After a years-long journey to fruition that involved bouncing from AMC to YouTube Red before finally landing at Showtime in the USA, the highly anticipated On Becoming a God in Central Florida premiered for Australian audiences on SBS and SBS On Demand.
A weird and wonderful dark comedy about the world of pyramid schemes set in the early 1990s, the series stars (and is executive produced by) Kirsten Dunst as Krystal Stubbs, in her first return to the small screen since Fargo, a role that scored her a Golden Globe nomination. The series also introduces us to French-Canadian actor Théodore Pellerin who plays Cody Bonar, FAM’s most loyal devotee.
Speaking to SBS on the phone, Pellerin said, aside from the opportunity to work with Dunst, he was immediately drawn into the show’s “weird, strange world” that was so far removed from everything he knew.
“I loved the tone of it,” he said, adding: “I didn’t know about MLMs (multi-level marketing companies), I didn’t know much about Florida, about the ’90s—it was very attractive.”
To prepare for the role, Pellerin said that aside from working to lose his accent, YouTube was his greatest asset when it came to learning about the culture of the pyramid scheme.
“What really fed me was watching the rallies on YouTube where these people at the top of the pyramid, they’re like in stadiums,” he explained, continuing: “There’s 20,000 people sometimes and there’s fire coming out of the ground, and there’s rock music and they’re coming in with their sunglasses. And it’s so strange and then they talk about all these very complicated, very nonsense terms and ways of making money in their pyramid scheme—they’re obviously not calling it a pyramid scheme, but it was just so weird and interesting.”
Describing Cody’s involvement in FAM, Pellerin said that it was “more like a religion and a belief than only a financial and economic thing” for his character.
Noting that Cody comes from “a very, very different background from Krystal (played by Dunst)”, Pellerin explained that by coming from money, Cody is blind to the fact that the pyramid scheme doesn’t work, and when combined with his desire for power and his need for belonging, “he just fell right into it”.
“When you do have a bit of money that you can invest, you go higher up the ranks, way faster, so you don’t see that you’re maybe losing money at the time,” he explained. “But also, he’s someone who’s so desperate for belonging and he’s very, very, very attracted to power and success and everything that [FAM founder] Obie Garbeau represents. He wants to become that; he wants to be an image of American success.”
Pellerin went on to say that another reason he thinks Cody is so attracted to FAM is because again, like a religion, “he’s given answers” to everything in life.
“He doesn’t have to look for them anymore,” he said. “The tapes that he’s listening to are giving him pre-made answers. There are rules that you can follow, and if you ever go off track there’s always something to bring you back in. There’s always a structure—it’s structure and hierarchy that you can follow and believe in, and that’s a huge part of it.”
Still, just because Cody may believe he has all the answers in the Garbeau System doesn’t necessarily mean he has his life together. As Pellerin said: “Cody is such a good, crazy, desperately crazy part. He’s just in such a crisis all the time. It was so fun.”
As for what we can expect from the recently announced second season, Pellerin said he “has no demands”.
“I just wanna read it and be like ‘YES!’” he exclaimed. “I wanna have a revelation and be impressed and surprised.”
He continued: “I’m sure they’re gonna go for something crazy and exciting, and I’m excited to see it,” adding that he’d love to learn more about Cody’s background.
He laughed. “Whatever it is, I’m up for it!”
On Becoming A God In Central Florida premiered with a double episode on Thursday, 21 November at 8:30pm and continues weekly from 9.30pm on SBS each Thursday. Catch up at SBS On Demand after broadcast.