James Parks, who plays Niles Gilbert on The Son, talks about the importance of family, why Niles threatens Eli and what he’s most excited for viewers to see this season.
Q: It seems in Season 2, Niles’s role in the McCullough family business has grown. Can you describe his new role?
A: He takes care of many different errands for the McCulloughs while Pete‘s away. He’s a voice in town for the McCullough interests. His bar is a place where people hang out and information is gathered. And he knows his way around a gun.
Q: While chatting with Jeannie on Christmas, Niles reveals the death of his wife and child. Does this backstory explain anything about the Niles that we know?
A: I think it’s one of those wonderful pieces of writing where it is something that will evolve. It allows a moment to see inside the depth of a person. It’s an element of his character that you will discover as time goes on. I think family is a very important thing to Niles, and he sees it as something he wants for himself.
Q: Niles protects Jeannie from the trouble going on between her parents. How do you navigate between this side of Niles and the one that hung a man in front of Charles in Season 1?
A: I think a lot of it has to do with the connection to the family at this point in the show. Niles feels he’s accepted and, in the first season, I don’t think Niles is unaware of the lengths to which Eli will go to protect his own family. By implicating Charles in the event, Niles sets a certain kind of insurance for himself and he is protected.
Charles, I think, in a traditional sense is a man to Niles. He is a man. When Niles was Charles’ age, he was sharecropping. He moved West on his own, after his wife and child died. I don’t think he sees Charles in the same way that he sees Jeannie. And, personally, as an actor, I feel that Niles loves women and respects them in a way, especially strong ones, which Jeannie is obviously.
Q: Why do you think Sally gets so upset when she sees Niles and Jeannie speaking?
A: Niles definitely represents an episode in which everything that has gone wrong started with the introduction of Niles. And the massacre at the end of Season 1 is, she feels, directly relatable to Niles being there and the Law and Order League, which she considers only violent. And also, as a mother, she probably hates or resents him because of the hanging that happened in front of Charles. He has an influence that she doesn’t like.
Q: When Eli tells Niles to take time off, it takes Niles a moment to realize the reason behind it is Pete. Why is he so surprised by Eli’s decision to side with his son?
A: Personally I think because of the betrayal that Niles thinks Pete committed on his family. I think that’s a big part of it. Niles wants a family for himself and sees it as a kind of sanctuary, so the betrayal of family to him is huge. And obviously you would welcome this person into your life because they are family, but not when it comes to business decisions. In that moment, he realizes he will never actually be family to Eli. It’s a complicated moment because there is some anger at himself for thinking that he could get to that place.
Q: Niles notes that “even the greatest generals are not immune to error, are they?” He’s essentially telling Eli he’s making an error. Is this a threat?
A: I do. I feel it’s a realization and a threat all at the same time. In that scene, it’s very important for Niles to feel the hurt or the rejection or the self-recrimination very deeply and that he was fooled by something he shouldn’t have been fooled by. So in the moment, it’s the hurt of that, and this is his way of saying you really hurt me, this is really terrible, this is a betrayal. I really enjoyed allowing Niles just to be heard.
Q: What are you excited most for people to see this season?
A: The whole thing. I think there’s so much great writing in the show about the time and so much history to be known. I’ve oftentimes talked to people who are themselves from Texas and really don’t have any idea about these two time periods, how they are similar. Nor do they completely understand the wave of immigration as a discussion in America from the time of its founding. And there is just an idea of belonging or possession of the land. Who does it actually belong to? Who are all these different humans that some for 10,000 years have roamed the land, some for 400 and, in 1916, just for 80? And that’s a great question — if you think it belongs to you and you take it, you’d better be prepared to defend it because sooner or later somebody’s going to come along and say it belongs to them and they’re going to take it. That’s the bigger aspect to me, a historical lesson wrapped in a wonderful fictional universe.
Also, there’s the greater journey for a character like Niles. He makes a great journey and a great discovery about people and himself. Very rarely do you get these kinds of journeys for characters like Niles Gilbert.
Q: What’s your favorite memory from filming this show?
A: I have to say that the entire process for me was quite a gift and getting to know all of the people involved and how much people care about something when they all come together to do a job. When people really like what they do and really care about what they do and really want to be there — say what they’re supposed to say or do what they’re supposed to do — it’s kind of the best in every way. The level of camaraderie and friendship and caring, it was really profound. It’s a really great, special group of people, and I’m lucky to have been a part of it.
It’s completely rare. It comes from the top. Kevin Murphy, Julia Ruchman all had a part in it. Pierce Brosnan had a huge part in being a kind of marker for all of us to look at, just a selfless artist, a really wonderful man, completely supportive, funny, relaxed. And it just worked its way through everything, all of us in the way that we dealt with each other.
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