Tiffany Haddish, Bryan Cranston and 8 More Guest Stars on Making the Most of Limited Screen Time

8:30 AM 6/12/2018

by Carita Rizzo

Jane Lynch, James Van Der Beek, Common and more open up about their onscreen challenges (from battling J.K. Simmons to disarming a queen) and offscreen treats (show tunes with Jonathan Groff and crudites at the 'SNL' table read).

  • Jodi Balfour

    'The Crown,' Netflix

    Alex Bailey/Netflix

    In the second season of The Crown, Balfour plays Jacqueline Kennedy, who after an “intimate” dinner at Buckingham Palace, held in honor of her and JFK (Michael C. Hall), gets caught making fun of the queen’s (Claire Foy) dowdiness and dilapidated digs. 

    THE "MONEY SCENE"

    “The fact that she orchestrated a meeting with the queen so that she could apologize says a huge amount about Jackie Kennedy. There’s so much restraint, but a level of transparency that — for someone not only in her position but talking to someone in the queen’s position — was unheard of. She was really opening up and being transparent about some very private matters that, had the queen said anything to anyone about their conversation, would have had huge implications. There’s a huge amount of trust, a huge amount of putting her ego aside to do what’s right — but also a real sense of diplomacy. She never really falls apart. She never begs for forgiveness. There’s no messiness — even in that moment of incredible vulnerability she still has a huge amount of grace. I think that is a really beautiful summary of who she was as a person.” 

  • Cameron Britton

    'Mindhunter,' Netflix

    Courtesy of Netflix

    Britton, a former preschool teacher, appears in three episodes as imprisoned Co-Ed Killer Edmund Kemper, the first serial killer interviewed by FBI detectives Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) to gain insight into the minds of the most dangerous members of society.

    MY SOUVENIR FROM SET

    “The show was actually enjoyable to make, which was something I didn’t expect. I was so focused on showing up and trying to get it right, but then I got out there and I forgot how much fun all of this is. As weird as that is to say for a performance like this, we had a good time together on set. Jonathan and Holt, those two love singing, and I do as well. Between takes, if we had time, we were able to sing a couple of show tunes and just keep it a little lighter. I like singing things from 42nd Street, Kiss Me Kate, Chicago — luckily I had a cast who does too.”

  • Jacqueline Bisset

    'Counterpart,' Starz

    Courtesy of Starz

    As the mother of Emily (Olivia Williams), Bisset arrives at the hospital where her daughter is in a coma, expecting a tete-a-tete with her meek son-in-law, but ends up facing off with a more assertive Howard Silk (J.K. Simmons), who hails from a parallel universe. 

    THE CHALLENGE

    “I was pretty clueless, really, not knowing how I was going to fit in to this whole story because I hadn’t seen anything at that point. I really just played off what J.K. was doing with me. When a guy looks tense, you take it from there. He certainly wasn’t pleased to see me, and whatever financial gain I had on him, I was expressing it. I haven’t done that many things where you don’t know the story, but you just throw yourself in there. It’s a bit likelife, isn’t it? You go in, and you have a slightly wobbly tummy. When you get onto a set, your body doesn’t know if you’re acting or if you’re in it. I go through what I would be going through as if I was living it myself.”

  • Bryan Cranston

    'Curb Your Enthusiasm,' HBO

    Courtesy of HBO

    In the ninth season of Larry David’s observational comedy, Cranston plays Dr. Templeton — “Lionel” to his friends and Cheryl — the latest in a long line of Larry’s therapists facing a steep uphill battle in helping him address his neuroses. 

    THE CHALLENGE

    “Larry gave me a half-page outline, saying the only information that is necessary to come out is that I love truffles and that he didn’t like the chair that I supplied for my patients. The rest was all completely made up. The greatest challenge is to be able to relax and listen and contribute and not try to take control of the scene. If you get to the point where you’re feeling pressure to be funny, you’re in trouble. I decided on an approach to my character: I wanted him to be agreeable, soft, accommodating and charitable in his comments, which I had a feeling would irk Larry somewhat, and it did. I came up with this idea of ‘the upward nod and the downward nod,’ and what each one means, these crazy rules that I knew he would be able to play with and throw back at me — and he did. Anything that you think would naturally irritate Larry really makes him laugh.”

  • Common

    'The Chi,' Showtime

    Parrish Lewis/SHOWTIME

    The Chicago-born rapper, who also serves as an executive producer on the show, portrays Rafiq, a Muslim brother and the leader of the local mosque who tries to help Ronnie (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine) get his life back on track. 

    THE CHALLENGE

    “I shot all my episodes in one day, and it was like, ‘OK, I’ve got to really get it done right.’ I felt a duty and a responsibility to reflect the people from the inner city in an honest way. Not trying to create some perfect idea of who we are but an honest truth that has dimension to it. And I wanted people who practice Islam to feel respected. To play this character, I visited prisons in California. I went to these places and met just human beings. [I realized that even though] this person has committed a murder, I still have a compassion for him. That doesn’t mean that they’re not held accountable and shouldn’t be responsible for the lives they’ve taken or the crimes that they’ve committed, but redemption should be available, rehabilitation should be available, forgiveness should be available. It is a great responsibility as an actor to meet those challenges, but I began acting because I wanted to reach those heights.”

  • Donald Faison

    'Ray Donovan,' Showtime

    Michael Desmond/SHOWTIME

    Faison plays Antoine A'Shawn Anderson — aka Triple A — a scriptwriter whom Jay White (Brian White) brings in to rewrite Mickey's (Jon Voight) less-than-stellar Four Leaf script into a film that won't destroy Jay's career.

    THE "MONEY SCENE"

    "The first scene that you ever see him in, he's out there. He's trying to make movies that he's not sure people are going to go see, but that he finds interesting. If he can convince a studio head or a studio exec to make that movie, then he feels accomplished. That's who he is. He considers himself different from everybody else and he wants to showcase his originality in the field because he feels like nobody is doing this or they're doing a bad representation of it. [To understand the character], I just imagined myself. I think every actor likes to feel like they're unique and one of a kind. I imagined what it was like when I first came into the game. I wanted to represent me 100 percent, but I also wanted to make sure that people dug what I was representing. The best way to win is to be you, and if people don't like it then they don't like it. At least you're not a fake when you're you."

  • Tiffany Haddish

    'Saturday Night Live,' NBC

    Courtesy of NBC

    The Girls Trip star hosted SNL in November, performing a stand-up routine in which she memorably discussed rewearing the Alexander McQueen gown from the Girls Trip premiere to get the most bang for her buck — a dress that not only made an appearance later in the show, but also at the Academy Awards four months after that.

    MY SOUVENIR FROM SET 

    "I lost about four pounds on the SNL diet. We worked so hard on that show all week that there was barely any time to eat. Doing the show itself was really great ­— I really enjoyed doing the monologue and I super enjoyed all the sketches I was in — but the hunger outweighs everything. I'm the type of person that likes to sit down for at least 20 to 30 minutes to eat a meal — there's no time to do that. You're pulling this show together, so you've got to wait until you get to your hotel room. You know how kids fall asleep while they're eating? That was me. Waking up with a cold bowl of minestrone soup like, 'What is this? Why am I sitting here? Let me get into bed.' Now that I really think about it, the table read was really cool. Because there was like all kinds of food and crudites all over the table. I was so happy. I was eating all the damn apricots and almonds, crunching on the chips, they had little sandwiches and stuff and I was like, 'This is nice!'"

  • Jimmi Simpson

    'Westworld,' HBO

    Courtesy of HBO

    After a major revelation in the first season of the futuristic drama, when viewers discovered that the kindest character would eventually turn into the series’ villain, Simpson now faces the transition from William to the Man in Black in season two.

    THE CHALLENGE

    “Evan (Rachel Wood) and I spent the entire first season leaning very heavily on each other, but there were no Dubsmashes in between takes on season two for Evan and myself. Everything was sad and upsetting and very conducive to the scenes at hand. For 10 months we had played true love, and then we had to jump into William’s utter abandonment of her and Dolores just taking it. It was so out of character for both of us, that it felt like, ‘Oh, my God, how did the rollercoaster just drop all of a sudden?’ We didn’t even see it coming. Evan and I’d had each other’s backs and we had to now play the opposite. It required me and my best pal to abandon each other, and that’s part of what you see. It was jarring. The most memorable thing about the second episode of the season was the fact that Evan and I didn’t speak to each other between takes because, goddammit, there was nothing to say. We were killing each other.” 

  • Jane Lynch

    'The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,' Amazon

    Nicole Rivelli/Amazon Studios

    The comedy vet plays Sophie Lennon, a well-known comedian who onstage plays an overweight, vulgar Queens housewife when in reality she is a refined, elegant woman living a life of luxury.

    THE “MONEY SCENE”

    “As far as my character is concerned, you have to make up for the fact that you’re a woman in order to be successful in comedy, because it’s a man’s game. People don’t want to laugh at pretty faces, and they don’t want to laugh at women who know how to handle themselves. In the scene in her beautiful Upper East Side townhome, she wants her confirmation bias [reinforced by] Midge, by telling her, ‘This is what you have to do,’ and Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) doesn’t buy it at all. I think — although Sophie wouldn’t admit it — she’s a really defended person. One of the reasons she gave Midge her mink was as if to say, ‘Oh, you poor, shivering, cold person who doesn’t have this opulent lifestyle and doesn’t understand the rules. Here, take my fur fricking coat.’ That was a demeaning thing to do and very much trying to put her into her place, like, ‘Don’t you forget who’s ahead in the pecking order here, who the queen is. It’s me.’”

  • James Van Der Beek

    'Modern Family,' ABC

    Eric McCandless/ABC

    Van Der Beek joins the family as Beauregard “Bo” Johnson, baby daddy of Cam’s (Eric Stonestreet) sister — a handsome devil recently released from jail.

    MY SOUVENIR FROM SET

    “I know everybody on that show at this point, so it’s almost like getting together and playing with friends. Steve Levitan called and said, ‘We’ve got something for you, but I don’t have a script yet.’ He told me Bo was in jail for punching a police horse in the face, which is pretty much all I needed to hear. It was a very fun, playful atmosphere. It really felt like when I was a kid, and we’d get the camcorder and just make movies in the backyard with friends, but with trailers and amazing craft service. One of the things that the Modern Family team figured out very early is that comedy is better and fresher when you get through it quickly and you have two cameras going at once. If that lightning strikes, you can capture it.”

    This story first appeared in a June stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.