Actor's bright introduction to oddly-named dark comedy
SITTING in Kirsten Dunst's LA home, Theodore Pellerin knew On Becoming A God in Central Florida would be a special project.
Dunst produces and stars in the oddly-named dark comedy about the cult of free enterprise, which is available to stream on SBS On Demand.
"My screen test was at Kirsten's house, which is not something that's normally done," the Montreal native says. "Auditions are usually in cold rooms where a lot of people are judging you. This was very warm and nice. It just felt very easy and welcoming."
Set in 1992 in a town near Orlando, Florida, the 10-part series follows minimum-wage- earning water park employee Krystal Stubbs (Dunst) as she schemes her way up the ranks of Founders American Merchandise - the cultish, multi-billion dollar pyramid scheme that drove her family to ruin.
Pellerin, who recently starred in Aussie filmmaker Joel Edgerton's drama Boy Erased, plays FAM fanatic Cody Bonar.
At first, Cody is the manager, or "upline", of Krystal's husband Travis. But after a twist of fate, he enlists Krystal as his top recruiter and the two form an unusual relationship.
"In a way, Krystal always had a certain power over Cody," Pellerin says. "I don't want to get too deep into it, but I think Cody is attracted to Krystal because of that. She has this charisma and it's natural for her to be powerful and to be in a position of power and to attract people and get people to follow her. For Cody, it's an entire act. He's constantly trying desperately to be that and she just has it so naturally. For him it's very impressive. I think he's just attracted to power."
Pellerin researched cults to help inform Cody's all-consuming, yet naive, obsession with all things FAM including the Ponzi scheme's leader Obie Garbeau II (Ted Levine), whose training tapes narrate much of the series.
"Cody is just a believer in everything Obi represents - success, power, money, but also and most importantly, how Obi is bringing people to their own potential and their own abilities, and giving them better life that they deserve," he says.
"He is attracted to the idea of being someone who does that. He's really naive, but you learn further down the road that he has a very different background than Krystal, which makes it easier for him to go further in the pyramid scheme faster. He has no idea it's a scam, at the beginning at least. He really believes it's this well-kept secret that everybody ought to know. It's a religion for him and he just wants to reveal it to people to help them and for them to stop being miserable and poor.
"As the show goes on he learns things that will make it more difficult for him to be so involved with it. It will become more of a struggle."
The series has had a rocky road getting to the screen. It was first developed at AMC and then YouTube Premium before it was finally picked up by Showtime.
Executive produced by George Clooney, the project also lost director Yorgos Lanthimos before cameras rolled in New Orleans, standing in for Florida, last year.
For French Canadian Pellerin, it was a crash course in the culture the show skewers.
"It was the first time I'd spent five or six months immersed in American culture, which is so different to mine," he says.
On Becoming A God in Central Florida airs Thursdays at 9.30pm on SBS-TV. It's also available to stream on SBS On Demand.