EXCLUSIVE: Jonathan Tucker on 'Incredibly Frustrating' Cancellation of 'Kingdom'

Getty Images

Jonathan Tucker has basketball on his mind. 

The actor is reflecting on a magazine profile of lauded NBA player Stephen Curry, whose childlike essence may be a distraction, the article says, but is also his greatest asset. Tucker finds himself drawn to a quote from Curry's coach: "When Stephen Curry is joyful, he is an assassin."

"It's a wonderful metaphor for actors," says the 34-year-old actor known for roles on Parenthood, Hannibal and Justified, who went to his own joyous place while playing Jay Kulina on DirecTV’s mixed martial arts drama Kingdom, which also stars Nick Jonas. The third and final 10-episode season premieres May 31.

"You've done the work, which is breath work and bodywork and deep spiritual diving; you've learned all the lines, back and forth, and then you show up on set," Tucker explains to ET. "If you're joyous -- if it's exciting, if you're having fun -- beautiful things can happen."

Based on Kingdom's critical acclaim and loyal following, one would be hard-pressed to deny such a statement. After losing a rematch to best friend Ryan Wheeler (Matt Lauria) at the end of the season two, this season's premiere sees Tucker’s drug-addled MMA fighter out of the ring, venturing into real estate. But like a broken record, Jay's tendency to self-sabotage once again impedes his pursuits. "It's a really sad thing to bring to screen," admits Tucker, who finds himself both exhilarated and defeated by Jay's consistently "tragic" disposition. "[These characters] cost you, they come home with you, so you have to love them."

MORE: How 'Kingdom' Star Jonathan Tucker Helped Nick Jonas Channel Heartbreak Into Song

Jay's gritty realness, a trademark of the show itself, is due in large part to showrunner Byron Balasco, who, according to Tucker, develops Kingdom's storylines off the page. "It's what he creates outside," he says, adding that Balasco finds these "unexpected moments in his subconscious."

When Jay confronted Nate (Jonas), who is gay, about his sexuality at the end of season two, the "coming out" was refreshingly not straightforward. During the scene, Jay fully accepts Nate as a gay man, but under some very aggressive Jay conditions: "Nothing changes between us except you better be on top and you do the f**king."

The beauty of that scene is that it wasn't scripted, Tucker reveals. Remaining true to the show's organic gestation, a staple since its 2014 debut, the crude heart-to-heart came out of an ongoing conversation Balasco, Tucker and Jonas had leading up to the scene's filming. "The show encourages and revels in complexity," says Tucker, "and that's why (Balasco) is such an extraordinary talent -- because he writes lines he doesn't know he writes."


To that end, Tucker will miss being a part of Balasco's unique process.

"The cancellation is incredibly frustrating and severely disappointing," Tucker says, adding that while shooting the finale, the cast had been under the impression they had been picked up for a fourth season, making for a "great sense of resolve to make that next season even better." That wasn't the case, and in April of this year, Kingdom was officially knocked from DirecTV's future lineup.

Though admittedly challenging to inhabit -- both his complex state and the physicality (the actor has notoriously lost weight for the role) -- Tucker looks back fondly at Jay, who "has been an extraordinary partner in my life for the last three and a half years."

MORE: Why Jonathan Tucker Lost 20 Pounds to Embody a MMA Fighter on 'Kingdom'

Meanwhile, Tucker is finding new ways to channel his inner "assassin." Reuniting with Bryan Fuller, the creator of Hannibal, on the Starz adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, the actor plays the mysterious inmate Low Key Lyesmith. While just a brief appearance in the premiere, he’s in talks with Fuller and co-creator Michael Green to return for a meatier role in season two, when "we'll see a lot more of that fabulous shape-shifting troublemaker."

And perhaps more of his fake nails? That's right; for the role, Tucker was required to wear long fingernails that were surgically attached. He wore two applications over a couple of weeks while shooting in Oklahoma.

"Imagine the single most extreme version of press-on nails," he says. "It was just a good reminder of who this character was when I'm at home trying to cook some dinner or go to the gym. Also, I have to be very careful with all parts of my body with these claws."

While filming, Tucker sought creative license in order to fully develop Low Key -- not from Gaiman, Fuller or Green, but from himself. After playing Jay for three seasons on Kingdom, Tucker knows all too well that "the only person who can get in your way is yourself."