This interview contains spoilers for Sunday night’s episode of “The Righteous Gemstones.”
The first thing to know is that the testicles were fake — in one of the shots, at least. Anyone who has seen Sunday night’s episode of the HBO televangelist family satire, “The Righteous Gemstones,” knows which shot.
Near the end of the episode, the sixth of Season 3, Tim Baltz’s character, B.J., gets in a brutal brass-knuckle fight with a naked man that spills onto a suburban front lawn. Just when it seems that B.J. is out cold, his eyes fly open and he reaches, grabs, twists. The neighborhood children watch in horror.
In an instant, the typically mild-mannered B.J. has victory well in hand. His nemesis, the philandering Christian rock guitarist Stephen (Stephen Schneider), drops to his knees and pays a brutal price for his affair with B.J’s. wife (Edi Patterson).
It was a difficult scene to film, Baltz said last month by video from his home in Los Angeles, and not only because of the endless takes. He also did most of his own stunts — and accidentally got punched in the face several times.
“There were a lot of little very quick decisions that either injured us, or barely avoided injury,” Baltz said of shooting the scene, which took all day. He added: “That’s the most intense day of work I’ve ever had.”
Baltz grew up in Joliet, Ill., near Chicago, and he has the kind of boyish blond looks, deadpan delivery and cheery Midwestern affect that can make it difficult to tell whether he’s putting you on. (Given the circumstances, I believed him about the shoot.) That affect is one reason he is so convincing as B.J., a sensitive soul who lets his wife dress him in shiny pink rompers and who Rollerblades in full protective gear: It’s hard to believe that anyone could ever really be that earnest; B.J. keeps surprising you because he really is.
“Despite being an atheist or a nonbeliever, he’s the most pious and religious character in the show,” Baltz said. “Which is odd,” he added, for a character who married into a family of preachers.
B.J. also may be the most meme-worthy character in “Gemstones,” which is saying something in a show created by and starring Danny McBride. Baltz talked about the character, his outfits and the true cost of B.J.’s fight. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
First things first: How did you guys choreograph that, uh, decisive shot?
That fight scene took an entire day to film. Once we got outside, we were worried about losing light, and with the camera looking up, the camera moving, I have to grab these fake testicles. I’m looking up at Stephen, who’s barely covering his own junk, and I’m like: “All right man, here we go, and we’ve got to get it right for the camera, too.”
There was a stuntman involved for at least some of your parts, right?
Yeah. My stunt double for the show has been a guy named T. Ryan Mooney, who looks shockingly like me. Same body type, too. To be honest, I don’t think that I’m like B.J. in real life, but I never feel more like my character than when I watch a guy who looks like me and has my body type do insane stunts, and he does it for a living. It’s kind of emasculating. But aside from B.J. getting thrown through the lattice work or when he gets dragged off the brick steps into the front yard, every shot you see, I did.
Stephen seems like a champ for having done his whole part naked. What were your conversations about the scene like?
He was really awesome. He was wrestling with whether he should go au naturel or use a prosthetic. It ended up being the last shoot day of the season for both of us, so there was a lot of buildup and anticipation. Stephen would come into town every few months to film stuff, and I would be like, “Let me take you out to dinner, man, because we’re going to have an intense day.” And then halfway through the season, he’s like: “I’m going to do it. I’m going to be naked. I just think there are only so many challenges in life, and I see this as a challenge.”
Presumably he had to get your consent.
I mean, the intimacy coordinator definitely called several times to prep me. But for me, it was more like: “All right, this guy’s being really vulnerable with this. So every time he comes into town, we’re going to get to know each other so that we’re buddies going into this.” And honestly, it really worked. By the end, I considered him a dear friend, this naked guy I had to fight.
You’ve played around with this image of the wholesome naïf a lot over the years. How much of that feels like you?
I grew up playing sports — I was hypercompetitive. I really am not like [B.J.] at all. If I relate to the character in any way, it’s just the kindness and the generosity that he has, and I think a lot of people see that as being a mark in our society.
When you book something, you lean into it as hard as you can whether it’s a nice character or someone creepy. But this one in particular you have to understand, Where does the unconditional love come from? And how do I keep in touch with that? This season that really gets tested for the first time, and it gets tested so much that he thinks that he has to change who he is. And the fight scene is the culmination of that.
After the fight, B.J. tells Judy, “I hope you like me now.” Does he feel worse about beating up Stephen than he feels about having gotten beat up himself?
I think he’s probably more hurt that he betrayed his own values. Danny always said: “When you play B.J., he’s the eyes of the audience within the show. He’s looking at the family the way we all look at the family.” I’ve carried that with me the entire time. So that moment is, “Not only did you cheat on me, but you made me betray myself.”
Do you think there’s any part of standing up for himself that he takes in a positive way?
I think so. It’s a fascinating evolution of the character. When I first read it, I was excited because I think it puts that card on the table for him. I think parts of our culture see something like that as a rite of passage, or something that you have to rise to the occasion to do. So in that sense, he does do it. But when he comes back, you can also look at that final line as saying, “I’m not the same anymore, so I hope you like what this has changed me into.” You can’t go back after something like that.
It’s like a more complex George McFly moment.
Right. The sliding-door part of that [“Back to the Future”] trilogy is you see what happens if he doesn’t throw the punch, and his life is miserable. And then if he does throw the punch, everything is saved and the family’s OK. With this, I think B.J. probably looks at it and is like, “No, that’s a doorway that I can step back and forth from as I see fit now.” The truth is, his values are, “You shouldn’t do that.” He was forced to do it, and he rose to the occasion. But if given a choice, then he probably wouldn’t.
Can we talk about the outfits? There’s a flamboyant dimension to them, and I’ve always wondered what that signifies.
There’s a blend of a few things. First, I think he starts as Judy’s kept man; this is her wardrobe for him, and he feels a bit out of place. And then I think he gets more comfortable with it and starts to take bigger swings. Also, if you walk down King Street in Charleston [S.C., where the series is filmed], you will see guys kind of dressed like that. Maybe not as opulent, but the color palettes — there’s a lot of pastels.
A lot of salmon.
Before I’d really explored Charleston and saw some of these outfits, I thought, “Whoa, this is really out there.” And then in the real world you see it, and these people aren’t making a joke of it. They’re going about their regular lives. I always say that if B.J. was a Christian holiday, he’d be Easter because of the pastels. And it’s incumbent on me to feel comfortable and live in those outfits without making them the point of the joke.
Content Source: www.nytimes.com