Ray Shoesmith’s 8-year-old daughter, Brittany, charges him one dollar every time he swears. He splits custody with his ex-wife, so he’s careful to make the most of his time with her: visits with his brother, a stroll down the street to get ice cream. When she asks him whether Santa Claus is real, it’s not the toughest conversation he’s had that day. That was probably when he shot a man in the face as he pleaded for him to tell his family that he loves them.
Scott Ryan has been trying for the last 13 years to play this hitman. Well, play him again.
Ryan first played Ray in a short for the 2005 Australian film The Magician, which he created and wrote. Now, more than a decade later, and with no other film or TV credits in between, Ryan is finally portraying him—and acting—again in the new FX drama series Mr Inbetween. He also created and writes the series, about a skilled hitman struggling with the inner turmoil that comes with shielding his professional life from his friends and family.
It goes without saying that Mr Inbetween is a passion project for Ryan and Nash Edgerton, who directs every episode. So much so that the process zapped Ryan of that passion entirely.
After The Magician came out, Ryan had a handful of other projects in development, including a plan to turn the story of the character named Ray into a series, but left the business entirely before any of them came to fruition.
“I just had some bad luck and some bad experiences, and then I just lost all desire to make anything and stopped writing, which is unusual for me because I’ve been writing since I was a kid,” Ryan says. “But something just snapped in me, I suppose, and I gave up and just tried to live a normal life, 9 to 5 kind of life, like most people do. Unfortunately, when you’re a creative person and you do that, you end up denying a major part of who you are, kind of walking through life like you’re half alive.”
So he began delivering pizzas and driving taxis in Australia, where he and Edgerton (the actor Joel Edgerton’s brother) hail from, and where all of Mr Inbetween was filmed and produced. Edgerton never gave up on making the series, attributing its long journey to FX to his insistence that Ryan star and he direct as well as, in hindsight, fate.
“It took time for my profile as a director to rise to be able to push for that to happen, and for more avenues for TV to happen,” Edgerton says. “As frustrating as that was during the years we were trying to get it made, it’s happening at the right time.”
But, he laughs, “it doesn’t feel like that when you’re getting rejected.”
Ryan estimates that over the years he could have made the show many times over, had the two conceded their demand that they be the creatives behind the project. That meant walking away from deals and from money that would ostensibly be attractive to a once-promising filmmaker now driving taxis. But sitting with Edgerton discussing the show’s debut as they had, for all this time, envisioned it, he calls it all “destiny.”
“If we had done this 10 years ago, as an actor, I wouldn’t have done it justice,” he says, pointing out that Mr Inbetween is the first time he’s ever acted on a professional film set. “There were certain things I had to learn as a person. There were certain things I had to go through to get to me where I am able to give that performance.”
Not that he was looking back at it all through rose-colored glasses.
“It’s a pain in the ass, because you’re like I want to do this now,” he says. “I don’t want to deliver fucking pizzas. I don’t want to be cleaning people’s spew in the back of a cab at 3 o’clock in the morning. But it’s like the universe just has a way of working things out and you just have to trust the plan and go for it.”
The first two of the show’s six episodes will premiere Tuesday night. At an age when tuning in or pressing play on an episode of a new drama series can contract the viewer for increasingly bloated running times, there’s a refreshing tidiness to Mr Inbetween’s half-hour, concise storytelling.
The show is blunt about Ray’s violent line of work. You meet him tossing a guy off a wall. Ray, too, treats his profession with the shrug of someone who works as an auto mechanic or office drone. “I wouldn’t say I enjoy hitting people,” Ray says in an episode that finds him in anger management class. “Why are you here?” the group leader asks. “I bashed a bloke,” Ray replies, matter-of-factly. It’s true. He did.
But rather than fetishizing the violence or making the work of a hitman seem macho or alluring, the show lives in the abrupt switch from images of Ray’s gruesome targets to scenes of him with his daughter, or on a date. “That was the strength of the show,” Edgerton says. “That you could go from Ray literally killing somebody to talking to his daughter about whether Santa Claus was real.”
Of course, the hitman Everyman, violent at work but charming at home, has become its own veritable genre. Dark antiheroes confronting their moral existentialism is now one of TV’s most familiar character types, from Breaking Bad’s Walter White to Bill Hader’s titular Barry.
But when Ryan first created Ray all those years ago, Breaking Bad didn’t exist. He hadn’t seen more than a handful of episodes of The Sopranos at that point, either, saying he was more influenced by reading biographies of hitmen than anything else. And this isn’t a character on a redemption arc, apologetic about his job, or even struggling with the morality of it. In fact, Ryan argues, Ray’s penchant for violence is universally relatable.
“Everybody’s got that dark side, that shadow self,” he says. “We live in a society where you can’t express that all the time. You have to hide who you are in personal relationships, in your work life. But it’s all there. There are times in your life that you want to beat the shit out of somebody. Why didn’t you do those things? Fear of consequences? Ray doesn’t have a fear of consequences. He wants to do something and he does it.”
Ray is good at something, he’s made a career out of that, and then he goes home and lives his life. As Edgerton argues, “It’s the same as if we said he’s good at fixing cars.”
As we chat, it’s easy to tell that Ryan and Edgerton are practically giddy that the series is finally coming to fruition—though these are two men with energies so muted that even a slight grin would measure on the emotional Richter scale. But they also haven’t lost any perspective on the journey to get here.
“It would have been worse if you made it 10 years ago and we didn’t get to be on FX or we were on a smaller and now you’d be driving taxis,” Edgerton laughs. But Ryan is quick to reply. “I’ve done it once before. I’ll totally do it again. I’m totally prepared for six months from now when I’m working at a restaurant delivering pizzas.”