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The Killing’s Brent Sexton on Red Herrings, Sloppy Detective Work, and Last Night’s Kid Slap

Brent Sexton
Brent Sexton. Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Only four episodes remain until the season-two finale of The Killing, when Rosie Larsen’s killer will finally be revealed. For most fans it’s a cause for celebration, but for Brent Sexton, who plays Rosie’s father Stan, it means his days on the show might be numbered (though nothing has been officially announced about his future on the show). Sexton has spent the last 22 episodes emoting grief and outrage, and with an MIA wife and two sons to look after, his fuse grows ever shorter — which explains the climactic kid-slapping incident in last night’s episode. Sexton chatted with Vulture about the show’s many red herrings, sloppy detective work, and the slap.

Your fight with your son Tommy in last night’s episode — that’s an explosive moment.

The slap is very convincing. What was it like shooting it? I’m assuming there was some sort of stunt coordinator to help walk you through?
Sure, we choreographed. It’s a difficult thing. Personally, any kind of abuse towards children just turns my stomach, but I did understand how he got to that point. The frustration with everything, and not being able to gain any resolution whatsoever, it just builds up and builds up — and of course he lashes out. And Tommy takes it.

You haven’t had any scenes with your screen wife Mitch [played by Michelle Forbes] this season. Were you told up front that your characters would be spending most of the season apart?
I just kind of read the scripts as they came in. I had a lot of scenes with Jamie Anne Allman, who plays Terry [Mitch’s sister], and we just kind of picked up from there. She was terrific to work with, and we had some really good scenes this year.

You guys had a kissing scene. Did you guess it’d go in that direction?
It’s certainly set up for that. I think more specific than calling it a kissing scene, these are two people that are just hurting and seeking comfort as best they can in these horrible circumstances. So I wasn’t surprised that it would come to that, actually. These people are dealing with massive grief and they just wanna feel better.

I’m surprised Stan has been so understanding about Mitch being MIA, since she didn’t really explain herself when she left. Why isn’t he trying harder to chase her down?
Well, he’s made a few phone calls. He’s reached out, and I think [at the end of last night’s episode] you start to see a difference. You sort of see that start to wane. Stan is just trying to keep everything afloat: allow the wife to have what she needs, try to keep the business afloat, try to take care of the boys, and it’s just way too much. It’s wearing him down.

One of my favorite lines is when Linden asks Stan what was in Rosie’s backpack after Holder already looked through it. And he’s like, “Don’t you cops even talk to each other?” I think Stan’s become kind of a foil to show how sloppy Linden’s police work can be. What do you think about that take on him?
He went to [the police] trying to do the right thing and let the police handle it rather than himself, and of course Holder bungles it. So he’s let down from that. And then he goes to [former mob friend] Janek to try to reconcile it, and that doesn’t work. He goes back to the police again. It’s a guy with limited choices but still just trying the best he can.

Do you feel like Linden and Holder are good at what they do? Or do you feel like they’re shortsighted and sloppy at times?
I talked to Veena [Sud], the executive producer, and when she interviewed [a real-life] detective — I don’t know what town, it might’ve been in Seattle — one of the things the detective said was that they arrest the wrong person all the time. I’ve never been a detective so I don’t know how to answer that, but a lot of people say, “Oh, there’s a lot of red herrings happening,” and to me it’s just a clue comes up and needs to be investigated, especially if the person is acting guilty about something. One of the things Veena says about these characters is everybody has a secret. Well, if the cops are picking up on that, they have to go down that road and find out it doesn’t go anywhere. So to me it’s more of what clues need to be followed rather than red herrings.

There are things that look like sloppy police work but they could be realistic. We don’t know.
Exactly. If we had a million detectives watching the show, then I’d accept that. But I think most people’s frame of reference is probably from another television show. And, unfortunately, that’s not a reality to base your expectations on, I don’t think.

When did you actually find out who killed Rosie?
I found out when we had the table read for the last episode.

So it was revealed to the entire cast at once?
Uh, yes.

This is a huge moment for the show — this is what people have been waiting two seasons for. Did it feel momentous when the revelation was made to the cast? Was there a lot of chatter?
I think all of us had an opinion at one point, where we were trying to figure it out, but I think we were just impressed with the script and the way they told the story for the last episode. It’s pretty terrific. I think the audience is gonna like it.

I heard there was a “who killed Rosie?” pool going on among the cast and crew.
Yes, they had a thing going backstage. I don’t know who won, though.

What about yourself? Did you have a guess, and were you right in the end?
I was about 85 percent right.

Does that mean you had a few guesses?
Mina, you’re asking me these questions and I’m afraid I’m gonna say something. [Laughs.]

It’s gotta be hard for you to talk about the show without giving anything away.
It is, yeah, because I’d love to share it, but by the same token I think people would rather learn in the moment than be told.

Do you go online to see what fans and critics are saying about the show?
I don’t do a lot of that. Some of the stuff gets e-mailed to me and I might read that, but I don’t actively seek that out. I know our numbers have been really good through the entire season.

There are still lots of staunch fans, but others have become cynical about the show. I think some people didn’t want to watch unless they knew Rosie’s killer would be revealed early on. How do you feel about that kind of attitude toward the show?
It’s unfortunate. We certainly didn’t do this on purpose. Most of us had watched the Danish series that the show is based on, and we knew it was gonna take two seasons to tell the story. I’m also of the mind that, Hey, didn’t everybody watch Dallas? Wasn’t it always a cliff-hanger on that? This is not your traditional hour-long procedural. It’s slow-burn television. That’s something that Veena said she wanted to do differently from the beginning, and I think she actually accomplished it.

As Rosie’s father, were you prepared for the strong possibility that your character wouldn’t make it to another season, once Rosie’s case is solved?
I was. Like I said, I watched the Danish series and I knew that we were going to wrap up the crime at the end of season two. When you have that closure, I don’t know how you keep the family around. I don’t know how you dramatize that. It’s probably gonna be a new crime in season three and they really only have 42 minutes to tell that story, so I was fully prepared for this.

So you’re prepared to exit the show?
They haven’t officially said. I’m happy to come back and I’m blessed if I don’t. I’ve had a great two years on the show.

Brent Sexton on The Killing’s Kid Slap