Tom Pelphrey Reflects on Reentering ‘Ozark’ World, ‘Guiding Light’

Although there’s been a bit of controversy about how few series are recognized in the Emmys’ guest actor and guest actress categories, there are quite a few talented stars who have yet to win an Emmy — or even be recognized at all by the Television Academy.

Many thought Tom Pelphrey, who portrayed Ben Davis in “Ozark,” would get an acting nomination last year following his very intense arc on the Netflix series. Instead, he was snubbed and with the death of the character, thought that journey was over.

Until Season 4 was about to start filming.

“I was just so excited,” he says of his initial conversations with showrunner Chris Mundy about returning in the fourth and final season via flashbacks. “That job was just so special. I loved every second of it, and I love all the people involved so to get to go down and play with those guys again for a few days, I was pumped. Oddly enough, it was almost difficult to shoot the scenes that we have to shoot because I, Tom as the actor, was just so excited and happy to be there. Then it’s like, ‘Oh, we’ve gotta go back into that arc.’ I really had to sit there by myself for a minute and get my head straight, because I was just so happy to be there.”

Little did he know, that arc would land his first Emmy nomination, something he didn’t even realize was possible.

“I didn’t know exactly how the guest star thing went,” he says. In fact, the morning of nominations, Pelphrey was watching with his girlfriend, Kaley Cuoco, who was nominated for Season 2 of HBO Max’s “The Flight Attendant.”

“We were celebrating that and then my phone rang, and it was my team. I thought, ‘Oh, man. I wonder if something bad has happened.’ They were like, ‘Hey, you were nominated for an Emmy!’ It was a really pleasant surprise.”

In Season 3 of “Ozark,” Ben’s death, orchestrated by his sister Wendy (Laura Linney), was a turning point for the family; in fact, it was the moment the audience was reminded of how far the main couple in the show, Wendy and Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) would go.

Though Pelphrey didn’t know that ahead of time, he knew about Ben’s journey — and still wanted to take him on.

“Chris pulled me aside before we started filming and said, ‘Here’s the deal with Ben. He is bipolar, he’s on medication and at a certain point, he will choose to go off of his medicine and it all ends badly,’” Pelphrey says. “One of the things I just loved about him so much was that his heart was so pure. The way he saw things was pretty simple, and straight- forward and almost black and white. He had a certain set of values and principles that I found very endearing — as much as he struggled with them, given the very gray world itself.”

While Pelphrey is a first-time Primetime Emmy nominee, he’s not new to the Emmy world; for four years in a row, he was nominated for young actor in a drama series at the Daytime Emmys for his role as villain Jonathan in “Guiding Light.” He took home the trophy in 2006 and 2008.

“I always thought Jonathan was kind of a bad boy with a heart of gold,” Pelphrey says with a laugh of the role on the CBS soap opera. “He kind of came around!”

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether he’s taking on a hero or villain. “When the writing is compelling, it makes anything very interesting and worth doing.  That’s what entices me more than anything. And complexity is fun.”

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