Exclusive: Jena Malone takes us inside the Goliath final season tackling the opioid epidemic

Billy Bob Thornton and Jena Malone sitting in a bar on the set of Goliath
Billy Bob Thornton, Jena Malone. Pic credit: Greg Lewis/Amazon Studios

Some time has passed since Billy McBride’s (Billy Bob Thornton) last case in season 3 of Goliath, which involved California’s Central Valley, where a drought had him sorting through the complexities of water ownership. Then in the final moments, McBride was shot in a rain-soaked parking lot, still alive but on the road to death.

Now in season 4, he is still dealing with the pain from the near-death experience, so what could be more perfect than taking on a case trying to take down one of America’s most insidious Goliaths: the opioid industry?

Billy has moved to San Francisco’s Chinatown to do so, following Patty (Nina Arianda) to her job at a prestigious white-shoe law firm, Margolis & True.

This firm is run by Samantha Margolis (Jena Malone), whose father started the law firm and who will go to any extremes to keep it afloat, which is why she brought in Billy McBride.

She needs someone who can get a big settlement from the drug companies.

Monsters & Critics spoke to Malone about the fourth and final season of the Amazon Studios law drama, including her take on this season’s law case, the many layers of her character, working with Thornton, and more.

Billy Bob Thornton standing in front of the Golden Gate Bridge
Billy Bob Thornton. Pic credit: Greg Lewis/Amazon Studios

Monsters & Critics: You choose stories to tell that have something to say. What does this season of Goliath say?

Jena Malone: What I love about Goliath is it is a series that is constantly interested in interesting characters, real human people, and also deep socio-political crisis in America, whether it’s the farmer/big agro water crisis in the Central Valley of California, which was one of the previous seasons, or the pharmaceutical industrial complex of the opiate crisis that we have been experiencing since the ’90s really. I just love that.

We all just watch content now. We’re just constantly watching, watching, watching, and I think about parenting. If my son’s constantly snacking on what I put in front of him, I want it to have great meaning. I want it to be a good carrot. I want it to be a really nice piece of seasonal fruit or something that’s going to be good for his insides and not just going to fill him up on a short-term basis.

So, for me now, I feel like we’re all so content hungry. It’s even more important to make sure that there’s deep critical thinking questions that will be planted regardless of how deeply you want to dive into the story matter.

M&C: This is set in this law office dealing with a case about the opioid crisis. Do you think it’s actually about the opioid crisis or the lengths people will go to in order to achieve their means?

Jena Malone: The opioid crisis is all about the lengths people will go to in order to achieve their means. It is sort of onomatopoetic in a way. If you think about what an industrial crisis or the pharmaceutical industrial complex is, it’s having businesses deeply tied to social phenomena and creating new systems that they benefit from, right?

So, yes, it’s people that are found deep in the systems, people who are addicted to opioids, people who are losing family members because of these addictions, people who are just in pain and trying to figure out how to navigate that.

And then there’s the opposite: wanting the power, wanting to stay in power, wanting to hide their pain, wanting to appear perfect. It works on so many levels, and I think that’s why it’s such a conundrum trying to solve it because it’s not just easy like, “No, don’t eat the cookie; just have the carrot.” I wish it was that linear.

M&C: The tone feels very different to me, kind of eerie. Is that why it’s set in San Francisco’s Chinatown?

Jena Malone: I think that it’s definitely moody and, I think, in creating a mood, there’s certain things that feel like tools as a storyteller. I’m sure also that the idea of just even saying Chinatown, there’s a long history of films that have used that tone. It’s not a new thing.

I also think that [director] Lawrence [Trilling] always pushes a very interesting narrative, a visual element, when he’s creating a series: What’s it going to look like? I think that there was a big ode or homage to noir films, so I think that it definitely covers a lot of bases, but it’s also set in San Francisco. Chinatown in San Francisco is one of the most beautiful places there.

M&C: There are all these different shades of Sam. She isn’t who we first see her to be, but there are hints. What intrigued you about her?

Jena Malone: I’m always interested in an underdog. What is a villain? What is a hero? We’re all the same people. It’s all intermixed. I love people that are struggling to figure out how to do what’s right in the world. She was really fascinating to me. There was a lot to her that I felt was like, “OK, alright, I need to sign on to this to make sure it’s done well.”

Billy Bob Thornton, Beth Grant, Jena Malone in a court room
Billy Bob Thornton, Beth Grant, Jena Malone. Pic credit: Greg Lewis/Amazon Studios

M&C: There is also a physicality that comes with this role. You are playing a woman with MS. How did you research that, so you knew how to carry yourself?

Jena Malone: Just like anyone, you talk to people who are struggling with a similar thing. You ask them what their days are like, how they navigate pain, what they struggle with. I was able to talk to a few women that struggled with a similar condition to Sam and tried to use what I could and fit different parts that felt real and authentic into the larger narrative of the series.

M&C: With her dealing with her health issue, why is it so important to her to save her law firm? Why does she need Billy to make this big settlement? Was she that close to her dad, who started the firm?

Jena Malone: I think it’s one of the most basic motivations in the universe that we want to feel safe, seen, and loved by our parents. I think our parents give us a very specific language on how to meet those things. You will only be seen if you do this, you will only be loved if you do this, you will only be accepted if you do this.

I think she has a very specific language of what success looks like, what honor looks like, and what failure looks like. It is very much based on her relationship with herself and her relationship with her father.

M&C: What is it like doing scenes with Billy Bob?

Jena Malone: I love it. I would work with Billy all day, every day, even if we were going to play different characters every time. He’s a blast. He’s constantly bringing something very fun. He had thousands of amazing stories in our off hours. He directed the season premiere. It was his first directorial effort in a couple of years, so it was really fun to get to work with him as a director again.

Goliath’s fourth season will begin streaming on Amazon Prime on Friday, Sept. 24.

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