How many takes did you do of the pushup contest? How difficult was it?
A: [Laughs] It got more and more difficult, but that scene also is a great metaphor. He believes he can beat Beautiful Jeff. Jeff is a 20-something who looks like Adonis. Ernie is a 59-year-old guy who doesn’t work out. How is he really going to beat him? It shows you his mentality. It was a fun scene because no one expected me to go as long as I did. What’s good about the show is that you have those moments that are very real, but very comical and almost absurdist at the same time.
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