At just 23 years old, Owen Teague has already built a deserved reputation for bringing a playful, human touch to some dark and unearthly roles.
After getting his break in the excellent Netflix series ‘Bloodline’ in 2015, one of the early original shows that helped establish the streaming company as a destination for quality drama, he has found himself in demand to play a series of shadowy characters, and has already starred in multiple projects based on the work of legendary horror scribe Stephen King. Owen starred in the 2017 movie ‘It’, the thriller based on King’s iconic novel, and its subsequent 2019 sequel, then perhaps most notably as troubled Harold Lauder in the 2020 CBS miniseries ‘The Stand’, another project based on a twisted fantasy story by the esteemed author.
Owen’s latest project, however, is very much grounded in realism, and deals with themes that feature in many of our own personal stories – grief, shame, and complicated family dynamics. He leads the cast of ‘Montana Story’ as Cal Thorne, a young man who returns to his family ranch to be at the bedside of his dying father, Wade. There, he is confronted with some painful truths regarding his father’s treatment of Cal’s sister, Erin, played by Haley Lu Richardson, and is forced to come to terms with his own mistakes that cloud his relationship with his sibling. Much of the story, written and directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel, takes place around the bed of their father, who is lying in a coma. But it also steps outside into the beautiful open spaces of Montana, where the family’s horse, Mr T, faces being put down with no-one left on the ranch to care for him due to Wade’s ill health. The movie was extremely well-received by critics at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, and is released in theaters on May 13.
Here, Owen discusses what the movie says about men’s evolving attitudes to shame and guilt, and how he protects his own mind while playing characters who are losing theirs. Also check out our accompanying piece here, where Owen, a talented musician, shares the mesmerizing blend of folk, country, and western tunes he used to help him get into character as Cal.
Owen Teague // 📸 : Gavin Bond // Owen wears Alexander McQueen shirt, trousers, and trench coat.
‘Montana Story’ is an intimate film, with some very big themes, set in a beautiful part of the world. What was it like shooting the project?
We shot during the pandemic, which was surreal. We were in Montana for five or six weeks in this bubble. A lot of us were from New York, LA, or wherever, so we were all in the same hotel and just had each other. But it was actually a really beautiful experience to immerse myself in that way. I think because of the stuff that Cal was going through, and the headspace I had to go to every day, it was good there were not a lot of distractions.
I think that intimacy you shared as a cast really shines through. And I found it visually interesting that much of the story takes place in a tiny room, at your dad’s bedside, and at the same time, we have this storyline with the horse Mr T, that takes place outside, in the expansive landscape of Montana. Did it help with your mental health on the shoot to get outside in nature and work with the horse?
I had a friend with some serious mental health issues, and she started working with horses as a type of therapy, and it really did something for her. They can certainly be therapeutic. I know a number of people who swear by horses for their mental health.
But Mr T, or Crackers was his real name, was a funny horse. His circumstances are different to most horses, because he’s an actor. This was his 50th film, or something like that. But he had no interest in us, or doing the stuff we wanted him to do – which was basically just stand around. We were thinking, ‘Why is this horse being such a jerk to us?’ He was supposed to be a pro, but was definitely quite difficult.
Then in the last week of shooting, there’s a sequence where Erin is riding Mr T out in the field, and Scott said, ‘Why don’t you get on and ride him too, just in case we want to use it.’ So I got up on Crackers, and I barely touched him, in fact I barely even had to think about what I wanted him to do, and he did it. He was the most responsive and intuitive horse that I have ever ridden. We rode around this field and it was just wonderful. And that’s when I realized: He’s an action movie horse! So I think he was just bored out of his mind the entire shoot!
What does the film say about our relationships with our siblings and parents? And tell us about your own upbringing.
Well, I’m an only child. And neither my parents are anything like Wade, luckily! They lived most of their lives in New England, and are now transplants to Florida. They are not typical Florida people. My dad is a professor of mental health and substance abuse, and my mom is a retired jazz singer. I grew up in Tampa, and love it for its nature and ecosystems. Where I grew up we essentially had our own swamp, and I would go out in my canoe and just paddle around. I have a great relationship with my parents, they were both very supportive of what I wanted to do. And they also gave me a relationship with music that I have found really helpful in my acting, and in life in general.
I felt like the differences between Cal and his father signifies the passing of the baton, and how men are progressing emotionally. Cal was obviously brought up on the ranch by his father, but he’s grown up to be much more sensitive and thoughtful.
Our conception of Wade as a man was that he did not appreciate sensitivity, and was a macho guy in that old school sense. So for people like Cal and Erin, that didn’t really work. And these days, we’re increasingly seeing that ultra-masculine mindset doesn’t really help anyone.
One thing that I found interesting about the role of Cal, and about the story as a whole, was the guilt that he has, and the way that affects him, and how at the end he does have to deal with that. Accepting our failures or weaknesses is something that a lot of men don’t like to do. Cal sees himself as weak, and understandably is consumed by a lot of shame. I think that someone like Wade would never admit to that, and look at that in a critical way, and come to terms with it. He would never take the steps to deal with it, because it would make him feel like less of a man. But Cal does own it in the end, and can at least begin to move on, and that’s something that Wade would never have been able to do.
Owen Teague // 📸 : Gavin Bond // Owen wears Owen wears Dolce & Gabbana knit and tank.
It is somewhat a generational thing I think, and many men your age are more comfortable discussing their feelings than their dads are. Did you and your friends talk to each other in a healthy and open way growing up?
I was lucky to have great male friendships growing up. The high school that I went to was an arts school, and I made a few friends very early on who are still my closest friends. We were very open and loving with one another in what I think is a very normal way. I can’t imagine what that’s like, to not have that kind of closeness with one’s friends.
Owen Teague // 📸 : Gavin Bond // Owen wears Gucci bomber jacket, blazer and bike shorts, vintage t-shirt from The Society Archive, Illesteva sunglasses, Dr Martens boots, Hatton Labs jewelry, and Arvin Goods socks.
What else do you do to keep yourself mentally healthy?
I play a lot of music. Just for myself, really, although I have been working on some recordings with one of my friends from home. The mandolin I play in ‘Montana Story’ is mine. I started on violin when I was three years old, and trained classically for about 15 years, then one day decided I hated it and stopped, which was a big mistake.
I gravitate to jazz, because of my mom I think, and I draw a lot – that’s a big part of what keeps me sane.
Do you use music to help you to get into character?
Yes, one of the first things that helps me is asking, ‘What is this guy’s music taste?’ And I compile a big list of songs and put it into a playlist. For Cal, I listened to a lot of older western folk music. A lot of John Prine, a lot of Townes Van Zandt, a lot of Gillian Welch, Alison Krauss, and Colter Wall, who is actually my age but he sings like he’s 60. He’s amazing. (The playlist Owen compiled to get into character as Cal is shared in our sister piece here)
What other subjects or issues are close to your heart?
I would like to be more involved with environmental activism. I love Florida for its nature, but the development there is a big problem. I would like to do as much as possible to keep the natural places in the world as they are, the destruction is really disturbing to me. It feels like we’re getting to a point where there’s not going to be much left, even within my lifetime.
Are there any particular mentors who have really helped you throughout your career?
Some of the folks I did ‘Bloodline’ with have been really instrumental in my life. I worked with Andrea Riseborough when I was 15 or 16, and she’s probably one of the greatest actors alive. She suggested I go to RADA, so I did a class there and learned so much, and would not have done that if she had not suggested it. And the same with [Bloodline executive producer] Michael Morris, he always had advice that was incredibly valuable.
You’ve already played quite a few dark roles in your career. Is that a reflection of your real character, are you quite deep and brooding, or are you a lighter, more positive person?
I’m not dark or brooding at all! One of my best friends from home laughs that people have this warped idea of who I am based on the roles that I’ve played. He thinks I’m a complete dork, and I think I am too! But maybe it’s a place I can go and feel safe because it always feels like I’m playing, which I think is an important part of the work.
So when you take on these dark roles, how do you keep that separation so you protect your mental health?
I make a family with the people I am working with on set. So on ‘Montana Story’, at the end of the day, Haley and I would go back to the hotel, and we’d just laugh about stuff, and she’s one of the best people to do that with because she’s so much fun. So she made it very easy not to get too wrapped up in being Cal.
But you can get too deep. I did a show a couple of years ago called ‘The Stand’ where I played an incel [an online subculture of involuntary celibate men] called Harold Lauder. That was a long shoot, six months, and I got a typewriter from my parents garage, and I started writing as him every day. By the end of the shoot, I had a 140-page bible of being Harold. But the fact that I wasn’t giving myself a reprieve from him became an issue, and it took me a couple of months to feel like myself again. It wasn’t method acting, I don’t do all that stuff and think it’s sort of silly. But I did start to feel a little different. It took its toll and it wasn’t pleasant, so I’ve learned from that experience. I just have to not do that!
Styling by Alfonso Fernández Navas
Grooming by Scott McMahan for Art Department using Biography Golden Ray Facial Oil
Check out a trailer for Montana Story, which hits theaters on May 13, here.