Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Netflix’s ‘Outer Banks’ features local talent, director talks future, other projects in development

Created by North Carolina filmmaker Jonas Pate, “Outer Banks” has become a smash with viewers. (Courtesy Alisa Harris)

SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — And so the treasure hunt continues.

Season three of Netflix’s hit show, “Outer Banks,” dropped Thursday. As the Pogues continue their journey to collect a hidden treasure — more than $400 million in gold to be exact — locals may recognize a few faces fleshing out some of the characters this season.

READ MORE: Meet 3 familiar faces from Wilmington on Netflix’s ‘Outer Banks’ season 2

It’s a trend continuing from seasons one and two, which featured Wilmington actor Ed Wagenseller as a lawyer and Dylan Kowalski as John B’s stunt double. And of course there is the beloved recurring role of Deputy Shoupe, played by former Wilmingtonian Cullen Moss (“Hidden Figures,” “The Righteous Gemstones”). 

Created by North Carolina filmmaker Jonas Pate, his twin brother Joshua and collaborator Shannon Burke, “Outer Banks” has become a smash with viewers. A captivated audience stuck at home during the pandemic found escape from real-world woes with youthful, fast-action hijinks that have its many characters, teenage outlaws known as the Pogues, running from authorities, their families and dangerous mafioso types in search of a treasure.

Justin Smith — local restaurateur of YoSake, Husk and the newly opened Prost and artistic director for Opera House Theatre Company — is a lifelong actor. He auditions for multiple projects a year and has been in more than 45 productions, including 2019’s “The Highwayman” starring Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson.  

Smith appears in three of the last episodes of “Outer Banks” this season as Barracuda Mike.

“He’s small-town mafia,” Smith described. “I think he’s got a little bit of Peter Pan complex.”

The Pogues basically need a ride somewhere and Barracuda Mike gets mixed up in their shenanigans, Smith explained.

The perennial bad guy is a role Smith’s been typecast in some form or fashion throughout the years. He’s played a “slick golf hustler” in “Birdies” and a mass murderer in “Dead Silent,” among other “shady characters” in “Good Behavior” and “American Rust.”

“To put yourself in that kind of mindset can be hard to prepare for,” he said.

But Barracuda Mike had a little more levity; he’s a “countrified” bad guy. Smith, who stands over 6 feet said he tapped into his physicality and North Carolina and Texas accent and mannerisms, ably bringing a little bit more of himself to the role.

The Barracuda Mike character actually was derived from a Pate family member.

“Uncle Leo,” Pate told Port City Daily Thursday. “He was a larger-than-life scoundrel in ‘imports and exports.’”

Pate said he and his brother always wanted to base a character on their uncle. It was something his grandmother was privy to, though hesitant to accept at least while she was living.

“She could see we were itching to write about him,” Pate said. “She made us promise not to until she died.”

It wasn’t the first time Smith attempted to score a role on the show. In season one, he auditioned for “all the dad parts,” he said. In season two, he tried out for the villainous character Renfield, which went to former Wilmingtonian and friend Jesse Boyd (“Mindhunter,” “Will Trent,” “Walking Dead”).

His agent called him mid-2022 to him Barracuda Mike; the casting directors had seen his previous reels and wanted him for the role. He didn’t have to audition but had to be on set within 48 hours of the call.

“Rarely does something like that happen: being offered a role without an audition,” he said. “Not at this point in my life.”

Smith said the filming style is as fast and furious as the storylines. 

“It’s a well-oiled machine,” he said, referencing a lot of drone shots and closeups amid packed action scenes. 

Its quick pace fuels the energy which seeps onscreen, Smith said.

Pate agreed. 

He said his goal is to get the most authentic reactions and best ranges from the young group of actors who make up the Pogues — Madelyn Cline (Sarah), Chase Stokes (John B), Rudy Pankov (JJ), Madison Bailey (Kiara), and Jonathan Davis (Pope). Pate’s directing style was derived from filming “Friday Night Lights,” another young-adult show.

“It’s creating a set culture that would be helpful to these young actors,” Pate said. “You can get bogged down in all these technical aspects of filmmaking — ‘Here’s your mark; don’t turn to the left because you’ll be out of your light’ — but I didn’t want to bother the young actors with any of that. I want them to just be loose and basically be kids; stay in the moment, don’t feel the pressure.”

Half of his crew also are Wilmintonians, Pate said. Many have been friends for years, such as local camera operator Bo Webb (“Veep,” “Ghostbusters: Afterlife”), makeup artist Holly Sago and grip Dave Spencer.

“It’s hard work, but it’s really fun,” Pate said, noting there isn’t much downtime. 

Cameras can be on shoulders 12 hours per day. Since the setting takes place on the water during warmer months, it also means filming outdoors, sometimes with scorching temperatures and humidity.

“We’re not in the confines of a studio, we only shoot on location,” Pate said.

Alisa Harris and Rudy Pankov on the set of “Outer Banks” season 3. (Courtesy Alisa Harris)

Local actress Alisa Harris was called last Memorial Day to film as Dakota, the gatekeeper of an adventure therapy camp, where one of the Pogues is sent in season three. It’s basically like a military camp for kids to get their act straight.

“They’re supposed to have no contact with the outside world for six weeks and I do very poorly at that,” she said of her character.

Harris was called to the shoot within a day of accepting the role. It was filmed at a real camp that was going to open the next week. 

“So they had to get their locations wrapped during the holiday weekend,” she said.

Harris stars in multiple roles a year — she will be in a Disney film slated for summer release and a few Tyler Perry projects this year. Though seasoned on a set and in improv, being out in the nature had its fun unexpected moments. During her first day of shooting, a snake slithered out from some brush nearby.

“I was mumbling to myself ‘snake,’ ‘adventure therapy camp,’ ‘nature therapy camp,’ as the cameras kept rolling,” she said. 

Of course it didn’t make it into the scene.

“But they just let you keep going,” she said.

Harris is in multiple scenes in episode 9 with Pankov’s character JJ and Bailey’s character Kiara. The episode also features Smith and another Wilmington actress, Emilia Torello. Torello got her start in Wilmington’s live theater scene and now is pursuing acting in Atlanta.

Harris said it’s her third time playing a character she is somewhat familiar with, apparent in one of her scenes with Pankov.

“He appeals to my inner cat lady,” she explained.

She’s portrayed cat-lady characters in “Tales of a Fifth Grade Samurai” and “The Witches of East End” pilot as well.

It was Harris’ second time working with Pate. Back in 2005, she was a talent agent for “Surface,” also created by the Pates. It centers on a teenaged boy discovering the a new and often dangerous species of sea life. It, too, shot in Wilmington.

In fact, the Port City is the primary inspiration for many of the Pates’ projects, including “Outer Banks.” Pate said it wasn’t necessarily a storyline that came first but the idea of filming in places they love and have visited their whole lives (the Pates grew up in Raeford, North Carolina, and Jonas now lives in Wilmington with his family).

“That’s why we mention Figure Eight and Masonboro,” he said.

Initially, “Outer Banks” was to be shot locally, but Netflix pulled from the state due to House Bill 2. Though the remnants of the anti-LGBTQ legislation have since expired, the show’s home base is still Charleston, with the last two seasons also filmed in Barbados.

Other Tar Heel landmarks include a season-one visit to a library in Chapel Hill — apparently accessible by a ferry in the show. In reality, the small university town is located two-and-half hours inland from Wilmington. The joke has become one of the more funny moments of fanfare that “Outer Banks” viewers covet.

Pate said they had a scene in the series originally featuring the actors taking an Uber from the ferry to Chapel Hill.

“We cut the scene in Uber, not realizing that it was gonna look like there was a ferry to Chapel Hill,” he said with a laugh. “And the Uber was actually in the scene, but it’s hard to tell. We didn’t see that reaction from fans coming.”

“And that Kildare County to Wilmington is like an hour,” Harris said with a laugh. The Outer Banks in reality is four hours. 

Creative liberties are often taken in filmmaking, but some of those nuggets have attracted regional attention beyond young adult audiences. Pate said he is continuosuly stunned by the viewership of older adults, as “Outer Banks” was geared toward a young demographic initially. Analytics from Netflix noted as many over age 50 watch it as do the teenagers, he said.

By August 2021, Nielsen ratings reported 2.1 billion minutes were viewed for the “Outer Banks” 20 episodes released at the time. A day after its season three launch, it’s the number one show on the streamer.

Its appeal isn’t so shocking when considering it homes in on the age-old concept of treasure hunting, much like the ‘80s had “The Goonies.”

“Every 10 years, we meet a whole new generation that needs their version of that particular archetype,” Pate said, calling the show “a throwback.” Yet, it also has a draw for families to view it together.

“The violence isn’t too gory, the sex isn’t too sexual,” he said. “So you don’t feel embarrassed to be watching with your parents.”

“Outer Banks” has been signed to season four. Pate said the core writers add ideas to the “bone pile,” as his brother calls it, daily. They start writing the next season while filming the current one. Season four was greenlit by Netflix this week, with a release date yet to be determined.

Pate said he could see it going into season five, maybe six. 

“I wouldn’t want to milk it — I will do it as long as we all are still having a really good time and aren’t spread creatively,” he said.

Sometimes telling the same story can be challenging, though adding in new characters or emotional dynamics is what the writing team often focuses on to make it feel fresh.

“We realized early on we could expand the geographic location a little bit and make it even more of a fantasy adventure,” Pate said. “That’s why we’re going into these exotic places and trying to think about what would be the most fun thing to possibly do.”

Even amid the success of “Outer Banks,” Pate is turning his attention to another passion project. He wrapped filming the pilot of “Untitled Band Project” in Wilmington last month. The story centers on high-school teenagers who start a band, make an album, go on tour, and try to reach success.

“We had Chase and a few of the others put a call out for musicians and many thought they were going to be on ‘Outer Banks,’” Pate said. “5,000 responded.”

The band, The Runarounds, also the working title of the show, has played 20 concerts. They’ve written an album that Jerry Harrison (Talking Heads) produced.

“The music just totally rips beyond all belief,” Pate said. “And we did it backwards. Most of time you do a show like this, you cast actors and they fake the musicianship. This time we cast musicians.”

He said inspiration to do the series came from his love for Chapel Hill band Dillon Fence from the ‘90s (his brother attended UNC-Chapel Hill) and the courage it takes for teens and twentysomethings to pursue music as a career so young in life.

“You really don’t know what’s going to happen and 99% of the time it fails, right?” Pate said. “It is such a crazy cliff to jump off. So I was like, ‘How come no one’s told that story?’”

The 10 episodes of “Outer Banks” season three can be streamed now on Netflix. 

[Ed. note: This has been updated to correct Alisa Harris’ job title on the show “Surface” from 2005.]


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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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