The journey of death-row inmate Ray Seward (Peter Sarsgaard) on Season 3 of The Killing has been peppered with difficult questions: Did he really murder his wife? If not, then why hasn’t he been more forthcoming about it — and who actually dunnit? And, with the clock running down toward Ray’s execution date, can Detectives Linden and Holder tie Tricia Seward’s death to the murder of at least 17 runaway girls in the Seattle area — and buy Ray some more time in the process?
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Many of those questions get answered during the season’s penultimate episode — “Six Minutes” — a tense and harrowing hour of television that airs Sunday at 9/8c on AMC and takes place almost entirely inside the prison walls. TVLine caught up with Sarsgaard to discuss Ray’s Season 3 journey, the intricacies of shooting the pivotal episode, and the chance to finally engage in some extended screentime with costar Mireille Enos.
TVLINE | What’s it like playing a man who starts the episode with a mere 12 hours till he’s scheduled to be excecuted, and bringing to life all the rage, humor, regret and fear that comes with that knowledge?
It was really exciting — and it’s what I’m here to do! [Laughs] I felt like the role was well-suited for me, and every part of it felt very playable for me. And the episode, the way it was written, I was glad it avoided obvious sentimental pitfalls. At the same time, going into doing it, I remember telling the director [Nicole Kassell], “I’m not gonna cry or anything in this episode, because I really want the audience to feel the grief. And I’m not gonna be scared. I’m gonna disassociate the entire episode.” And she just looked at me and nodded. But once we started filming, it became impossible to do that — almost immediately.
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TVLINE | How long did it take to shoot the episode?
Seven days, something like that. And all the stuff with Mireille [Enos] in the phone booth was shot over a two-day period. There was an enormous amount of dialogue shot on one day in particular — like 12 pages worth.
TVLINE | Ray Seward has been, in a lot of ways, a solitary character throughout Season 3, but in “Six Minutes,” he’s face-to-face with Linden for a good chunk the hour. Was it fun getting to play those scenes with Mireille?
I didn’t have many connections to other people this season, and most of acting has to do with connections, or the bouncing back and forth, the friction between two people. She was my satellite out there for the whole second half of the season, though I rarely saw her. And so it was nice to actually have her there, it felt good — probably in the way it felt good for Ray — just to be able to touch base with another human being. And it brought out the human being in me.
We had already started to see that Ray was not a monster through the course of the season. In the beginning, I’m trying to give off the vibe, “I know I don’t look like Vin Diesel, but don’t f*** with me or I might bite your ear off.” It’s a way of protecting yourself in jail. Then you start to see the other part of this guy that’s brought out through his cellmate across the way. But this is a guy whose feelings are more easily brought out by the presence of a woman — and the fact that Linden is female really did something to Seward, and brought out qualities we didn’t see elsewhere.
TVLINE | You’ve spent the entire season shooting in a prison cell, or in the prison phone banks, or the chain-link prison yard. What is that experience like, and does it start to creep into your consciousness?
At a certain point, the set wasn’t that interesting. Even unconsciously, there’s a certain amount of entertainment we derive from location. And location can say volumes about a character: The way you drive your car, the way you get out of your car. There are different places — your home versus your work — that bring out different parts of a character. And if you’re in one place the whole time, it’s difficult to reveal different sides of yourself. It was an issue even in terms of new directors coming in every week and saying, “How am I gonna film this in a way that the other person didn’t?” Creating variety is a challenge. But the actual sensation of being on that location and being on that set — I mean, there is a part of me that likes the simplicity and order of just a bed and a toilet — and that’s all. I don’t like being in jail, but I would frequently stay in the jail cell versus going to my trailer. It felt more comfortable to me. It’s also nice filming on a sound stage because the sound is always good, so it’s nice to not have done a lot of additional dialogue recording on this. I did almost none.
TVLINE | You have some interesting scenes in this episode, as you did all season, with Hugh Dillon as Ray’s prison-guard nemesis Becker. He really brings out Ray’s nasty, aggressive side. Did you enjoy that aspect of Ray’s persona?
Hugh and I had a good time together. [Laughs] I was a fan of his from Down to the Bone with Vera Farmiga back in the day. The first day I saw him I said, “Oh boy, they got a real hard-ass.” But like I said, it was a male energy all the time on set. And I was really dying for a woman — really, really wanting a woman. [Laughs]
TVLINE | So give me a 30-second pitch for why people need to tune in to Sunday’s episode.
One, it’s some of the best acting work I’ve done in a long time, so I hope they’d see it for that. [Laughs] And second, so many of the issues that have been building over the course of the season really come to a head in this hour. It would be a very easy episode to drop into and watch, because a lot gets explained.