There’s more to Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin than what people saw in Tiger King. Peacock’s new scripted series, Joe vs. Carole, takes a fresh look at the familiar feud, exploring how these two big cat enthusiasts ended up at each other throats.
All eight episodes of the show, which stars Kate McKinnon as Carole Baskin and John Cameron Mitchell as Joseph Maldonado-Passage, aka Joe Exotic, dropped on March 3. McKinnon and Mitchell are at the heart of Joe vs. Carole, but they’re surrounded by a top-notch supporting cast, including Twin Peaks and Sex and the City alum Kyle MacLachlan as Carole’s quietly supportive third husband, Howard Baskin.
Recently, Showbiz Cheat Sheet chatted with MacLachlan about why he wanted to play Howard Baskin, working with McKinnon, and what he hopes viewers take away from Joe vs. Carole.
Kyle MacLachlan explains what drew him to ‘Joe vs. Carole’
Q: How familiar were you with the whole Joe Exotic/Carole Baskin saga before you signed on to Joe vs. Carole? Were you watching Tiger King in quarantine?
A: Well, you know, I watched Tiger King [and was] intrigued by these people and these characters and then finished and didn’t think too much about it. Then the script came through. And I had the same question I think everyone does, which is, ‘Why make this?’ And upon reading the script, I realized, you really don’t know who these people are. You see what they do and you see their behavior, but the why is left out of the equation.
So our script, written by Etan Frankel, I think it’s wonderful. [It] really explores where they came from, who they are as people, the relationships. Particularly in my case, the relationship between Howard and Carole, which is very important, and the kind of love affair that they have. And I thought, this is a much more interesting story, for me anyway, and certainly more interesting as an actor to play.
Portraying Howard Baskin was ‘challenging’
Q: You’ve played a few different real-life characters in recent years – Edison in Tesla and FDR in Atlantic Crossing. How did stepping into the role of Howard Baskin compare?
A: Well, Howard’s still alive. It’s challenging. I feel a great responsibility. It’s my interpretation, of course, but you want to do it justice, and you want him to be a complete person, with all the good stuff and the not-so-good stuff. So really, it was about examining him and kind of trying to read between the lines in some of the interviews and some of the YouTube posts and reading about what he says, what people say about him.
And to be honest, Etan, the writer, did a tremendous amount of research for me already and was a great source for me. I would ask him questions about a particular scene and where it came from, and what his intention was. And he was right there and very forthcoming. And also very open to any suggestions if I had some thoughts about Howard or I felt like he was sort of veering one way or the other way. He was very open, and I appreciated that.
It was really just finding my way into Howard and then creating a reality with Kate as Carole and making that relationship complete and believable. And that it had all the elements that I believe it does have, which is the support system there, the love affair, which truly is a love affair. They really do care for each other. They both rely on each other’s opinions and intelligence. They’re both driven people. They work very, very hard. And how do you make that work? It’s a partnership, ultimately, I think.
Working with Kate McKinnon on ‘Joe vs. Carole’ was ‘a thrill’
Q: What was it like working with Kate McKinnon? You guys have such a great vibe in the episodes I’ve seen.
A: It was a thrill. I’m a big fan of hers. I remember when I met her for the first time, I was sort of taken aback because she was quite quiet and kind of reserved and a little bit shy. A little bit introverted. And this kind of went against what my expectation was. Because of course, when she inhabits the characters that she plays, she’s ferocious. She’s like a cat herself. And they’re really, really big and fleshed out people.
I think she cares a great deal about each character that she plays. And I certainly felt that way about Carole, her portrayal of Carole. I think she embodied her beautifully and also felt the responsibility to really make a full human being. In the documentary, we got just a very, very thin slice of who this person was, and we made a judgment about her. And [McKinnon’s] intention, along with the writers, was to really create a fully-formed character, someone that you understood and you knew why she did what she did.
MacLachlan hopes ‘Joe vs. Carole’ gives viewers ‘a deeper understanding’ of the ‘Tiger King’ story
Q: What do you hope viewers take away from Joe vs. Carole?
A: I think it’ll be entertaining, of course, and they’ll have a deeper understanding of the story and of these people. And that goes across the board. I think the character that John Cameron Mitchell plays, Joe Exotic, you see a little bit of his past and how he was formed and the things that buffeted his life and changed him and made him into who is he is today.
Hopefully, people will come away with a little more empathy toward these characters, a little more understanding of the story. As well as, fundamentally, an understanding that these animals, these exotic animals, are really not meant to be kept in captivity. This is not right. And hopefully, there will be a movement toward passing a bill that will make that not possible anymore.
See Kyle MacLachlan in Joe vs. Carole now streaming on Peacock.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
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