They say the best villains believe they’re the hero in their own story. Well, in the upcoming second season of Warrior, Cinemax’s ass-kicking martial arts drama based on the writings of Bruce Lee, Dean Jagger’s Dylan Leary gets quite the story. We’ve been fortunate enough to have seen the full season already ahead of its debut this coming Friday, and while we don’t want to spoil anything, we will just say that fans of Jagger’s hard-knuckled Irish brawler/revolutionary terrorist will have a lot to cheer for as the character gets arguably the most development out of the entire cast.
Nick and I were fortunate enough to interview Jagger recently over Zoom and asked him about how season two is just such a step-up overall, not just for Leary, but in all aspects when compared to the show’s (still pretty enjoyable) debut effort.
I think that it was everything that we all hoped for. It was twice the season that season one is. The difference between season one and season two, I feel for me, that we kind of get straight into the nuts and bolts of everyone’s reason why. We’re not really introducing characters that much anymore. We’re just gonna get straight into the drama of things, and I just think that it’s a fast ride, man!
In season one, Leary was already a complex character. An immigrant to the United States just like the Chinese he faces off against so often, Leary and his fellow Irish workers consider themselves more American and very offended that local businesses would rather hire cheaper Asian workers, leaving the Irish men and their families on the bread line. But for all those motivations and the explosive conflict it created, Leary was still very much a straightforward antagonist who punched away any further introspection. Season two wastes no time though in diving deep into what makes Leary tick, a change of pace that took even Jagger by pleasant surprise.
You can imagine how I felt after reading episode one, right? I was just like “What?!” at the very first scene that we find Dylan in. And I’m so glad, you know. I’m thanking my lucky stars for that, because he was such a force in season one and you didn’t really peel back those layers that much, other than the fact that he was campaigning heavily for the Irish against the Chinese due to lack of work and whatnot. And when he started taking that to its conclusion it really started coming across that he was the villain. And I feel that season two, we kind of find the reason why.
Jagger gave more detail on this, but it may be a bit spoilery for those who haven’t seen the season yet. But as the actor continued on though, he heaped further praise on how showrunner Jonathan Tropper and his writing team fleshed Leary out, saying that it “really explained why he gravitates so much and protects the Irish community, because ultimately that’s all he’s got left”.
Leary is not a nice man though. He frequently uses terrorist tactics of blowing up buildings to make his point and shows off some really problematic prejudice. Or at least actions that can be perceived as terrorist or prejudiced, but according to Jagger is the result of a desperate man “between a rock and a hard place” who has already seen great tragedy and now feels like all other options for having his and his people’s voices heard have been taken away from them.
If someone boxes you in, they put you in that corner… you’re a hungry man. You’ve got a starving family. What won’t you do? And I know the answer. If you were put in that extreme situation – that’s what it actually is – people can’t eat, people are dying. What are you going to do in a system that’s corrupt, in a system that’s not fair?
Continuing further, Jagger spoke about how Leary is a “hard character to understand” thanks to the fact that “he doesn’t give anything away”, but that he has something in common with all the major players in this drama.
He’s the type of guy that even though he’s a natural-born leader, doesn’t say very much. He doesn’t say any more than what he has to. And I think it just has to be all it can be for the Irish. That’s his goal, that’s his mission, and he’s suffered greatly for that. Everybody in the show has. Everybody has their own personal challenge and it’s huge.
But season two throws Dylan a curveball with the introduction of Celine Bucken’s Sophie Mercer, the younger sister of the mayor’s wife Penelope Blake. Leary’s burgeoning relationship with the idealistic Sophie directly turns him into a far more sympathetic and vastly relatable character as she forces him to consider alternative approaches to his problems that he never thought possible.
He’s challenged actually with the identity of himself in season two and Sophie actually helps him in more reasons than one to try to kind of trust in himself that he could do it a different way. Is this the right way? It’s interesting, because through the course of asking that question himself… Could I do it a different way? Can I try to go up against this kind of corrupt political system that is well out of his depth? Can he actually do that?
And I feel that through the course of this story that there’s only so much dynamite, there’s only so much punching, and there’s only so much anarchy that can happen before you’ve got to ask yourself a question. Are you bringing about change? And ultimately, it’s not. It’s raising escalation. And we start seeing them feeling the cracks of that within the Irish community.
Season two leaves Leary in a very, very intriguing position that I won’t spoil here (you may need to skip a bit in the interview below), but even Jagger doesn’t know if this new status quo will work for the character going forward. What he does know though, is that Leary is the type of character who would rather go out swinging than peacefully growing old someday. That’s something which Jagger can relate to personally.
Is Dylan going to hang his gloves up? Absolutely not, I don’t think he ever will. It’s just a part of who he is. He’s just a fighter balls to bone through and through. That’s just who he is. He’s that type of guy who will never ever stop. But it keeps him alive. It makes him feel alive!
I’ve been around some of these, my father for one. I’m not going to get too far into that, but he’s got a bit of a story himself. And I grew up around a lot of these type of characters. I’m from a family of fighters and coal miners, so you know these guys they’ve just got it in their blood.
And speaking of fighting, Jagger does his fair share of it across Warrior’s two seasons. But unlike star Andrew Koji’s supremely agile Ah Sahm or Joe Taslim’s deadly enforcer Li Yong, there’s no flashy kung fu in Leary’s arsenal, even though he’s still a pretty devastating fighter. So was it hard for Warrior’s acclaimed action choreographer Brett Chan to stage fights where you make a straightforward brawler still look effective against accomplished martial artists?
It actually was, because we had to kind of find Leary’s style. And I remember Brett Chan had the idea that Leary’s not really “finnessical”. He’s not that much stylish, you know. But one thing he has got is a shot! [laughs] If he happens to catch you, it’s game over!
One aspect of Warrior’s fight choreography that is so great, is that it’s not just action for action’s sake. It is very much rooted in the drama of the characters and reflects not just their training but also their personalities. And that is 100% the case for the indomitable Leary who Jagger describes as “this train coming at you and he’s always got his guard up, and no matter what he’s always going to come at you.”
You saw that at the end of season one when he’s fighting Ah Sahm. He’s taking as many shots as what he’s given, but he’s coming straight at you. And fortunately for Leary for he’s the type of man and fighter as well… and this is a real thing… It can become quite dangerous for fighters when they start enjoying the pain, and Leary, he kind of enjoys the pain.
And in case anybody was wondering, yes, Ah Sahm and Leary do finally get to have it out again in season two, picking up their unfinished business. Spoiler alert: it’s not an easy fight for either man as they just have no quit in them.
It’s the will and desire, the reason why he’s there, you know? These guys are from two different worlds and they’re both, from their standpoints, completely just and they’ve got a score to settle for sure.
Continuing further, Jagger explained how they consciously sat down to have the fight “tell a story in itself”.
There’s so much nuance in that and so many character beats. There’s a story in itself along with the fight. It’s very, very important, I feel. It really helps. It just feels that you’re telling much more of a story than just swinging fists. It changes things. It changes the way you do things by adding that nuance like “Why is this happening?”.
But with all that focus on drama, there’s still a huge focus on just physical fighting. And with that comes a lot of intensive training… and a lack of Christmas lunch! Yes, Jagger admits that knowing what was in store for him on season two, he had to cut out that beloved turkey and cranberry sauce as he prepared even harder this season. Even with that though, “it absolutely does take a toll on the body.”
The training was transformational, and Brett’s got a fantastic team. You’re training every day. I think my prep training before I even got to Cape Town was like six to eight weeks before. That was down to getting the food right, my sleep right, and then obviously getting there. And it just goes from there. When you think you’re that you’re working out, just go see Brett Chan and then you’ll know [laughs].
You can check out the full interview in the video below, which includes Jagger talking about the time he spent in Cape Town while shooting Warrior down here and that all-important question of whether he tried a gatsby.
Also, don’t forget to check out our interview on Monday past with Olivia Cheng who plays Ah Toy in Warrior. And be sure to tune in this coming Friday, 2 October, when Warrior season two debuts on Cinemax in the US, with a local South African release to follow on Showmax not too long thereafter.
Last Updated: September 29, 2020