‘Outer Banks’ is out now and JJ has become an instant fan fave. HL spoke EXCLUSIVELY with Rudy Pankow about JJ’s sacrifice, JJ’s complex father-son relationship, season 2, and so much more.
Netflix’s new teen series Outer Banks dropped April 15 and has quickly risen to the top of the streaming service’s most-watched series. The show follows a group of teens — the Pogues — who find themselves searching for millions of dollars worth of gold. JJ is one of the beloved members of the Pogues. He’s reckless and always game for a wild adventure. He’s incredibly loyal, too. Seriously, this guy’s heart beats for his friends. Despite appearing to have an easy-breezy life, JJ has anything but. When he’s not with the Pogues, he’s dealing with an abusive father at home.
HollywoodLife talked EXCLUSIVELY with Rudy Pankow about JJ’s relationship with his father. Rudy talked about how his turbulent home life influences his relationship with his friends. He also discussed JJ taking the fall for Pope and why he made that decision. Rudy doesn’t think JJ is going to react well to thinking his closest friend John B. is dead. Remember, everyone thinks John B. and Sarah Cameron died while trying to make it through a storm, but they actually survived. Rudy even revealed his season 2 hopes, and it would involve major drama for the Pogues. Read our Q&A below.
When I first starting watching, I’ll admit I just thought this was going to be a typical teen show. But I was quickly proven wrong. The abuse JJ received from his father was one of the most devastating aspects of the show. What was that like for you to really dive into? On the surface, JJ seems like a carefree Pogue with not a care in the world, but underneath there’s a lot of sadness there.
Rudy Pankow: To answer your question, I need to bring up two things that JJ does really well. He can mask his emotions like no other character in Outer Banks. He’s a master at portraying his emotions differently. That’s a character arc throughout the entire season that continues. He knows how to manipulate people and how they view him. I think that’s also a fault to himself. He sometimes feels like he’s cheating himself. When he’s feeling one thing, he’s really feeling another, and that throughout the season breaks down. He does have to face that and his relationship with his father. To tell you the truth, I’m lucky enough to have a father who never abused me. There’s always discipline in a family household, but not to the extent of what JJ had to go through. I was really lucky to have a father who didn’t do that to me, but something I had to tie into was the fact that this is real. Gary [Weeks], the guy that plays my father, we talked about it quite a lot actually on set. Neither he nor I had ever been in that situation. He has kids and never would think to hit them or to abuse them in that way. What we did was we really like talked about the reason why a father and a son would have this dynamic between each other. I had to view Luke [JJ’s dad] not like my father. I had to really, really go that extra step in the character development of viewing my father [on the show] as somebody else than my father [in real life]. I’m proud of the work we did because I think it will bring attention that this is an issue not just American society but all over the world. This is not how you should treat your son.
After he gets bailed out, JJ’s dad brutally attacks him in the car. Later, when he needs bail money, his father attacks him and JJ fights back. He tells his dad he’s not afraid of him anymore. Given all that’s happened between them, do you JJ is ever going to go back to that house?
Rudy Pankow: To be completely honest with you, I would love to give you an honest answer of yes or no, but I can’t really because I don’t know. If I was going to voice my opinion on it, I think what JJ will do is he’ll go rogue and kind of do his own thing and live by himself. Because at this point, JJ has proven to himself — not to his dad, not to John B., not to the Pogues — that he can survive by himself in a way. If he’s not going to have a father that looks out for him, the only person that’s going to look out for JJ is JJ. I think that’s actually what JJ will do. I think it’s actually not going to be a really good thing for JJ. But to answer your question, I can’t see him going back to the house.
JJ, without flinching, took the fall for Pope when Pope was arrested because he knew Pope would lose his merit scholarship. Why do you think JJ has sort of given up hope that his life could be any different than what it is now?
Rudy Pankow: I think this is the beautiful part of JJ. He recognizes that his opportunities of getting out and living a life are a lot slimmer than Pope, Kiara, or John B. even. The closest person to his lifestyle is John B., and that’s why we say John B. and JJ’s relationship is so intertwined with each other. I think JJ is the one that views John B. as someone equal to himself. But the reason why he takes the fall for Pope is because JJ does care. He does have this soft side. He does have this sensitive awareness and thinks to himself, “I’m not really going anywhere and that was my choice. That’s my outlook on life.” When he looks at Pope, he thinks, “This man has a future.” The thing about JJ is he knows how to sacrifice because he sees it in his dad, actually. This is something else that Gary and I talked about, how his dad does love him. You see that in the tenth episode when Luke does confess to JJ when he’s on drugs. I really do think that he has learned some lessons from Luke that, no matter what and how dark situations get, unless they have just completely cut you out and not talk to you for the rest of your life, you can’t completely abandon someone. The true loss of a parent is abandonment, and that’s what his mom did and his dad didn’t. I think that as a friend, as a family member, or anybody in a relationship, if you abandon somebody that’s the worst thing you can do to them. I think JJ and his complex home life still taught him to care and love for others.
JJ and John B. have, like you said, such an intense connection. How do you think JJ is going to handle John B.’s “death”?
Rudy Pankow: Not well. It’s not going to go well for JJ. I can’t see JJ getting over it. Someone who’s experienced the loss of somebody as close as your best friend, it’s not easy. I don’t think it will go over very well for JJ at all.
I’m just going to throw this out there because it’s something I picked up on. Do you think there’s anything romantic between JJ and Kiara?
Rudy Pankow: So there’s always talk about like, “Does JJ get a girl? Does JJ not get a girl?” I hear what you’re saying. I hear what you’re throwing down. It’s something that’s pointed out in the very opening of the show that JJ clearly has somewhat of the hots for Kiara. But like, who doesn’t?
He kind of plays it off…
Rudy Pankow: He plays it off, and I think that’s what a lot of people in high school do where they say, “Oh yeah, she’s hot. She’s cute. It’s whatever. “ But then they really have feelings. I hear what you’re saying. I think it goes back to JJ, again, would rather his friends stay together and be happy with each other as the Pogues. I mean, he would definitely slip up and make a mistake if, I don’t know, Kiara came on to him at all. I know for a fact JJ would be like, “All right, here we go.” But in terms of a relationship, I don’t think JJ would do that. I think it’s something he would be okay with Pope and Kiara or something like that. I think JJ would have a conscience about being in a relationship with Kiara.
Do you have any hopes for a potential season 2?
Rudy Pankow: I want to see, rather than just JJ, I want to see the Pogues really struggle with keeping their friendship tight. I think that would make season 2 a lot more entertaining to watch. The Pogues are so tight in season 1, and I would love to see them get crushed by what happened with John B. and really struggle with finding the Pogues’ bond again and that closeness. Something that I really want to see is that they fall apart, and then they find who they were as kids again. The first season I think is like 15 days or just a couple of weeks that all this stuff goes down. I’d like to see season 2 have a bit more of a time skip. I want to see the Pogues be a mess and then bond again and find each other.
You are from Alaska, so what was it like embracing the Outer Banks life?
Rudy Pankow: To tell you the truth, I’m from a fishing and tourism town, and we had to portray a tourism and fishing town. My own town in Alaska and the Outer Banks/Charleston, because we shot in Charleston, are actually fairly similar. Moving out to LA was a challenge because that was a culture shock. I kind of felt a little closer to home when I found myself on a boat, on the docks, and hanging out with friends on the docks. That’s what I did in Ketchikan, Alaska. We would hang out on the docks, mess around, and just do dumb stuff on the beach like throw bonfires. There are a lot of similarities between what I did in high school and what JJ does. To be completely honest, in terms of the atmosphere and being outside and doing all that stuff, it was quite easy for me to tap into.