Poker Face, Rian Johnson’s latest addition to the mystery genre, takes inspiration from the classic Columbo style of howcatchem mystery. The series follows Charlie Cale, who is traveling across America while on the run from a dangerous casino owner. Charlie has an uncanny ability to tell if someone is lying and a mind for puzzles that get her into trouble. Everywhere she stops, Charlie meets an interesting cast of characters and can’t help but be pulled in when a mystery befalls them. Using her skills as a human lie detector, Charlie sniffs out the truth and dispenses her own form of justice before once again hitting the road.
Poker Face has an impressive and ever-growing cast with each new episode, including Stephanie Hsu, Lil Rel Howery, and Nick Nolte, with both Tim Blake Nelson and Jack Alcott joining the roster in this week’s episode. In “The Future of the Sport,” veteran driver Kyle Owens (Nelson) finds himself unnerved by the talented rookie Davis McDowell (Charles Melton), and trouble ensues. And it looks like Charlie will continue to find trouble wherever she goes with the recent renewal of Poker Face for a second season on Peacock.
Screen Rant spoke with Alcott about his role in the seventh episode of Poker Face. Alcott broke down the audition process and how he crafted the character Randy. He also discussed working with Natasha Lyonne, explaining how she prepared for Poker Face episode 8, which she directed, and described her as “a force of nature.”
Jack Alcott on Poker Face
Screen Rant: Jack, amazing job on this show. I think Poker Face is one of the best-written shows of 2023. I think it’s one of the best shows just in general of 2023. What drew you to this project?
Jack Alcott: Plenty of things. The first one, it is so insanely easy to see Rian Johnson’s name anywhere and just get super excited. I think it’s impossible not to. And that was obviously a huge pull. Looking at the audition sides, because you’re constantly reading for things, you’re constantly auditioning. When you read for smaller characters, often there’s not a whole lot of material to work with. You kind of got to do a little bit of work to make it interesting for yourself. I’m reading this and being like, “Oh, oh my God, no, this is just so much fun.” It was probably the most fun I’ve had doing a self tape in a while because self tapes, they’re not always funny. It can feel very weird and inorganic. This one was fun. It was an immediate, easy, yes.
Getting to read the entire episode, the twists and turns. I’ve read so many scripts, screenplays, plays, television shows. And that’s not counting the things that I’ve watched. I’m a dork about it. Usually I know what’s going to happen; there’s a formula that those stick to. Rian and the rest of the writers on the team, Nora and Lilla Zuckerman, they just know how to keep it twisty. They know how to keep you guessing.
The twists in this episode realizing that really it’s Davis, it floored me. Because of course I’m also reading it from the vantage point of Randy. Davis is my boy. Even though he’s hotheaded and can be a little bit of a douche sometimes, he is my friend. When I realized that he did it, just reading it for the first time, it floored me. Not a lot of things surprise you after you read that much. To get a surprise, it’s like a cherry on top. “Wow. This is really good writing.”
I honestly think this is what the show does best. They set up the circumstance, and you think it’s one way, but as the story slowly unfolds, you start seeing the bigger picture. Tell me a little bit about your character, what you wanted to bring to the role that wasn’t necessarily on the page, and what that audition process looked like?
Jack Alcott: One of the first things is that in the breakdown in the sides, there were no notes about him having any sort of accident at all. It didn’t mention where the episode was set either. But he said, “Ain’t,” enough times. Particularly with anything that’s even mildly comedic, I was like, “In what way can I make this interesting? In what way can I have more fun? What way can this be a game?” My family is from east Tennessee and my whole mother’s side of the family talks like this. It’s real easy to slip into that. I just was like, “Well, maybe I’ll ratchet that up.” And improv’d all over the script.
I did the scenes but tried to just show as much as I could that I’m down to play. Particularly with the tone of the show [being] darkly comedic, but a lot of it is fairly serious. You got some dire circumstances and some really deep-seated feuds, and a lot of hatred going on. But this character’s sort of generally benevolent all the time. And is just happy to be there. So, how can I be happy to be here while I audition? I have friends like Randy, they are exceptionally goodhearted people, and he’s a goodhearted person. He is probably the most loyal friend you could ever have. And is just not the brightest.That adds to his charm.
He is, I think, an invaluable addition to every group. Every group, you’re going out, you need a Randy. He’s going to keep it interesting. He’s going to keep the energy positive. If someone’s having a bad night, he’s going to make sure they have a good night. Getting to be that guy is just like, “Oh, man. Of course.” Particularly coming off of Dexter: New Blood, which is the last thing I did.
Which is amazing. You’re amazing in that, by the way. I got to say. I love it.
Jack Alcott: Thank you. I really appreciate that. But to get to go the other way. I went to college for acting. I was always sort of the goober dude and dramatic realism, it was a big challenge for me. A little bit of my college experience was like, “Can we get Jack to cry?” That was so hard. It was hilarious when I graduated, almost a hundred percent of the roles that I ended up getting, The Good Lord Bird, Blacklist, Dexter: New Blood, they were really damaged, dark characters that dealt with a ton of grief. I was always terrified. I was like, “Oh my God, I get to do something fun?” Oh, man. I couldn’t have been more excited.
Can you talk to me about Natasha’s leadership as the lead and executive producer on the show? How does she set the tone for the show on set?
Jack Alcott: She’s fearless, and she’s a genius. I mean, she’s wearing all of her hats at the same time. Our episode The Future of the Sport, they did not shoot anything in order. The episode that was being shot after Future of the Sport, episode eight, but it was the episode that Natasha is directing. In between takes, not set-ups, in between takes, scenes, she would be off with the DP of her episode, brainstorming and getting shots right. Being an actor, being a director, being a producer, being a writer all at the same time — and being good at all of them?
It’s not even fair. She’s a force of nature. And then of course, would find time to crack a joke and have the entire set laugh. I don’t know how she does it. That’s just the time that I spent on set. There’s plenty of the show I’m not in, so this is just what I saw. She is an inspiration. She’s brilliant.
Do you think Randy knows what Davis did? If not, how do you think he’d feel about what his friend is capable of?
Jack Alcott: Randy definitely does not know. Davis is his boy, but I think he would do almost anything for him. I could totally see Randy helping Davis hide a body; I think that would be hilarious. But I don’t think that he would be able to stomach what he did to Katie. Because it was just, to do something that foul to somebody that undeserving, and almost unrelated. To the trouble that he deals with, and what is hurting Davis, or the pain that Davis is feeling. She’s not an antagonist.
She needles him, but it’s because he deserves it. Maybe I’m not the biggest fan of Katie, but I respect her. She certainly doesn’t deserve what Davis has in store for her. I think if Randy knew, there would be serious problems. I’m not sure how that would play out. I don’t think there would be a fistfight. There would be a lot of friction. It would definitely put him on the rocks, that’s for sure. I think Randy’s got a good soul, and I don’t think he could stand for something that nasty.
When crafting Randy, what other characters did you look to for inspiration? I know you talked a little bit about your southern roots, but were there any other characters that you looked to for inspiration when crafting Randy?
Jack Alcott: That’s a great question. I don’t think there were any specific characters. I think it really was just picking little pieces of behavior from people in my real life, my friends, and some of my family. It’s also funny because my audition is significantly goofier than what ends up on screen. And for the better. But it’s easier to, in that case, to point out, “This is from this friend, and this is from my cousin.” But there’s no movie or TV characters that immediately come to mind. That’s a great question, though.
More About Poker Face
Poker Face follows Charlie Cale (Natasha Lyonne), who has an uncanny ability to know if someone is lying to her, when she hits the road in her trusty Plymouth Barracuda. Every stop pulls her into a new mystery with a unique cast of characters that she can’t help but solve. Ryan Johnson’s new series is a “how catch ’em” style of mystery inspired by the television classic Columbo.
Check out our other Poker Face interviews:
Next: Charlie’s Lie-Detector Gift In Poker Face Explained (& Is It Truly Reliable?)
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