LOCKE & KEY’s Connor Jessop on Trauma, Toxic Masculinity, and Fantasy

“I think the best—and this is obviously not a revolutionary opinion—genre fiction is the stuff that manages, within whatever mechanism of beautiful plotting and mythology it has, to smuggle in stories about growing up or trauma or love or self pity or self reflection or self discovery.” Connor Jessop told us when we chatted over the phone about his role as Tyler Locke in Netflix’s new fantasy comic book adaptation, Locke & Key.

Two Locke children look at a key by a lamp


Given that, we can understand why he signed onto the new Netflix adaptation of Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’s cult comic. The TV series leans into the exploration of trauma and recovery that was key to the source material but which often played second fiddle to the horror and fantasy at the story’s core. This narrative shift, which works in the show’s favor, drew Jessop to the role, which he brings to life with such authenticity and emotional depth. 

“I’m always drawn to characters who deal with whatever they’re going through, whatever pain they have, or whatever conflict there and who deal with it internally,” Jessop said, tossing in the aside that he “maybe should get into more in my life.” 

All the siblings deal with this trauma that they share in very different ways. Tyler deals with it by punching it into a ball and trying to hide it inside of himself. I mean, before all of this happens, he’s used to feeling very comfortable in his body, very comfortable in his relationships. And suddenly, after the trauma, all of that fractures and shattered and doesn’t feel quite right anymore.” 

Kinsey and Bode Locke hide under a table


Jessop continued. “His relationships with his sister and his mom and his brother, which were so easy and so warm are suddenly so difficult and complicated, there’s this friction and tension and he doesn’t know why. He’s always been able to make friends easily. He’s always been able to say the right thing and suddenly he can’t and he doesn’t know how to deal with this. It’s like there’s a storm twirling and compressed somewhere inside of him. That’s Tyler in the comics too and hopefully that Tyler is in the show, even though the depiction of them is a little bit different.”

Dissecting how toxic masculinity and societal expectations affects young men is a theme that Jessop has often delved into during his career, so it felt natural to slip into the loss that Tyler struggles with this season. “I played different forms of that same idea and different characters in this idea of ‘when you feel something and you don’t know how to express it.’ Which I think, is something a lot of people in general feel, but specifically that a lot of men feel. You don’t know what to say. You don’t know what the right words are. You don’t know how to express emotion. You don’t know how to show weakness. You don’t know how to admit that you are lost.”

LOCKE & KEY's Conner Jessop on Trauma, Toxic Masculinity, and Fantasy_1


In the case of the character he plays that loss takes the shape of the murder of his father Rendall, the void that leaves in the Locke family’s lives, and the way that Tyler deals with it. “Tyler is flung into a situation where he feels rightly or wrongly, a responsibility to be a father figure for his siblings, and he’s not ready and he’s not good at it. He doesn’t know how to do it. He’s awkward and clumsy at it. And he can’t see that it’s not really his job, and I think that’s something that a lot of people especially teenage boys can understand. So that was definitely something that really appealed to me about this character.”

Locke & Key using fantasy and horror as a way to explore something deeper is a literary tool that Jessop has found to be very powerful in his own life, especially when it comes to art that he holds dear. “When you read Peter Pan or [The Chronicles of] Narnia, or any of the books that I grew up loving you do have this initial shock of how attracted you are to the story and the world. But what makes you return to it and what makes it stay with you is this feeling that you understand what these who these characters are and what they’re going through.”

LOCKE & KEY's Conner Jessop on Trauma, Toxic Masculinity, and Fantasy_2


Jessop hopes that viewers will find Tyler’s struggle relatable and find some comfort in it. “Tyler’s dealing with trauma and maybe not everyone is dealing with the trauma of being their dad murdered in front of them. But some people are dealing with much more intense trauma than that. Growing up most people go through something awful that they don’t know how to deal with. They don’t know what it means. They don’t know how to recover. They don’t know how to repair their relationships with other people or with themselves. Tyler and Kinsey are explorations of what that is and I hope that for a lot of people that will mean something and that will provide an emotional point of connection other than just thinking that you know the story is fun.”

The changes that were made in Netflix’s Locke & Key worked for us and Jessop hopes that the shift in tone is something that fans will be open too. “There’s a lot of emphasis when people are talking about the comics, put on the horror and how it’s this gothic horror story and it is. It can be very macabre and gruesome and dark, but to me that’s more of a texture than it is the actual spirit of the comics. The spirit of the comics is human and fun and full of life and love, which is just Joe and Gabriel. And I feel like even though our show is less of a classic horror piece than the comics are and it is less horrific. I feel like hopefully it’s true to that spirit of the comics.” 

Header Image: Netflix

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