Neal McDonough is a prolific actor and producer who thrives as the ultimate bad guy. With more than 100 movies and thousands of hours of TV, this makes him an ideal candidate to serve as the president of the jury for fiction at the Monte-Carlo Television Festival.
The star looks back at his body of work, proud of the road, crediting Band of Brothers as that real big break. It was also on set where he met his now-wife Ruvé. Since audiences have seen him square off with The Rock on film in Walking Tall, vindictive husband Dave on Desperate Housewives, and s**t starting prosecutor on Suits.
We sat down with McDonough before the festival to talk about the evolution of TV, as well as his most recent popular roles on the small screen in Yellowstone and the Arrowverse.
Is this your first time at the Monte-Carlo TV Festival?
Neal McDonough: The first time we went, I proposed to my wife 21 years ago. Then we went back three years ago and had an awesome time. It’s great seeing old friends and meeting new friends. [Festival Honorary President] Prince Albert II has been quite nice to us. Both of our wives are South African, so we have something in common there. This year they asked me to be president of the jury. What an honor. I can’t wait.
Television has changed a lot since that first time.
I think the landscape of television in the last 20 years has improved vastly. You look at all the great storytellers, it seems they are congregating to television. Television has changed dramatically with streaming services. There are so many outlets for creativity and telling stories you couldn’t tell years ago. I’m looking forward to being the judge because I get to see not only the television in the United States but all over the world. For me, to be able to watch these filmmakers tell these stories in different languages, places, and atmospheres. For me as a creator, my wife and I are producing our own films. I’m writing my own films. I’m certainly going to borrow from other filmmakers or collaborate with these filmmakers.
What are some things you look for in a quality project?
When you look at shows like Yellowstone and how it has changed the landscape in such a short amount of time. Now you can really dig into characters. Before it would be the first time you can swear on television or show someone naked, but we’re finally past that. Now we get to delve into interesting stories and psyches of human beings. Yellowstone really delves into all that.
It’s one of the most character-driven shows I’ve ever been part of or watched. Taylor Sheridan figured out that instead of making something glamorous and glossing over issues, let’s get into issues. It all wraps into what is going to happen to the Dutton family. That became wildly successful because everyone is dealing with problems in their own family. That’s life. It’s a boom time for television. In Monte-Carlo, I’m honored beyond belief that I can choose who is going to win and have a forum for filmmakers, especially from these smaller countries that might not otherwise have a chance to be seen on a national or international scale.
You talked about Yellowstone — Malcolm’s death sent shockwaves.
Did I die? Did I? I’m not so sure about that. We have talked about the fact we didn’t actually see Malcolm Beck’s eyes close. There is always that possibility. My brother won’t be coming back for sure, but there is a possibility.
How do you look back on your time on the show?
Taylor Sheridan wrote amazing characters. He understands the cadence of an actor and how they actually speak. For me to play Malcolm Beck, there is this one scene in my office. He wanted to pump it up a bit. He said let’s go again for an hour at the beginning of the day and tweak a couple of things. We spent seven or eight hours reshooting that scene until he liked it. It ended up me throwing my desk over and smashing a flat-screen TV and crushing everything. Malcolm Beck just crumbles. It was the genius of Taylor to let Malcolm really fly. He let me have the keys to the villain’s kingdom. I got to act across from Kevin Costner. We worked on The Guardian many years ago. Pound for pound the greatest actor on screen. I loved my time on that show.
Then there was the return to the Arrowverse as Damien Darhk during the “Armageddon” crossover. He makes the ultimate sacrifice for his daughter. This character has made quite the evolution over the years.
Damien on Arrow was a very different Damien from Legends of Tomorrow and The Flash. Working with Stephen Amell, it was game day. We had a blast. Damien was a lot darker. Where I like to play is kind of gray area. We got to do that when we got to Legends. We got to find the humor in the dad and husband Damien and what he would do on that scale. He becomes much more human. Now with Flash and Grant Gustin, I look forward to doing more Flash next year because Damien is one of my favorite characters that I’ve ever had a chance to play. He was this goofy dad joke kind of villain. Then he turned into almost a hero opposite Grant. Damien is much more like me currently. I like the latter Damien more. Being a dad of five, I get to draw from that. When we’re doing Arrow, I wanted to have a wife in the show because I never take my wedding ring off. They thought let’s stick with it and give you a wife named after your wife. That’s how we started.
Hopefully, we see more in the future from that character. You never know what’s next.
Television characters tend to not go over to the feature side because of different universes. I think Damien has been killed four or five times already that let’s see if he can go over to the other universe and become one of the villains or heroes of the other side. He can do everything. When he died in Arrow, everyone was like this doesn’t really work because he has all these amazing superpowers. So to use those for good would be something I would love to explore for the character. Go to the other side to find that forgiveness within himself.
The 61st Monte-Carlo Television Festival runs June 17-21. For more information, visit https://www.tvfestival.com/en.