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Joe vs. Carole: Who's Who in Peacock's Tiger King Dramatization

The battle for big cat supremacy returns to the small screen with help from some familar faces.
  • Kate McKinnon as Carole Baskin, Kyle MacLachlan as Howard Baskin, and John Cameron Mitchell as Joe Exotic in Joe vs. Carole. (Photos: Mark Taylor/Peacock)
    Kate McKinnon as Carole Baskin, Kyle MacLachlan as Howard Baskin, and John Cameron Mitchell as Joe Exotic in Joe vs. Carole. (Photos: Mark Taylor/Peacock)

    Are we ready for more Tiger King? If it seems like that question was asked and answered a few months ago when Tiger King 2 came and went with barely a murmur, a better question might be: are we ready for some dramatized Tiger King? Because like it or not, Tiger King is getting the docudrama treament this week as Peacock premieres Joe vs. Carole, its new limited series depicting the now-legendary feud between big cat enthusiasts Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin.

    So who has Peacock lined up to play Joe and Carole and the rest of their swirling universe of grifters and goofballs? It starts with a pair of uncannily cast leads and moves into some really slick character-actor choices. Say what you want about Tiger King fatigue, if anyone can deliver the goods, it's this cast:

    John Cameron Mitchell as Joe Exotic

    Joe Exotic is, of course, the reason we're all here in the first place. Born Joseph Allen Schreibvogel, Joe was a businessman, showman, and zoo operator in the states of Texas and Oklahoma, before entering into a professional rivalry with Big Cat Rescue founder Carole Baskin. In 2019, he was convicted and sentenced to 22 years in prison for attempting to contract Baskin's murder. A colorful, almost too strange to be believed character, Exotic was the subject of Netflix's Tiger King, which was such a hit among the desperate masses early on in the pandemic that interest in his court case was re-ignited and he actually managed to get his sentence reduced (by one year). In this narrative take on his exploits, he's played by John Cameron Mitchell, the actor/director who came to fame for his off-Broadway stage show Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the feature film adaptation of which he directed and starred in. More recently, you may have seen him portray the Milo Yiannopoulos-esque right-wing pest Felix Staples on The Good Fight or Aidy Bryant's boss on Shrill.

    Kate McKinnon as Carole Baskin

    The Scratchy to Joe Exotic's Itchy, Carole Baskin was the founder and operator of Big Cat Rescue, an animal sanctuary for tigers and lions and such in Tampa, Florida. As someone who objects to the capture and exploitation of big cats, Carole entered into a feud with private zoo owner Joe Exotic, a feud which escalated to accusations on his part that Carole murdered her first husband, followed eventually by Joe being sent to prison for trying to arrange Carole's murder. After Tiger King made her a media sensation, Carole took residency on Cameo and spent a short time on Dancing with the Stars. She's played by Kate McKinnon, the ten-season veteran of Saturday Night Live, two-time Emmy Award winner, and lady Ghostbuster. This is McKinnon's first starring TV role outside of SNL, from which she took a hiatus during the first seven weeks of this season so that she could film Joe vs. Carole.

    Kyle MacLachlan as Howard Baskin

    First rising to fame for his roles in David Lynch projects — specifically as Jeffrey Beaumont in Blue Velvet, Paul Atreides in Dune, and FBI Agent Dale Cooper on Twin Peaks — Kyle MacLachlan is one of film and TV's most enjoyable recurring presences. In Joe vs. Carole he plays Howard Baskin, Carole's husband (not the one she was accused of killing).

    Dean Winters as Jeff Lowe

    As with many of the colorful characters orbiting around Joe Exotic's story, Jeff Lowe has been both business partner and enemy of Joe Exotic. When Joe was sent to prison for trying to have Carole killed, Jeff Lowe and his wife took over operations of GW Zoo … that, is until a court awarded the property to Baskin, at which point Lowe closed the zoo for good. No stranger to playing scumbag grifters, Dean Winters plays Lowe in the new Peacock series. Winters is probably best known for one of two things: 1) playing Liz Lemon's on-again, off-again, mostly-off-again boyfriend Dennis Duffy on 30 Rock, and 2) for playing Mayhem in those Allstate insurance commercials, though it should also be noted that he was great in a far less comedic role on Oz.

    Brian Van Holt as John Reinke

    Another former employee of Joe Exotic's Greater Wynewood Exotic Animal Park, Reinke is played by Brian Van Holt, who played Courteney Cox's ex-husband on Cougar Town. Before that, he starred on HBO's short-lived and under-appreciated John from Cincinnati. Most recently, Van Holt starred opposite Stephen Dorff in Fox's short-lived procedural drama Deputy.

    William Fichtner as Rick Kirkham

    Rick Kirkham was one of the more fascinating personalities in Tiger King. A TV producer who got his start as a reporter on Inside Edition, Kirkham wanted to make a documentary about Joe Exotic's private zoo and later intended to turn Exotic into a TV presence with "Joe Exotic TV." However, a mysterious fire — arson was suspected — destroyed all of the footage (footage that Kirkham has later claimed included Joe Exotic being cruel to the animals in his zoo, up to and including killing them). In the role of Rick Kirkham, Joe vs. Carole cast one of the best character actors of the last few decades. You've almost certainly seen William Fichtner in something, from movies like Contact (as Jodie Foster's blind best friend), Armageddon (as the lone professional astronaut on a ship full of rowdy oil riggers), and Go (as the federal agent/Amway salesperson) to TV, where he most recently played Allison Janney's love interest on Mom.

    Nat Wolff as Travis Maldonado

    Joe Exotic's gay romantic life was a source of true fascination in Tiger King, including the deeply tragic tale of Travis Maldonado, an employee at Joe's exotic animal park who became Joe's second husband. Travis's story is a sad one that descends into drug abuse and a truly horrifying end. He's played in the TV series by Nat Wolff, the young actor best known for his roles in The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns. Most recently, he played Lloyd Henreid in the updated remake of Stephen King's The Stand.

    Sam Keeley as John Finlay

    Joe Exotic's first husband was John Finlay, whose toothless visage graced quite a bit of Tiger King. Another former employee at Joe Exotic's tiger park, John was in a romantic relationship with Joe for many years before Joe left him for Travis. Playing John is Irish actor Sam Keeley, whose biggest American exposure was the Paramount series 68 Whiskey and a small role in Ron Howard's Moby Dick movie In the Heart of the Sea.

    All eight episodes of Joe vs. Carole premiere on Peacock Thursday March 3rd, 2022.

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    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Joe vs. Carole, Peacock, Brian Van Holt, Dean Winters, John Cameron Mitchell, Kate McKinnon, Kyle MacLachlan, Nat Wolff, William Fichtner