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Who is Jonathan Tucker? Story of actor who plays Jay Kulina on MMA drama Kingdom

Jonathan Tucker as Jay Kulina in Kingdom
Jonathan Tucker as Jay Kulina, who has a pivotal turning point on this week’s Kingdom

On this week’s Audience Network MMA drama Kingdom, a crushing blow is delivered to Jay Kulina, played by Jonathan Tucker.

Kulina is the son of MMA legend and Navy St. Gym owner Alvey Kulina, played by Frank Grillo, on the show.

The series is from showrunner and executive producer Byron Balasco, and thanks in great part to Balasco’s top-notch writing and the performance Tucker has turned in for three seasons, Kingdom never fails to deliver heartbreaking and edge of the seat realistic fight action with memorable scenes.

Set in Venice, California, season three sees this damaged family in real crisis.

Tucker’s Kulina had to bow out of the cage and a promising future in MMA fighting to take care of a new baby girl and wife.

The season opened with Jay selling real estate and seemingly walking the straight and narrow, only to have it completely blow up by the end of tonight’s show.

The journey from having a company car, expense report and iPhone to where he winds up is a brutal unraveling.

Not only is Tucker smoking up the screens in Kingdom, but he also was part of the wildly talented ensemble for Starz’ American Gods, playing Low-Key Lyesmith in the TV adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s book.

Tucker as Low-Key Lyesmith on American Gods
Tucker as Loki (Low-Key) in American Gods, who warned us not o ‘piss off bitches at airports’

But who is Jonathan Tucker and where have we seen him before his appearances on American Gods and Kingdom this year?

Boston-born Tucker is a honed and educated thespian with classical ballet training who hails from a family of academics and accomplished high achievers.

His great-grandfather was the historian and ambassador Carlton J. H. Hayes. His father is Monet expert and art Professor Paul Hayes Tucker.

Growing up he attended The Park School in Brookline, MA, The Thacher School in Ojai, California, and even joined the Boston Ballet Company when he was seven.

This was the solid arts and educational foundation that allowed Tucker to dive deep early with vastly different characters making the hard work look effortless.

His career began as a child appearing in commercials, before graduating to Spaghetti Westerns (Botte di Natale, 1994) and later to many feature films. Now he is truly coming into his A-Lister prime thanks to meaty TV roles he’s served up.

Fans of Tucker remember him in the NBC drama The Black Donnellys as the responsible Thomas “Tommy” Donnelly. Also NBC’s Parenthood where he was cast as politician Bob Little, an ambitious candidate in the series.

On NBC’s Hannibal, he was cast a serial killer Matthew Brown, who emulates the nefarious Will Graham. He’s also appeared in sister network USA’s White Collar and Royal Pains, and CBS series Criminal Minds.

For those of us obsessed with Tucker’s work, the role of Boon on the final season of Justified was a stellar turn. Boon was Avery Markham’s muscle and hit man, who was shot and killed by Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LbKEVPmEvpg

Now that American Gods has wrapped up the first season, fans can tuck into season three of Kingdom to watch Tucker play the troubled Jay Kulina, who is truly his brother Nate’s (Nick Jonas) keeper.

He knows about his little brother’s sexuality secret and protects him at every turn.

Now, the tables seem to have turned on his relationship with both his parents, Christina and Alvey.

Initially, he was his mother’s fiercest protector, but no more.

Jay Kulina speaking aggressively to his mother
This scene from tonight’s Kingdom shows Jay telling his mother to leave his home

Mom is still a struggling addict and prostitute and his fighter dad Alvey is a drunk. The DNA is hard to fight and Jay has issues with using too. He is trying to be a responsible and sober father to his baby daughter.

Jay Kulina is a Venice Beach sand-swept townie. He is also Venice royalty, a crown prince in the Kulina dynasty that convenes at Navy Street Gym. He knows every alley and cranny of the pricey L.A. hamlet by the beach.

The character of Jay is fleshed out so beautifully by Tucker. We feel that Jay’s fate is tenuous in season three, and we still root for him.

Kulina’s effervescence, heart, and pure energy carry this otherwise pitiful aging fighter and addict and make him the real charmer of the series. But Jay seems to be completely adrift in his hometown now.

This season, art is imitating life as cleaned up realtor Jay shows us Venice’s runaway gentrification.

One scene last week saw Jay lamenting to Ryan “The Destroyer” Wheeler (Matt Lauria) how foreign oligarchs were paying cash in full for overpriced local properties.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b08zzpfTPJc

More outsiders are moving into his ‘hood and his funky abode is becoming more of an eyesore and anomaly in a city filled with million dollar tear-downs.

This season — more than the others — we see and feel the ultra wealthy rubbing shoulders on the sidewalks with the army of homeless people who call Venice home, too.

In tonight’s episode titled Headhunter, Jay has a disastrous life event to deal with. Christina (Joanna Going), Jay and Nate’s mother, is being contacted by her lonely ex Alvey as she conducts business with the sex worker girls.

Nate finds out from Jay that someone is telling fighters he is gay, dampening his fight card prospects. Cased by crooks, Ryan comes home to a robbery in progress and calamity strikes while Keith is in serious trouble, again.

Newcomer Dom (Kirk Acevedo) is a manipulative headache for everyone it seems, especially Lisa.

Kingdom airs Wednesdays at 8pm ET/PT on Audience Network.

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April is an accredited entertainment writer, interviewer and television critic. She is a current member of the Television Critics Association (TCA), Gay and Lesbian Entertainment... read more
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