In his twenty-six years in front of the camera Sean Patrick Flanery has tackled many roles ranging from archeologist adventurer to outlaw cowboy, blessed healer, love struck executive, bank robbing groomsman, self-help guru, and even a saint cleaning up the streets of Boston. That’s just to name a few. His characters have lived, died, loved, lost, bent the rules, broke the rules, and a few times even upheld the law. However, nothing could prepare him for his latest role. Sean now finds himself face to face with one of the most intriguing, albeit dangerous, characters on television … Dexter. We caught up with Sean to discuss the final season of Dexter, the upcoming Blu-Ray release of BDS II, and the launch of his martial arts project Christmas Fourteen.
MV: Welcome to Movie Vine, Sean.
Sean: Thank you.
MV: To begin, let’s discuss your latest role as Jacob Elroy in the final season of Dexter. Now I know you can’t say much, but what kind of man is Jacob?
Sean: He’s a driven guy. Very success oriented. Maybe skirts outside of protocol the majority of the time. A little rough around the edges, but he gets stuff done.
MV: Do you feel that when creating a character like Jacob his back story is as important as the dialogue so that the audience can get a sense of where he’s coming from?
Sean: Well without turning it into a thirty page answer it really depends on what you mean by back story. I mean, well obviously we’re all a product of our past, and our past is a catalyst of what we become in the future so in that respect, yes. But as far as having a specific back story … it’s pretty difficult when you do a show like this because there are a lot of unknowns. So it does help in your own brain to kind of put together who this person is, and what kind of experiences he might or might not have had in the past. It obviously then creates who he will be in the present and future. But, sometimes you don’t have access to that and you gotta make do.
MV: That makes sense. In film you have the direct connection to your character’s entire arc, but with Dexter you have no idea what’s coming up. How do you approach telling the story even though you don’t actually know the ending of Jacob?
Sean: You know to make a very brief and distinct answer you read the line. I’m not trying to be short, but that’s really it. When you don’t know the future that’s how you convey the story. The most absolute knowledge that you have is what’s in-between ‘fade in and fade out’. If that’s all you have then you have to make that as real as possible even if you have to fabricate your own side story, back story, motivations and whatnot. You just have to make it as real as you can.
MV: When you’re reading the script for a new Dexter episode do you automatically turn to the last page, or do you allow yourself to take the journey one page at a time with the character?
Sean: I think you have to go through the whole story. Reading the whole story to see where it fits in. Having said that, a lot of storylines never intersect. So somebody else’s storyline, or what happens in a previous scene, may have absolutely nothing to do with my character. And, subsequently sometimes it can be a hindrance when you know what’s going on when you’re not supposed to know what’s going on. So there are two schools of thought on that.
MV: So now you can enjoy the whole story as it unfolds on TV. Your dog, Donut, has been known to act alongside you in some of your previous projects. Can fans expect her to make an appearance in any of the episodes?
Sean: Donut is not in any of the Dexter episodes unfortunately. This will be one she sits out. She is a big fan though so she’ll be in front of the TV with me.
MV: Dexter witnessed his mother’s murder as a child, and now lives by his own code only killing other serial killers. Granted it’s a show, but we seem to have more forgiveness for Dexter because of the kinds of people he is killing. After working on Dexter, where do you stand on the nature versus nurture debate?
Sean: If somebody is killing people who absolutely deserve to die I don’t think anybody worries about where he came from, or whether he was nurtured enough, or whether he’s genetically predisposed to do anything. I don’t care what his upbringing is. It’s a lot like the movie I did BDS. Everybody is happy to see that kind of murder because everybody that dies is a heinous individual who offers nothing to society except for potential danger for our future. So everybody embraces those types of people dying. And, the same way with Dexter. I don’t think it has anything to do with does he need a hug or anything else. It’s like “wait a minute, this guy is killing people to make our world a better place”. So I don’t think there is a lot of debate there. I think as much as people want to scream out how “this is wrong” or “that’s wrong” at the end of the day if a certain act makes life for everybody a little bit better then I don’t think it’s difficult to debate against that act. There is a right way and a wrong way. If somebody has the potential to kill five people it’s probably best to err on the side of making sure that doesn’t happen. Even at the cost of maybe infringing on his supposed rights. There is something called the greater good, and I think Dexter is doing just that. The greater good.
MV: I love the parallel between Dexter’s moral code and that of the BDS. They are all good hearted people who bring an unconventional justice to the evil in the world.
Sean: Yeah. Exactly. I’m not saying that a lot of these evil people wouldn’t end up behind bars, or maybe they’d be eliminated from society, but we all know our judicial system. Sometimes it’s a long and arduous process, and a lot of times it’s incredibly too lenient. You know? I think Dexter cuts right to the quick. Because this person is doing wrong they’re out of here. And, I don’t disagree with that at all. But, then again I’m from Texas. (laughs)
MV: (laughs) So true! Now that Troy will be penning part three of BDS are you excited about revisiting your character, the stories, and the next adventures?
Sean: Yeah! Of course.
MV: Where are you hoping Troy decides to take your character Connor?
Sean: Well where Connor goes Murphy flows so they are kind of one in the same. But, I hope that it’s much more parallel to the first one. Which is not too distant from what we were just discussing, the moral code of these guys. It’s strayed a little bit away from that. It’s about the guys cleaning up the streets of the heinous acts that are conducted on a daily basis. I think it’s going to go right back to where we were on the first BDS.
MV: I read that Troy decided to do a third film after the horrible things that happened in Boston. I saw a lot of stuff going around about the Saints at that time. It’s something that, like we were talking about earlier, if the Saints were there then things would have probably been handled a lot differently. And, I think everybody can agree on that one.
Sean: Well, you know, there is a reason why you say “yes sir” and “no sir” to a cop because they have the ability to haul you off to jail. Whenever there is something like that in society it changes the way society acts. It changes the way people carry themselves whenever they know should they step out of line suddenly there are repercussions. With today’s government and judicial system a lot of times there’s not repercussions. There’s not a lot of responsibility. There’s not a lot of consequences out there. With the Saints suddenly there’s consequences.
MV: Right! They can actually do something about it. Their hands are not tied.
Sean: Exactly. So you can’t do an act and go “oh, it’s my first offense so maybe I’ll be able to get off with eight years.” No. Not with guys out there with a different moral code.
MV: I love how all of the Saints characters are flawed in their own way, but when combined they make a complete unit. What is the most intriguing character flaw of Connor? Do you think he learned his lesson, or will he revisit those same mistakes?
Sean: Well I think the very nature of mistakes is they don’t reveal themselves to be mistakes until you see them in your rearview mirror. I’m not sure Connor has advanced that far down the road to even see them in the rearview mirror. Fortunately enough, I think that Connor and Murphy complement each other perfectly like little puzzle pieces. What Connor lacks Murphy supplies and vice versa. You know? So, what is their downside? Their downside is their desire to correct society’s flaws even though that skates outside of the legal system. I think that’s their flaw. Although myself I don’t consider that a flaw, but in your ability to perform on a regular basis and not get thrown in jail certainly it’s a problem.
MV: Absolutely. Best Buy will be releasing an exclusive director’s cut Blu-Ray of BDS II which will include twenty-seven minutes of never-before-seen footage. Does it make you nervous not knowing what footage will end up on the Blu-Ray?
Sean: No. Not really. Because Troy knows that I will put him to sleep so frickin’ quick that it will make his laptop fall onto the ground should he do anything negative. (laughs)
MV: (laughs) Yeah. So, he’ll steer clear of that.
Sean: (laughs) Nah, he’s a good dude. I don’t think he’ll do anything that won’t enhance the story.
MV: What can you tell us about your upcoming film Broken Horses? Your character is a music teacher, is that correct?
Sean: Yeah. I play a music teacher, and one of my student’s little brother goes off on the wrong path. Ultimately I endure some pretty severe bodily harm. It changes my life forever, and it changes the life of my student forever. It’s a pretty heavy little piece. It was directed by Vinod Chopra who is one of India’s biggest directors. Like literally the Steven Spielberg of India. So it’s pretty flattering to be a part of his United States film debut. I’m pretty excited about it.
MV: Did you find a lot of differences working with an International director?
Sean: When you’re talking about anybody in the film industry there’s no real barometer for which to gauge. Because you don’t have to be licensed to be a director. You don’t have to pass some qualifying exam to be an actor. So the work ethic is all over the board. Vinod is one of the best I’ve ever worked with on all fronts. I don’t know if that’s a product of the culture he comes from, or it’s probably just a product of … well a lot of the same things that make him the Steven Spielberg of India are the qualities that make you a good director. You know? Anytime somebody has a track record of that enormous repetitive success they’re doing a number of things right. Not just one. And, I had a wonderful experience with him on this one.
MV: Well good. I’m excited to see that one.
Sean: Yeah, and myself.
MV: Are you doing a lot of conventions this Summer?
Sean: As per my schedule allows. Me and Norm like to go to those whenever we’re free. Sometimes our schedules don’t match each other, but sometimes they do. Whenever it does we always like to go out there.
MV: You already have a full schedule between conventions and acting, but you also like to spend your free time teaching Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Has martial arts changed your perspective on the importance of managing stress?
Sean: Well I’ve been a martial artist longer than I’ve been an actor so it’s kinda just the opposite. A lot of people ask “has it changed the way you conduct your business life?”. Martial arts changes absolutely everything. There’s zero downside to studying martial arts. It only enhances absolutely every part of your life. And, I’ve found that to be very true in all capacities. There’s no line on the mat. If you’re wearing the wrong colored belt then you’re going to be discovered very very quickly on the mat when you train with somebody. You are exactly who you are. And, nobody cares if you’ve directed eighteen huge blockbuster films you’re going to be discovered on the mat exactly who you are. On the mat for Jui-Jitsu, your character, your personality, your truth, everything is exposed. And, that’s kinda what I love about it. In acting it’s very subjective. You’re always going to find somebody who says “oh my God, your performance is amazing”, and somebody else goes “oh my God, that was the most hideous performance I’ve ever seen in my life”. But, martial arts is very quantifiable you’re either good or you’re not. There’s nobody who is going to say “wow, you have incredible Jiu-Jitsu, but it just is not pretty enough”. Nobody cares how pretty it is. It’s either effective, or it’s not effective. I love that absolute aspect of martial arts. I think every actor kinda needs something that’s absolute in their life. As far as being an actor a lot of your career is out of your hands. So I think it’s wonderful to have something that’s in your life that is absolutely in your hands. It’s a mathematical equation, however much you put in is exactly however much you’re going to get out. Actually with an exponent on the end. But, the acting industry is not necessarily like that. Just because you put in so much effort does not mean you’re going to do a Spielberg film. It just doesn’t mean that.
Sean: So I think it’s wonderful to have something that is absolute.
MV: Do you have a black belt in both Karate and Jiu-Jitsu?
Sean: It’s funny because a lot of people say Karate, but there’s a number of different forms of Karate. But, when I was nine I started in Tae Kwon Do. And, I know it doesn’t matter to a lot of people. A lot of people just think “oh, he’s a black belt” and they don’t even bother to find out what it’s in. Which is ok. I grew up the same way. When I first started it was Tae Kwon Do then I experimented with a number of different martial arts and ended up in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. So the prominent martial arts that I studied was Tae Kwon Do and then Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. But, for the most part now I’m pretty much solely focused on Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
MV: You own two martial arts studios here in Los Angeles. How would you recommend someone get started in a program?
Sean: If they are in L.A. they can contact me at dynamixmma.com and they can check out that. There is also hollywoodbjj.com. If you’re out of town look up a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu academy, but make sure it’s a reputable instructor. Because like anything, just because somebody has an M.D. after their name does not make them a good doctor it just means they passed the test. There’s good and bad in everything. Just because someone has a black belt does not mean they are a good teacher. So if you find a very good, credible, articulate, instructor that can convey all the things the martial arts are intended to convey … man, sign up and never look back. Your life will never be the same. I firmly believe that.
MV: Is that what led you to create Christmas Fourteen?
Sean: It is. I wanted to give everybody, even the people without the access, funding to get into a martial arts program. It’s what made me want to start that. We’ve been delayed in launching Christmas Fourteen, but it is forthcoming as soon as I resolve an Amazon problem. I am really looking forward to helping kids get into their own martial arts program.
MV: So once you are able to fix the Amazon issue you’ll sell merchandise to raise money for the program. Is that how it works?
Sean: It’s the proceeds. As soon as we get up to a certain mark we’re going to sponsor specific kids. We’re going to take submissions from kids all over the country, and we’re going to try and discern which kids really need it and will benefit. It consists of a number of questions and interviews. We don’t want to give it away to anybody who could provide it on their own. Because I’ve learned myself that anything that is given away free usually tends to be invaluable to the person. And, by that I mean without value. They just simply don’t care about it. I want to give it to somebody that is really going to value it. That’s going to realize that it’s an opportunity of a lifetime, and they are going to run with it.
MV: And, have the drive and passion for it.
Sean: Yes. Everybody that is sponsored is going to sign a contract. Nothing is going to be for free. They’ll be given a free kimono, they’ll be given free classes, but they’re going to have to do something in return like clean the mats. They are going to have to do something for the academy, and they are going to have to show up a certain number of times. There’s going to be no absentees. There’s a number of guidelines they are going to have to follow. Because I really feel like giving somebody free martial arts is priceless. I want them to realize that.
MV: Of course. I was reading the statistics on your site about kids involved in martial arts having a GPA that is 24% higher than the national average. That’s amazing!
Sean: That’s just with our program. Absolutely! A lot of the kids that get into martial arts programs probably have good parenting that are steering them in the right direction. The kids that go through something like this now … I tell ya once they get into the program the difference I see in their eyes it’s astonishing. I mean they walk in, and they don’t even know how to shake your hand. After three weeks they know how to shake your hand, they know how to look you in the eye, and they know how to speak with authority. It changes the way that they operate on the playground. It changes the way they operate in their school classroom. It changes them completely.
MV: And, also leading into their adult life when they go out for a job interview they are going to have the confidence they need.
Sean: Exactly. I mean I see that on a daily basis so I know the value of a quality program for a child. A quality martial arts program in a child is unparalleled. There is nothing that can replace it. Especially when you’re dealing with a martial arts that has real-world application. I’m not trashing other martial arts, but there are some hokey martial arts where if you get into a fight it may not help you at all. But, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is one of those that should you, God forbid, be forced to defend yourself you have some real-world application there. Some things that are going to translate very well to help you take care of yourself.
MV: I like that. Well this leads me into my last question. To quote Rocco from All Saint’s Day:
There’s two kinds of people in this world when you boil it all down. You’ve got your talkers and you’ve got your doers. Most people are just talkers. All they got is talk. But when all is said and done, it’s the doers who will change this world. And when they do that, they change us. And, that’s why we never forget them.
So which one are you, Sean?
Sean: I’m one of the guys that just, you know, let me live my life and you tell me. Better let somebody look at the way I’m conducting my life, and let them decide whether I’m a talker or a doer. It’s just really easy to say that I’m this kinda guy. But, if you have to say it, and people don’t know it before you say it, then you’ve inaccurately assessed who you are. I always tend to think that people that are self-described are liars. I think anybody’s personal assessment is their life. If you want to describe yourself then live for a week. You know? I don’t want to tell anybody what to do. I want them to watch me live and decide on their own.
MV: That is a great answer. Thank you so much for hanging out with Movie Vine. I’m excited to see what Dexter has in store for Jacob.
Sean: Thanks. Me too!
*Be sure to check out Sean’s blog Shine Until Tomorrow where he shares his sometimes hysterical always inspirational moments of life and wisdom.
Follow Sean on Twitter (@seanflanery) and Facebook. For more information visit his official website. Watch Dexter’s final season premiere tonight (June 30) only on Showtime (9PM ET/PT). Pick up your exclusive BDS II Director’s Cut Blu-Ray on July 16th available only at Best Buy.
Warning: The following Dexter Season 8: Behind the Scenes video contains seasons 7 & 8 spoilers.