The first and only entry on When Life Gives You Plemons—a“fansite” devoted to the actor then appearing as Landry Clarke on Friday Night Lights—reads: “I Was Disappointed to Learn That Jesse Plemons Is a Highly Regarded Child Actor…and not some weird albino kid Peter Berg found in the streets.
As compliments go, it's a mixed bag. But it does get at some of the freakishly natural—and naturally freakish—presence that Plemons brought, first to Friday Night Lights and then to Breaking Bad's “Opie, dead-eyed” Nazi flunky Todd Alquist.
“All I knew at the audition was that ‘Paul,’ which was the name they told me, was supposed to be innocuous, fresh-faced, but with something to hide,” Plemons says. From that meager description, he spun a chilling and darkly hilarious character that stood out on a show with no shortage of those. “I don't think anybody realized what a wonderful little sociopath he would be,” says executive producer and frequent director Michelle MacLaren.
Plemons, 25, did in fact start as a child actor, first as an extra in Westerns shot near his small Texas hometown and eventually in movies like Varsity Blues. These days he's plumped up for the role of hefty Jerry McCarthy in HBO's forthcoming Olive Kitteridge (“The diet was called ‘eat everything in sight’ ”) and slimmed down to play Floyd Landis in Stephen Frears's upcoming Lance Armstrong biopic (“That's been a good deal harder”). That project seems perfect for an actor who should already be well acquainted with complicated antiheroes. (Even Landry did some killing, now and again.) Indeed, one of Plemons's pet obsessions was once Billy the Kid, a character he's imagined playing someday.
As he says, “I like it when the lines between a good and bad life are significantly blurred.”