[This story contains full spoilers for the second season of Amazon’s Sneaky Pete, as well as spoilers for the final season of FX’s Justified.]
“What’s his name?”
Those three simple words have completely changed the landscape of Sneaky Pete, the Amazon crime series from Justified creator Graham Yost, one of many alums from the Timothy Olyphant-starring FX series now entrenched in the Giovanni Ribisi caper. In the final scene of Sneaky Pete season two, which launched all ten episodes March 9 on Amazon, Marin Ireland’s Julia Bernhardt meets up with parole officer James Bagwell (Malcolm-Jamal Warner) and asks him for the true identity of Marius Josipović (Ribisi), the confidence man who has been operating under the alias of her cousin Pete Murphy since the start of the series.
Julia learning the truth about Marius’ real identity will fuel the events of a third Sneaky Pete season, assuming such a season comes to pass; Amazon has yet to announce a pick-up for the series, which was co-created and produced by Bryan Cranston, who starred in the first season as antagonist Vince Lonigan. For his part, while Yost has no news on a third season (though he does joke that it will be impacted by Amazon’s upcoming Lord of the Rings series — at least, one hopes he’s kidding), he has plenty of ideas for what’s going to happen next to Marius Josipović now that the jig is up on his alias.
Here’s what Yost tells The Hollywood Reporter about the game-changing Sneaky Pete season finale, his hopes for a third season and how it would impact the greater Bernhardt family, and how a certain Justified veteran’s full frontal shower scene came about.
Based on the way the final scene of the season ends, is it safe to say Julia is about to learn who Marius really is?
Yes. That’s the intention.
Why was now the right time for this big change in the story?
The feeling was, how long could somebody sustain having this assumed identity? The whole timeline of Sneaky Pete as a series — with the exception of flashbacks — from Marius getting out of prison in the first episode to the final episode of season two… it’s maybe twenty days, maybe three weeks. We felt like that was about the maximum it could be sustained, otherwise the family was going to look pretty stupid. Carly (Libe Barer) came close to figuring it out in the first season, and then found out that Pete had been a criminal, which threw her off track. We thought that if anybody was going to find out, it should be Julia. She’s his closest friend, and there’s this weird quasi-romantic thing between them.
Does this allow you to actually explore the possibility of romance between Marius and Julia, now that she knows they aren’t related?
Yes, but it also ruins it. (Laughs.) It’s a nice combination. She’s going to be so mad. It almost ruins any romantic possibility. But we’ll see!
You mention the limited timeline of Sneaky Pete thus far. Does the nature of the show and the con he’s pulling necessitate the story taking place in real time?
For the first two seasons, it does. It’s hard to know where it will go if Amazon is so nice as to pick it up for a third season. I wouldn’t say we painted ourselves into a corner, because it was such a big corner, but the last line of season one was: “Take us to your mother and the eleven million dollars.” We had to answer those questions pretty fast. That’s what season two had to be about. We purposefully at the end of season two decided not to have any big story or plot cliffhangers. There’s no “if you don’t do X, someone is going to get a bullet in their head.” We’ve done that. We now have the chance to make a larger story about Marius and the Bernhardt family, and let it hang on that. There are also some stories unresolved, like [the romance between] Taylor (Shane McRae) and Shannon (Justine Cotsonas); we don’t know what’s going on with them. Julia is still potentially in a bind with Dockery (Chaske Spencer) and Luis Mercado (Benny Nieves), but the hitman story has been closed out. Taylor and Joyce Robby (Jennifer Ferrin), the detective from New York, is kind of closed out, but there’s still some possibility to go further into that, because they were so good together. But we knew where we wanted it to end: Julia asking “what’s his name,” while Marius drives off into the sunset, and he doesn’t know what he’s driving towards.
Do you have any news on a season three renewal yet, and how much have you and the writers allowed yourselves to start considering where the show would go next?
We haven’t put anything to writing. In Justified, right from the beginning, we thought about how the series was going to end. It changed many different times over those six years. It’s the same thing with Sneaky Pete. We start thinking from the beginning: “How is this going to end? What is the goal of the series? What is the goal of Marius?” In Justified, it was answering a simple question that Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) posed in the pilot: “Would I have shot that guy, even if he didn’t have a gun?” We answered that, because when Boyd (Walton Goggins) drops the gun, Raylan doesn’t shoot him, when he has all the reason in the world to shoot him. Similarly, we have some big questions about Marius. That’s always part of the long term thinking about the show. There’s a feeling, story-wise, that we don’t want to go into something that’s quite as high octane in a third season, with such a compressed time frame. But no one knows. The only thing we know is that since Amazon has spent so much money on the J.R.R. Tolkien material, we have to incorporate orcs into season three. (Laughs.) It will be interesting: we need orcs, and one wizard as well.
Orcs feel like they’re easy enough to con…
Yeah, you can con an orc. (Laughs.) Sam and Frodo kind of conned some orcs. They had a magic ring, but maybe Marius will have a magic ring as well. Who knows! But no, they have not announced a season three yet. We don’t know what’s going to happen.
Season two is packed with story. What’s an example of a story development that was discussed in the writers room but ultimately left on the table?
We walked out the backstory of what happened to Julia, Taylor and Carly’s parents. We came up with some versions of what happened to them. If they weren’t killed by a drunk driver, then what happened? I won’t say what those versions were, but we had a moment where we were thinking of ending Carly’s story of the season on a more mysterious and ambiguous note. But we felt it was best to push that into a subsequent season, and leave her with this moment with Audrey (Margo Martindale). We also were talking about a surprise that would have occurred with Joyce Robie, the detective from New York, but we decided not to commit to it. When the first season ended with, “Take us to your mother and the eleven million dollars,” we had some things we had to do. We just didn’t want to encumber the third season with things we have to do. The only thing a third season really has to do is answer what Julia finds out from Bagwell, Marius’ parole officer played by the incredible Malcolm-Jamal Warner, who is so much fun to work with. He’s one of those magic ingredients on a show. On Justified, we had Dewey Crowe (Damon Herriman), who you always want to use… but it’s totally different, because Bagwell is not an idiot like Dewey was. But you always want to see more of that character, yet you don’t want to give the audience too much, because it was so special.
On a final note, since you brought up Justified and not giving the audience too much… fans of that show often lamented that they didn’t see enough of Raylan’s fellow marshals, including Tim Gutterson (Jacob Pitts). As of season two of Sneaky Pete, fans have now seen considerably more of Tim Gutterson.
A little more in a certain shower scene than some may have anticipated. (Laughs.) Jacob (who plays smarmy lawyer Lance Lord on Sneaky Pete) wanted to [be naked in shooting the scene] because he just doesn’t care, and shooting naked isn’t a big thing for him. He didn’t know he was going to be full frontal in the shot. We decided to keep it [in the show], because of the way Shane reacted, which made the moment better. We had to get [Pitts’] approval, and he said, “Let me run it by my girlfriend.” And she said, “Yeah, it’s fine.” So, it all worked out!
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