[Exclusive] Brent Jennings on 'Lodge 49': "I was pretty optimistic in the beginning"
67-year-old actor Brent Jennings ('Moneyball') plays Ernie Fontaine in AMC's 'Lodge 49' starring alongside Wyatt Russell, Sonya Cassidy and Linda Emond
"It was perfect, but I didn’t realize it was perfect until later."
There has been something quietly charming about AMC's 'Lodge 49' ever since the show aired last month. It was a far cry from the usual sunny California life - the show talked about human emotions and loss of every kind. It isn't your usual fraternity concept and is definitely not your usual television show. This story did not have a bad guy, but it believed in flawed characters. The story floated through the craters in the souls of its characters with undeniable ease, and in the middle of the story, we find Ernie Fontaine. A middle-aged man desperately trying to make life work as he watches his window of opportunity to be someone slowly closing.
67-year-old actor Brent Jennings ('Moneyball') plays the role of this adorable yet flawed man as he claws on to the last remnants of what he thinks life should be like; but the tighter he holds on, the more it slips away. The story revolves around a young male ex-surfer Dud (Wyatt Russell), who joins a fraternal lodge after his father's death. He's lost everything - his money, his business, his home and the closest person in his life. He meets Ernie and the two form a very close friendship.
This is the story about all of these people searching for their dreams, a place to belong, to find out what's good about themselves. They are just trying to find a way through life. This is the story about all of these people searching for their dreams, a place to belong, to find out what's good about themselves. They are just trying to find a way through life as Brent says that he couldn't help but be drawn to how different this story was.
"There were just I think it was its uniqueness! The fact that it was a genre-bender and you can't really label it. You can't nail it down to one thing - it has moments that are sort of zany, and it has moments that are quite heartfelt and full of pathos and human feeling and connection. The writer's vision was very unique especially the way tragedy was portrayed. It was also so well written that it almost had a literary quality about it...I felt like I was reading a short story. It was so character driven instead of plot-driven. It was refreshing," he says speaking exclusively to Meaww.
Ernie Fontaine's character would need the skill of someone who has been doing this for a long time. His portrayal is distinctive, and it stands out in the ocean of talent that is 'Lodge 49.' Most people go through life without really being happy, says Brent, that they hate their jobs and wake up one day without getting the pension they thought they would have. What's worse, there's no time to start over. "It's a common story in our culture," he says.
Brent says he related to Ernie along those lines. "I sort of recognized something in him, his core a truth. It resonated with me and I just sort of zeroed in on that. Ernie is a guy who was at a period in his life where he's just trying to make sense of it, and he's trying to achieve something that will give him a sense of self-worth. He's looking around and living day to day and trying to do better. Anyone who is of a certain age can identify with it, understand it. I empathized with him. He's a little bit beat up and weary but resilient."
That he surely is. The man is swimming in debt, his plumbing business isn't going ahead, and his attempt at rekindling his high school romance isn't working out. He's at his wit's end, but he doesn't give up. Brent Jennings is one of the most well-cast characters on the show, and there's a reason why he played the character so well. "Sometimes we get apart at the time in your life is close to your emotional reality," he says before sharing something very personal.
"At the time I read the script and started working on Ernie I had lost my younger brother. He suddenly passed away, and I was taking care of my mother," he pauses and continues, "I was trying to figure out how to figure things out, and my family was lost and restructuring. I was so full of these emotions about loss, and then I read the script.... and loss was the theme of the show."
He continues, "People losing jobs, loved ones, different kinds of losses and they are just trying to reassemble their lives, and that's what I was trying to do. My brother and I, we were very close," he says nostalgically, "and it was an outlet to some of the emotions that I was going through. It was like a synchronicity. I had an emotional reservoir, a well to draw from and use. That's life," he says letting out a sad laugh, "and I'm not the only one who's lost. Let's not make it a tragedy. We keep jumping up, moving forward - and its done with a smile and a sense of humor that makes it buoyant."
He also adds that he had a lot of fun playing the role. "It was such an opportunity for me. When you're my age you're playing somebody's grandad then somebody's father, and its the same parts all over again. To get something so fresh and challenging was fun and I just went with that."
Describing Wyatt Russell, he says: "He was very easy to work with. He's very giving, prepared and so professional. You know, the show will always be a reflection of how the lead, the number ones, conduct themselves. He was so amiable...he was raised the right way for sure. He approaches acting like the craft that it is. I look forward to working with him again."
Jennings started acting professionally in 1980. He fell in love with acting in the 6th grade and followed it through. Although his reasons were "naive" initially. "My teacher who directed the play told me you should become an actor...you should look into it. It gave me self-worth. I got into it thinking no office for me, no work all year round, I could just take a vacation and live the cushy life," he says laughing at his younger self, "but I found something that I enjoyed. As I got older and one thing led to another what kept me going was the successes in between failures that kept me reaffirmed."
For someone who has seen so many seasons change in Hollywood, he thinks that inclusivity and diversity are going in the opposite direction. "I think that a cast being separated by race - all African-American, all-Asian is taking away from uniting us. I think it's reasonable to assume that that the thing that's sad about it is that it encourages separation. We're all fighting the same battles, and we want the same things. We live in the same world, and we do the same thing, just with a different spin. It should be all kinds of people playing all kinds of roles -where they aren't playing racial but playing human. There is still too much of that and not enough of humans people telling their human stories," he says. He also says, "There's obviously diversity than when I started out and the more we have the better it is."
As for a second season of the show, he says, "I was pretty optimistic in the beginning, but sometimes it takes a lot of time to hear, that's an answer right there!" he says before laughing. "Maybe I'll get another job!" he says laughing hard, "we'll see." Brent is, however busy. He has an upcoming show called 'All American' hitting screens in October where he plays a recurring character. The show is based on the life of pro football player Spencer Paysinger. The synopsis reads, "When a rising high school football player from South L.A. is recruited to play for Beverly Hills High, the wins, losses, and struggles of two families from vastly different worlds—Crenshaw and Beverly Hills—begin to collide."
'Lodge 49' airs every Monday at 9:00 PM on AMC.