Hightown, the gripping news series from Starz and uber-producer Jerry Bruckheimer, airs on Sundays. The third episode, Rebellion Dogs, shows off the chops of cast member Atkins Estimond.
The new Starz series Hightown is a gristly thriller set on the upper Cape Cod, in Provincetown, Mass., where opioids, not sharks, are the lurking menace. And a shocking murder has set in motion a complete chain of events for Jackie Quiñones (Monica Raymund), a self-described goldstar lesbian and National Marine Fisheries Service agent with addiction issues.
Also cast is the ethically flawed Cape Cod Interagency Narcotics Unit sergeant, Ray Abruzzo (James Badge Dale) who has an eye for incarcerated drug kingpin Frankie’s (Amaury Nolasco) stripper wife.
Atkins is cast as Osito, a Dominican-Haitian walking anachronism who adores the late Lemmy [Motörhead] and exists by a coda of honor, despite his nefarious deeds.
Osito comes off as a hardened gangster with a fast wit and clever Machiavellian mind, taking a local townie addict in as a soldier-in-training, Junior (Shane Harper). Osito is the muscle for Frankie, who has a problematic stripper/sex worker wife on the outside with an eye for Abruzzo.
Sharp-eyed fans will remember Atkins in the short-lived and deeply loved cryptic AMC series Lodge 49, where he was cast as Gerson, a cook at the Shamroxx where lead character Dud’s (Wyatt Russell) twin sister worked as a waitress in season one.
Estimond has cut his teeth primarily on comedic roles and was cast in the film, Dumb and Dumber To, and the TV series, Devious Maids. He is a first-gen Haitian hailing from south Florida, who now calls Atlanta, Georgia his home with his wife, daughter and a baby on the way.
His new character, Osito, has acted on Frankie’s orders and created a messy situation in the windswept gay Valhalla of P-Town. Now, there’s a body on the beach. This is the catalyst for our lead (Jackie) to clean up her act and find out who did the crime, and why.
Hightown was created by Rebecca Cutter, executive produced by Gary Lennon, Jerry Bruckheimer, and directed by Rachel Morrison.
Monsters & Critics spoke to Atkins today and got the low down on this gritty new series Hightown, and the fond memories of Lodge 49 for the legions of fans still out there.
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Monsters & Critics: You were funny but in a menacing way in that scene (above) and that’s a hard thing to do. That’s a skill and, this role of Osito is obviously far heavier than anything you’ve ever really played. Talk about Osito. Tell me about how you interpreted him.
Atkins Estimond: Initially when I got the breakdown, I was like, wow, okay, this is very different from anything I’ve ever played. I think it kind of freed me up to really kind of play with him, because to be honest, I was like, I’m probably not going to be their pick. I thought, is anybody going to believe me as a bad guy?
My body of work before this has been very much comedic or straight characters, nobody this menacing or dark. But from the page and from what I was given in the sides and in the breakdown, I could tell that he was more than just a bad guy.
And that was my way in with him. Osito is just a normal person. nobody wakes up and is like, I’m going to be a hitman. I’m going to be a killer. I’m going to be a drug dealer.
You have all these things that happen to you in your life that bring you to that point. Okay…what happened to Osito that brought him to being the person who we see on the screen right now? Because through the course of the show, you do kind of see his heart and his humanity and that he’s not just this evil, bad person. That there is another side and the fact that he could even make you laugh, you know?
Osito has definitely been one of the most challenging characters, but also probably the character I’ve had the most fun with. I really just got to play with him because like I said, initially, I thought that this role probably isn’t going to be mine.
It took all the pressure off, and I was like, I’m going to just do whatever I want to do with him and, and just see what happens.
And it ended up, I was the guy and I made it work and ran with it.
M&C: How does your relationship with Junior’s character progress in this, in this first season?
Atkins Estimond: Well, there is definitely a bond or friendship that starts to form. It’s not like your normal friendship obviously because of what we’re doing and the circumstances, but, I think we’ll see it through, and [Osito] kind of take a liking to Junior.
He is definitely in an apprentice kind of a relationship that starts to form between the two of them. I’m definitely taking him under my wing, trying to show him the way of this world.
M&C: Is it true what they say? It’s more fun playing a bad guy or a complex antihero?
Atkins Estimond: It is absolutely more fun. It’s just, in our everyday life and the things that we do, like for myself versus Osito, the way that he handles things and the way that I handle things are completely different.
But it’s like, just being able to say whatever you want to say and to do whatever you want to do, and know that there’s no real consequences? I can be as bad and as mean or whatever I want.
And at the end of the day when they go “cut” and we’re all done. Or, it’s a safe place to be that bad person who gets to say and do whatever they want. Or if I was in a situation with somebody…I wouldn’t just tell them off and tell them exactly what I thought about them. Maybe, maybe not, but Osito definitely would!
So, there’s just something about it where you get to make the rules, especially because in most of the relationships that Osito is dealing with, he has the upper hand, he has the power in that situation.
There’s very few times when there’s anybody checking him. He’s the one who’s normally doing the checking. And there’s something fun about that, you know?
M&C: Starz sent you a lobster roll kit, which is very, very kind of them…
Atkins Estimond: Yes. It’s funny as I did not know the heated debate among locals on how you’re supposed to prepare the lobster rolls.
Because I had never made one before. I’m going online and trying to see, “okay, how do you do this?”
I’m seeing that there’s very different schools of how the lobster rolls are supposed to be prepared…Because after I made it and I post that picture, I had all kinds of people asking me, ‘how did you make it? Was it cold? Was it hot?’
I was like, ‘what’s the right way?’ In the end I did the salad kind of thing and made it that way. Whoa.
M&C: Yeah. There are the Connecticut style diehards, which is no mayo, served hot made with melted butter…
Atkins Estimond: I prefer the salad way, I like that. That’s the way that I’ve had it when I’ve had it. Yes [laughs]. So, but that was my first time actually making it.
M&C: So what did you think of the Cape?
Atkins Estimond: I actually never got a chance to go to the Cape. We filmed primarily in New York and I didn’t have any scenes that shot while they were in Cape Cod and the crazy thing was when we started shooting, my first daughter was born three days prior to when I left to go start work.
The whole time we were shooting in New York, I was going back and forth in between Atlanta because of our brand new baby.
When they went to Cape Cod, and I didn’t have any shoot days. I was like, “I got to get back home and see my wife and my daughter.”
So that whole time that they were shooting there, I was back home in Atlanta with my family.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to go, but everybody who went had a blast and told me how much fun it was, and I was happy to be home with my family, but there was definitely some FOMO happening.
M&C: Season two, season two, just make sure that you’re there! As your fame and your growing clout in what you do happens, will you maybe tell some stories about Haiti? What stories do you want to tell?
Atkins Estimond: Yes! Season two. When I was growing up and watching television, I could count maybe with two fingers, the Haitian actors that I even saw on TV, let alone Haitian stories being told.
I feel like the media that we take in informed a lot—for good or bad—how will you look at people. And with Haiti, a lot of the media and the images that you see out there are not always good ones.
Matter of fact, it’s a lot of negative stuff shown. The kind of issues that Haiti’s having or when you see Haitians being portrayed in the media, a lot of times it’s maybe a bad guy.
I say that even as I’m playing a gangster [Osito] who’s Haitian or Dominican! But with Hightown, which is kind of cool and different and I feel like you have me opposite of Abruzzo’s partner, played by Alan Saintille (Dohn Norwood) who’s also Haitian. His character is like the moral compass of the show who’s just this uncorrupted guy who’s trying his best to do the right thing. He’s a family man.
At least you have both sides and also the fact that Osito isn’t just a bad guy like I was talking about before.
But other than that, I feel like there’s so many other things and so many facets of our [Haitian] culture. Just like any other culture that you never see.
The one thing for me that is very important…my father and for many Haitians like me, most of our fathers are cab drivers, right? Oh, I would love to see a story that talks about that.
And my dad worked hard every day as a cab driver. And in South Florida, there’s tons of taxi cab drivers who are Haitian, but it’s like a small moment in a thing, to see a project maybe where it focuses in on that. Like the sitcom Taxi with Danny DeVito, a remake or something like that. Nothing but Haitian cab drivers.
And if you’re Haitian, definitely if you’re in Boston, South Florida, in New York, that’s like when someone leaves Haiti, those are the three options that they get. You get to live in one of those places. But every time I talk to somebody who’s in my age range, we all pretty much have the same story.
And it’s either like your dad is a cab driver or works in some sort of transportation thing like that, or your mom is like works in a nursing home or like a CNA or works in hotels and stuff like that. Of course, there’s other stories.
There was one show that I saw, American Crime, where they did their third season. They had a woman who was a Haitian immigrant and I think the whole season dealt with modern slavery.
They focused on the issue that migrant workers face and she essentially was a nanny in a home and she was being held hostage by this family. They took the paperwork and they were basically like making her work 24 hours a day and not paying anything.
The wife was also abusive and that was obviously a dramatic, tough story. But even that I was like, wow, I was so impressed to see that kind of different story being told.
I just want to be able to show people a different side of Haiti, a different side of Haitians through media that they haven’t seen and also bring to show the other Haitian people that this is a line of work that we can also be in…and not just in front of the camera.
We need people in the writers’ room and we need producers. We need people behind the camera. We need grips all throughout the business. We need people involved because when I was a kid, it was like, and this is the story not just for Haitian parents. But they want you to do something that they can brag or be proud of.
They want you to be an engineer. They want you to be a doctor or a lawyer. They don’t want to tell their friends, my son’s an actor. [Laughs] Well now they do because I’m on television! But before it was kind of like, uh, what is acting?
M&C: Lodge 49 was a special show. It was enigmatic, just one of those shows you couldn’t really neatly describe in one sentence and Gerson was a really special character. Tell me what it was like working with all of those people and what memories you have of that show and, and what it meant to you.
Atkins Estimond: That show will always have a special place in my heart. It was such a great opportunity from the moment I got the audition, I was like, I’ve got to get this. As an actor, you get tons of audition and some you’re like really loving and falling in love with and some roles you are kind of like… well, this is just another job.
There was something really special about Lodge 49 from the beginning, and once you started working on it, the show has this kind of mysticism and magic that’s kind of woven into it.
And I felt like that was really happening with the show onscreen and offscreen. They assembled an amazing cast. David Ury who plays Champ on the show… I had worked with him before on a show, but I had never actually had any scenes with him. Also Adam Godley. He played Jocelyn on the show, another weird little connection.
There was all these weird kind of little connections that were happening on the show. It was one of the things I just loved going to set every day because it was just working with such great people. It’s so crazy to see the community that built around the series, and felt it was something that was needed right at the time that it came out.
The fans of the show still reach out to me and they talk about in the show instilled this yearning to belong. It really paralleled what was happening for people, because so many people talk to me and they’re like, ‘I loved Lodge 49. That got me through some rough times.’
It was a gift. I just felt so happy and getting to work with Brent Jennings and Sonya Cassidy and the super talented Wyatt Russell. This was one of the coolest things that I’ve got to be a part of in my career and I’ll never forget it. I still keep in touch with everybody when I go out to LA.
When I was in New York actually working on Hightown, I met up with Danny Sherman (Jeremy), we got together and we hung out and I was just so excited to see him.
So anytime I’m in a town where one of them are located, I always call them and get together and it’s still very much a thing.
But it’s still beautiful to see how many people are still connected and still how meaningful the show is still to so many people. Yes, it was a great two-year run, I want to say.
Hightown airs Sundays at 8/7c on STARZ.
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