Tess Malis Kincaid happy that ‘jumping on the wave’ of ATL filming led to ‘Ozark’

Tess Malis Kincaid (left) as FBI Special Agent in Charge Hannah Clay with Jessica Frances Dukes as Maya Miller in episode 406 of Ozark. Cr. Courtesy Of Netflix © 2021

Credit: COURTESY OF NETFLIX

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Tess Malis Kincaid (left) as FBI Special Agent in Charge Hannah Clay with Jessica Frances Dukes as Maya Miller in episode 406 of Ozark. Cr. Courtesy Of Netflix © 2021

Credit: COURTESY OF NETFLIX

Over the years, Netflix’s shot-in-Georgia drama “Ozark has been notable for including Atlanta-area talent, and the new season is no exception. Local actress Tess Malis Kincaid figures prominently in the first half of Season 4, which premiered Jan 21. It’s the final season for the show, with the second half to premiere later.

For the uninitiated, “Ozark” follows the Byrde family, Marty (Jason Bateman) and Wendy (Laura Linney), who move from Chicago to the Missouri Ozarks with their teenage kids and have to launder money for a drug cartel. Comprised of seven episodes, Part 1 of the season is filled with the kind of tension that has made the series a critical and commercial success. Kincaid’s character, FBI Special Agent in Charge (SAC) Hannah Clay, appears throughout, most notably in the first half’s finale.

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Tess Malis Kincaid

Credit: Courtesy of Tess Malis Kincaid

Tess Malis Kincaid

Credit: Courtesy of Tess Malis Kincaid

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Tess Malis Kincaid

Credit: Courtesy of Tess Malis Kincaid

Credit: Courtesy of Tess Malis Kincaid

Kincaid has played the recurring character since the second season in 2018. When she was asked to read for the role, both men and women were called in to audition, including her husband Mark. She won the part, originally scheduled for only one episode, and was asked back. For a while the character was simply called Petty’s FBI boss (referring to former series regular Jason Butler Harner) but that eventually changed. “(Later that season) they actually put a plaque on my office door and I saw it and I thought, ‘I have a name,’ she says. “‘That’s so exciting!’”

Kincaid, 57, herself started watching the series about halfway through when everyone else had jumped on the train. “I knew so many locals in it — Bethany Anne Lind, Sharon Blackwood. I was intrigued and I started watching it and got hooked. It’s been cool to be a small part of an iconic show.”

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Tess Malis Kincaid with "Ozark" star and executive producer Jason Bateman at the series wrap party. "It’s been cool to be a small part of an iconic show," the Atlanta actress says.

Credit: Courtesy of Tess Malis Kincaid

Tess Malis Kincaid with "Ozark" star and executive producer Jason Bateman at the series wrap party. "It’s been cool to be a small part of an iconic show," the Atlanta actress says.

Credit: Courtesy of Tess Malis Kincaid

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Tess Malis Kincaid with "Ozark" star and executive producer Jason Bateman at the series wrap party. "It’s been cool to be a small part of an iconic show," the Atlanta actress says.

Credit: Courtesy of Tess Malis Kincaid

Credit: Courtesy of Tess Malis Kincaid

She describes Hannah as tough. Kincaid likes that the character doesn’t hold back and doesn’t mind intimidating her underlings, getting the job done. “I got to play a power character. I wind up a lot in meetings asking people why they are not doing what they are supposed to be doing and (to) get on it. It’s fun when I (in 2020) became a meme. ‘Do better than you’ve been doing’ became a GIF. I thought — does this mean that I have reached a new level?” she laughs.

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Camera operator Benjamin Semanoff, actor and producer Jason Bateman and cinematographer Ben Kutchins on the set of "Ozark" on Netflix, which was shot largely in Georgia over four season. NETFLIX

Credit: Jessica Miglio/Netflix

Camera operator Benjamin Semanoff, actor and producer Jason Bateman and cinematographer Ben Kutchins on the set of  "Ozark" on Netflix, which was shot largely in Georgia over four season. NETFLIX

Credit: Jessica Miglio/Netflix

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Camera operator Benjamin Semanoff, actor and producer Jason Bateman and cinematographer Ben Kutchins on the set of "Ozark" on Netflix, which was shot largely in Georgia over four season. NETFLIX

Credit: Jessica Miglio/Netflix

Credit: Jessica Miglio/Netflix

Hannah is now the boss of Special Agent Maya Miller (Jessica Frances Dukes), who is working with Marty to bring down cartel leader Omar Navarro. Kincaid and Dukes share a lot of scenes together and bonded off-set over their theater backgrounds. “We had a lot in common. Facing off with her is fun. Hannah is tough on her, and she seems more reticent. Jason’s character was more snarky, and Maya defers more but you find out she has a lot of power and integrity.”

Kincaid characterizes Bateman as a great leader. In addition to starring in the series, he is an executive producer and has directed as well. “I have heard it said that the energy and vibe on the set comes from the top,” she says. “He has created an environment where everybody feels really good. Even when he is not directing, he is so connected. It’s his baby.”

One of the fond memories Kincaid has of Bateman’s dedication to fellow actors was one day when she was filming and had only received her scenes and not the entire script. She asked what had happened between those scenes, to inform her choices more. When Bateman realized she had not seen the complete script, filming stopped and, within five minutes, one was delivered to her.

Born in LaGrange and surrounded by a family that was strongly music-oriented, Kincaid wanted to be an actress. After graduating from Wake Forest University in 1986, she moved to Atlanta and joined the Alliance Theatre acting intern program for two years. Her first local play was “The Nerd” at Theatre in the Square in the late ‘80s.

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Tess Malis Kincaid and Rob Cleveland appear in “A Doll’s House, Part 2” at Aurora Theatre. CONTRIBUTED BY CASEY GARDNER

Tess Malis Kincaid and Rob Cleveland appear in “A Doll’s House, Part 2” at Aurora Theatre. CONTRIBUTED BY CASEY GARDNER

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Tess Malis Kincaid and Rob Cleveland appear in “A Doll’s House, Part 2” at Aurora Theatre. CONTRIBUTED BY CASEY GARDNER

Some time later she moved to New York and was there from 1990 to 1994 with Mark. Married in 1993, the couple decided to return to the Atlanta area and help the late Robert Farley and his wife Anita start Georgia Ensemble Theatre. She and Mark also started a family: Their daughter Barbara is on a theater scholarship at Oglethorpe University and is studying now at the University of Oxford in England. Since her return, Kincaid has become one of Atlanta’s busiest and most acclaimed performers, at one time winning the Suzi Bass Award for Best Actress in a Play three years in a row.

One of those awards came for her role as Barbara in the Alliance Theatre’s 2001 version of “August: Osage County.” It starred a virtual who’s who of Atlanta theater — Brenda Bynum, Carolyn Cook, Chris Kayser, Joe Knezevich, Courtney Patterson — and was directed by Alliance artistic director Susan Booth.

“We knew when we were doing it how special it was,” Kincaid remembers. “It’s an incredible script, and I worship (playwright) Tracy Letts. I didn’t want it to end! To get to work with Brenda Bynum, my teacher and my mentor at the Alliance, and all the others was amazing.”

Moving to offstage acting has been a natural evolution, especially with Georgia having evolved into such a hotbed of filming. “I have a lot of friends that were very involved in the industry early on, back in the days of “In the Heat of the Night.” It was something I came into later. This windfall hit Atlanta and I was happy enough to be able to jump on the wave and get bookings here and there, especially in these days where, with COVID, there isn’t as much theater.”

In addition to “Ozark,” the actress has also been seen in “Homeland” and the filmed-in-Georgia “Hillbilly Elegy.”

Besides acting, Kincaid is also enthusiastic about theater administration. The two “meld together to make me feel complete,” she says. After working at Georgia Ensemble Theatre in different capacities since 1994, including education, marketing and development, she shifted to Theatrical Outfit in 2017 to serve as development director. “I love doing it because I can speak to the heart of it and the art of it when I talk to patrons. It’s something I am passionate about.”

Kincaid has not been onstage since 2019, when she appeared in the Alliance’s “A Christmas Carol,” and misses it. Tremendously. When she attended “An Iliad” at Theatrical Outfit this past fall, she almost wanted to cry as the lights went down.

“It was such a spiritual experience to be in a theater again and feel that vibe. I miss that art form and watching stories or telling stories. I will never give that up.”


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ArtsATL logo

Credit: ArtsATL

ArtsATL logo

Credit: ArtsATL

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ArtsATL logo

Credit: ArtsATL

Credit: ArtsATL

Working closely with the American Press Institute, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is embarking on an experiment to identify, nurture and expand a network of news partnerships across metro Atlanta and the state.

Our newest partner, ArtsATL (www.artsatl.org), is a nonprofit organization that plays a critical role in educating and informing audiences about metro Atlanta’s arts and culture. Founded in 2009, ArtsATL’s goal is to help build a sustainable arts community contributing to the economic and cultural health of the city.

Over the next several weeks, we’ll be introducing more partners, and we’d love to hear your feedback.

You can reach Managing Editor Mark A. Waligore via email at mark.waligore@ajc.com.