Lodge 49 is smart, fun, enthralling television, and at the heart of the modern fable is Brent Jennings as the lost but hopeful knight, Ernie Fontaine. The series premieres tonight on AMC, and I had the chance to speak to Jennings about the fascinating new series.
Brent Jennings has over 100 credits to his name, including major roles in Moneyball, Modern Family, and Shameless, and Lodge 49 is a series that gives him a lot to work with alongside star Wyatt Russell.
Jennings plays Ernie Fontaine, a middle-aged plumbing salesman, and a “Luminous Knight” in the Lodge when Russell’s Dud finds his way into the order. While Dud is seemingly drifting, after his father died, Ernie is coasting as well, driven only by work, and the woman he loves, but can’t really be with. The series also stars Sonya Cassidy as Dud’s sister Liz, and Linda Emond as Connie.
Lodge 49 is set in the utterly urban Long Beach, California, and was created by Jim Gavin, and showrunner Peter Ocko, who is best known for his shows Pushing Daisies and The Office.
Lodge 49 premieres tonight on AMC at 10:00 (ET), and 9:00 (CT). Find out more about the series at amc.tv/lodge49.
Jumping into the conversation after some introductions, Jennings starts talking about the way he envisions the new series.
Brent Jennings: “It’s very different from the pace of entertainment today, the way shows are sort of presented and structured and put together, information is sort of jammed into. No one sort of strings the audience along to sort of wait and let things develop and the pacing of it is very different from what we see in most television today, I think.”
Andrew Powell: I love the fact that so many shows rush and they try and spell out what kind of show they are. And I love that Lodge 49, even by episode four, I’m still not really sure what kind of show it is, which is fantastic. How many episodes have you seen?
Jennings: “So, you’ve seen much more than I have. Only seen the first episode.”
“And your perception of it is so different from mine, being inside of it as opposed to viewing it and receiving it. Because, the whole idea of not knowing where it’s going and sort of rambling along was not my perception of it at all. And I think it’s just a matter of being inside the creative process, talking to the creators, and understanding sort of the thematic through line of the show. I just found it very refreshing to be involved in that kind of writing, that kind of process. And it was very specific to me, so it’s very interesting to hear that after four episodes, there was some uncertainty on your part as to where this is all leading. But did you find that your interest in the characters and who they were?”
Powell: Well, that’s what I love. Yeah. I love the fact that the characters feel so fully formed. It’s such a character-forward show, which some shows don’t exactly nail down early on.
Jennings: “Exactly. I said to the creator once, on the set, I said ‘Man, this is like character actors heaven.'”
“He said ‘Exactly. That’s my thoughts about it exactly.’ And I meant that just in terms of the faces that you see in the show, the people that the show is populated with, as well as the way these characters so fully develop.”
“And, it’s the stories of the people and kinda what they’re reaching for, what they’re going after that drives the show. Not action, not gunshots, not any kind of sensationalism, just people trying to find a handle on their lives, and dealing with the same things that we all deal with, but in their own unique kind of way. You know, their own eccentric kind of way.”
Powell: Right. What was the creative process like for you? How did it start when they first got you involved? Was there already a lot written or were they still developing?
Jennings: “Oh, no. They had the first ten scripts written.”
“The first season was written from the very beginning. So, when I was hired, which was late in the casting process, I was just sort of sent these scripts about two, three weeks before shooting was to start. So, I was overwhelmed. Like, wow, look at this. I gotta learn all this in a short amount of time. But at the same time, I was totally intrigued by the character, the richness of the character, the depth of the character. A really nice three dimensional character who had a lot of different sides to him, so I was excited, overwhelmed, all at the same time. “
“So, the process just was one of really kind of trusting the creators, going along with everything, and just giving myself to it. Because, I felt like I had sort of just been given a real gift as an actor. In terms of this part, and how unique this character is drawn and just what, as an actor, I would be able to do with it. What the possibilities were.”
“I felt like I could go as far with it as my own imagination and creativity will allow me. As open as I would be to embrace what Jim Gavin had created, the more I could open myself up to it, the bigger and better the character could be, I felt. So, it was just a matter of just like in the second episode where in competition with beautiful Jeff, and we’re doing the pushups. It wasn’t in the script, but I just tore off my shirt and like come and get it like I could actually beat this guy.”
Powell: And then the scene where he’s sitting drinking the beer after is, maybe, one of my favorite parts, too.
Jennings: “Right. Right. It was rubbing my tummy and not be embarrassed to show my tummy.”
“Yeah. So, I felt those were the kinds of things and touches that would really fulfill the role that Jim had created. And, it sort of was a test of how far I could go. And there were times of course your vanity does kick in and you go ‘Man, do I really wanna be seen like this?’ And then you say ‘Well, look, you pretty much you’re a older guy. What’re you hiding? What’re you holding onto?’ It’s about letting it all hang out. So, the opportunity to have something that will allow you to do that, to let it all hang out, and really have a real artistic experience, as opposed to some sort of vanity thing was unique and enjoyable. And if we are fortunate enough to continue into a second season, I hope that kind of challenge, or opportunity, I should say, keeps presenting itself.”
Powell: Well, he’s like very few characters on TV, because I feel like every new part of the story, you don’t really know how he’s gonna react. Because he’s a complex enough character that he doesn’t fit those preconceived notions we get in so many shows that oh, he’s totally gonna go do this. And, it seems like the. I almost wondered if the had written this partly with you, so I’m amazed to hear that they’ve written this and you’ve just jumped in. Because it feels like it’s a suit tailored to your acting, really.
Jennings: “Well, that’s the whole thing about this business. Like you said, you’ve seen me around. I’ve been around for a while and for about ten twelve years, I was a, well about twelve years, I was an adjunct at American Academy of Dramatic Arts here in Las Angeles. And, I used to tell students that a lot of it is waiting for something to fit.
“You know what I mean? It’s about a part that you walk into the room and somehow, you just understand the demands of a particular part more instinctively and intrinsically than another actor.”
“And, you’re able to embrace it in a way that the part fits you like a glove. And they come every now and again. They don’t always come to us character actors who make our living auditioning for roles. They don’t come that often. But, when they come, you know it. You know it when you read it. You know it when you walk in the room. The people in the room with you know it. And, this was one of those kinds of experiences.”
“I’m just saying just somehow it fit. Instinctively and it was, like I said, just a matter of opening myself up to it.”
Powell: That’s wonderful. I mean, I would say that I identify, like I was more invested in Ernie, than Dud at some point. Dud is a great character to follow, but Ernie feels like an emotional kind of core through a lot of elements.
Jennings: “Well, one of the producers told me that Ernie at one point, in the process of shooting, Ernie is the heart of the story.”
“And, I didn’t understand that at the time. You know, I was like, Dud is going through grief, loss. Where am I? Who am I? What’s the meaning of life? How do I come back from this tragedy? Finding out that we’re basically bankrupt and father’s disappearance, death, or whatever. How do I found my legs again? And, somehow, I don’t know how to explain that. I guess Ernie is written with the kind of care and attention that links what he’s going through to an audience.”
“So, that’s just a gift from the writer. That’s all I can say. If an audience like you feels that way about Ernie, that’s just a gift from the writer.”
Powell: That’s great. I mean, that’s the kind of gift we like to see on TV, for sure.
Jennings: “Right. Right. Right. Right. I’m just happy to be a part of it.”
Powell: Can you tell me a bit about your view of the Ernie and Connie relationship and what that means to Ernie? I guess, without obviously giving too much away, but.
Jennings: “Well, yeah. I have to be very tactful here, but let me put it like this. I think it’s more about how I see Ernie when we find him in this first season. And, I think we see a man who the forth episode you may have seen him say, well you saw him say the first episode.”
“I’m fifty nine years old and I pretty much haven’t accomplished anything. And, so, he’s a man. We don’t know his back story, but there is a back story to him. Relationships or whatever that didn’t work out or whatever. I don’t wanna give any of that away cause I don’t know if it’s gonna come up in future scripts or what. But, he’s a man who is alone and doesn’t wanna be alone. He’s a man who has been a working stiff all of his life, for the most part. And doesn’t feel he’s accomplished anything. He has no legacy.”
“His fear is dying and no one ever knowing he was alive. Because, he’s totally by himself. So, how would anybody know I’ve ever walked the earth? I ever lived in Long Beach. I ever drove these streets. What did I ever do?”
“And what do I really have in my life? So there’s a void that he’s trying to fill and Connie is part of that because Connie was his first love in high school. And they reconnect. And he wants everything that he feels he never had. Whether it’s romance. Whether it’s a big score with captain. Whether love, romance, business, so he’s looking for a validation.”
“And all these things give him validation. And sort of reclaims the loss, transfers the loss to a game. So, I think that’s why he’s so relentless in his pursuit of kindness. So desperate, almost.”
Powell: At the same time, it seems he’s also very welcoming. Because the fact that he, the way he welcomes Dud in is also a little surprising because you don’t expect that character connection I guess you could say.
Jennings: “Right. Right. Right.”
Powell: They have anything in common.
Jennings: “Right. Right. Right. But, they’re two drifting people.”
“They’re two people who are, at the time they meet, very much adrift. And there’s also a code. I don’t know if it comes across clearly in that scene when Dud comes to the lodge in the first scene. There’s sort of a code of the lodge of the order. Is that anyone that asks to join has to be taken seriously. So, once he says I wanna join. And I go you wanna join? And he goes, yeah. I have to take him through the process.”
Powell: Right. I love that, too because so many shows rely on the supernatural side of things that oh he puts on the ring, and they have to be a member or something. Like it’s great that it’s relying on character tributes, rather than Deus ex Machina or something.
Jennings: “Right. Right. So, I’m adhering to the rules of the order when I take him to the application process. Once he says that I have to do it, but then I think we connect on a deeper level by the end of the first show.”
“It’s like okay, where are these guys gonna go from here? Where is this relationship gonna how will it unfold? And I think we learn from each other. It’s set up as knight and squire but I think that’s a sort of interchangeable fluid kind of relationship through the course of the show. Dud teaches and I learn. I teach, Dud learns. It goes in a circle.”
Powell: Right. What was the process like working with Wyatt and Linda and some of the other cast members?
Jennings: “Well, one of the things that when I auditioned, I met Linda at the casting director’s office. Before we auditioned, had brief conversation, went in and auditioned, and I knew we would be doing the part together.”
Jennings: “I was certain of it. Then I saw her at a call back and she said “Hey, thanks for that. We had a great read.” I was like, yeah. So, she felt it too. And then when I met Wyatt, when we started shooting, there was just none of this tension. I feel like he’s a guy that’s kind of like me. He’s a actor who wants to do a good job. And he’s a giving actor. And he works with you. It was just a real ease. We just slid right into it. There was no strain. And I’m not being showbizzy and talking around. I just earnestly feel that way. It was that way.”
“It was as if we had known each other without paling around and hanging out around Atlanta. And we would just have these long conversations between setups sometimes or between scenes or just sort of hang out together that way. But it’s very professional and he understands what the work is about and how to just give yourself to it in a real way and go back to being yourself. Wyatt. But he’s very generous. He grew up in a family, as you know, and he has an ethic, a work ethic, that I think was taught to him about you’re just doing your job.”
“And, that’s what he does. And, oftentimes, we’d be sitting in the makeup trailer when he wasn’t there and we would go like “man, isn’t it great to have a guy like Wyatt in the lead?” Think how miserable we could be if it was a different type of personality.”
“But, he made it easy for everybody. He really did. He really made it easy for everybody. So, it was another example of that thing that I talk about when I say you’re looking for something that fits. A lot of times you go into an audition and some guys are sitting there behind a desk and you thinking ‘Do I wanna work with them?’ Just like they’re thinking do they wanna work with you? And a lot of times you meet people that you don’t really wanna work with. But, on this show, there wasn’t that kind of experience on any level. Whether it was actors, whether it was designers, whether it was crew; it was just a really harmonious set where people were really doing their jobs beyond efficiently.”
“I would marvel at the crew. Sometimes we’re breaking down have to go to another location and watching how efficiently these guys would move from set to place to place around town. Just really the professionalism and the care. Because everyone felt that what we were working on was something different. Something special. And, people don’t get that that often. Especially people like these guys who work all the time. And when they get excited about something that they’re working on, you know you’re onto something that’s special. And that was what everyone felt. And we don’t really know what it is. You read the script but you don’t know how to describe it, but you know it’s special.”
“Whether it lasts one season or five seasons or whatever, it’s still special. And that was sort of the thing that encouraged everyone to put their best foot forward. It was a beautiful experience, creatively.”
Powell: I certainly hope you guys are getting a second season because I’m already hooked and I know I’m gonna finish the rest of the episodes before the show even debuts.
Brent Jennings: Right. Right. Right. Well, we gotta get the next ten on quick so you have something else to see.
So the other thing I’d like to ask is could you hint at all about Ernie’s journey through this first season? Is there anything you can talk about to kind of hint at what’s going on for him as he progresses?
Jennings: “Wow. Well there’s a sort of growth to him. I’ll put it like this. There’s a growth to him where you know how in life we have to learn that certain things are just out of our control? And you kinda gotta go with the flow? You know what I mean?”
Powell: Right. Yeah. Of course.
Jennings: “I think that’s about the most that I can say without giving anything away.”
Powell: Okay. That’s fair.
Jennings: “I think he learns to relax a little bit and go with the flow. And he doesn’t know where that flow is taking him, but he’s realizing I’m still looking for what I’m looking for, but I’m relaxing a little bit. And realizing certain things are just out of my control.”
Powell: And it certainly seems like Dud is some sort of conduit or something for that flow. It feels like things kind of flow through him or happen through him or whatever.
Jennings: “Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Very much so. Very much so. Because through the course of the show, you’ll see Dud in various ways telling Ernie chill, relax. He has that sorta you know how sometimes when a older guy learns from a younger guy who has a certain objectivity?”
“That the older guy doesn’t? You know, like, just saying “Ernie, don’t work so hard.” Relax. You’re good. And I think that that’s kinda one of the things that Ernie learns from Dud. That whole thing of take life with a little bit more joy. A little bit more relaxation. A little less negative, a little less stressful for yourself. I think he learns to relax a little bit. But, knowing Ernie, that may not last very long.”
Powell: He’s certainly got an uptight side to say the least.
Jennings: “Yeah. Yeah. Like the clock is ticking type side. Gotta get it now.”
Powell: Well, thank you very much. Really a pleasure. I’m looking forward to watching the rest.
Jennings: “And thanks for the conversation. I hope we can continue to put something out there that people find special.”
Powell: Well, it’s one of the most different special shows that I’ve seen in a while. And I do look out for that kind of stuff, so. Really nice to see something I can
Jennings: “Uh huh. Well let’s keep our fingers crossed then.”
Powell: Yeah. For sure. I hope it finds it’s audience. It’s always a challenge for shows like that to find it, but you guys seem to have all the right things.
Jennings: “Yeah. I think if the network is committed to it and gives it time it’ll catch on. And I think AMC probably would do that a lot quicker than a lot of other ones.”
Powell: Absolutely. And that’s one of the best things. I think it’s on the right network for sure.
Jennings: “The right place. Well, it was nice talking to you.”