With the title "Bullets and Tears," it was inevitable that bodies would drop in Banshee's season two finale. One death we didn't see coming was former Banshee deputy Emmett Yawners', who died with his wife in a parking lot, gunned down by vengeful skinheads as he tried to leave the town and start a new life elsewhere. His assassination was retribution for a vicious beating he gave three neo-Nazis after they assaulted his pregnant wife, killing their unborn child. Seems like the skins got off easy in that scenario, but apparently they thought it unjust.
Complex caught up with Demetrius Grosse, who played the underused Yawners (one of Banshee's two black citizens) to discuss his character's death, lost opportunities, and what his murder means for the plot and for the series generally.
How did you find out that Emmett was going to die?
When we were shooting episode six, the executive producers brought me in and said, “We have really great news that probably will be a little hard to swallow.” They talked about how Emmett leaving the show is about [the town of] Banshee becoming a more dangerous place. The writers wanted to look at what happens when an already treacherous environment loses its only pillar of morality. They assured me that they were going to make sure that his exit had a lot of catharsis and pathos, so it was cool. They wanted to keep it fresh, so they didn’t let me know too much about what was going to happen.
The neo-Nazis assassinate Emmett and his wife as retaliation for the epic jailhouse beating he gives the three skinheads who attacked his wife. After such a big fight scene, what did you think when you read that Emmett gets gunned down rather simply in the street?
I actually had a lot of problems with the writing and how Emmett met his demise. I wasn’t happy with how I felt he easily acquiesced his existence. There is a point where he pushes his wife behind him and then he closes his eyes, and in that moment, what I channeled in was a prayer; in his heart he says a prayer to God and accepts it. But a part of me, the rebel in me, the D.C. cat in me, was like, "This guy is a cop or an ex-cop! Wouldn’t he be holding something? Wouldn’t he be at least prepared to defend himself?" I am not saying [that he’d] go on the offensive, but if Emmett is a cop who has been in the force for a long time and he's with his wife at a rest stop and this neo-Nazi shows up [with an assault rifle]…. Most of the cops that I know carry a service weapon [at all times]. I had a little problem with the acquiescence of his life.
I actually had a lot of problems with the writing and how Emmett met his demise. I wasn’t happy with how I felt he easily acquiesced his existence. ... In a lot of ways I thought my character was minimized on the show and that we didn’t get a chance to explore his intellectual attitude early on.
But at the end of the day it reminded me that Emmett, as much as I grew to love him and know him and to be intimate with my character, was different from me. I come from more of an up-by-your-bootstraps mentality. I studied history and have seen how many people don’t get a chance to get the light and the justice that they deserve if they don’t have the means to bring that about themselves, or if they don’t have a certain veracity or conviction. Emmett’s pathos was a little different. He was a Christian and a believer. Christian doesn’t necessarily equate to passivity, but it does equate to a certain acquiescence to God’s will, and that is what I saw at the end of his life. When he met his fate he released his life as opposed to feeling like he had to fight for it. And that was an area where I realized that I was definitely playing a character that had to serve the story and the show.
Ultimately I felt chosen and fortunate and blessed to be the person to portray this story. I was humbled and to me it was like the means justified the end, like the fact that he left the show, it was like, "Look at how he left the show—avenging the death of his child." Not to advocate violence, but I think there was a silver lining of nobility in the way that Emmett leaves Banshee, and he tried to take the high road and leave with his wife and start a new life somewhere else. And we see that crabs-in-a-barrel thing where he gets pulled back into that world and ultimately gets murdered.
It wasn't only skinheads who went after Emmett. He and Chayton have a powerful exchange about race in the episode "Bloodlines" when the Red Bones gang leader breaks free from police custody. Chayton, a member of the Kinaho tribe, accuses Emmett of being the white man’s slave and throws his shackles at him. What are your thoughts on that scene?
In a lot of ways I thought my character was minimized on the show and that we didn’t get a chance to explore his intellectual attitude early on. Towards the end of the season we see him lash out and melt down and enact a vengeful violence but there were some [missed] opportunities. I would have liked him to respond to Chayton throwing those chains at him and to respond to Chayton articulately and intellectually when Chayton calls him an embarrassment to his race. There were times when I was frustrated because I felt that a guy like Emmett, who is so brawny, would need to have a real keen intellect to be able to combat all of this hate that he was receiving. In a lot of scenes, you would want Emmett to react in a certain way and Emmett wouldn’t.
We often saw Emmett just being the strong silent type, but the cool thing about it is that I saw later on that the writers were saving up for this big cathartic end of the character. An interesting thing is that Emmett's middle name was Martin; I gave him his middle name. I did that because of a quote that I heard from Martin Luther King, Jr. I'm paraphrasing a bit but Martin said, “To be black in America is to be kicked down, trodden down, not included, and to somehow keep a smile on your face and to keep carrying on.” I think that's indicative of who Emmett is, so when Chayton says stuff like that, Emmett smiles and says a little quick thing that doesn’t necessarily avenge the chide but is indicative of that high-road Martin Luther King, Jr. philosophy of weathering the storm and keeping your smile and keeping the love in your heart, and that being its own form of rebellion and revolution.
How do you see the loss of Emmett affecting the show and the characters closest to him?
I think the Banshee Sheriffs Department is going to have a lot less muscle. [Laughs.] But on a serious note, we lose a perspective on the show. Emmett represents an entire demographic of people that he drew to the show. Emmett’s plot line was not the main plot line; the story is essentially about Carrie and Lucas, but people really keyed in on my character. I can’t tell you how many tweets and Facebook messages and Tumblr screenshots that people have sent me. I think the challenge will be to keep the audience that loved my character, because here was a guy, a tall brother in Banshee, and the only other brother in Banshee is Sugar, so we lose a little bit of the 360-degree experience. It will be interesting to see how the writers approach that and how the show will rebound. People are going to miss my character, especially the way that [his story] ends.
Do you know if this is the last we’ll see of Emmett?
You never know. I heard through the grapevines from a couple of the producers and the cinematographers that in the storyline next season that he may come back for a couple of flashbacks. You never know.
Interview by Justin Monroe (@40yardsplash)
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