5 Revelations from Andrew Garfield, His Under the Banner of Heaven Costars, and Series Creator Dustin Lance Black

The cast and creator of the Hulu limited series talk about needing to build emotional distance between their real lives and the bleak true-crime tale based on Jon Krakauer's 2003 book.

by | April 28, 2022 | Comments

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Usually, Andrew Garfield has no problem taking his work home with him. But in the case of the FX true-crime drama Under the Banner of Heaven, the story was too dark to live in after hours. The limited series follows a Salt Lake City detective, Jeb Pyre (Garfield), investigating the murder of a young mother and her baby daughter and its connection to the origin of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Written by Oscar winner Dustin Lance Black, the series is based on Jon Krakauer’s 2003 book of the same name that digs into the death of Brenda Wright Lafferty (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and its ties to the Mormon church and the surprising origins of the LDS religion.


(Photo by Matthias Clamer/FX)

“I kind of like taking my work home with me, usually,” Garfield told Rotten Tomatoes ahead of the series’ debut and before the The Eyes of Tammy Faye and Tick, Tick … Boom! star revealed he would take a rest from acting. “But this is the first time I thought it was inappropriate, and also just not sustainable. I felt it was actually imperative to detach as much as humanly possible and have as much fun as possible and be as light and giddy and self-nourishing as possible in order to come back and give energy to this thing.”

The series is a passion project for Black, who grew up in the Mormon faith and has worked on bringing the story to the screen, first as a movie and now as a limited series, for more than a decade. Below, Garfield, Black, Edgar-Jones, Sam Worthington, Wyatt Russell, Gil Birmingham, and more stars reveal five things to know about the show.

1. It’s a story of faith.

UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN — “When God Was Love” Episode 1 (Airs Wednesday, April 28th) — Pictured: Sam Worthington as Ron Lafferty. CR: Michelle Faye/FX

(Photo by Michelle Faye/FX)

“What makes this a unique true crime story is the fact that it is all set within the Mormon church, and the politics and the culture and the rhythms of that particular religion,” Garfield explained. His character is a Mormon, and by investigating the fundamentalist ties held by the perpetrators of the horrific double murder, Jed is forced “to unpick the very nature and fabric of the founding of the inception of this faith, because these guys were inspired by the original ideas of the founders of Mormonism, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.”

In doing his job, Jed is forced to go against everything he holds dear — and his colleague, Bill Taba (Birmingham), pushes him to do so. He’s not a believer, and is therefore much more willing to accept that the murderers could have religious fundamentalist connections that church leaders would not want made public.

“I think a lot of humans operate better under structure. You know, there’s a few leaders and the rest need somebody to show them the way,” Birmingham said. “Bill Taba understood that. Whenever there’s secrets, there’s shadows. And when you’ve got a crime like we were trying to solve, it’s a matter of trying to crack those secrets.”

2. It takes place in 1984, but it’s as relevant as ever. 

UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN — “When God Was Love” Episode 1 (Airs Wednesday, April 28th) — Pictured: (l-r) Daisy Edgar Jones as Brenda Lafferty. CR: Michelle Faye/FX

(Photo by Michelle Faye/FX)

“If I believe in writing what you know, this is something I know very well, because I grew up in this faith,” Black told Rotten Tomatoes. And although he had plenty of questions about his upbringing, he also loved it. “I found great value in it. I still see value in many of the customs, the traditions, the culture of Mormonism,” he said, “but I had a lot of questions. And it was always very troubling to me that when I had questions, I was told to shelve them, to doubt any doubts I might have.”

When Black read Krakauer’s book nearly 20 years ago, it brought back plenty of memories from his childhood and all the ways his curiosity, like Brenda Lafferty’s, was looked down on. And although the events took place nearly 40 years ago, and Krakauer’s book came out 20 years ago, the story is important to tell today in 2022.

“I think we’re watching the world in trouble in ways that are similar to how Utah was in trouble in the ’80s. People feel like their lives are going backwards. They’re getting smaller, they’re getting less joyful, less livable, and people are turning back to fundamentalist constitutionalism — take a look at the U.S. Supreme Court — and fundamentalist religion to try and find solid ground again, to find safety, to see can we go back to the rules of the past and follow those and maybe things will be better,” Black said. “And this show, Brenda’s story, says loud and clear, ‘No, that is a path to ruin.’ Those rules, those laws, that faith in the fundamentals in the history of that faith, harm people, because they’re outdated. They’re incredibly misogynistic. We know better than that now.”

3. The cast wanted to do justice to the story to honor Brenda’s family.

UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN — “Rightful Place” Episode 2 (Airs Thursday, April 28th) — Pictured: (l-r) Gil Birmingham as Bill Taba, Andrew Garfield as Jeb Pyre. CR: Michelle Faye/FX

(Photo by Michelle Faye/FX)

The subject matter of the series is dark, but it’s also based on a true story. So not only did the cast want to bring Black’s words to life, they also wanted to be both accurate and sensitive in their depictions.

“Brenda Lafferty’s family is still alive, and you want to be respectful of their feelings,” Worthington said. “That responsibility that you have as a filmmaker, that’s probably the hardest part. Because you know that you’ve got to tell her story with some delicacy and some grace. At the end of each day, it was more about hopefully we’ve been telling the story honestly, rather than exploiting it. That was the most important and hardest part for me.”

Edgar-Jones hadn’t read the book, nor had she heard of the case before coming to the role; in fact, she didn’t know much about Mormonism in general.

“It was really through reading the first two episodes that I was introduced to it, and then I read the book in a day and was incredibly gripped, and found it so fascinating,” she said. “I think one of the best parts about what we do is that project to project, you get the opportunity to explore a realm or subject matter that you might not necessarily have had the chance to [learn about before].”

4. Actually, everyone needed to shake off the subject matter at night.

UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN — “Rightful Place” Episode 2 (Airs Thursday, April 28th) — Pictured: Andrew Garfield as Jeb Pyre. CR: Michelle Faye/FX

(Photo by Michelle Faye/FX)

Like Garfield, the rest of the cast needed to disconnect from the bleak story at day’s end. Birmingham said he would head outside to spend time in nature (Lake Louise, Banff, and Jasper Park were his favorites). Edgar-Jones, Chloe Pirrie, and Tyner Rushing would have game nights, while Russell would decompress by watching sports. And Worthington said he wasn’t able to think about the show after work because he was busy with his family.

“I’ve got three kids, so you can’t take stuff home,” he said. “My kids don’t care. You have to let it go and leave it at the door. So it’s quite easy when you’ve got children — you have more responsibility to them.”

5. There’s still plenty of love in such a dark place.

UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN — “When God Was Love” Episode 1 (Airs Wednesday, April 28th) — Pictured: Billy Howle as Allen Lafferty. CR: Michelle Faye/FX

(Photo by Michelle Faye/FX)

Krakauer reveals the killers in the beginning of his book, but the show withholds their identity for several episodes. (You can probably search for the answer if you want to know ahead of its reveal.) But that’s almost immaterial to the story, because, as Worthington said, “I never saw it as a whodunnit, but more like a whydunnit. Like, why did this happen in such a devoted community and such a loving family?”

Russell said that the family’s dedication to love was the most surprising element of the story to him.

“They lead with love, and they lead with all of these things that you wouldn’t think they would lead with when you see that opening sequence of what the end result was,” he told Rotten Tomatoes. “But not all love is created equal. It’s just not. So that drove this horrible path of destruction and devastation and death. But behind the wheel is this empathetic, loving, charismatic, family and person. It was a surprise when you learn that kind of thing.”

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