Kevin L. Johnson plays fan favorite Sam Dermody on Netflix’s popular dramatic thriller Ozark.
Viewers know Sam Dermody as the kind-hearted and somewhat quirky local realtor who helps Wendy Byrde find a home to accommodate her family’s very sudden arrival to the Lake of the Ozarks. Dermody Realty is comprised of Sam and his over-bearing mother Eugenia, at least until Wendy maneuvers her way into the operation as well.
Kevin L. Johnson kindly (much like his character!) agreed to talk with me about his portrayal of Sam and provide some insights on the dramatic events that unfold in Ozark season 1. When asked about the prospect of a season 2 for the popular series, Kevin shared that while a second season has not been announced, he feels good about it.
We began by talking about all the buzz generated by the series in only a short time since it began streaming on Netflix July 21st.Actor Kevin L. Johnson
Photo credit: Patrick Keenan
What kind of response have you personally felt since Ozark was released on Netflix?
Kevin: “It’s been incredible. The Twitter world is crazy about it. So I’ve been on there seeing what people are saying. Everybody is wondering if there is going to be a season 2. So that’s exciting to see that people want a season 2.
I have friends telling me about it, like ‘That was so awesome! The last episode!’ I have friends texting me from Charlotte saying ‘Hey, man, people are talking about [Ozark] in Starbucks right now.’
I was just at the Braves game last night with my family. It was the first time I’d seen them since the show came out and they were all excited about it. It was really cool to see something that I’m in that my dad likes.”
Have you watched it all the way through yourself?
Kevin: “Yes, I binged it over 2 days.”
Are you surprised at how fast people are watching it?
Kevin: “Not really, I knew when I was shooting it and [reading] the scripts that people were going to love this show, it’s gritty, it’s raw, it’s dirty, it’s even got a little bit of comedy. I consider myself a little bit of the comic relief.”
[Spoiler Alert: Our continued discussion includes plot points throughout season 1 of Ozark.]
Do you think your character was written at all for the purpose of being a contrast to the many other underhanded characters?
Kevin: “I think so, because when I got the audition, I saw the breakdown for the guy and I thought ‘This is right in my wheelhouse. I can totally play this character.’ And Sam is very naive to everything that’s going on around him. He doesn’t know anything about money laundering. He’s still kind of pure and I think it’s intriguing to think about what’s going to happen [with hopes of a season 2] when Sam finds out about all this. Will he jump into it, ‘break bad’ so to speak, or will he remain pure?”
Do you think Sam’s devotion and loyalty to his mother, Eugenia, is a reflection of who Sam is or is it mostly just because she has manipulated him all his life, or some of both?
Kevin: “I think it’s some of both because he’s devoted to her because of the promise he made to his dad to take care of his mom when he passed away. So he made sure that he was going to do that. And I think the manipulation kind of created his personality. He’s like that kid who was beaten down constantly and probably sheltered. That was something I could tap into. I wasn’t beaten down as a kid, but I was kind of sheltered.”
Does Sam feel a genuine kinship/friendship with Wendy or does he see her more as another female bossing him around?
Kevin: “I think he considers her a friend. That’s the way I play him. Because she helped him stick up for himself. I think he really respects that about her. And now he has more of a backbone because of her. Now, yes, she has her own agenda as to why she wanted him to do things. But he doesn’t know about that. He just sees somebody who’s looking out for him.”
Do you think Sam trusts Wendy all the way through the end of the season or were there any seeds of doubt about her towards the end?
Kevin: “I think he trusts her, but he has his guard up a little bit. Because there is Sam’s last moment in the season where Wendy says ‘Let me talk to Harry for a second’ and Sam kind of looks at Harry, and he looks at her, and he’s like ‘Oh, okay.’ He knows maybe he’s on guard about something, but he still sees her as an ally for sure.”
By the end of the season, Sam is starting to stand up for himself more. Assuming (and hoping!) there is a season 2, do you think Sam is going to continue to evolve in that direction with asserting himself more?
Kevin: “Yes, I think so. I don’t think there’s any going back from that. I’m interested to see. I’ve heard some ideas that they have for Sam. I don’t want to give anything away, but it’s exciting to see where my character arc could lead.”
Peanut butter: Creamy or Crunchy?
Viewers were introduced to Sam in comedic fashion when he is encouraging his dog to lick peanut butter from his toes to help him stay awake.
So I had to ask Kevin which variety of peanut butter he actually prefers. He shared that as a kid he preferred creamy, mostly because of the smoother texture, but he can enjoy some crunchy peanut butter now!
He also revealed that Laura Linney (who plays Wendy Byrde) had to whisper her lines in that scene for a few takes because the dog would get scared when Wendy shouted for Sam’s attention. That makes me giggle just thinking about it! Even funnier, can you imagine Laura Linney whispering the infamous pistachio ice cream tirade?
Cubs or Cardinals?
Ozark makes it pretty clear that most locals of the Lake of the Ozarks are Cardinals fans, while Marty hailing from Chicago, is a die hard Cubs fan. So, I asked Kevin to choose between the Cubs and the Cardinals.
He immediately reminded me that he is a Braves fan! But if he had to choose between the other two teams, he would probably go with the Cubs since they have traditionally (not recently) been more of the underdog.
Interestingly, Kevin also proposed that his character Sam would probably be a fan of the underdog Cubs as well, he just would not tell anyone. Who knows? If we get a season 2, maybe we will find out for sure!
Wendy or Eugenia?
Kevin was also a good sport when I asked him to select either Wendy or Eugenia for a few scenarios.
- Who’s the better cook?
Kevin: “Eugenia. I think she cooks really good mac ‘n cheese probably.”
- Who would Sam prefer to take him clothes shopping and why?
Kevin: “Wendy. Eugenia’s got bad taste. I don’t think she’s going to be good at picking out my wardrobe.”
- Who Sam prefer to take to the movies?
Kevin: “Definitely Wendy. [If it were Eugenia] he wouldn’t be able to watch the movie because his mom would just be talking to him the whole time and beating him down.”
- Who has the better poker face?
Kevin: “Oh, Wendy, for sure! Eugenia’s either mad or she’s more mad.”
It was so much fun chatting with Kevin L. Johnson and learning more about his Ozark character Sam Dermody. All 10 episodes of the very popular Ozark season 1 are available for streaming on Netflix.
Here’s hoping for a second season of Ozark and even more intrigue for Sam Dermody!
Writer, interviewer in metro Atlanta. Always ready to talk TV and movies. Wife, mom, special needs advocate.