[Exclusive] I spoke with actor Oliver Stark who currently portrays Ryder on AMC’s hit new action series Into The Badlands. Stark teased what’s to come for the rest of the season and drops a bomb about how by the end of the season finale — “Nothing is the same as where it was at the beginning”. Plus he teases his role in Underworld 5 and much, much more.
From AMC and showrunners Al Gough and Miles Millar come the epic martial arts series Into The Badlands starring Daniel Wu, Emily Beechum, Sarah Bolger, Oliver Stark, Aramis Knight, Marton Csokas, Stephen Lang, Ally Loannides, Madeleine Mantock and Orla Brady. The six-episode season is currently airing Sunday nights.
The ruthless, prodigiously skilled warrior Sunny, mentors a teenage boy M.K. during a spiritual journey across a feudal civilization known as the Badlands. With the help of trained assassins like Sunny, the area is ruled by rival barons, and for decades Quinn has consistently outflanked and outmaneuvered his fellow barons to keep the upper hand. His invincibility, however, begins to fade in light of brazen attacks by the newest baron, The Widow, who believes M.K. is the key to her success. As the battle for control of the Badlands heats up, the destinies of the stoic assassin and the impetuous teenager become intertwined.
Keven: Into The Badlands – This is one of the best shows on television right now. From the opening minutes this season it’s been firing on all cylinders. What do you think it is about this series that is setting it apart from the rest of the programming?
Oliver: First of all thank you very much for the high praise. There are so many elements: visually the look is so vibrant. There’s been so much work being put into the look of this world. The main element obviously is the martial arts which really sets it apart from everything else that there is. Also there’s these intricacies between these characters where you’re introduced to so much in episode 1 but by 2 and 3 so much has started to deepen. It started with a bang but that wasn’t it… It’s got a little bit of something for everyone – it’s had a nice start.
Keven: The action is – easily the best that I’ve seen in all of television – the only other thing that almost comes close would be the choreography and fights on Banshee, but even then – ridiculous. We’re only a few episodes in and the battles have already overshadowed anything else this year – are we gonna be topping those by the finale?
Oliver: Oh absolutely. Next week (episode 4) the story philosophy-wise thrusts forward and everything starts happening. We’re introduced to another baron next week and with another baron comes a whole bunch of other clippers. These next three episodes are gonna be very exciting and carry it through to the end of the season.
Keven: The choreographers – Stephen Fung and Master DeeDee are truly some of the best ever – what was the main takeaway for you during your training before filming – you mentioned that they just taught you how to fight so that you could adapt if the scenes changed – how did they teach you to fight exactly?
Oliver: Master DeeDee’s line was very much that we’re training your mind as much as anything. Each day we would come in we would learn a different and new routine with a different set of choreography but that it wouldn’t necessarily be involved in the show. We learned the basics, the fundamentals, but it was more about adapting to each person’s strengths.
So If I’ve got a really high kick, we’re gonna choreograph stuff with you that has a really high kick. If you look great throwing a punch, you’re going to be throwing a lot of punches. It just kind of became its own beast in the sense of whatever it needed to be and however it was gonna end up looking as good as it needs to look we’ll do whatever that takes.
Keven: Your character Ryder has been out of commission the last little bit after getting hung up from that sneak attack and then your freaking skull was drilled into. Are we going to see him get back into the action this season?
Oliver: If they hadn’t taken me from behind… I didn’t even need to take out that sword – I had that covered. By episode 4, Ryder’s up and moving again but he’s got a scar on the top of his head. He recovers pretty quickly which is nice for me. I had enough lying in bed so it was nice to be able to get up and have some scenes with people again.
Keven: Marton Csokas is one of the most intense actors I’ve seen on the big screen and I’m in love with his portrayal of Quinn. The core of your character’s arc is definitely how Ryder wants to be the Baron because he thinks his father has become weak and indifferent to the badlands at this point – Is it safe to say that theme will reach a boiling point by the end of this season?
Oliver: Yeah… In episode 4 in fact we start to see them getting at each other a little more. It’s a very strange relationship because Ryder loves him as much as he hates him. But really more than anything he just wants his approval. He’s just gone so long without it that he doesn’t know what that would be anymore. But they face off and that starts next week. And that story carries on and climaxes at the end.
Keven: Quinn is insane – he murdered the doctor that delivered you because he found out that the guy has a brain tumor – just to keep his title as Baron safe. Do you think Quinn loves his son or is he completely void of caring for anyone else aside from himself at this point?
Oliver: I think it’s about self-preservation. I think that if he had to throw Ryder under the bus then he would. I think he’d hate to do it. I think he wishes Ryder had lived up to his expectations. I think now he’s so dead to everything around him and paranoid because he feels like he’s getting weaker. Everything has gone to extreme measures, for example –killing the doctor. I think if it came to it – he’d put Ryder in trouble.
Keven: Daniel Wu as Sunny – holy shit that guy.
Oliver: Hardest working man on television.
Keven: The skillset he possesses is unbelievable, what’s it like working with him and what was the one thing about him that you found the most interesting as a performer?
Oliver: The thing I respect most about him is the level of professionalism. This guy is literally, no joke, working 14 hours a day, six days a week. His schedule was insane. He never lets up in his performance. I’ve been watching him and enjoying his stoic performance that he brings to it but it’s kind of effortless. He’s really nice and a very intriguing man. He’s just… He’s just very cool, quite frankly. He’s someone whose had a huge amount of success for a long time in China and Hong Kong and he’s so humble so you’d never know it.
Keven: I wasn’t familiar with Daniel’s work before Into The Badlands, so for me this is mine and maybe several more fans’ introduction to him as part of this large scale North American show.
Oliver: Yeah and there’s a pressure that comes with that for him and the way he handles it is just by throwing himself into it and not looking back.
Keven: Stephen Lang is in this too – Waldo – that guy is such a badass right? Did you interact with him at all or were his scenes filmed separately this season?
Oliver: We do cross paths at one point. I was very excited to shoot it. I don’t know masses of his work but I mean he’s in Avatar and that’s enough. It was just so interesting to talk with him and get to know him and listen to his stories. He’s a fascinating man. He’s been working for a long time so he knows exactly what he’s doing. It’s funny because he’s very much got the presence of Waldo. You kind of want to impress him and it was a real honor to work with him.
Keven: We finally found out some more about Ryder’s disfigured foot after that conversation with your mother where she reveals bandits had something to do with it – will we ever learn what exactly happened or will we leave the past be?
Oliver: I think it’s quite nice the way that information is being staggered rather than “this is the whole story behind this” and “here’s the whole story behind that”. It’s nice that it bleeds through slowly and keeps people guessing more than anything. You do find out a little more about it, the foot and what he’s been through. And kind of just… why he is the way he is. And can you blame him for that? I think he’s very normal considering…
Keven: Without giving much away – because for all I know Ryder could die (I hope not), but if Into The Badlands gets renewed — what is it about the show’s mythology that you would like to see more of down the road – it’s so ripe for exploration.
Oliver: The most interesting thing for me if it gets renewed, which I really hope it does, is that by the end of the season. Nothing is the same as where it was at the beginning. I’m just so interested that every element of this world that was put in place this year — they looked at it and just said, let’s mess it up. And I think that’s brilliant. So I’m excited to see where that can go and how relationships can be broken down and formed in different ways.
I honestly have no idea how they could take it next season and that’s so exciting to me because I’m part of it but also just being a fan of the show. Also meeting new barons and different factions that’s going to be really interesting to me just understanding different worlds formed within the badlands.
Keven: You’re doing Underworld 5 – and I’m a big fan of that franchise. Your character is Gregor – can you tease fans with anything about this character and film?
Oliver: It’s cool to step into something that’s already so well established and already has a huge fanbase. I will be strung up if I give away any story but I think I’m allowed to say… I’m a Lycan wolf – I’m not a vampire. It’s a really, really good script with some epic moments. I think it’ll be a great addition to the franchise.
Follow Oliver on Twitter right HERE because he’s been incredibly approachable to all of the Into The Badlands fans and his dedication to the audience has been awesome.