Krysten Ritter, Star of Raunchy ABC Comedy, on Playing Everyone's Favorite 'B----' (Video)
Still, the part on Breaking Bad was titillating: Jane Margolis, an artistic young woman with a history of heroin abuse who seems to be on the road to recovery, under the watchful eye of her strict father, until drug-addicted Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) moves in next door and tempts her into not only a sexual relationship but also a return to trouble. It was right up Ritter's alley: she had seen and known about a lot of drug addicts during her time in New York; she had previously played one in the little-seen indie The Last International Playboy (2008); and she was craving the opportunity to play darker and edgier characters. (“That’s more my style than sort of the girlier, bubbly stuff that I also do.”) -- After reading the script, she felt that she could really do something with the part. Then, after binge-watching the show’s first season in her bed, she knew that she wanted to.
Not long after, Ritter went in to audition -- along with a number of other high-caliber actresses including Juliette Lewis and Fairuza Balk, she has heard -- and, sure enough, bagged the part. “I thought I was only going to do four or five episodes,” she remembers, “and I ended up doing I think 10.” She adds, “Honestly, I never thought anyone would ever even see it, [but] it ended up changing the course of my life and career.”
Ritter’s success on the show was almost entirely dependent on her ability to click with Paul, and click they did. “We had great chemistry,” she agrees. “That’s just luck. That’s lightening in a bottle. That doesn’t always happen.” Interestingly, and helpfully for her performance, she had only an “icy” off-screen relationship with John de Lancie, the actor who played her character’s father. “We didn’t like, bro-down right away in the ways that I did with Aaron and even Bob Odenkirk [who plays the ambulance-chasing attorney Saul Goodman on the show], who I still keep in touch with.” She adds, “Sometimes what’s happening off camera really informs what’s happening on camera, you know?”
For Ritter, the climactic moment on the show came when it was time to shoot the scene in which -- major spoiler alert -- Jane begins to overdose in her bed while laying beside Jesse, who is also in a heroin-induced stupor, and Walter, who has broken into their home, elects to do nothing to help her. Ritter says that the rest of the cast and crew, for weeks before the scene was shot, kept mentioning to her how sad it was going to be to have to say farewell to her character, especially under such tragic circumstances, but that realization didn't set in for her until much later. “I was like, flying to New York and doing press. It was busy. So, I didn’t have time to really process it.”
Ritter's emotions finally bubbled to the surface when it came time to shoot the scene in which Jesse wakes up, discovers what has happened, and hysterically tries to revive Jane's heart: “They made this cast to go around my chest to protect my heart, obviously, but they fit it to my stand-in, who is smaller than I am. So, this thing wouldn’t close all the way because they had to drill it on and they had to drill it off. It’s a whole thing, so it wouldn’t close all the way. And so, it’s pinching me every time he pushes my chest. And I can’t get a full breath of air. So, I’m like [gasps for air] trying to get air. And I’m the most sensitive person on the planet -- like, I will watch the news and cry. And you have this amazing actor on top of you like, pounding on your chest, hysterical, like, crying -- he’s got tears dripping on my face. It was too much. I’m like, ‘Okay, this is acting. Okay, don’t cry. Okay, just hold it together.’ And then, I started to think like, ‘Oh my God, if I were dead, somebody would be like, really upset, probably. Like, this is what it would be. This is weird.’ And then, not being able to get a full breath of air, I had a panic attack! We had to stop for a while, for like, five minutes. Like, I had to get it off. I think it was also my birthday. It was too much. I couldn’t wait to get out of it. That was when I went, ‘Just get this character away from me. I can’t.’”
As Ritter, the cast and crew, and TV viewers struggled to say goodbye to Jane, network executives were beginning to catch up with the show, and soon began expressing an increased desire to say hello to Ritter. The actress, meanwhile, had made it her “mission” to avoid participating in the annual battle for parts that is TV's pilot season, just as she’d managed to do for the previous three years, since she finds the process to be “hell." As she explains it, “You’re sitting there with all the girls, and it’s just the most stressful thing, and then, you don’t even get it… [or] you go there again, and again, and again, and then the show doesn’t even get picked up. It’s like, you’re making yourself absolutely crazy for a job that isn’t even real." Besides, she reasoned, she has always managed to find other, less degrading routes to gainful employment, “shooting a movie or something else.”
Post-Breaking Bad, Ritter’s agents told her to expect bigger and better opportunities. One of her first offers, though, was the starring role in a low-budget indie called Refuge, the script of which greatly intrigued her, and she decided to say yes, feeling perfectly “content” to focus her energies on that and other similar projects. But, before she was to head off to work on the film, her agents received “a straight offer on a pilot,” as in, no audition necessary. She chuckles, “I was like, ‘Wow, that’s so crazy. That never happens.’” And then it happened again. “I was [beginning] to realize that people would want me to star in their TV shows.” Clearly, it was time to rethink her views on pilot season.
One of Ritter’s friends, who knew about her dilemma, forwarded her an article that she had read online about plans to cast a pilot of a show called Don’t Trust the Bitch in Apt. 23 (the bad word was only censored later) -- the premise of which read like a 21st century, no-holds-barred, female version of The Odd Couple -- and followed up with a phone call to say, “Krysten, I know you’re like, feeling a little worried about TV, but this sounds really cool if you could be the bitch.” Ritter, intrigued, called her agents to ask if they knew anything about it. When she heard back from them, she was informed, to her great surprise, that Nahnatchka Khan, the show’s creator and executive producer, was very interested in meeting with her about the titular part, Chloe, and wanted to know if she was available to meet up the following day. She had a date.
At that initial meeting was not only Khan, whom Ritter says she loved immediately, but also Jason Winer, Khan’s fellow executive producer, who would direct the pilot, and whom Ritter knew and liked from when she had auditioned for the part in Arthur (2011) that eventually went to Greta Gerwig. Khan, a big fan of Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), told Ritter that she envisioned her show as a TV version of the classic film, only depicting what it would be like if Holly Golightly was thrust into today's New York and forced to figure out a way to fend for herself. Ritter says, “I love that movie. I love Holly Golightly. I love Audrey Hepburn. So, I was like, ‘I would love to play like a twisted, evil version of her.’” By the end of the “great meeting,” plans were in place for Ritter to shoot the pilot -- on a timetable that would also allow her to honor her commitment to Refuge. (Meanwhile, Dreama Walker, who played Alan Cumming’s young nemesis Becca on The Good Wife, was cast as the one roomie that Chloe can't shake.)
Chloe, the Golightly surrogate, truly earns the derogatory appellation ascribed to her in the show’s title. As Ritter explains, “Chloe is a sociopath. She has a total screw loose. She has no morals, no filter. She does horrible things to people. She scams people. She’s a con artist in fabulous clothes. And somehow, like, gets away with all of these things.” The remarkable thing about the show, generally, and Ritter’s performance on it, specifically, is that the audience loves Chloe in spite of her appalling behavior. “You can’t make a show about a horrible bitch if there’s not something redeeming, or something endearing, or whatever,” Ritter theorizes. “I just try to bring a positive spin to whatever she does, which I think helps balance out the evil.”
I, for one, think that Ritter brings much more to the table than just that: namely, as I wrote shortly before the series premiered, star-quality of a very modern variety that resonates especially strongly with younger TV viewers:
“What impressed me most about Ritter on Breaking Bad, and in the lengthy promos that I’ve seen for Apt. 23, is her unmistakable, unflappable sense of self. Like Katy Perry and Zooey Deschanel, she’s not a conventional beauty, but she’s much sexier than most who are because -- I believe -- of the striking contrast between her childlike, almost cartoonishly-cute appearance (pouting, big eyes, bangs, flowery dresses) and the very adult things that she says and does (and the comfort and confidence with which she does them).
“Moreover, in the great tradition of Louise Brooks and Barbara Stanwyck, she has no problem doing whatever she wants and/or has to do to get by -- such as turning on her inner daddy’s girl to avoid being sent to rehab on Breaking Bad and blatantly lying to and stealing from her roomie on Apt. 23 -- and couldn’t really give a [damn] what you or anyone else thinks about it. In fact, the only thing that impresses her are people who prove that they have the gumption to navigate this crazy world as effectively and ruthlessly as she does.
“In short, she is one of the first truly 21st century chicks on TV.”
Don’t Trust the B---- is pretty edgy, too, especially considering that it airs on a broadcast network. Almost all risqué shows now appear on cable (which has much looser restrictions about what can be said or shown) or premium cable (which has virtually no restrictions at all), but Don’t Trust the B---- has been playing with fire since the airing of its pilot, in which the word “bitch” was spoken (without a bleep to censor it) and Ritter was shown prancing around in the nude (with pixilation employed to blur out her privates). Ritter says, “Every week I’m getting the script and being like, ‘Whoa!’ And we are getting away with most of it. They do some creative editing; like, they cut away right before something happens.”
She wouldn't have it any other way. "I feel like it’s exciting and dynamic, and it will hopefully continue to be," she says. "If you’re going to sign on for potentially a long time, you want to make sure that you’re going to be excited." She gushes, "It’s my favorite job so far. I like it better than anything else."
Upon being presented with the Bette Davis line that is cited in this post’s opening paragraph, Ritter is amused -- “She sounds so fun -- I’d love to hang out with her!” -- but quickly makes clear that she disagrees with its argument. “I think everybody has a little bit of everything in them. And, as an actor, you just tap into the different parts. I could be a bitch if I want to, you know? I’m also like, really girly and fun. I love to have a good time. I like to work hard, I like to play hard.” So, she summarizes, “I’m able to tap into [being a bitch].” She adds, “I just didn’t realize how much fun I would have doing it."
That's a good thing, because Don't Trust the B---- recently got picked up for second season and will be returning to the air in the fall on Tuesday nights at 9:30pm. You don’t have to trust the bitch in apartment 23; you can just take my word for it: Ritter makes this show, like virtually everything else in which she has appeared, well worth your time.