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Post Mortems

Outer Banks' Charles Esten Details Ward's 'Epic and Operatic' Season 2 Scheme, Teases Season 3 Blindspot

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Warning: This post contains spoilers for Outer Banks Season 2. 

Whether Outer Banks‘ Ward Cameron is the luckiest or unluckiest man on the planet kind of depends on how you look at things. He does escape death twice (one faked, the other very much… not so) in the Netflix drama’s second season, and by the finale is in possession of not only the Royal Merchant gold but also the gleaming Cross of Santo Domingo — both of which will fetch a pretty payout.

But he’s also, as portrayer Charles Esten notes, “nearly grievously wounded” after an altercation with John B, who also feels a certain ownership of the riches in question. And Ward’s daughter, Sarah, has declared herself his enemy by choosing to side with boyfriend John B and his townie friends in the battle for the Royal Merchant booty. To be fair, Ward’s habit of lying to her, as well as his slapping her in anger earlier in the episode, probably didn’t help.

And we haven’t even gotten to the season’s biggest shocker: John B’s father presumed-dead father, Big John, isn’t dead — despite Ward’s attempts to off him prior to the events of the first season. (Read a finale recap, and hear what Esten’s co-star Chase Stokes  and the show’s executive producers have to say about the major reveal.) Of course, we wanted to discuss all of the above with Nashville alum Charles Esten, who filled us in on what Ward’s two-front war in a potential Season 3 might look like (and on how Deacon Claybourne inadvertently made himself known during filming).

TVLINE | Ward kinda-almost dies twice this season, and yet he is not dead by the end of the finale! Can you please tell me: What is keeping this man alive? Sheer fury?
I think it is an inability to know how to give up on any level. Ward is not a take-your-chips-and-slink-away-from-the-table guy. He’s push-them-all-in — and literally, you know that phrase never say die? That’s Ward Cameron. [Laughs]

outer-banks-season-2-ward-fakes-death-charles-esten-interviewTVLINE | We’ll get back to his longevity — and what that might mean for the next season — in a minute. But it really struck me this season that Ward is not a moustache-twirling villain with a master plan. He’s always just reacting to whatever’s falling apart in front of him, and doesn’t seem to be playing a long game. Do you think that’s an accurate take?
It’s one I’m grateful to hear, because that was the aim. Our wonderful writers told me that one of the reasons they asked me to be a part of this is because of the things they’d seen on Nashville. They didn’t want a guy who was bad just because he was bad, they wanted, first of all, to confuse the audience at the beginning, because this might be a really good dad here. But then, further on down the road, we both aimed as often as we could at giving it all the facets, all the nuances. This is a guy, whatever else you want to say about him, he loves his family. He loves his daughter. If you can ground it in that, it gets really confusing for the audience, because there’s moments where yeah, you know, it’s wrong — but you’re conflicted. You sort of understand.

And that’s exciting for me to play. I wouldn’t want to play that other guy and I’m not good at growing mustaches anyway. [Laughs]

TVLINE | You mention Ward’s family: I feel like this season really played up the relationship among Ward, Rafe and Sarah, especially. There are so many points where he talks about not wanting to choose between his kids. Eventually, he says he sides with Rafe, but his actions repeatedly say “Sarah.”
I would agree. I mean, it depends on what point of the season we’re talking about, for sure. But there’s a certain part where he’s been rejected by Sarah again and again and again, and it’s almost the stages of grief. He’s been in denial about what Sarah is telling him so plainly… but Ward does not understand that that’s even possible to him.

outer-banks-season-2-ward-fakes-death-charles-esten-interview[At the end of the season] it was real interesting to me that, if Ward finally believes and understands Sarah, that she’s not on his side anymore, suddenly she is out from that umbrella of protection from Ward. She suddenly said, “I’m on the other side.” And even Ward is going through this battle in his own mind. “What do I do now? If that is true, then now what?”

So, that was terrible to play but as an actor, very interesting. And of course, I love Maddy Cline so much. We always say that we wish we had [more in the] first season where we got to be buds and have that father/daughter relationship. That father/daughter dance. We got some of that and learned how much we loved it, but that’s just not how it was meant to be. [Laughs] This wasn’t [Nashville‘s] Deacon talking to the girls any more after that.

By the way, one funny thing about that: More than once, more than 10 times, I have called her “Maddy” in the middle of a very heartfelt discussion or serious discussion. Because you spend six seasons talking to a young girl playing your daughter, calling her “Maddie,” and then in your next show the girl is Sarah but her real name’s Maddy? [Laughs] So, God bless her, she puts up with me.

outer-banks-season-2-ward-fakes-death-charles-esten-interviewTVLINE | Ward fakes his death in the middle of the season. When did you become privy to the truth that he wasn’t actually gone after that explosion?
I think they whispered it to me before I even got the first episode. As the stories were all coming together, they told me that and I really loved that. And then the first thing I thought was, if you’re going to do that the “death” itself has to be just so good that it would have worked if that was the ending.

I wanted it to be epic and operatic and fitting for the character. And the other thing they did so well was, they had already brought in another bad guy. Audiences are so savvy now. If they didn’t bring in another villain, [audiences] know, you can’t kill the only villain.

But once they had Elizabeth [Mitchell, who plays Limbrey] and they could then go well, “He’s kind of expendable.” But then it was so operatic that you go, “Well, I think he might be dead.”

TVLINE | I definitely thought “maybe not” with the explosion. But when Ward hit his head on the edge of the boat at the end, I was like, “Oh, this is it.” The show got me!
That’s the parallel moment where Ward had Big John and made his decision, and John B had Ward and made his decision. But there’s also a little mixed in there that John B had made his decision in front of Sarah, and Sarah made him better. Sarah called out to his better angels in a way that she tried to call out for Ward’s better angels. Ward just doesn’t have those better angels. [Laughs] I really thought that was cool.

TVLINE | Take me through Ward’s last scene of the season, where Rafe is promising him he’ll step up, and Ward seems very bereft.
Believe me, I was able to absolutely be in that place. I knew how horrible it was to shoot those scenes [where Ward slaps Sarah], and I knew the line we’d crossed, the rubicon there for Ward… He has all the money, he has the cross, but what does he have in the end? So, beyond the fact that [Ward] was physically nearly grievously wounded, that sort of helped…in fact that really helped. The great makeup work and just being there. I was physically out of it, but I was also emotionally, spiritually, every other way out of it.

outer-banks-season-3-big-john-alive-netflixTVLINE | Well it feels like Ward better get his stuff together, because — if the show is renewed for Season 3 — we learn that he may have Big John and Limbrey to contend with. And the teens. Obviously, Ward thinks Big John is dead, but do you think he’s aware that Limbrey is any kind of a threat?
I do think he wrote her off, yeah. I don’t think he thinks of her as such. The arrogance of [the fact] that it’s been a hard-fought war, but he keeps sort of coming out on top. He keeps making these mistakes. At a certain point, you know, he might forget that there’s other sharks out there.