Tom Pelphrey and Jeff Daniels in "A Man in Full" Source: Netflix

How Tom Pelphrey Got his BDE on Netflix's 'A Man in Full'


In "Judgement Day," the sixth and final part of the adaptation of Tom Wolfe's 1998 novel "A Man in Full," there is a scene that caught virtually viewer off-guard. Wolfe's story follows the rivalry between Atlanta real estate mogul Charlie Croker (Jeff Daniels) and a small-time operator Raymond Peepgrass (Tom Pelphrey), who hopes to capitalize when Croker's empire threatens to collapse. In the final episode, Croker walks in on Peepgrass having sex with his ex-wife Martha (Diane Lane). She runs out and Croker confronts Peepgrass, who drops his towel to reveal a Viagra-induced erection.

What followed next – Croker choking the still-erect Peepgrass while experiencing a heart attack – is a major change from the novel; but is how writer/director David E. Kelley and director Regina King wanted to end the story. "I think there's something in the show that Regina and Dave wanted to explore a little bit that maybe wasn't as prominent in the novel, which is this idea of just how fucking toxic these guys are." Pelphrey told Variety.

Pelphrey says that it is typical of Kelley's dark humor to have the moment contain "the most ridiculous explosion of that toxic male energy." Pelphrey adds while laughing: "Having one guy get choked to death with a full erection while the guy doing the choking is having a spasmatic leg attack and a heart attack simultaneously."

While he was able to laugh about later, when it came time to shoot the scene Pelphrey was anxious "to take on the 'vulnerable' and 'exposed' scenes, because his partner, Kaley Cuoco, was pregnant at the time with their now-daughter."

He reached out to King, who directed the episode. "(I was) like talking to one of my heroes on the phone, but you know, we're talking about sex and penises. This is not how I daydreamed an hour-long Regina King conversation on the phone," he says. "All my wheels were turning because at that time, Kaley was pregnant. I knew I was going to be a dad and all of a sudden, I just started thinking about everything different, like, 'Oh, God, do I want to have my clothes off on camera?' All things that literally have never crossed my mind, truly. I'm always like, 'That makes sense, let's do it!' All of a sudden I'm like, 'I'm gonna have a kid, I don't know if I want her to see this!'" In the end, it made a lot of sense. We were lucky, because we had an actor who was directing who's been in a million vulnerable positions herself and understands how to manage and take care of that moment."

They filmed the scene as Kelley wrote it, which included Pelphrey's BDE in full profile. "We thought it was kind of funny that this little buggy Raymond Peepgrass might have a fucking big dick," he says with a laugh. "Also, I thought that that choice just lent itself to being the most ridiculous and absurd version of how that could go – the most cheap male, toxic humor shit. If we're gonna do it, let's fully do that. Regina got it."

Because his character needed to stay erect for a considerable length of time, prosthetics were necessary, Pelphrey recalls. "God bless the guy who does those prosthetics!" Pelphrey says. "You want to be free, you want to have fun, you don't want anybody else to be offended or weirded out."

Tom Pelphrey and Jeff Daniels in "A Man in Full"

But the 41-year-old actor, best-known for "Ozark," had another anxious moment when the prosthetic-making process was explained to him. "There was a terrifying moment where part of the fitting process, as described to me, involved a lot of hot wax, which scared the hell out of me – and we were luckily able to avoid it. There was lot of work, a lot of meetings, a lot of talking, a lot of fittings, went into that prosthetic."

But the fallout from the scene left many perplexed, if only because there was no foreshadowing of it from Netflix or the filmmakers. The scene so surprised Vulture television critic Jen Chaney that she headlined her May 3 Big Red Spoilers column with: "We Need to Talk About That Wild 'A Man in Full/Ending." (Note: link is behind a firewall.)

"Right now you are probably feeling shocked, flabbergasted, disgusted, profoundly confused, or some combination of all of these emotions. That is okay. That is normal. If you watched the last ten minutes of 'A Man in Full' and thought, Well, that was a completely understandable way to end a television show and I have no further questions about what I just saw, then I can only conclude that you fell asleep and missed the part where a smirking Tom Pelphrey shows his naked, erect penis to Jeff Daniels in what has to be the weirdest instance of full frontal male nudity in the history of the medium. Those of us who actually saw that scene, then watched it again to make sure we didn't hallucinate the entire thing, need a place to process what we have witnessed. This, my mildly traumatized friends, is that place."

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