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The Son Q&A – David Wilson Barnes (Phineas McCullough)

David Wilson Barnes, who plays Phineas McCullough on The Son, talks about the importance of being a McCullough, why Phineas didn’t want Pete to come home and his fraught relationship with Eli.

Q: When Pete first comes home, Phineas makes it clear to him he didn’t want Eli to bring him back. Why is that?

A: It’s kind of personified in the first episode where Phineas is basically saying that Pete has lost his focus on the family, that the most important thing is family. And when Pete leaves with Maria, goes down south, he also in effect turns his back not only on his family but mostly on his children. And Phineas just can’t see how anybody could actually do that, and that’s just a sign that his head isn’t in the place where Phineas thinks it should be to support the family. I think he loves his brother but, at the same time, he loves the family more.

Q: Why does Phineas give Pete the gift of the engraved gun?

A: I think it’s a legacy gift. I think it’s a reminder of his history, of his past, where he comes from. In that culture and that environment that they were in, I think that’s just a real reminder of his legacy. I think Phineas is constantly trying to remind Pete that he’s a McCullough and that he comes from this great legacy and his father’s a great man and they can do great things. He’s always just trying to keep him in the family.

Q: Phineas finds out that Eli is grooming Pete to take over the business instead of him. How does this change his relationship with Eli and Pete?

A: It gets very, very complicated. I think his relationship with Pete has always been one of mentor, as far as mentoring him in how to be with the family, be loyal to the family. But then when Eli hands the business over to him, I think Phineas starts to see the inherent weakness in his father that I think we see disintegrating all throughout the season until Episode 6 where he finally tells him exactly what he’s thinking. I think that’s the beginning of it. I think he’s turned a blind eye to his dad’s faults this whole time and then, after Pete has betrayed the family and then Eli gives the business back to him, I think that’s when Phineas starts to look at his dad with more scrutiny.

Q: When Phineas finds out Maria is back to take Eli down, he suggests they take her out without Pete knowing. Has he lost all love for his brother?

A: I don’t think he’s ever lost love for him. At this moment, I think Phineas is more of the mind that Pete isn’t trustworthy. His instincts are not trustworthy, so we should just remove the temptation altogether.

Q: The men trying to take Eli down come into Phineas’s bedroom and take photos of him with his lover, blackmailing him and ruining his reputation. How far will Phineas go to protect Eli?

A: I think he goes all the way. When I read the scene and when we ended up making it, I was definitely of the mind that Phineas is an amazing strategist and I think that he’s willing to plunge himself on the sword to show his father how much he believes in the sanctity of this family. And I think, in that moment, he sees that as another opportunity, even though it’s the worst opportunity. It’s the worst option in the world.

Q: After being blackmailed, Phineas gets drunk and finally tells Eli how he really feels about his father’s soft spot for Pete. What does he make of Eli’s response?

A: I think that Phineas has become the parent because he has his priorities in check with the legacy of the family, which is what Eli wants. So I think that Phineas, watching his father’s response of not retaliating against him after confronting him with the truth — he knows Eli heard him and that’s the important part. What he is going to do with that, we’ll find out. But in Episode 6 he heard him and that’s all that matters at that moment.

Q: What are you excited most for people to see this season?

A: I’m most excited for people to see how we wrap it up. It’s such a big story, and the writers really came in with the idea this year of wanting to be able to have the series be self-contained in these two seasons, and I think they did such a tremendous job with that. I’m really excited for the audience to experience the entire story of what it means to be a highly powerful legacy family in the Texas oil community and what the effects are of our history and how that just reverberates all the way to the present, and in our show it’s over 150 years. I really love that. I love perspective. Perspective is the most important thing I think you can get from a story. I’m hoping that the audience walks away with some better perspective of history and our history as Americans.

Q: What’s your favorite memory from filming this show?

A: The whole process was my favorite memory. The two seasons in Austin with this cast and this crew and the producers and working with AMC — it’s been an absolute dream come true, and I do mean that in the most literal sense. I always wanted to be a part of something that was epic in its scale and people really cared about every day that you went to work. Ultimately that is my favorite memory.

The specific memory though that I had was shooting at the Capitol Building in Austin. They had to clear out the Capitol Building so we could shoot and walk through the rotunda. And it was all clear and we were waiting for something to get set up, and Pierce, he just laid down on the floor in the rotunda, and so I was like, yeah, awesome, let’s lay down on the floor in the Capitol Building in Texas! So we were both laying there on the floor, and I think the DP [Director of Photography] came up and he took a video and he panned down from the top of the rotunda to us laying down on the floor. And it was just like one of those things — this only happens in movies, this only happens in moments that are so special where you can be doing something that’s so weird on the Capitol Building of the biggest Capitol Building in the United States. And it was just fun. It was a nice celebration of our success. It was great.

Read an interview with Zahn McClarnon, who plays Toshaway.

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