The main artists behind Ozark, Netflix’s popular drama about a family that is forced to launder money for a Mexican drug cartel, gathered together for a Netflix “FYSEE” event. This was an evening designed to remind Academy members of the show ahead of Emmy voting. Ozark has felt the love from Emmy voters in the past, having snagged 32 nominations over its first three seasons, but there must be some hunger for more, especially for this fourth and final ambitious season. Despite the 30+ nominations, Ozark has only managed three wins, one for Jason Bateman for directing in season one and two for actress Julia Garner, who has won Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series the last two years in a row. There seems to be a sense that everyone respects the show, but there doesn’t seem to be quite enough to push it over the finish line in other marquee categories. There is no doubt that Netflix is hoping this fourth and final season of Ozark will be the one to finally snag that coveted trophy for Best Drama Series.
It won’t be easy. “Best Drama Series” is perhaps the toughest category of all, as the competition is deep and vast, with mega-popular new hits Severance, Yellowjackets, and Squid Game certain to be in the running, along with cultural touchstones Euphoria and Stranger Things, mainstream hits This Is Us and Yellowstone, returning champion Succession, and another critical darling, also in its final season, Better Call Saul all potential obstacles in Ozark’s ascension to the throne.
Still, Ozark is one of the best shows on television, and Netflix is right to remind voters of its quality, as every element of the series is magnificently done and worthy of recognition. So they invited Academy members to a screening of the final episode of the series, “A Hard Way to Go,” followed by a discussion hosted by late-night host Jimmy Kimmel. In attendance were showrunner, executive producer and writer Chris Mundy, director, executive producer and star Jason Bateman, co-star Julia Garner, editor Cindy Mollo, production designer David Bomba, music supervisor Gabe Hilfer and cinematographer Shawn Kim.
Here are some highlights of the fun and interesting conversation.
[SPOILER ALERT] Major plot points will be revealed, so if you have not watched Ozark through its final episode, do not go any further.
-Kimmel asked Julia Garner, who plays fan and Emmy favorite Ruth Langmore, which of her famous salty zingers that she has said in character over the years is her favorite, to which Garner faltered, not able to choose a single one. When Kimmel followed up by asking if it was fun to get those lines in the script, she confessed that she would always get nervous when she knew she’d have to deliver a killer quip, noting that she would have to focus on the rhythm of the language, “or it won’t be funny.”
-Bateman, who has been in show business since he was a child, also confessed something. Having spent most of his career working in comedy, both in television and in movies, he was worried about bringing his “comedy baggage” to this ultra-serious role, so he made a very pointed effort in the first season to stay away from any humor. But, as the series went on, he grew more comfortable, and they could find moments for it.
-Kimmel teased production designer Bomba for admitting that the beautiful double-deck casino they built for the show was struck as soon as shooting was over. The set was completely authentic, although the actual structure was much smaller on the outside than it was on the inside, so they had to be careful when they took exterior shots to not give away the smaller dimensions.
-Music supervisor Hilfer took all the credit for picking some of the key needle drops in this last season, notably Todd Rundgren’s “I Saw the Light,” which played over the great scene where Marty finally snaps in an incident of road rage, and Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home to Me,” which we heard at the beginning and the end, as it was playing in the van just before the accident. But Hilfer admitted he had some help from Mundy, who used to work at Rolling Stone, and has a deep knowledge of music. Hilfer and Mundy admit that, if they could, they would just sit all day every day and talk about music.
-When Kimmel asked Garner how it felt to have one of her lines become a Tik Tok sensation, including a version done by Justin Bieber, Garner said casually, “It’s great…but the Emmy is great, too,” winking at the audience.
-Editor Mollo was asked which scene was the most difficult to cut, and she mentioned the scene in season two where Marty and Wendy realized they are actually going to have to kill Mason to save Wendy was the hardest of all. Not only was the scene incredibly technical, but it had to be both emotional and suspenseful.
-Mollo said her favorite scene to cut was when Ruth kills Javy because, she says, the challenge in quiet scenes is to not let them get boring. They all spent a lot of time getting that scene right, and she’s pleased with how it turned out.
-The weather was often the biggest challenge for cinematographer Kim, who admitted he just had to “blot out the sun and light it all from underneath,” which explains how scenes can feel so dark, even though it’s the middle of the day.
-Shooting in Lake Lanier in Georgia, which was the stand-in for the Lake of the Ozarks, proved to be challenging in natural and man-made ways. An entire crew was dedicated just to keeping the party boats on the lake from disrupting shooting. Garner admitted that the Langmore trailer set, which is on the lake’s edge, was “the loudest location I’ve ever shot in.” When Kimmel asked what people shouted the most from the water, she said she heard “Ruth!” the most.
-The Byrde house is a real house in Georgia, and it’s now an AirBnB. The owner lives next door, and Bateman says he was so generous, letting them shoot there as much as they needed.
-The only footage they shot in the real Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri were the aerial shots, which were shot over four days at the beginning of the show.
-The van crash was done in one take.
-Mundy says they had a real-life FBI investigator as a consultant on the show but admitted that a much better consultant was a financial planner, “a hedge fund guy,” who, he says, knew a little too much about laundering money.
-The opening title card for the show was a compromise. Netflix wanted there to always be an opening credit, while Bateman thought it was unnecessary. “They picked it to watch, they know what it is.” In the end, Bateman suggested an opening graphic, which he was inspired to suggest after loving the opening for the series Top of the Lake. So Bateman suggested the giant O with the Z, A, R, and K inside it, in graphic form, with each letter signifying some moment from that episode. Netflix also liked the idea, but they still insisted on the word “Ozark” being spelled out, which is why you see both at the beginning of each episode.
-The biggest conversation, both at the panel and in the writer’s room, was on the topic of Ruth’s death. Mundy admits that the decision to kill Ruth was a point of great contention in the writer’s room, and he finally, at one point, just had to instruct everyone to move on. Mundy admitted he didn’t sleep for weeks once he knew that killing Ruth was the only way to go. “It wouldn’t have been a true ending if we hadn’t done it.” He added, “It would have felt false” if Ruth had had a happy ending. “It’s the only way the story would happen.”
-Ruth’s death was the very last scene shot in the series, which everyone on the panel agreed was appropriate. Mundy says that the last day of shooting was crazy, as they shot the van crash and the Byrdes climbing out in the first part of the day, then drove 80 miles to the Langmore set to shoot Ruth’s death scene, a scene that didn’t finish until 6:15 in the morning.
-Garner had specifically requested that her death scene be her last scene. When asked why, she said, “I wasn’t acting. In that scene, I felt all of the last four years. There are certain things you can’t fake.” She adds, “It was such a big part of my life.”
-Garner gave the audience an insight into her process, admitting that she often meditates as her character before she shoots scenes. She told everyone how she was meditating as Ruth one day during the filming of season four, and she remembers Ruth saying, “I don’t want to die.” Garner knew at that moment that Ruth was “never going to be an old lady.” Two months later, she got the news that Ruth would die, just as she had envisioned.
As for the famous goat cookie jar, which is featured throughout the final season and in the show’s final scene, Bomba admitted it cost $8000 to make. It now lives in Mundy’s house, the only thing he took from the Ozark set.