Bellamy Young Dishes On Her ‘Prodigal Son’ Matriarch: “She Was Instantly Alive To Me”
Rarely does a take on the crime drama feel as fresh as Fox’s Prodigal Son. Tom Payne (doing a flawless American accent) stars as Malcolm Bright (formerly Whitly), a criminal psychologist and forensic profiler, who discovered as a young man that his father Martin (a superb Michael Sheen), was a serial killer and turned him in. Suffering from PTSD and a cavalcade of other issues, Malcolm struggles to interact with people and—despite his brilliance—build a professional career.
The only people Malcolm can truly depend on? His mother, socialite Jessica (Bellamy Young), and younger sister/journalist Ainsley (Halston Sage), both of whom are still reeling from past traumas while keeping up brave fronts. As the show seamlessly moves between present day New York and the night in 1998 when Malcolm’s world fell apart, Prodigal Son is that rare crime drama/procedural that explores the victims not often focused on by mainstream media: members of the killer’s own family.
After playing Mellie Grant for seven seasons of Scandal, Bellamy Young was ready for something different. The character of Jessica Whitley in Prodigal Son has given her the opportunity to play a strong, intelligent, and repressed woman dealing with the aftermath of the discovery that her husband is a serial killer. As Jessica, she focuses on her children and works at rebuilding her life in the most unusual of circumstances. We spoke to the actress about the show, her TV family and why you always say “yes” to a project with Michael Sheen.
Decider: Prodigal Son has such a remarkable premise. Is that what drew you to the project?
Bellamy Young: What appealed to me first was the level of the script from our creators, Sam Sklaver and Chris Fedak. It was so vivid, visceral, and alive, and as hilarious as it was creepy. It felt like life: messy and challenging with the characters failing as often as they are succeeding.
The character of Jessica Whitly is so different from the roles you’ve played in the past. Was that part of the attraction?
I had done a different pilot last year that was a comedy going in a very, very, very different direction. When I read the script for Prodigal Son though, I could hear Jessica’s voice… the pitch, the cadence. I could see her walk. She was instantly alive to me. My reaction was definitely a tribute to the writing, but also a tribute to what my soul is connected to. I thought, “Oh, I can’t believe I’m lucky enough to have this character offered to me.” You know, the role of Mellie Grant was the gift of a lifetime. That was winning the lottery. As a woman of a certain age in Hollywood, you think, “I may never get work like that again,” but I have gotten to do that level of work again with Jessica.
There’s a point in the pilot when Jessica breaks into Malcolm’s home and casually tells him that her maid Louisa “changed your sheets and wiped down your restraints.” That she can say this so offhandedly tells a lot about the character!
I know! She’s so dry and so repressed, but strangely loving. She doesn’t know how to be warm, but she would take a bullet for her kids. She’s had to watch Malcolm go through so much. Malcolm was so young when his dad showed him all his drawings and taught him about the human body. The experience destroyed any chance he had for a well-balanced life. So her mothering consists of questions like, “Are your meds right, dear?” “Are you wearing your mouth guards?” “Do we need new restraints for the bed post?” She doesn’t even try to pretend that things are normal.
It must be really fun to act opposite Tom Payne. Jessica and Malcolm have this unique mother/son dynamic we haven’t seen before.
It’s a joy because Tom is so talented and so good in this role. It’s fun when your colleague is 100% committed to working with you. We have been able to keep all the characters’ backstories in play even when we are both in the present day. Essentially, our two characters are broken but together.
Malcolm’s sister Ainsley is a fascinating character because she was just five years old when Martin was arrested and doesn’t really remember much of it. How does Jessica navigate the two very different relationships with her children?
Ainsley got lucky. She loved her dad, and she was too young to understand what was happening. At school, there were whispers and name calling aimed at both children, but Malcolm got the worst of it. He was always a squeakier wheel with the PTSD, the night terrors, the anxiety, the depression. He needed more. Siblings always seem to define themselves in opposition. So it makes sense that Ainsley had to be the perfect child. She’s always been Jessica’s anchor.
As the series progresses, it’ll be interesting to see how Malcolm and Ainsley explore their family’s past.
Exploration always has an honest drive behind it. Instead of living in fear and lying, our characters are starting to live in the light and be honest about their feelings. Even the bad news that Malcolm discovers stabilizes him as much as it unhinges him because at least it is the truth. But I’m so interested to see what discovering truths is going to do for Ainsley. As an investigative reporter, she’s geared her life towards asking questions until she finds the truth. Plus, nobody goes through life without unexpected twists and a little rebellion.
The show uses flashbacks so effectively. Is it hard keeping track of the timeline?
[laughs] I just have to keep track of the timeline by asking myself, “Do I already know such and such in the present?” The flashbacks so inform the emotional impact of everything that happens in 2019. I particularly enjoy flashbacks that go back to when we were a happy family, even though it’s a lie and none of us knew it except Martin. I love getting to spend a little time in that world, the world before it all shattered.
And we get more screen time with Michael Sheen! I have to imagine he was part of the appeal of the project.
That was the phone call I got. My agents called and said, “We got this offer. It’s opposite Michael Sheen.” I was like, “I’ll do it.” And then they said, “Maybe you want to read the script?” I was absolutely hooked even before I read the script, which luckily, was just stellar.