The ambiguity in ‘Outer Range’ called for a leap of faith from its stars

Imogen Poots.

(Erik Tanner / For the Time)

There are rival ranching families locked in an existential struggle, a dodgy hippie fueled by secrets, singing heirs and buffalo stampedes. But really, “Outer Range,” Amazon’s western/sci-fi hybrid series starring Josh Brolin and Imogen Poots, is about a void: a vast, indefinable hole. And several acts of faith.

“It was new ground,” Brolin, executive producer, says of the show’s elusive tone and metaphysical inclinations. The plot involves what happens when Brolin’s Wyoming patriarch, Royal, finds what looks like a giant sinkhole – with inexplicable properties – on his land. What it is, and what it means, defies description. This ambiguity was a big part of what brought him back to serial television for the first time since 2003 (as the idealistic senator “Mister Sterling”).

“You’re in no man’s land,” Brolin says of the challenging balance exercise in “Outer Range.” “You don’t understand exactly what you want to do, and I don’t think even the director knew that. We’re playing on that dramatic plane, but there are ironic, parody moments there. Because it’s a tone that we didn’t understand, you fail a lot. You feel like you look stupid. You feel like you can’t do anything. But then you go on and you find magic in there. If you’re willing to embarrass yourself, there’s magic in there somewhere.

“Josh is absolutely right,” Poots says of the series, which was created by playwright Brian Watkins. “I think because we were figuring it out and getting the ingredients as we went along, we were all sort of engaging in the wacky trash as a team. There’s something quite liberating and punk about it: ‘We’re going to piss people off!’ »

A man with facial hair poses for a photo on a black background

Josh Brolin on ‘Outer Range’: ‘I think because we were figuring it out and getting the ingredients as we went along, we all kind of got into the wacky trash as a team’

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

Brolin says, “Even the hole. I’m like, ‘What’s the hole?’ Poots laughed as he continued, “’Where’s Brian? Explain the hole to me again? What does this represent? Is it America? Is this our current social fabric? Is it about COVID?’

“Not that we are in complete confusion. We would pick a direction and stick with it. There was no one who was not fully engaged. Usually there is someone who is interested in cosmetics, how they are perceived on Instagram.

“Outer Range” defies definition with its mix of genres, idiosyncratic pacing, eerie characters, and heavy drama marbled with streaks of absurdity. Brolin plays patriarch Royal Abbott, who doesn’t hesitate to protect his family – legality or morality be damned.

“It’s an old-school idea: fight for your family, an eye-for-an-eye kind of thing. I come from a neighborhood like that. And I understand the opposite: Venice Beach, a potpourri of thoughts,” says Brolin, who grew up on a ranch reading Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury.

The all-but-basic Abbotts lose their grip on their empire when they cause the death of the rival family’s son in a fight. and Poots’ character, a mysterious young woman named Autumn, arrives. When Royal stumbles upon what Brolin and Poots call “the void” or “the hole,” he plays his cards close to the vest, which can spell potential disaster for everyone involved.

“It’s so fragile and falling apart because of this idea of ​​what a man is supposed to act like,” Brolin says, “and I love that it backfires in a terrible way.”

Josh Brolin as Royal Abbott, left, and Imogen Poots as Autumn in

Josh Brolin as Royal Abbott, left, and Imogen Poots as Autumn in “Outer Range.”

(Richard Foreman/Amazon Prime Video)

“It’s so fragile and falling apart because of this idea of ​​what a man is supposed to act like, and I love that it backfires in a terrible way.”

—Josh Brolin

Watkins brought other playwrights (Lucy Thurber, late Dominic Orlando) into the writers room. Perhaps as a result, the show takes its time developing characters, and the plot moves forward, albeit with a few “holy” moments at the end of episodes. “Outer Range” plays like an epic indie film that relishes in its mystery.

“I think that extended pacing also allows the audience to have time,” Poots says. “It’s a thoughtful genre piece in some ways. There’s a feeling of experimental album quality, where the tracks are meant to interrelate and, right at the end, you see it as its own beast. I think television is the perfect medium for that.

Poots embraces the show’s ability to slowly reveal secrets and develop characters over eight hour-long episodes, but she acknowledges that the deliberate pacing has raised internal concerns about Autumn’s journey, through which she changes her colors to the extreme.

“Imogen probably had the toughest job, with the biggest arc there,” Brolin says.

“In those early zooms, people were ‘worried about fall,'” Poots adds.

“A lot of people have expressed a lot of panic about my character at the start,” the Brit says, laughing wickedly before putting on a thick American accent: “’Ooh, that’s gonna be really hard.’ And I said, ‘I want to prove you wrong; I want to do it!’ And the director, very early on, said to me: “Everyone is very worried about the fall.” And I was like [rubbing her hands together vigorously]”‘Great!'”

If Autumn sometimes seems spatial, it’s because of what she knows that no one else knows.

“It was fun to play a character who felt this vivid nostalgia, this strange deja vu, this strange realization that she was meant to be here. The power of that knowledge, what it does to a person – it was quite fun.

Imogen Poots.

Imogen Poots.

(Erik Tanner / For the Time)

Both actors embrace the discomfort the show has caused in some corners.

Brolin says, “Reading the reviews, I thought they were pretty accurate. There was a really scathing review that was my favorite. It was very responsive. I don’t think this reviewer understands how happy this makes me. The verve with which the review was written was just as powerful as a great review. It touched a nerve in you; it does not matter.”

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