During our recent interview (listen above), “Kingdom” star Matt Lauria describes his character, mixed martial arts fighter Ryan Wheeler, as “a guy who’s internal struggles are as difficult, or more difficult, than the physical struggles that he faces.” This hit Audience Network series stars Frank Grillo as Alvey Kulina, a fight trainer trying to run his gym and keep his family together at the same time. Ryan is the all-star athlete who trained with Alvey and his sons Nate (Nick Jonas) and Jay (Jonathan Tucker) before landing in jail. He returns to find his former coach dating his ex-fiance, Lisa (Kiele Sanchez). Hoping for a comeback, he jumps back into the cage.
“It’s a question of how he can balance the pressures that come with that success,” explains the actor. “Ultimately, in the first season, you see a really humble guy who’s being called a monster and a diva, but you never see that. In the second season, he gets a little bit more momentum, and you begin to see where they might be getting those references.” The show recently returned for the second half of season two, where we find Ryan, “lost and floundering, and desperately trying to find equal footing.”
Lauria, who previously starred on “Friday Night Lights” and “Parenthood,” believes that the backdrop of MMA fighting helps bring the drama to almost operatic levels. “Everything is amplified by the stakes of fighting,” he says, “because any one of us can walk around afraid about something, or doubtful or angry or anxious or resentful, but I think that the act of stepping into the cage brings you to such an elemental place. You’re boiled down to the bare essence of who you are at that moment, and it’s survival.”
Ultimately, though, “it’s the story of a dysfunctional family, and it’s a story with a lot of heart. You get invested in these characters on an emotional level.” He adds, “I think it’s more relatable than a lot of shows out there because you’re seeing a complete human being who’s flawed, and we’re unapologetic about the flaws. So we expose the vulnerability of these characters, and the multidimensionality of these characters both in victory and in defeat. That’s where people really lean in and relate.”
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