Television

‘Umbrella Academy’s David Castañeda on ‘Poker Face’s Darkest Episode Yet


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[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Poker Face, Season 1, Episode 9, “Escape From S**t Mountain.”]

Poker Face delivered one of its darkest entries yet with the stakes-heavy “Escape from S**t Mountain,” in which Charlie Cale (Natasha Lyonne) is fighting for her life after a hit-and-run accident lands her in a precarious position.

The episode reunites episode writer and director Rian Johnson with Brick and Looper collaborator Joseph Gordon-Levitt who plays house arrestee, Trey. Relegated to the confines of his cushy mountain-set mansion, a power outage knocks the signal from his ankle monitor prompting him to take a reckless joy ride in his fancy sports car. After narrowly avoiding a deer, he ends up hitting Charlie who is stranded in her broken-down car.

Knocked unconscious, Charlie is transported in Trey’s trunk to a nearby motel where he seeks help from an old friend, Jimmy (Umbrella Academy‘s David Castañeda) who reluctantly assists the jerk-ish man in disposing of Charlie’s body down a concealed hole at the base of a tree. Unaware that she’s alive, the men are spooked when they hear a knock at the door and find a muddied Charlie laying at the welcome mat.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and David Castaneda in 'Poker Face'

(Credit: Phillip Caruso/Peacock)

Thinking they can get out of the situation by taking advantage of Charlie’s confusion, they prod her for information to see how much she remembers and play innocent while doing so. As the episode carries on though, Charlie begins putting the pieces together in her head, especially when it’s revealed that the stick she used to claw her way out of the ground was actually the bone belonging to a long-missing skier named Chloe.

Plagued by the past, Jimmy struggles with following Trey’s plans remembering the night they threw Chloe down the hole, in a similar situation to this night. While Trey barely bats an eye when it comes to killing when Jimmy takes a stand against his friend, he winds up shot in the head and Charlie is stabbed and thrown into the hole alongside Jimmy and Chloe, and this isn’t counting Charlie’s flighty companion Mortie (played by Oscar nominee Stephanie Hsu). In a race against the clock, Trey makes it back to his apartment just before his parole officer shows up, but he’s missing one vital piece of equipment: the ankle monitor.

Equipped with a tracking device, Charlie is found and wakes in the hospital, albeit badly injured, but thanks to her quick thinking of slashing Trey’s ankle, she still had a second chance. The problem with this second chance though is it puts her in a vulnerable position with Cliff (Benjamin Bratt) close on her tail. While viewers have to wait until the finale to find out what happens, below, Castañeda opens up about Jimmy’s stand-up moment against Trey, his collaboration with Lyonne and Johnson, as well as playing opposite Gordon-Levitt.

David Castañeda as Jimmy in 'Poker Face'

(Credit: Phillip Caruso/Peacock)

What drew you to the show and the role of Jimmy?

David Castañeda: The first thing was Rian. I’ve been watching his films since I was in high school. And they didn’t give me too much information about Jimmy. They just sort of just gave me some sides, and I did a tape. I didn’t read the [character] description, so I did [the audition with] a Boston accent, and my reps called me back and they were like, “you have to retape this, this is an American accent.” So I got a chance to redo it and I had a Zoom with Rian and I got on board. And working with Joseph Gordon-Levitt was also on my bucket list. So it was pretty easy to jump in. And in terms of the process of who Jimmy is and what he’s done, I mean, I think we’ve all grown up with friends back in our hometown that we sort of left behind. I think a lot of it is deep wounds within the dynamics of family or friends that stop the maturing of those people that get left home. And I feel like Jimmy was a way to sort of express that.

Was there a clear-cut history between Jimmy and Trey that was provided to you ahead of filming?

I’m sure there was a discussion of some sort of what had happened and there was coercion or a sort of faithfulness in Jimmy’s behavior that made him do really terrible things, but nothing that would [make him out to be] a bad person, but more so he was a good friend that helped a friend cover up a bad thing. Once I got to set, I sort of had my own story [in my head]. And one of the beautiful things about working with Rian is that once you show up, he’s so clear about what he needs that most of the time the things that I was figuring out on Jimmy, Rian already sort of knew and he was so meticulous and clear in certain directions that we didn’t need to go through the whole backstory. It was sort of unspoken at times of this pain that Jimmy carries.

David Castañeda and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in 'Poker Face'

(Credit: Phillip Caruso/Peacock)

Ultimately, Trey and Jimmy are complete opposites. Is it circumstance or history that draws them together?

It’s very cliche, but they say you can take the boy out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the boy. One was far removed and somehow finds his way back, and the other one really wants to get out and never had an opportunity to. This is sort of my own idea of how Jimmy saw Trey. He was successful, his parents were very wealthy, and he came from a space where he didn’t have to worry. And I feel that Trey saw Jimmy [as giving him an] ability to blend in with a tougher crowd. The ability to feel protected and you have these brothers who have completely different intentions, but at the end of the day, they really need each other.

In the final moments, Jimmy finally stands up against Trey and refuses to harm Charlie any further. What gives him the confidence to do that?

The onion gets peeled, you know, bit by bit, there are these little hints that are so subtle. Rian would say, “hey, in this little moment where Trey says, ‘another girl going crazy on you,’ don’t give it too much note, but just remember that.” Once we got to the end I feel like Jimmy had a second chance and this arc that I really enjoyed, which is he didn’t go to his grave with this thing inside of him. He was able to come clean and help someone. Prior, he didn’t have the self-worth and awareness that his friend was a sociopath.

Was it a surreal experience spending time shooting scenes like where you’re thrown into a hole by Joseph Gordon-Levitt?

Yeah, and sort of became a bed mat for Natasha Lyonne to be holding this little ankle bracelet. And we shot in upstate New York. The weather very much informed a lot of our scenes, especially the cabin. We also did some stage work, but the cold, the snow, it was very surreal. There were a few moments where I sort of had to giggle at myself, especially the first few days when I was doing a scene with Joseph. It was amazing.

This episode has quite the body count, definitely one of the highest of the season. Were you aware of how dark this episode was heading into it or were you not informed about additional episode storylines?

I had no idea. This was the first episode that they shot. So I was coming in and I didn’t know they were getting this amazing cast. I started hearing the whispers of like, “oh yeah, they got Adrien Brody,” and then, you know, we’re doing a scene and Adrien Brody walks in. The day before we started shooting the first scene, I went and saw Everything Everywhere All at Once, and I was like, “oh, what?”And then I realized that’s Stephanie!

How does working on a show like this differ from your experience of working on something like The Umbrella Academy?

It is very [different]. It can feel a lot scarier when you’re coming in and doing three weeks in a show with a character that you’re trying to fully flesh out with people that you highly respect. When I first started doing The Umbrella Academy, I had the same anxiety the entire first season when we were shooting. And then, if I compare that to right now, which I just [filmed another day on the] fourth season, it feels very safe in a good way. But that’s not to say that I prefer Diego or Jimmy, I really enjoy both. The dynamic between both processes is what I really look for in general.

Poker Face, New Episodes, Thursdays, Peacock

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