Oliver Stark bids farewell to Into the Badlands' favorite bad boy

Contributed by
Apr 26, 2017

It's been scientifically proven that women love bad boys. That may explain the appeal of Quinn's not-exactly prodigal son, Ryder, on AMC's Into the Badlands: arrogant, devious, riddled with daddy issues. Add the whole rugged hooligan with model looks and it's not hard to see the appeal.

But the real draw to Quinn's now dearly-departed heir is the actor himself, Oliver Stark, who is literally a stark contrast from the nefarious and conniving character he played for 1.5 seasons on the hit scripted drama.

Unlike Ryder, Oliver is funny and - dare I say, sweet - interacting and joking with Badlands fans on social media. But in a cruel twist, just as the show started picking up both a larger fan base and a big Season 3 renewal, Ryder was killed off.

I spoke to Oliver about his time on Badlands, his unfortunate taste in pizza and what he has planned post-Badlands.

Cher: Tell me a little bit about how you ended up on Into the Badlands.

Oliver Stark: So I was in L.A. for my second time ever to audition and try to get a job, and was having a really hard time, to be honest with you. It was very quiet, and I wasn't getting any auditions. Then I was actually meant to be going home but for some reason I decided to extend for a week. Then on the final day by extension, finally an audition came through, and it was Into the Badlands.

So I went and I read with the casting directors, and they were like, "Great, when do you fly home?" And I was like, "Oh, tomorrow morning." They both kind of had a moment of, "Oh," and then they said, "Can you stick around and meet the producers right now? So I met Al Gough and Miles Millar, who wrote it, that same evening, and I flew home the next day. Then eventually I flew back to the States to test on it.

Cher: So it was literally like you were on your way out the door and this happened?

Oliver: It was something like 5PM on Friday and I was flying home to London Saturday morning.

Cher: When you first decided you were going to be an actor, did you actively choose to do genre? Or you were really just open to anything?

Oliver: Yeah, it was never a definitive choice on my part. I mean it's certainly a route that I've enjoyed going down, but I don't think that was necessarily the plan. It's just the way that's worked out so far. But I'm very happy for that because it's great fun.

Cher: I feel like Season 2 is really taking off for the show. I think that Season 1 being on Netflix helped it reach more of an audience.

Oliver: Yeah, absolutely.

Cher: And you guys are all very active on social media, which is amazing. But with Season 2, it feels like now the show is really on people's radars. So how do you feel that just as the show has started to pick a little bit more steam, you get killed off?

Oliver: I'm happy for that to happen because it works out much better for me to have done a season and a half of a hit show than a show that didn't become a hit. So yeah, of course there's a part of me that wishes I could reap the benefits of it for a little longer, but it works out for me either way. So I'm thrilled for them and I think the show deserves it. So I'm just going to keep on watching as a fan.

Cher: I noticed too that, especially that first season, the show's biggest audience was really Black Girl Nerds and Black Twitter. They responded to the show really quickly, and they really championed that show for you guys a lot. You have a great relationship with your fans, the way you interact with people on social. Do you want to talk a little bit about that, how their support helped the show?

Oliver: Yeah, I mean, I think it's so important to a project, the theory of how powerful Black Twitter has become, and really can make or break a project right now as we've seen in recent week. So the fact that that kind of whole group got behind the show was fantastic. For me, it's all quite surreal still. So when I'm tweeting with people, I'm just surprised that anybody wants to talk to me, to be honest with you. So I'm still walking on cloud nine while I get to do that stuff with people.

I think the show lends itself to a certain audience though. It is championing diversity and pushing forward on those platforms. So I think it deserves that attention.

Cher: I remember last year when the show first came out, and I think I randomly caught an episode, but it wasn't the first episode, so I only saw a part of it and I remember seeing the Widow, and I was like, "This is badass. There's chicks doing martial arts." I'm so into that. I love how women and people of color really are the main everything in this show. It's such a feminist and progressive show. It addresses so many different themes that do effect race and class and gender. It's also impressive how great you guys all are with interacting with the fans and also being actively pro those messages.

Oliver: Yeah, I mean, in Season 2 I think it's getting even better with that, introduce more women of color in powerful positions. I think for all of us, I mean, I can only speak for myself, but for me it's about I'm just trying to listen to people who know more than me when I'm interacting and taking part in those conversations. So I'm just trying to understand that I'm not in a position where I've experienced a lot of things that some viewership of the show has, so I'm just trying to listen and learn from people. I think, you know, the show has an Asian American lead, M.K. is half Asian, and the show is just flooded with it. So it's winning kind of on every aspect.

Cher: Let's talk a little bit about Ryder because that character is very different from you.

Oliver: I like to think so.

Cher: Yeah, he's not a great guy, and it's really funny because as horrible as he is, and seeing how much fans genuinely enjoy you, it's like they can't help but like Ryder even though they hate him. So let's talk a little bit about you getting into that character's head and playing such a devious, rotten person.

Oliver: Yeah, I mean, to be honest with you, I've always kind of found myself playing those kind of roles. I often play the quote-unquote bad guy, and I don't know why that is but it's just something that I've always hopefully been able to tap into. Maybe I'm harboring some deep, dark secrets that even I don't know about.

But yes, it's fun for me as well to play something that isn't who I am. I like to think I'm not so devious and maniacal. So it's fun to step into that world and put those shoes on and play that character out. But yeah, there's not too much I do in terms of 'how do I get into this?'. It's more about finding it within myself, I think.

Cher: Ryder came back to haunt everyone a couple episodes back. Will Ghost Ryder be making any more appearances?

Oliver: No.

Cher: Are you just saying that because you can't say?

Oliver: No, no, no, I would love to tell you different because I really enjoyed those haunting scenes, but that is the last of him.

Cher: I hear the Badlands fight camps are pretty intense. What was it like going through fight camp?

Oliver: It's fun and torturous at the same time, because they are so intense. It's literally verging on eight hours a day, five days a week. I think it was a big risk Season 1, because when you throw us all together and we didn't know each other and put us into that intense situation, we're all either going to really like each other or rally hate each other. But luckily, I think everybody kind of bonded through our suffering.

But it's an honor to get to learn from people like Master Didi, who choreographs the show, and he's worked on things like the Matrix, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon revolutionary action films of our generation. So just to have him telling me that I'm doing something wrong, feels fantastic.

Cher: Did you ever do any type of martial arts training previous to this? Or did doing this show and doing those fight camps make you want to learn more martial arts?

Oliver: I hadn't previously done any martial arts. I've always been sporty and athletic. For a role that I had done the previous year, I'd done a similar kind of training period, but for parkour, before a movie. So there was a certain agility that I never really got to use as Ryder, but that I had for fight camp. Yeah, no, I learned so much from it that I've kind of kept going on trying to learn Tai Chi, but I haven't been learning any actual combative martial arts. But I would absolutely love to. It's a skill that hopefully I'm going to get to use again and again.

Cher: As a viewer, what was your favorite part so far watching?

Oliver: I think the kind of opening to Season 2, just seeing how much it had scaled up and the work had become bigger. Because when it aired for the first time on TV, that's the first time I was watching it as well. You know, I had read the scripts but I hadn't seen Sunny's scenes being shot, for example. So to just see that whole world expand out was exciting for me, and it gave the show a kind of epic feel, and made me feel really proud to be a part of it, I think.

Cher: What was your favorite part to shoot?

Oliver: I think either the death scene with Marton, just because we've come to know each other quite well, and enjoy working together, and trust each other when it comes to the work. So that all felt very safe and open and liberating, as an actor. Or actually the haunting scenes, which, for the same kind of reason ... In fact, the haunting scenes, because I got to be a bit more ballsy with it. Once he's dead, there's nothing more you can do to him, so I got to step up and really get it his face.

Cher: So now that Ryder's dead and you're going to keep watching the show, what do you want to see happen? What characters are you rooting for?

Oliver: I'm interested to see ... Because I don't know. I've not read the rest of it. So I'm interested to see if M.K. and Sunny end up linking up again, and how that story gets brought back into the main world. I think there was in the preview for next week's episode, we saw Quinn and Widow meeting up, which is something I did not see coming. So I'm excited to see how that plays out and if they can work together.

Cher: Who do you think would win in a one on one fight, the Widow or Chau?

Oliver: Yeah, I mean, we never really ... We've seen one fight with Chau. It seems like Chau had a harder life so I feel like she's been through a bit more. So maybe there's a certain grit there, but the Widow, she's proved her steel by now. So I have to go with the Widow.

Cher: Okay. What about the Widow versus Tilda?

Oliver: Oh! Yeah, I wasn't expecting that. I guess the Widow because she's probably taught Tilda everything she knows. However, Tilda's got that kind of youthful hunger, which I think might tip the scales in her favor.

Cher: Outside of being in genre, were you a fan of sci-fi or of stuff like this before you started acting?

Oliver: Yeah, I've always had quite a broad spectrum when it comes to what I want to watch, and depending on the mood, I guess. But yeah, I mean, I was a big fan of the Walking Dead before this. So that's actually part of the reason that I was so excited to step into this show because it's the kind of world that I would be watching if I wasn't in it.

Cher: What are some things that you're watching right now that you're into?

Oliver: I'm currently watching Underground, which I started just last week, so I'm halfway through the first season. I've just finished watching Black Sails. I used to think that Game of Thrones was one of the best TV shows I've ever watched, but I think Black Sails may have surpassed it for me. It was just so cool and if it wasn't finished that would be what I would be trying to get myself into next.

Cher: Is there anything that's coming out or coming up movie-wise or anything that you're looking forward to seeing? That you're excited about?

Oliver: I'm excited to see what happens with Black Panther, and kind of the new take on the Marvel universe that that brings. Justice League as well. I've never been a great fan of the DC ones. In any world, like a superhero team-up is very exciting to me. So I'm excited for that, and then I don't really know what else is coming out. Yeah, so I guess I'll have to leave it at those two because my mind is blank.

Cher: If you could be cast on any TV show that's on right now, what would you want to be cast on?

Oliver: I think I'd go probably now for something completely different to Badlands. I'm a big fan of Billions, so I'd love to go and be something that's very much character-driven and no kind of action. I think Billions or something like that. Although, I'm not sure how someone like me fits into Billions. But if they write it in, I'm available.

Cher: We'll put that out into the universe for you. Do you have anything else that's coming up?

Oliver: There is a movie that I did couple of years ago which is coming out. Actually it's coming out on Blu-ray and DVD on May 2, which is a movie called MindGamers.

Cher: That you did with Dominique Tipper, right?

Oliver: Yes, with Dom from The Expanse and Tom Payne from The Walking Dead. That was a movie that we did a few years ago, when none of us had really done much, and now thankfully all of us have gone on to work in good stuff. So that's kind of a project close to my heart because it was a lot of our first big jobs.

Cher: When we recorded our finale episode for The Expanse podcast and Dom was on it, we asked all the cast the pineapple pizza question and told them how you got roped into it.

Oliver: It's so ... I can't believe the conversations that that question starts. I know now to beware when I mention it because people get more aggravated than I was expecting.

Cher: It's crazy. Somebody posted a picture the other day of banana on pizza.

Oliver: I think it was after episode four of Badlands, so Ryder had just been killed and Daniel Wu did a nice tweet about me. Then somebody tweeted something about pineapple pizza and me liking it and suddenly he tweeted, "Actually, maybe he did deserve it." So wow, this is really …

Cher: The pineapple pizza legacy goes on.

Oliver: I've got to keep it to myself now if I ever want to work again.