When Kingdom fans first met Jay Kulina, he was butt naked, having sex on his brother’s bed while wearing a Native American headdress. And in that instant, it would’ve been easy for fans to put Jay in a box — to decide he’s the “crazy one,” the comic relief, or nothing more than the Christian Bale to Nick Jonas’ Mark Wahlberg.
And although Jonathan Tucker does list Bale’s performance in The Fighter as an element of some Jay scenes, there’s a lot more to the fan-favorite character. For Tucker, he describes some of his favorite Jay moments as featuring a bit of Bale, a touch of Kramer from Seinfeld, a little Roger Rabbit, a hint of Sam Rockwell’s screen test for Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and last but not least, some Raging Bull. “He’s got all these cool, different elements,” Tucker says. “They’re all over the place, but they all find themselves organically in this one person.”
And in Tucker’s capable hands, Jay Kulina has evolved into one of the most talked-about aspects of the show, with Tucker himself receiving rave reviews from fans and critics alike. “What I like so much about the character is just the freedom that he has in the world, which allows me to be totally free in the world,” Tucker says. “You’re getting to be a character that can do things that are so high and so low and it’s always truthful. So there’s very little where you’re like, ‘That’s not really the character.’ He could totally walk into an office space and take off all of his clothes and dance like a monkey and throw baby powder all over him. How often do you have a character who can be so grounded in truth and yet so outrageous?”
For example, the beginning of season 2B saw a very controlled and determined Jay as he prepared to fight his good friend Ryan Wheeler. But that’s not necessarily the Jay we met 20 episodes ago, nor is it the Jay we see in most episodes. Now, with the fight behind him and a belt around his waist, will Jay resort back to his old ways?
In Tucker’s mind, it doesn’t matter. As an actor, he says he had no preference when it came to the outcome of the fight. “I hope what Kingdom succeeds in doing is using these different instruments, primarily fighting and training, as a conduit to exploring different issues and relationships. How can we use that fight to show that Jay’s got it together, that he can have a good camp, that he can experience this extraordinary high of finally getting what he wanted and then realizing that’s not what really adds up in terms of his personal fulfillment and sense of humility? And the rest of the season is like, ‘How do we use this Ava character to bring out certain aspects of Jay’s personality and put him in a position to make really dynamic choices in the story?’”
Regardless of where Jay is at emotionally, Tucker strives to live as truthfully in every moment as he can. And after playing Jay for two years, he’s grown more and more comfortable in his skin. “It’s exciting for me to play because I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he says. “If you’re really open to the world, the world has a lot to offer you as an actor, as a person, as a character. Jay lets you really take it all in and use it all.”
Kingdom airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on AT&T’s Audience Network.