John Carroll Lynch on a possible return to American Horror Story and ‘compelling’ new role in Big Sky

Emma Bullimore chats to John Carroll Lynch about David E. Kelley’s follow-up to The Undoing, and a possible return to American Horror Story.

John Carroll Lynch (GETTY)

By Emma Bullimore

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He’s one of America’s hardest-working actors, but John Carroll Lynch still has time to tick off a few lockdown clichés. As he settles down to talk to RadioTimes.com, he’s got one eye on a timer – in a few minutes he’ll spring from our Zoom call to rescue his latest batch of bread from the oven. Success is crucial as his earlier loaf ended up in the bin.

“I screwed up the last one, I accidentally used powdered sugar instead of flour,” he worries, before raving about his recipe for Nanaimo bars. “They’re a British Colombia treat – I made 147 of them over Christmas to keep me out of trouble and away from COVID.”

I’m tempted to spend the next half hour sharing my tips for the perfect apple crumble, but we have more pressing matters to discuss. Specifically, Lynch’s latest project, Big Sky, which premieres on Disney+ on 23rd February, as part of the streaming service’s major Star launch.

The edge-of-your-seat six-part series is set in Montana, and follows a small team of private detectives, forced to put their personal dramas aside as they search for two teenagers abducted on an ill-fated road trip.

“This isn’t a whodunnit, it’s more like an episode of Columbo where you see the crime and then you watch the investigators hone in on the perpetrators, it’s a cat and mouse relationship,” explains Lynch, 57. “It’s a fun, exciting thriller that’s incredibly compelling – they sent me episode one and I just had to know what happened next.”

Lynch plays a cold, unknowable local Highway Patrol officer called Rick Legarski. He is drafted in to help solve the girls’ disappearance, but is harbouring dark secrets of his own. “It’s been really fun to play a pedal to the metal kind of person,” says Lynch.

“The first time you meet Legarski you realise he has an overweening sense of his own superiority and importance. You’re unsettled by him, but he’s also utterly dismissible. And then suddenly he isn’t. And you have to work your way backwards to wonder why you didn’t see this coming. He’s a convincing person in all circumstances – he may be telling a completely opposite story from one scene to the next and yet he’s believable.”

Big Sky is adapted from C.J. Box’s novel The Highway, and penned by man of the moment David E. Kelley, the screenwriter responsible for recent obsessions Big Little Lies and The Undoing, as well as classics like LA Law and Ally McBeal. Lynch promises that Big Sky offers the same irresistible magic.

big sky

“Yet again, David’s words are so much fun, the characters behave in surprising ways and you just don’t know what’s going to happen next,” he teases. “David leaves lots of opportunity for actors to interpret scenes and he listens to you. He doesn’t come to the set, but you feel his presence in the writing.”

While Lynch waits for audiences to fall in love with Big Sky, he can take a moment to enjoy the huge success of Netflix film The Trial of the Chicago 7, in which he stars opposite Eddie Redmayne and Sacha Baron Cohen. The movie, which tells the true story of Vietnam War protestors dragged through the courts, is currently enjoying the exciting shiver of Oscar buzz. Lynch is stunned by how relevant the film feels.

“Aaron Sorkin started working on that material 15 years ago, and it was great then, but now it’s in the zeitgeist. It’s like dropping an album that just explodes, that’s what happened to this film,” he tells us.

“Civil unrest was happening in the United States at the time we were making the movie and then it dropped just before an armed insurrection hit the Capitol. The eight people in our film were arrested and tried for crossing state lines to incite a riot.

“Obviously with COVID, people are looking for quality content to fill many hours at home and this is good material with a ridiculously impressive cast. But it’s amazing that it arrived at a moment in time when it was needed. The film asks questions that need to be asked.”

Mr. Jingles in American Horror Story: 1984
FX

Lynch is one of those actors you’ll instantly recognise, even if his name isn’t on the tip of your tongue. His IMDb credits read like a character actor’s wish list, with guest appearances in countless award-winning shows, from The West Wing to The Walking Dead. His main advice for actors dropping into established series? Read the script properly and avoid the noose…

“When I did an episode of The Handmaid’s Tale I looked through the script, found the scene and flew to Toronto with no idea that my character eventually died. When I landed, they talked to me about ‘the stunt’ and I was confused! It wasn’t fun to film the hanging scene, I don’t recommend it. Although of course 18 months later I did the same thing in American Horror Story: 1984!”

Speaking of which, I can’t let Lynch return to his mixing bowl without discussing Ryan Murphy’s beloved anthology series. Lynch is part of a celebrated ensemble cast and has played a host of unforgettable characters, including nightmare-inducing Twisty the clown.

“Ryan has created the equivalent of theatrical rep company with a quality of actor that you just don’t see on screen,” says Lynch. “It’s particularly exciting because you’re working with some of the most gifted women on television and they are given amazingly interesting, challenging material to work with. Sarah Paulson is a joy, she’s surprising, deep and dangerous, and the same is true of Jessica Lange. Kathy Bates is a blast – to be across the table from her is more fun than should be allowed.”

Lynch doesn’t appear in series 10 (originally due to air in 2020 but pushed back), but with three more series already commissioned, will he return to the AHS family? “I serve at the pleasure of Ryan Murphy – whenever he calls I’ll try to make it work because he has given me some of the most complicated characters to play. Mr Jingles in 1984 was the most surprising journey I’ve ever had on screen, it was breath-taking and difficult, and Twisty is iconic. I’d be happy to go back.”

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Big Sky will be released on Disney+ Star on February 23rd 2021, the same day Star joins the streaming service. If you’re looking for more to watch, check out our TV Guide.