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Exclusive Interview with “Into the Badlands” Star Oliver Stark

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Born in London, England, Oliver Stark never thought that he’d grow up to be an actor. Even though he attended North London Performing Arts Centre at the age of 14 to 16, he didn’t commit himself to that career path until he was 18. In the meantime, he experimented with several other careers. Before acting, he spent two years selling computer games and then was a sports writer for a website with over 14 million hits. It was while he was at University to study Economics that the realization struck him that acting was what he wanted to do. Once he’d made that decision, he seriously and passionately began to pursue it as a career.

His first professional job as an actor was in the UK Film Council’s Follow, directed by David Alexander. His most well-known film and television credits include: 2013’s feature film The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box; 2010’s television show Luther; and, the 2015 action thriller DxM. Recently, he joined the cast of AMC’s phenomenal martial arts drama Into the Badlands as series regular Ryder. I had the pleasure to get to chat with Stark about his new role, what makes Into the Badlands different from other shows currently on television and what he hopes see happen for Ryder this season. Check it out below!

I first want to tell you how much I loved the premiere of “Into the Badlands.” It was amazing.

Oh, thank you so much!

You’re welcome! So, can you tell me a little about how you got started in acting?

Yeah! I am from London, and I never really grew up wanting to be an actor. When I was 18, I kind of made the commitment. I was actually going off to University to study Economics, and then at sort of the last-minute, I decided that I didn’t want to do that, so I got a normal job working in a shop and then I started making short films. It just kind of grew from there. I did a lot of short films and then edited it together into a demo reel, got my first agent and started moving forward.

That’s awesome! What appealed to you about the show “Into the Badlands”?

I just think that it has so much to it that hasn’t been seen on TV in a long time. It really is, within the current climate of TV, something really unique. As soon as I read it, I remember calling my manager and being like, “Yes, I want to get this job, please.” And luckily, that worked out! But, I think that it’s filled with complex characters that are full of contradictions, in the way that we all are. I think that as the season progresses, we will see that more and more. What really drew me to it is that it’s about real people in this high-stress situation.

When you were first introduced to the character Ryder, what was your impression of him?

I liked how dark of a character he was. Immediately, I recognized him as a sort of tortured soul who’s really been through a lot growing up in the Badlands. I really liked the idea of playing this character that has this sort of darkness behind him and how that would affect someone moving forward.

Did you find yourself able to sympathize with him pretty early on when you started the role?

I think so, yeah, which is of course is no reflection on my own parents, since they didn’t give me an upbringing even remotely similar to Ryder’s. (Laughs). But I think that his suffering and self-struggle is all relevant, since everyone growing up has been through something. And then it’s just about adapting that and finding a way to relate. So I absolutely see parts of myself in Ryder. I don’t think truthfully that you can play a part unless there is part of yourself in it.

How would you describe Ryder’s relationship with his father?

Complicated (laughs). I think it’s probably the most important relationship for Ryder in the show. He loves him and he hates him at the exact same time. He wants nothing more than to have Quinn’s approval and love, but he’s kind of gone so long without it that I feel like any time that he receives it, he is almost resentful of it. And also, later in the season, you’ll find out just why they have such a fractured relationship. I don’t think Ryder can be blamed for the way that he feels about his father, honestly.

Did you and Marton Csokos find it easy to establish that dynamic?

So, me and Marton actually met a year before this show; we met in Romania on completely different jobs, but we spent three months in the same hotel together, so we got to know each other out there. I was thrilled when I found out that he would be doing this. Coming in, we had the benefit of knowing each other, and it gave us a safe environment in which to develop our dynamic. In rehearsals, we said that we didn’t want to walk around set acting like we hate each other, but instead have fun with it and enjoy each other’s company, but once the cameras started rolling, we had to work together to nail that dynamic and rely on the trust that we had built between each other. It’s been a real pleasure to get to work with him, honestly.

I noticed a lot of friction between Sunny and Ryder in the premiere. Can you tell me a little about what happened in the past to cause that friction?

I think a lot of it is jealousy. I think that there are certain things that Ryder isn’t happy with in regard to Sunny’s relationship with Quinn, where—for example, Quinn siding with Sunny every time and Ryder really resenting that. I think it’s that combination of growing up and seeing your father shove his affection on someone else, and the bitterness and envy that stems from that, as well as the hatred that has developed from it. So, I think it’s deep-rooted. It’s going to be interesting to say how that all comes into play as their paths become more intertwined.

So, will Ryder have a fight scene this season?

Ryder is involved in tons of fight scenes that are amazing not in the way that you would expect. But he’s very involved—I’m not saying any more than that.

How do you prepare for fight scenes of that kind of magnitude?

We had an extensive kind of training period. We had six weeks to work with Stephen Fung and Master DeeDee. Master DeeDee has worked on “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Kill Bill” and “The Matrix”—revolutionary actions films of this generation. So, to have these people training us was incredible. There was a real emphasis on them not necessarily training us for each fight scene but just training us to fight so that when we get on set, even if the fight has erratically changed, we’re able to adapt. That way, we’re not just being taught to do four moves in sequence; we can mix it up depending on the situation. It was an intense training period with a lot of achy muscles in the morning, but I got through it, and once you’re on set, it’s just about putting your trust in these trained professionals that they know what they’re doing. And, I think you can tell just how incredible they are at choreographing fight scenes; I think they are the best fight scenes that I’ve ever seen.

If you could play any other character on the show, who would it be and why?

That is interesting…this is going to be kind of a confusing answer, but I think I’d play Jade, not only because I’d be fantastically dressed but also I like her sort of manipulative side. (Laughs). I reckon that she’d score quite highly on the psychopath scale. Kind of a key element of a true psychopath is that you’re willing to do whatever it takes to get to the top, and I think that’s something that she very much has, although she’s more subtle about it. She’s very intelligent but also a dark horse as well. At the end of this episode, you see her sneaking into Ryder’s bedroom, so there’s already that power play coming into the show as well as a weird family dynamic.

Yeah, I noticed that (laughs).

It was a shock when I first read it, I’ll tell you that. I was like “Oh!” (Laughs).

So, what do you hope to see happen in Ryder’s storyline this season?

I think it’s about growth for him, especially in a world that’s made it very clear that when Quinn dies, internally he’s not ready to step up. But, I’d like to see him grow into being a force to be reckoned with and someone to be respected in the Badlands. So, I hope we see him grow from a boy into a man.

Besides acting, what are you passionate about?

http://www.twitter.com/oliverstarkkI am a massive soccer fan—and it hurts my soul to call it soccer; it’s football! But, I’m a massive soccer fan; I always have been, and I try to get to a match whenever I can.

Into the Badlands airs on Sunday nights at 10:00 pm on AMC. You can also follow Oliver Stark on Twitter at @oliverstarkk.

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