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Interview: Garret Dillahunt

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Amazon Studios recently released another batch of pilots for the public to view and vote on. One of those pilots is Hand of God. Hand of God is a psychological drama about a morally-corrupt judge who suffers a breakdown and believes God is compelling him onto a path of vigilante justice. One of the stars of the pilot is veteran actor Garret Dillahunt.

Garret plays KD, a troubled man with violent tendencies who believes that God needs his special talents. This role is a far cry from Garret’s most recent role as Burt Chance on the FOX comedy series Raising Hope. The pilot also stars Ron Pearlman (Sons of Anarchy), Dana Delany (Body of Proof) and Alona Tal (Cult, Supernatural).

His credits include appearances on series such as Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Deadwood and The 4400. On the big screen he's been in such films as No Country for Old Men, Looper and Best Picture Oscar winner 12 Years a Slave. He recently signed on for a recurring role on the final season of the hit FX series Justified.

Garret sat down with the Pop Culture Principle to discuss his new role, how religion plays a big part in the pilot and what he hopes for the drama if it is picked up to series.

Pop Culture Principle – Can you tell us the premise for Hand of God?

Garret Dillahunt – On its surface it is somewhat of a vengeance tale, but underneath I think it’s about what are the reasons people find to do the dark things that they do.

Pop Culture Principle – When you read the script for the pilot, what made you want to be part of the project?

Garret Dillahunt – I didn’t know who I was going to play yet. There were some conflicting things about what role I was going to play. So, I just got to read the story which is sometimes nice because you are not blinded by your own character. I thought the interrogation scene with the judge, the daughter-in-law and the cop was very unusual, unique and oddly believable. That scene made me really uncomfortable and I loved what was going to be required of that actress for that scene. Also, the final scene was a big surprise to me in the fact that he was right. You are thinking they have the wrong guy and then you are totally conflicted because they have the right guy, but is that the way to handle the situation. I really liked the fact that I didn’t see that one coming.

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I know that ending may be sticking point for some people because people may thing we are trying to tell them that God is real or that we may be justifying religious terrorism. We aren’t doing either and it is just a story. It’s not an indictment of or championing any kind of religion. It’s just the way these people found a way to justify what they do.

Pop Culture Principle – Can you tell us about your character KD?

Garret Dillahunt – I love KD and I really enjoy playing him, but his is a troubled guy. He’s a zealot, but the most dangerous kind of zealot which is a new zealot; he’s not an expert yet. He’s having trouble curbing his old tendencies which are very, very violent and a source of much regret for him. I like that he’s trying and for some reason I find him kind of likeable in his own way. KD is under the impression that his talents are a tool that God needs. He thinks that the judge is Sullivan and it was a great release for him thinking that the reason he’s so mean and so good at hurting people is because God needs him. I think he’s a very complex character to play.

Pop Culture Principle – Did you do any type of research in preparation for the role?

Garret Dillahunt - There was quite a bit. Every character is a mix of either people you know, read about or see. I watched a lot of interviews with much more serious killers who were just so cold and unable to see the long term results of their action. I didn’t find any that were as religious, but I did watch a lot of middle-aged, lifelong criminals who are in jail forever for doing some pretty horrific things. The way that they spoke with this weird sort of calmness was very eerie.

Here is what I think about KD. He is no Ferrari, but a Ford all the way. He’s willing to redline that Ford all the time and your Ferrari might beat him, but you are going to have to push that thing to the floor and are you willing to do that because he is. He’s a Kamikaze and willing to give up everything and every minute and that is a dangerous person.

Pop Culture Principle – You have some great scenes with Ron Pearlman in the pilot. What is it like working with him?

Garret Dillahunt – It was great. I had visited the set of Sons of Anarchy a couple of times because I was friends with a couple of the cast members. We met a few times and I have always liked him. I like how he talks about himself and his place in this business. He told me once that he never thought he would ever headline a show. He considers himself just another voice in the choir and I think that is a very healthy way to be in this business. I think that is when the best work is done when you think of it as a coral piece. I felt like I could do good work and he wouldn’t be threatened and we could just do good work together.

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Pop Culture Principle – KD is somewhat of an intelligent and capable man. Do you think he has seriously been born again or maybe it’s an elaborate con?

Garret Dillahunt – I don’t think it’s a con. I think he believes very strongly and wants to believe. Like a lot of people in prison, he found religion. I don’t know how smart he is, but he does have blinders on. He really wants to be a great man, but he is just really good at hurting people. He’s probably lonely and never had a real relationship with a woman before. He’s going to want that, but not know how to do that properly. I think there is a lot to explore with him. He’s trying to get it all in before it catches up to him. He’s not Superman, but he fancies himself as a soldier for the Lord but he might not know that the Lord isn’t asking him to do that.

Pop Culture Principle – Watching the pilot or Hand of God, it reminded me a bit of the Bill Paxton film Frailty. Do you see any similarities?

Garret Dillahunt - I suppose a lot of the themes have been explored before, but this is a unique way of doing it. It’s kind of like the Deadwood pilot where you are introduced to so many characters all at once. I thought more than most, this pilot was pretty easy to follow and very interesting. Another reason I wanted to do the pilot was because Marc Forster was directing and we were shooting on film. It’s another kind of experience when that happens. When you shoot on film, everybody is much more focused because it’s a bigger deal to lay down a take. Everyone is on their game and it’s a wonderful atmosphere to be in as an actor.

Pop Culture Principle – In today’s society, religion is a touchy subject. Where you or anyone involved with the Hand of God concerned about how religion is portrayed in the pilot?

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Garret Dillahunt – I was. I had done another series called The Book of Daniel were I played Jesus Christ. Before that even aired or what I knew it was about, there were boycotts and protests. By episode three, we didn’t have a single sponsor or advertisers. It was just promos for other shows on the network and of course we didn’t last thing long which I thought was a real shame. Everyone has a different idea of what religion about or what religion should be and there is no way you can please everyone.

It’s interesting because most of the feedback that I’ve read so far about the Hand of God pilot has been overwhelmingly positive. The negative comments have been either we are trying to shove Christianity down people’s throats or making them all look crazy. It’s kind of interesting that it is both ways. I don’t know what to say to that other than it’s not meant to represent religion in any way. It’s just a specific story about these specific people. It seems to me that to assume that this is any kind of healthy or accurate representation of your religion would be a big mistake.

Pop Culture Principle – You just came off a successful run on the comedy series Raising Hope. Did you face any challenges initially playing KD who is so different from your character on Raising Hope?

Garret Dillahunt – Well that's sort of what we do. I got the same kind of responses when I got the role on Raising Hope because most of the work I had done was like KD. I had to jump through hoops to get to comedy. I needed a break from all the darkness for a while and wanted to do something fun. What is interesting to me is how short everyone’s memories are in this business. They wandered if I could do comedy and when I was two years in doing the comedy, they were wandering could I do drama because he’s a comedy actor forgetting all the stuff I had done prior.

This character is completely different and here is the information that I have to assemble him. I can add in some things that maybe aren’t in the script and I think that is what’s so fun. I think I have been lucky to have the opportunity to play such diverse characters. I don’t know that my ability is anymore unique that anyone else that I know. The actors I have always been attracted to are the ones who are able to do an entire range of thing. People like Daniel Day Lewis, Gary Oldman, Sean Pean and Woody Harrelson. There is no shortage of actors who play a wide range of characters. I don’t know them all personally, but if I had to guess, I’d say they need to do it just like I do. Who wants to play themselves or the same character over and over; it seems so boring and dull.

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Pop Culture Principle – If the pilot is picked up to series, where would you like to see your character as far as the story goes?

Garret Dillahunt - I would imagine we have a case to solve. One of the things I liked about Breaking Bad was this sense of doom over the whole thing. I was so tense watching that thing I almost started smoking. Like Bryan Cranston said, it’s not called Breaking Good; there is just no way you could justify that. Again, we have a case to solve and we are going to go about it in a way we see fit. KD is the judge’s dog and he is going to turn him loose a lot. I think in between all those things he will try and have some kind of relationship. I think there are a lot of people he could fall in love with and try to help; try and become the white knight, but he doesn’t know how to do that. He probably never had a relationship with anyone else besides a prostitute.

He’s going to try and live a normal life thinking he is on the right path. I imagine all of these things will catch up to him at some point. What I like about it is all the complexities that can happen in that story. He’s kind of a simpleton in his own way, but you like him because he is so pure. At least you know what he is. I like being put in that position as a viewer. I like being confused and annoyed by the fact that you might actually like a guy even though he has so many qualities that you might find repugnant or that are illegal. You just want to nudge him just a little bit and he would probably be on a totally different path. At the same time you want him on your side at a bar fight!

We would like to thank Garret for taking the time out of his schedule to talk with us. You can still watch the pilot for Hand of God for free right here. Also, if you would like to keep up with Garret and all his latest news and projects, please follow him on Twitter @garretdillahunt.
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