Tom Pelphrey on 1st Primetime Emmy bid and the ‘trippy experience’ of reprising his ‘Ozark’ role [Exclusive Video Interview]

Ozark” star Tom Pelphrey did not believe he would get nominated for a Primetime Emmy this year. Even though he watched the nominations announcement from Berlin, Germany, with his partner Kaley Cuoco, he was doing so mainly to see whether Cuoco would land another bid for her series “The Flight Attendant” — and she did. “We were very excited, started celebrating,” recounted Pelphrey in a new webchat with Gold Derby (watch the exclusive interview above), adding, “Then, we sort of walked away from the computer and we were FaceTiming with her friends and family.” It was not until 10 minutes later that he, through a phone call from the United States, learned that he himself had earned a citation for Best Drama Guest Actor, a category that is notably not presented during the main announcement. “I picked up, and they said, ‘You got nominated for an Emmy!’ I was shocked. And then obviously very, very happy. So, it was a pretty special day.”

This is the career-first Primetime Emmy nom for the two-time Daytime Emmy champ, who joined “Ozark” in its third season as Ben Davis, Wendy’s (Laura Linney) bipolar brother. His stay, however, did not last very long as Ben bites the dust at the end of the Netflix drama’s third season. Hence, it took viewers by surprise when the character returns in the drama’s fourth and final installment, albeit not because he’s still alive. Instead, he turns up in a brief flashback in the 10th episode of the season, “You’re the Boss,” which naturally serves as his submission to Emmy voters.

Directed by Melissa Hickey, the episode opens with the flashback, which takes place on the night Ben was executed and picks up basically where we last saw him in Season 3: seated in a roadside restaurant as he waits for Wendy to return to their table. This time, however, viewers get to see what unfolds after Ben heads outside in search of his sister and is intercepted by Navarro cartel hitman Nelson (Nelson Bonilla).

SEE our chat with Emmy-nominated ‘Ozark’ showrunner Chris Mundy

Pelphrey was actually filming another show, Amazon Prime Video’s “Outer Range,” in New Mexico when the “Ozark” team reached out to him about his potential return to the show. “They reached out and asked me if I would come do a flashback, [to] which, obviously, the answer was yes. I was really excited,” shared Pelphrey, who was able to head straight to Georgia to shoot his “Ozark” scenes after wrapping “Outer Range” in New Mexico. About reprising his character on the gritty drama, the actor revealed, “It was kind of a trippy experience, because the flashback picks up exactly where we left off [in Season 3]. And so here, you’re continuing a scene that you finished — I mean, I finished filming that scene probably two and a half years earlier, at least. And so it was wild, there were so many emotions.”

What transpires in the flashback is that Ben, after pleading for his life, recognizes that he has no choice but to go with Nelson, who hauls him off to an abandoned barn to kill him. On the drive there, Ben apologizes to Nelson for putting him in this unfortunate position and asks the hitman to also pass along his apologies to his sister, saying he forgives her. Of note is that he does so in spite of his knowledge that Wendy revealed his whereabouts to Navarro cartel attorney Helen Pierce (Janet McTeer), albeit remorsefully. In his mind, he is still surrendering himself to Nelson for his sister, for which there are two reasons, according to Pelphrey.

“On one level, I believe that Ben is very intelligent. I believe that Ben understands, on some level, that what he’s done — which is also why it was so upsetting to him as he was doing it — has put everyone in a position where he kind of has to go,” explained the Emmy nominee. “On another level, I think, as a human being, that perhaps being faced with something that is so inevitable, in a way, that’s deeply upsetting and horrific — if there’s a way to have more agency in what’s happening, that might provide some relief or a little bit of peace… So, I think for Ben, who is so in touch with his feelings, that the idea of like, ‘Okay, this is how it’s going to end, and there’s no changing it’ — there was some comfort, some solace and some agency in saying, ‘I understand, I really do, and I do love my sister. And that’s how I want it to end: on my terms, in that way.'”

SEE our chat with Emmy-nominated ‘Ozark’ cinematographer Eric Koretz

At this year’s Emmys, “Ozark” racked up a total of 13 nominations, including for Best Drama Series and three of Pelphrey’s co-stars: Jason Bateman (Best Drama Actor) — who is also nominated for directing the series finale and as an executive producer — Julia Garner (Best Drama Supporting Actress) and Linney (Best Drama Actress). In our chat, Pelphrey expresses his gratitude for having been part of the show, saying, “It’s really special — that job and everyone involved with it has always felt more like a family than a job. I’m genuinely happy for everyone and genuinely excited that I get to be a part of it.”

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