Way of the Warrior: Interview with Banshee's Geno Segers

By , Contributor

Cinemax

Banshee's Chayton Littlestone (Geno Segers)

Being over six feet tall, not to mention good-looking, it is difficult not to notice Geno Segers when he walks into a room. Along with his imposing stature and handsome features, it is his deep, rich voice that also makes him stand out in a crowd. In 2010, the actor and voice-artist was cast as Mason Makoola, the no-nonsense father of Mikayla, played by Kelsey Chow, in the Disney HD cable channel series Pair of Kings. As that character, Segers had the chance to show off his comedic chops while laying down parental law. When that series ended after three seasons, he made the leap into the equally imposing - but far more threatening - role of Chayton Littlestone in the Cinemax crime drama Banshee. Not surprisingly, Segers was a perfect fit for the character, but booking the part was no easy task.

“I first got wind of the role in Banshee from my manager, who thought I was right for the part, but he was getting a bit of opposition from a few different camps,” says Segers. “Apparently, there was some concern because I played a Disney dad on Pair of Kings, but after some nudging, I was allowed to send in an audition tape. During that process, my girlfriend was very instrumental in helping me develop the character in terms of what we believed Chayton to be. I guess everyone’s process is somewhat different when it comes to doing that because you don’t really know what they want for the character. My take on it, though, is that you’re left with the responsibility to create the character as accurately in your mind as possible.

“So I took all the information on Chayton that I was given, and, again, with my girlfriend’s help, we came up what we felt was a solid pitch for the role. Oddly enough, the feedback I received was that Chayton’s voice sounded a little bit fake or not very real. They wanted to know if I could make him sound less base and more ‘breathy’ and rather sinister. So when I eventually heard that I got the part, I just assumed that it was because of the breathy voice I did.

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“Prior to starting work on the show, I spoke with OC Madsen, who directed my first Banshee episode ["The Warrior Class"]. He wanted to know my thoughts on the character. OC felt very comfortable that I was going in the right direction, or at least the one he envisioned. The only thing we didn’t talk about was what Chayton sounded like. So when I did my first scene, this breathy voice came out of my mouth. OC let me finish the take and, after calling, ‘Cut,’ he came up to me and asked, ‘What was that voice? Just speak how you do normally.’ I said to OC, “Really? Okay, great.’ That’s why my character sounds like he does. It’s not really a Chayton voice, it’s a Geno voice, which I was thrilled about because I’m not sure how long I could have taken that breathy voice,” says the actor with a chuckle.

For the uninitiated, Banshee is set in a small fictional Pennsylvania town of the same name and tells the story of ex-convict Lucas Hood (Antony Starr), who, after Banshee’s incoming sheriff is killed, takes on his identity and duties in order to hide out from a gangster that Hood once double-crossed. As the town’s new sheriff, Hood must also deal with the local crime lord, Kai Proctor (Ulrich Thomsen). The season two story "The Warrior Class" introduces viewers to Chayton Littlestone, leader of the Indian Kinaho tribe and the reservation’s Redbones gang. In this episode, Chayton as well as his little brother Tommy (Ricky Russert), the latter of whom is suspected of murder, get on the wrong side of Lucas and his deputies. While violence and intimidation is very much a part of Chayton’s life, Segers is delighted that his character’s intelligence has more than matched his brawn.

“Originally, I thought that Chayton was just going to be a thug who was very maniacal, mean and nasty as opposed to a thinker,” he notes. “However, they [the show’s producers] really wanted someone who was strategic and thoughtful whenever he makes a move. Chayton is quite deliberate in what he does and doesn’t have any wasted steps, so he’s developed into an extremely intelligent antagonist.

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“The first time we see Chayton, he’s very idealistic. My character believes very deeply and positively that he’s going to lead his people to greatness and back to a position of power over the land that they sold to the U.S. government. However, as my character’s story unfolds, he realizes that he’ll never reach that goal. There are too many people ready to line up against him, and he learns this through his fight club. Chayton parallels that lifestyle to fighting the government, and it dawns on him that one day he could end up lying on the ground with the victor standing over him.

“So he takes a different turn and adopts a very much by any means necessary and whatever it takes to take back what we can-type of attitude. If you recall, in his first episode, Chayton says he would rather die fighting than to live like a slave in his own land. He doesn’t care anymore. Why sit back and try to do the impossible. For my character, it becomes a matter of let’s do what we can and take what we can while we can.”

Out of all his onscreen relationships, three stand out for the actor as being especially important to his character. “Chayton’s main relationship in the show is with his brother Tommy,” says Segers. “Everyone is used as a chess piece, with the exception of his brother. He’s never tried to manipulate Tommy, only tried to protect him. He’s the one person that Chayton trusts, so when he ends up losing his brother, it kicks him over into a different realm or the next level.

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“I would say Chayton’s second most important relationship is with Aimee King [the sole officer in the corrupt Kinaho Reservation Police Department and played by Meaghan Rath]. She’s almost like a surrogate sister or sibling. He and Tommy grew up in Aimee’s home when their parents were off in rehab, prison or whatever, and he values Aimee in a different way. He also valued Nola Longshadow [Odette Annable], because she was like royalty in the Kinaho tribe. His efforts to try to save her were really a means to further protect the tribe because he loves his people so much. So with Chayton, family comes first and then the tribe, which is really his family.”

At the end of Banshee’s second season, Proctor’s niece Rebecca (Lili Simmons) murders Alex Longshadow (Anthony Ruivivar), who was prepared to give evidence against Proctor in an illegal weapons deal. This angers Chayton, but a more personal loss is on the horizon for him. In the third season episode "A Fixer of Sorts," Tommy takes several Redbones members and attacks Proctor’s striptease bar. When the police intervene, Deputy Billy Raven (Chaske Spencer) shoots and kills Tommy. With his face and upper body decorated with war-paint, Chayton and the Redbones position themselves in front of the sheriff’s office at the end of "Real Life is the Nightmare." All hell then breaks loose in "Tribal," this past week’s episode, which proved to be an acting tour de force for Segers.

“The scenes with Chayton outside the police precinct were nothing short of exhausting in terms of my character’s angst as well as anger and the sheer energy needed to commit to those scenes,” says the actor. “Chayton and I are such polar opposites that it’s sometimes very difficult to muster all that negative energy, especially at three or four o’clock in the morning. My grandmother used to tell me all the time that it takes a whole lot more to frown than it does to smile, and she was right.

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“Another really tough scene for me from "Tribal" is where Chayton kills Siobhan [Trieste Kelly Dunn]. Let me be completely honest, I’m a Banshee fan, first and foremost, so reading that scene in the script was difficult enough, but then actually performing it in a convincing way was even more difficult. I was just so overwhelmed with emotion that that character was no longer with us. It’s hard for me to even talk about it right now, because I loved the Siobhan character and where she and Lucas were going with their relationship. I knew this was going to be a big bomb in the Banshee community, and I think we’ve now achieved what we wanted when it comes to Chayton. You should not like him, but, sadly, there will be those who can justify his actions. It’s hard for me to justify it, but it was necessary for the overall story to keep the momentum going and to keep people on the edge of their seats.”

Born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Segers gravitated towards sports while growing up, and in high school and college he played football as well as participated in track and wrestling. At one time, the actor played professionally for the American National Rugby league, before moving to New Zealand to join the Richmond Rovers Rugby League. His first foray into the entertainment field was, in fact, doing radio promos.

“I’ve always been a shower singer and a car-with-the-windows-down-type of singer, but I never really thought of my voice as one that people would want to listen to,” says Segers. “At one point while I was living in New Zealand, I decided to give up rugby and go into business for myself. Back then, I was running several little companies, and it was a business associate who introduced me to a guy in the radio business. This guy had heard my voice and asked me to do some radio promos. So I did, and I was truly awful, but I enjoyed doing the promos and being creative in that way. So I said to this guy, ‘If you teach me how to do these ads, I’ll do them for free.’ He thought for a second and then told me, Okay, great.’

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“The first ad took me about an hour-and-a-half to get right, the second one about 45 minutes, and the third one about 20 minutes. I was getting better and better, and before long, this guy was having me come in every day to do promos for him because I was working for free. Eventually he began paying me, and that’s how I got into the radio promo business. From there, I was able to get an agent who sent me out on more voice work. This agency also had an on-camera division for promos, so I began doing TV commercials as well. That led to me auditioning for and booking the role of Mufasa in an Australian stage production of The Lion King. When that show ended, I moved to New York and worked on Broadway in such shows as Little Shop of Horrors and On the Town, which segwayed into Pair of Kings. So it has been a slow and very natural progression over the past 12 or 13 years from playing sports, getting into radio, going into The Lion King, followed by Broadway and Pair of Kings, and here I am today.”

While you may not want to run into Chayton Littlestone in a dark alley, the Banshee cast and crew had no such reservations about welcoming Segers into the fold. “One of the biggest compliments I ever received as an actor was from Greg Yaitanes [Banshee executive producer], who said to my manager, ‘When we told everyone that we were having Geno return for the third season, no one was modest about how happy they were about that,’” says Segers. “That was so humbling to me, and it goes back to my mother always telling me, ‘Treat everyone with respect and dignity and don’t ever close yourself off to people. In the end, it will come back to you.’

“So I’ve always been someone who treats everyone with the same level of enthusiasm and dignity, I mean, yes, there are the accolades, the attention, the money, the fame, whatever, but to me it’s always been about the people. I’ve always liked people and that’s probably the most rewarding aspect of this business for me.”

Banshee airs Fridays at 10:00 p.m. EST/PST on Cinemax. Please note, all Banshee photos courtesy/copyright of Cinemax.

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A native of Massachusetts, Steve Eramo has been a Sci-Fi fan since childhood, having been brought up on such TV shows as Star Trek and Space: 1999. He is also an Anglophile and lover of British TV. A writer for 35 years – 17 of those as a fulltime freelancer – Steve has had over 2,500 feature-length…

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