April 2023

Screened | Quentin Plair

Getting Into Character With Tiny Beautiful Things' Quentin Plair

Photos Martin Rusch | Words Tamara Rappa

Quentin Plair, most recently seen in Robert Siegel's Welcome To Chippendales for Hulu, also recently had a critically-acclaimed run in the Peabody Award-winning Showtime series The Good Lord Bird opposite Ethan Hawke. He's appeared in CW's Roswell, New Mexico and a number of other series, and most recently gives a stunning performance as key character Danny Kinkade opposite Kathryn Hahn in the much-anticipated Hulu adaptation of Tiny Beautiful Things, the best-selling book by treasured author, Cheryl Strayed. We questioned Quentin about how he approached doing justice to her beloved book, dug deep into his process for building out his character-amidst-crisis, learned how hiking with Hahn helped flesh out their character's relationship of sixteen-plus years, got the scoop on the series' stunning ending, and more.

What was it like working on this story that is already beloved by so many? Anytime I've worked with material that's been a book that people love, it's a bit more pressure at the beginning. Not only are you wanting to hold up to the piece that was written, you're also dealing with what people have built up in their minds, and what they've experienced personally as they've read it. I want to try and match the same feelings and energy that people might have had while they were reading something that they fell in love with. didn't have to adhere to a character. Tiny Beautiful Things is a collection of columns, and it wasn't like we were playing out those stories. My character is fictionalized. I read it, and it gave me a really good look the tone and the energy of where it was coming from, and it gave me a pretty good look at the way that Cheryl [Strayed] thinks, and the vulnerability that she gives on the page. As an artist, I just wanted to do my best to match that vulnerability. I don't know if I could truly match it, but I knew that's where the heart of the story was coming from, and I wanted to act from that place.

Did you do research to discover reader's reactions to the stories and advice?
 The really beautiful thing about it, is that that's so individual. Different people have very different reactions to the advice given, and very different emotional connections to it. Everyone's getting a different experience from it, because each needed something different. I just kind of went with a through line of, how do I empathize with what I thought Cheryl might have been feeling as she was writing it herself? And obviously, in discussions with Liz, [Tigelaar], our showrunner, and discussions with [co-star] Kathryn [Hahn], we knew where we wanted to come from. Raw, messy, grounded, real, problematic---all of those phrases kept coming up. I didn't want it to be a very polished thing. I wanted it to feel really gritty and grimy.

In a recent interview, Cheryl said that it was important to her that many details for the Hulu adaptation be different than her book. What about the Clare and Danny relationship, and about the character, Danny---remained true to life, and what was changed? Danny is a completely fictionalized character. He's  not someone from Cheryl's life. I don't want to speak for other people, but I do remember hearing Cheryl saying that a lot of the younger flashbacks were the ones that were closer to her true experience. I think my character's arc is about the general kinds of connections you can have with someone, about the feeling of you and someone else pulling apart and becoming different people. Everyone can relate to the experience of a failed relationship. Together, Kathryn and I worked on our backstories for the characters. It's a phenomenal cast. My biggest lament about this project, is that because the nature of it, I didn't get to work with like half of the actors. I never got to work with Sarah [Pidgeon]. I never got to work with Merritt [Wever], never with Owen [Painter]. I'd seen the beautiful things they did during the table read, and I'm sitting there, like, 'Damn, I'm never gonna be on screen with them.' [Laughs]. It was truly great. It was a real, grounded experience, and I'm just really thankful to have been a part of it.

What was particularly interesting to you about playing Danny? I think the most interesting thing, because I haven't had to do this yet in my career, has been playing someone who is in a fully fleshed-out relationship with someone. I've had the experience where it's a minor part of the story. There's sixteen years of backstory, sixteen years of being with someone---when we meet Danny and Clare in scene one. There can't be an 'Oh, he's too far in love', because that's not the reality. They've been together for a while.

When we meet Danny and Clare, we as the audience come to understand right away that this is a couple who essentially grew up together. How did you go about portraying that kind of closeness? The audition process was pretty fast one for me. It happened very quickly. From the moment I got the initial audition, there may have been two weeks until we got started. Kathryn and I knew we had to build our backstory really, really fast. We went on a hike together and we did this thing, [the New York Times'] The 36 Questions That Lead To Love. It was so great, and I wrote everything out on note cards because we didn't want our phones to be out. We wanted to really be in the moment, and be present. I initially thought, we'll do this, learn a little bit about one another, and we'll have a better connection. Kathryn wanted us not to just answer for ourselves, but for the characters too. In doing that, it made me think about the things I hadn't necessarily thought about for Danny just yet. She'd ask a question, and I'd answer as Danny. Then, the two of us would bounce answers back and forth, and also find out what our answers were as a couple. Leading up to filming, the two of us had a text chain going, where we would send one another music that we were listening to, music that brought up a memory, and then shared the memory. I remember there was one song I was listening to, I can't remember the song.  I said, 'I was listening to this the other day, and I had a memory of me, you and Rae driving back from school after an argument. I put this on loud, Rae is in the backseat kind of listening along, and by the end of the song, we're all screaming, singing along out loud to it, and it was a nice day.' Then Kathryn would pop back with her memory from that same memory. We built on little things like that, so that when we were in scenes, it would be a shared memory that we talked about.  It was something to connect us that much more, beyond the words that we're saying on screen.

The audience is kind of confused as to what's happening as the series begins. We see a drunk Clare unable to figure out where she lives, and that's because Danny has recently kicked her out. In that scene, Danny's picks her up, and then the winding road of their relationship unfolds over each episode. How much of Clare's decision to spend Rae's college money actually factors in to Danny's decision to leave the marriage?
Sometimes when you have so much history with someone, so many things on the camel's back, all it takes is one straw to break it. Knowing how Danny feels about being a father, about being better by having more for his children, it's a huge thing. The deceit; the fact that it wasn't even discussed, that it was done without any consideration...she took $15,000, and gave it away and out of their daughter's future. It gives Danny a big inner glimpse of how she feels about him, and it's such a disrespectful thing to do. I do think that the reasons Danny chooses to leave have more to do with himself, they have to do with him figuring himself out, and figuring out how to be happy, or at the very least, content, with the human being that he is; not the human being he thought he'd be in the future. He wants to get back to a happy place, back to a place and to who he remembers being. They're going in different directions as people and not doing it together. People grow and evolve, but if you're doing that singularly, and away from your partner, the two of you aren't going to grow together and learn together. You wake up one day and you're miles apart. You're not these people who fell in love with one another, and maybe you're staying out of convenience, going through the motions.

Danny's a lifelong musician, and during the series we learn that he had a dream, never realized, of making it big in a band. Do you think that ultimately, he might see his relationship with Clare as the roadblock to his success? Or does he in fact view her as his biggest fan, biggest champion, something we see in a scene in the series. Is he able to separate that big disappointment in his life, with the disappointment he's experiencing in his marriage? That's a great question. I think like a lot of things in life, nothing is black and white. I'm sure on some days he does see Clare, and even Rae, as roadblocks. Throughout the series I would write songs for both of them. I gave one to Tanzyn [Crawford, who plays Rae], it was kind of like a rap. In the past and over time, Clare was his muse. She was his biggest fan, his inspiration. That's something that can't be forgotten; you look back on those times. So I think it's both, roadblock, but also inspiration.

After we learn of the the Danny-Clare split, and come to learn that an after-office-hours relationship has formed between Danny and he and Clare's couples therapist, the outcome of this new relationship Danny has, is largely left up for interpretation. That's absolutely what it was. We had a lot of discussions about that with Liz, about where we wanted that to go. I had feelings about it and Liz did as well. Danny was begrudgingly going to therapy in the beginning [laughs], but at a point, he does buy in, he does start to release, and in the exercises their therapist gives them, he wants to go all in. At a point, he gets used to the routine: when there is a problem, he talks about it with his therapist. He decides he's going to live his life, and go out of my own, and then struggles with, 'What did I just do?' In a positive way, he reaches out to talk to their therapist, Mel. That's the place I was acting from. People have shared how they feel about the ending with me. 'The therapist? That's messed up!!' Then they remember it's not actually me. I did not leave my wife. It was the character! No pun intended, but the beautiful thing about the show is that it's not afraid to go to a messy place. Clare is very obviously a messy character. Even someone like Danny who's seemingly and for a lot of the season, solid and put together, Danny's just as messy. It's a show of human nature. All of us have our things that are our things, and maybe we're not proud of them, maybe we will look back on them negatively. We've all got our things that are our flaws. We're all just trying to get through each day better than we got through the last. Tiny Beautiful Things is a really realistic look at a slice of life, at a family.

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"I love working out. I try to do it five, six times a week. It's something that goes beyond the physical for me. It's a mental readjusting, and a releasing of things. "

"People are always like, 'Let's watch this new show!' Not me. I'm always re-watching shows I've already watched. I'm currently re-watching How I Met Your Mother, which is nine seasons of tv. I don't know how many times I've re-watched Entourage and Friday Night Lights, I always go back to my comfort shows."

"It's not great, but love Monster Energy drinks, in the original flavor. I drink way too many. Anytime I'm doing long, long drives, and during my video game sessions, I'll have a Monster."

"Writing things down on paper. I'm not good with putting notes in my phone. I'm about actually writing things down, or writing my checklist down. It locks things in for me, and makes them more real. I'm also a diary-writer and a journal-er sometimes, especially for my characters, and work."

"I've recently really, really fallen in love with candles. Pretty much every night when I'm winding down, I'll light up what I call my 'triangle of tranquility'. It's whiskey tobaccopalo santo pachouli, and cinnamon---surrounding me in different places in my apartment. They kind of help me end my day, and I can sleep better as well."

"Sports. I am a diehard LeBron James fan, and a diehard football fan in general. I can talk about it for way, way too long and have way too much knowledge."

Watch Quentin Plair as Danny Kinkade in Hulu's 8-episode series, Tiny Beautiful Things.