You should be you because you're as much here as anyone else. It has nothing to do with the descriptive qualities about you—but the heart that you have.
Corinne Brinkerhoff‘s (Jane the Virgin, The Good Wife, Elementary) new TV series American Gothic centers on an elite Bostonian family that begins to unravel and circle its wagons upon discovering that there might be a suspected serial killer in its moneyed ranks. Radiating blue-blooded propriety, it’s clear that Hawthrone matriarch Madeline (Virginia Madsen)—and perhaps patriarch Mitchell (Jamey Sheridan), too—will do anything to keep up appearances.
Problems first arise with a tunnel collapse, which lassos the Hawthornes’ concrete empire into a messy ordeal. The rubble unearths new evidence that bind them to an unresolved serial-killing case that went cold 14 years ago. Right then, the clan’s elder son Garret (Antony Starr) shows up after a 14-year absence. If there’s a killer in the family, Garret or not, they’re all doomed. They all have something to lose, the skeletons start pouring out of closets, and everyone’s a suspect. Alison (Juliet Rylance) is the elder daughter and the family’s resident mayoral candidate, who’s married with a mistress on the side. Rehab grandmaster Cam (Justin Chatwin) is the younger brother, a syndicated cartoonist whose own son displays early sociopathic tendencies. The Hawthorne’s younger daughter Tessa (Megan Ketch) is married to Brady (Elliot Knight), the detective assigned to the serial killing investigation, which has the whole family in its crosshairs.
This is no daytime soap!
To help guide us through the murder mystery at the center of American Gothic is Knight, a fast-rising actor and possible serial killer (on the show). You might recognize him from his recurring role on How to Get Away with Murder, playing Merlin on Once Upon a Time, or as the titular lead on the UK series Sinbad, which successfully launched his professional acting career.
New episodes of American Gothic air Wednesdays 10/9c on CBS.
First things first: Happy birthday, Elliot!
Ah! So kind of you!
You just turned 26, right? How does it feel?
Good! I actually have my family out here with me. My mom and sister came to visit me on set in Toronto. I hadn’t had a chance to spend a birthday with them for awhile so it was a fun weekend.
I always wonder at what age people stop counting.
I know my mom started counting backwards at one point. [Laughs] I feel like, ever since I was 18, every consecutive year I’m still 18. I guess that’s just my spirit. I feel very youthful and I have a lot of energy. But I’m excited about the idea of getting older, having more experience, and getting more adventures under my belt. But yeah, 26. It should be a good year!
Great work on American Gothic. It’s a lot of fun. Definitely prone to give you a lot of anxiety.
It’s funny to see people’s reactions to all the twists and turns since the show is now obviously airing. When we were reading the scripts that we’d get every couple weeks to start filming episodes, we were going through the same things as the people who are now watching it. This whole season, we’ve been trying to predict what will happen, who’s involved with what, and who’s guilty and who’s innocent. We’re actually just getting towards the end of filming the season now. The cast is now screwing in the loose nuts and bolts that have been in progress all season long.
So many secrets. Are you pretty good about keeping things under lock and key?
Some people want you to tell them everything. Some people enjoy finding it out as they watch each episode. Luckily, the people who’ve been on set have been like the latter. Also, there’s only so much information that we as a cast know anyway. We’re not told everything in advance. For example, none of us know who the “Silver Bells Killer” actually is. That information is simply not there for us to give out. At the same time, I haven’t been saying anything to anyone because the magic of the show is in the storytelling. If you give away the stories, the magic is lost in a sense. You don’t want to rob people of that joy. There have been times when we’d be rehearsing scenes and I realize that my sister is in the corner within the earshot of everything. But she daydreams a lot so, hopefully, she doesn’t pick up on any of that information. [Laughs]
By not knowing, you’re matching Brady’s reality as well. He’s just as lost, or so it seems.
It’s also been great to play someone at the center of the whole family drama and not just the murder mystery. He has a foot in both worlds. It’s been interesting to be involved in so much of the show.
We’re obviously only three episodes in and the fourth episode airs tonight but, right now, I find Brady highly suspect because he’s the least suspicious. You know what I mean?
Exactly! I’m on the same page as you. Every time we read a new script I would think, “The people who seem the most innocent or the most affected by things have reasons to be.” So I did question for a while whether they might really flip this on its head and make Brady the guilty party. In fact, I still don’t know. Do I think that it’s him? No, I don’t. Do I know for sure who it is? No.
So which episode are you shooting right now? I’m talking numbers.
At the moment, we’re shooting episode 12. We start filming the final episode next week. We’re definitely getting towards the end of this journey we’ve been on for a while. We started shooting in Toronto in late February or early March. This epic ending we’re all about to arrive at—no one knows what to expect. Everyone’s still guessing.
Let’s talk about Elliot. You’re obviously from the UK. You’re from Birmingham, specifically.
I grew up in Birmingham and went to university in Manchester. Since then, I’ve been sort of back and forth between different continents, whether for work or being at home doing my own thing. I first came to the U.S. for work in 2012 when I finished filming my first show Sinbad.
I don’t mean for this to be a silly question because I’m honestly curious: Does your accent ever slip out when you’re shooting American Gothic? That must be a thing, right?
I’ll tell you what’s funny: A Canadian accent will slip out. I’ll find myself just being in character playing Brady and these sounds will slip out like, instead of saying “house” it’ll come out “hose.” I guess that’s just one of the things that comes with being surrounded by a Canadian crew. They’re all wonderful. They get very frustrated when I think I’m doing such a great Canadian accent. [Laughs] Doing accents is always a work in progress. You have to always continue the effort.
I remember reading somewhere that both of your parents are teachers.
My mom is an English teacher and my dad was a PE teacher. They both like to claim in their own way that they did a play in school and that’s why I caught the acting bug. [Laughs] They try to put their stamp on it, which I find really funny. My mom used to go around the countryside selling children’s books and I spent a lot of time with her doing that. I was also very active in sports in school and my dad was a big influence on that, too. These are both things that I really enjoyed that informed my growing up a lot but in the end, through these weird turn of events, I found something I really enjoy that just came from myself.
Do you know what I find interesting about a lot of male actors? There seems to be this, “It was always going to be sports or acting” or “An injury took me out of sports so I decided to give acting a try.” It comes up a lot in conversation. What’s the common thread there?
That is interesting! That’s a great observation. I was fortunate enough to have a very athletic build. I was also fast. I was always very fast as a kid, which automatically meant that I was at least good at most of the sports that we played. I was on the rugby team, I played hockey, I was on the basketball team for a year, I played football every lunch, I’ve loved swimming ever since I was a kid… It was something that didn’t involve having to sit down in front of a book and learn to regurgitate facts, and claim that as intelligence. It never appealed to me, that style of learning. I’ve always been a more visual, creative and hands-on learner. That’s how I processed information and enjoyed what it is that I did. For me, being involved in sports or anything like that feeds into this way of learning practical. You can almost put your own stamp on it as well. It’s very expressive at the same time. I just learned from an early age that I enjoyed anything that involved expressing myself and being myself, and not being put into a box or having to learn things a certain way or things that I wasn’t interested in. I associate the connection between sports and acting like that.
You have this indie film Billionaire Ransom coming out next month, which used to be called and will be called Take Down overseas. What attracted you to that particular project?
Well, I had just finished shooting a pilot [Dangerous Liaisons] in New York that year where I got to work with these amazing actors like Rufus Sewell, Melissa George, and Katie Holmes. Taylor Hackford was directing it and I met his wife, Helen Mirren, on the job. It was very bizarre because it seemed to have come out of nowhere. After being surrounded by this wealth of experience and talent, I thought it would be kind of nice to take the opportunity to do something different, taking the things I’ve learned from the pilot and see how I adapt those skills. That was very fun. I’ve always been a fan of adventure and the outdoors. I liked the film’s message about our generation becoming so consumed and reliant on technology that we’re removing ourselves almost from the outside world. To suddenly be thrown into this environment where they only have themselves to rely on for their own survival—the stakes are so high. I think it’s an important message to all people in the world today: The potential danger and the risks you take when you shut yourself off from the life that surrounds you. I had a lot of fun making that movie. It was a really good summer.
Jim Gillespie directed this film. He also directed one of my favorite ’90s slashers I Know What You Did Last Summer. I haven’t heard his name in a long time. I also realized that I know virtually nothing about him. He didn’t have the same clout as Wes Craven, let’s say.
[Laughs] I love Jim! He’s great. He really took us under his wing, which was so helpful. He protected all of us and the film he wanted. He wanted everyone to have value. I think he understands the people of our age and generation, and not just what appeals to us but what’s important to us. I had a really great time working with him. It was also nice to work in an environment where all of the characters feel honest and valued in the direction, you know? He made sure that every detail mattered. Most of all, he had a great manner about him and made it an enjoyable shoot. I find that, in my limited experience, the work excels when you can enjoy doing it.
Have you seen it?
I’ve seen it a couple times at different stages. I’ve seen the “director’s cut” with all of the bits in. It’s fascinating. I’ll be excited to see how they cut it down and what moments they chose to keep.
The business of acting is an unpredictable journey for almost everyone, obviously. But you’re still at the steering wheel. Where would you like to ultimately end up?
My goal has only ever been, if I’m fortunate enough to have the opportunity, to play characters that are valued and have value. There’s something my mom said a long time ago before I was even interested in acting, in the political context of the time that I think is still relevant now. As a young mixed race black kid as I was then and as I am now grown, she didn’t want the perpetuation of negative stereotypes like drug dealers or anything like that. She would say, “I don’t want you doing that.” I suppose in some sense that always stuck with me. You should be you because you’re as much here as anyone else. It has nothing to do with the descriptive qualities about you—but the heart that you have. Growing up, and now getting to do this as a profession, I’m only ever attracted to characters with heart. I find that you can see very easily in the writing when you read it how much a character is given layers and whether they have an existential sheen to them.
You’ve also mentioned wanting to play James Bond. What does that role mean to you, really?
I’ve always been a fan of the Bond movies because I watched them growing up with my dad. He used to record them off the TV on the VCR whenever they would come on. [Laughs] I would watch all of them, from Dr. No to whatever was new at the time. He also showed me things like The Saint with Roger Moore, but Bond is still the biggest British export franchise that we have, you know? I’m obviously British and I’m proud of my heritage.
And you were at your most impressionable then.
Right! I would always pretend that I was that kind of person. Again, it’s beating at the same rhetoric of wanting to show that anyone can be a hero. You don’t have to be a certain type of person or look a certain way or tick a certain number of boxes to be able to be considered a good person or a strong character or a hero—in anything! And I pick a role like Bond specifically because, if you look at me and my type of casting compared to other people, you don’t see us being put out in the same kind of roles, whether it’s an action hero or a superhero. It just doesn’t exist as much. So it makes sense that that’s a good place to aim your efforts in getting to, you know? If you can have some sort of an impact, even if it’s a change in perspective with the efforts that you make, I think it’s worthwhile. Right now, in today’s world and political climate, that seems like the appropriate and right thing to do. And they’re brilliant movies! It’s not just an action movie or something that’s done just for the sake of it. They are very important to a lot of people. They encompass a multitude of different genres of filmmaking, and they’ve gotten more and more so as time went on. In these kinds of roles, you pretty much get to do everything and I love that idea.
You have a spark. You have that rare magnetic draw. I would go watch your Bond movie.
Oh that’s so lovely of you! That really does mean a lot. I appreciate you saying that.
Also, don’t ever abandon your Instagram. You have one of the best accounts right now.
[Laughs] You know what? You’re the first person to say that. Thank you, and I will.