The show follows Marty, a financial advisor who is based in Chicago, who launders money for a drug dealer. But after his partner is caught stealing money from the drug lord, Marty moves his family to The Ozarks to keep them safe.
But of course, he still needs to use his money skills to clean up the cash. Whilst there he clashes with the local drug dealer, interrupting his business, and clashes with a well-known family in the area who are looking to steal the money he has to clean.
Of course, the FBI is watching him too. There's plenty going on in this series to keep you gripped from start to finish.
Real life inspiration
The first episode takes place in the financial world of Chicago, but screenwriter Bill Dubuque fancied moving a money man from that world into The Ozarks.
The writer has a cabin on The Lake of the Ozarks for some 25 years and still visits with his family.
The Blue Cat Lodge in the show is actually based on a place that Bill and his brother worked at.
Chris Mundy, executive producer of the series explains: “The sense of the specificity of the place of The Lake of the Ozark’s came out of Bill’s knowledge of it.”
The writers took a field trip to The Ozarks to have a look round themselves. They met with local politicians, visited the remote Meth Mountain and even chatted with the girls at the lock GQ strip club, to get a sense of the Ozark take on that life.
Muncy even kept a notebook, where he kept track of the kinds of phrases people use there – such as ‘FT’ (Fuck the Tourists, the annual part the Tuesday after Labor Day, celebrating the departure of out visitors). There’s also a reference to frozen custard, after seeing the plentiful, and popular, custard stands.
Money laundering education
The creators knew it was important to get an education about money laundering itself too.
“We had an FBI agent who investigates money laundering come and sit down with us for a day so we could pick her brain,” Mundy explains.
A hedge fund manager also spent time with the group, to explain that side of money movement. “No one on the writing staff came with a strong business background, so we just studied and learned as much as we could.”
The reason Bateman joined the show
Bateman, who besides his acting work in countless films and television series came to Ozark partly due to his passion for directing, as well. He explains that his agent insisted he read the script and even though he was more interested in film at the time, he couldn't help but feel captivated by it.
But he wanted to do more than just act in the series, he wanted to direct it too.
Bateman pled his case to MRC co-CEO Modi Wiczyk, who eventually agreed.
“To be able to help shape the experience for the audience, in directing, acting and producing, was just a joy of gluttony for me.”
Jason ended up, due to the time and complication of prepping 10 episodes while acting in all of them, directing just the first two and last two. Three other directors – long-time television helmers Daniel Sackheim and Andrew Bernstein, along with Oscar- and Emmy-nominated cinematographer Ellen Kuras – directed the remaining six, each shooting two episodes at a time.
There’s a flashback episode
The eighth episode in the series, Kaleidoscope, is a fascinating flashback episode which reveals the origins of many of the characters’ paths, including Marty (Bateman) and Wendy’s (Laura Linney).
In it, we see the loving couple they once were, attuned to each other’s needs – and deciding on the money laundering path together – a far cry from when we first meet them at the beginning of the series. “There’s already a weight present, and you don’t know why immediately,” Mundy says. “But great actors like Jason and Laura play the emotional reality that their characters are in in that moment.”
Mundy goes on to say, “Probably some of the most important scenes of the mythology of the show are in that episode. So many important scenes of the show’s life happened off-screen before the show started. So to be able to go back and understand – now, after you know them – was really important. It puts into perspective what you’ve seen so far, and helped you understand how they’ve changed, as people.
Russ’ surprise character
Marc Menchaca plays Russ and he had no idea how his character would develop: “It wasn’t until about the third or fourth episode that I began hearing from other cast members what was coming up, so I asked Chris Mundy about it, and he said, ‘Wait – are you not getting the scripts?’ ‘No, not in advance.’ ‘Oh, we need to talk.’ He briefed me on what was happening, and I said, ‘That’s incredible.’ Because it’s not what you expect out of Russ. And I had never played a gay character before. So it was kind of a fun surprise.
Attention to detail
There was great attention to detail throughout the series, this required that the cast were trained in specific areas, one of those was fly fishing.
Veteran line producer Patrick Markey, himself an accomplished fly fisherman who lives in Montana, brought two experts to train the two actors, as well as scour the dialogue for any errant non-fishing language.
You’d think we were making a fly fishing documentary!” laughs Mundy.
“Believe me, if we had gotten even one tiny bit of fly fishing wrong, Patrick could have never gone home to Montana,” says Menchaca, “Once you get it right, there’s something quite beautiful to it.”
The location for the Blue Cat is an existing, closed restaurant called The Little River Sports Bar and Grill, on Lake Allatoona. Production was able to obtain an extended lease, and actually build the cabins, picnic area and pool seen in the series.
The character written for Peter Mullan
Scottish-born actor Peter Mullan had big admirers in Mundy and Bateman, even so much that he was in mind for the series from the beginning.
In the show, he plays the local drug kingpin, Jacob Snell.
“He blew my mind when I saw him in Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake,” Bateman states.
“We had him in mind from the very beginning, to play our main threat, locally,” explains Mundy. “And went after him, in a really aggressive way. I was a little starstruck.
“We wanted him so bad – we didn’t even have a script for him when we offered it to him. Thankfully, he said yes.”