Henry Garrett, who plays Pete McCullough on The Son, talks about being rescued by Eli, the inevitable realities of returning home to his family, and his favorite memory from filming the series.
Q: Season 1 ended with Pete running away with Maria after her family was brutally murdered by his own. At the start of Season 2, Pete is a prisoner in Mexico. What goes through his mind when he sees his father is there to save him?
A: Shock, disbelief and the overriding feeling of incredible relief that the almighty Eli McCullough has come to save him. When we find Pete, he really is in a life and death situation. Being part of a chain gang in Mexico in the Mexican desert is pretty much a death sentence where you’re not expected to survive. Pete knows that so he really is living moment to moment, breath to breath. People around him are dying, so to see someone who can save his life — it’s a huge relief.
Q: Eli demands that in order to come home, Pete must promise that he’ll never leave again. Does Pete mean it when he promises his father he’ll stay?
A: In that moment, yes he does. He’s just been saved from hell, Maria has left him and also he misses his kids like nothing else in the world. So his dad’s giving him an ultimatum, and it does take some considering but, in that moment, saying yes is the sensible answer, and he does mean it — at that moment.
Q: After months of “chasing bandits” Pete returns home to his family. What is it like for Peter in the moments he first sees his kids, and Sally?
A: It’s an incredible moment for Pete when he first sees his kids again. It’s something he’s dreamed of and wished could happen. When he’s on the chain gang, Pete probably thought he’d never see his kids again, but it was like a bit of a dream that he would, and that kept him going.
That’s a very tense moment when he first sees Sally again, and I think they’re both putting on a bit of a show for the kids and for Eli. They give each other a peck on the cheek and say a few little words. I think Pete has this idea of what’s going through Sally’s head, and it’s likely a story that’s been spun by Eli or Phineas. I’m sure that Pete has a good idea that she’s going to be thinking the worst of what happened with the Garcia massacre and his subsequent absence.
Q: In a flashback, Maria tells Pete he’s weak and that he won’t kill his father. Is he surprised by this shift after he saved her life and abandoned his own family?
A: I think it’s not necessarily the response he expected or the response he wanted, however she is in shock, and she’s experiencing huge trauma. Pete understands this and he knows he’s going to need to manage her behavior through the next few days in order to get her to safety. He knows he’s kind of being her guardian and, at the end of Season 1, the last you see of Maria and Pete, he’s kind of shepherding her away from the house. He’s kind of almost holding her up. Yes, it would be nice for her to not be so angry at him or dismissive towards him. However, I think he completely understands that the next few days, or for the foreseeable future, she’s going to be going through a tough time, and he needs to kind of manage that and be aware of that and get her to safety and take the abuse. But Pete isn’t immune to the hurtfulness of it. It definitely does hurt him.
Q: How does Pete feel when Phineas tells him that he advised Eli not to bring him back home?
A: It hurts a lot. It’s a real punch in the stomach. When he’s coming home, I think Pete is somewhat bracing himself for this punch in the stomach. As much as it hurts, this is a family that knows each other very well, and sometimes what hurts most is when expected behavior plays itself out. I think Pete is fully aware of what he’s agreed to go back to, the people, the personalities. It’s like he’s stepping out of the frying pan, which is the Mexican chain gang, and into the fire, which is home. He has to swallow his pride and try to be diplomatic at the very least to buy himself some time to figure out his future. It’s a slap in the face, but he knows these people. He knows they’re not going to just welcome him back with open arms, and so he’s bracing himself for that.
What hurts a lot with family is when you’re expecting something. If it’s just a surprise, out of nowhere, it doesn’t hurt as much as when you kind of can see it coming, can see something brewing, a comment here from a close one or an action that hurts, and I think that’s why families are so difficult, because there’s so much shared history and shared tension. And that’s what so great about what Philipp Meyer and the TV writers have done well, is to create that family atmosphere and not kind of give a glossy televised view of it. I think it’s quite a realistic view of family life.
Q: Eli wastes no time bringing Pete back into the family business, starting with a job to sabotage a neighbor’s oil rigs. Why is that?
A: I think Eli’s using the first possible opportunity to test Pete, to see how he will integrate back into the family. It’s “Okay, I’m giving you an offer and you’ve accepted it, so straight away I’m going to see if you really are down with it.” I think it’s important that Eli tests Pete pretty soon after he gets back. That’s Eli doing his master work.
Q: When Eli and Pete are chased away by the men whose rigs they’re damaging, Eli nearly doesn’t get away. There’s a moment where it looks like Pete may leave him, is he really considering it?
A: I think yes, for a split second, it enters his head. Would people believe him back home? Would Phineas believe him? Probably not, but it’s a perfect alibi laid out in front of him.
Q: Pete goes out in the middle of the night and hangs himself with a noose. Moments later he changes his mind and cuts the rope. What makes him change his mind?
A: I did a lot of research. Committing suicide, I think a lot of times, if you don’t go through with it, you weren’t really doing it to kill yourself in the first place. You were doing it for other reasons. I think, if you do try and kill yourself, your body’s natural reaction is to fight back. You try to hold your breath, and your body will fight aggressively to breathe again. It’s hard to kill yourself unless you have a gun. I think this reflex kicking in acts as a catalyst for Pete’s survival instincts to kick in. I think there’s a belief deep down that he can affect more change by staying alive.
Killing himself is partly driven by a desire to hurt his father. That reason is not enough to actually go through something that is very painful and very hard to do. I think you’ve got to really want to end your life to actually go through with it with a noose, so I think once the reality of the impending death sets in, he quickly changes his mind. It’s better for him to be alive so he can have more influence.
And I think that’s a key moment for him because, from then on, he’s kind of trying to be active within the circumstances given to him, but diplomatically, not putting himself into a corner or anything. But the situation he’s finding himself in — trying to make it work and trying to affect as much change as possible, but in an intelligent way, in a diplomatic way. And part of that is just to buy some time. Let’s see how far he can work through this without putting himself in too much of a tight situation with his family.
Q: What are you excited most for people to see this season?
A: I’m most excited for people to see Pierce’s performance. I think he really knocks it out of the park and he brings all his depth of experience and life experience, acting experience and he really gets into his stride in Season 2, and it’s a pleasure to watch. Seeing how he’s fitting it all together into the 10-episode arc and then linking it to Season 1 and the whole 20-episode arc — I think people are going to be really impressed with Pierce’s performance.
Q: What’s your favorite memory from filming this show?
A: For me, I come from Bristol in England and I’m not a Texan, so working in Texas and spending time on its land, that will live with me forever. The nature of filming kind of puts you in strange places at strange times, which leads you to experience things that you would never normally get to experience if you weren’t shooting a scene at 4 AM in the middle of the Texan desert. Yeah, I’ve got a few of those memories, like the scene when Pete hangs himself. I was on the back of a horse, putting a noose over my head, and I could look out over the Texan landscape, and then we could hear coyotes yelping, and they were getting closer and closer and closer. I was staying focused on the scene and my performance, but part of my brain was thinking, this is insane, a kid from Bristol to be there, acting that out, in that landscape.
Secondly, also getting to work with Philipp Meyer’s characters, the characters that he developed in the book and getting to work with them, spend time with them over a 20-episode arc and develop these characters and the relationships with these remarkable actors. That’s something that was unique for me and something that I’ll treasure for the rest of my life.
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