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Krysten Ritter let the universe know that she wanted to play a flashy, larger-than-life role, and a year later, she received exactly that by way of David Yarovesky’s Nightbooks. In the Netflix horror-fantasy, Ritter plays Natacha, an evil witch who imprisons a young storyteller (Winslow Fegley) and forces him to fulfil her insatiable appetite for scary stories. After playing superhero private eye Jessica Jones in Netflix’s now-defunct Marvel universe, Ritter’s familiarity with the streamer earned her a direct offer in the case of Nightbooks.
“What I loved so much about this project when it came my way was how over the top and heightened this character was,” Ritter tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I’d been wanting to do something really fun with an aesthetic that was over the top, funny and super stylized. But I also love the genre and the message for kids. So it was the combination of little peppers here and there that made me want to do this project.”
It’s been nearly two years since Vince Gilligan released his Breaking Bad epilogue, El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, and Ritter is still on cloud nine about reprising her role of Jane Margolis. Oddly enough, Ritter’s Jane wasn’t in the initial drafts of the script, but she ended up serving as the finishing touch as Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) rode off into the Alaskan sunset.
“[Vince Gilligan] said that I originally wasn’t there. Because the character is dead, you have to really make it make sense,” Ritter shares. “But the ending of [El Camino] was so beautiful because he sent Jesse off into the sunset with Jane riding shotgun. So I thought it was such a beautiful ending for that character. It ended on a positive note. He was going to be okay, and she was there with him. So I thought it was awesome. I’m so glad that they included me, but yeah, I did hear that I wasn’t in the original draft.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Ritter also discussed her emotional Breaking Bad death scene and comparing old photos with Paul on the El Camino set. Then she previews her upcoming limited series, David E. Kelley’s Love and Death, which she’ll star in alongside Elizabeth Olsen.
Well, Nightbooks was a pleasant surprise. I really enjoyed it.
Me too! (Laughs.) I’m surprised by how fabulous it turned out. I just love this little movie so much.
What kind of relationship have you had with horror movies and scary stories over the years?
So I watch all the scary stuff when it comes out. I definitely watch all the Conjuring movies when they come out. I loved The Lost Boys; it’s one of my favorite movies of all time. But what I loved so much about this project when it came my way was how over the top and heightened this character was. I’d been wanting to do something really fun with an aesthetic that was over the top, funny and super stylized. So when this came along, I was like, “Oh, remember a year ago when I said what I wanted to do? This is kind of it.” (Laughs.) But I also love the genre and the message for kids. So it was the combination of little peppers here and there that made me want to do this project.
Well, you looked like you had a lot of fun as Natacha, and it was cool to see you in a role that was gaudy and larger than life. Did you have to audition since you and Netflix are quite familiar with each other already?
Well, I did not. I don’t want to sound like an asshole, but I did not have to audition. (Laughs.) This is something that came in. Listen, either way is the right way because you never know. There have been things that I’ve been offered that I’ve loved, and there have been things that I auditioned for and fought for. No matter what gets you the job. But this one did come in as an offer, and I was so thrilled when I read it.
As Alex (Winslow Fegley) reads his stories to Natacha, she gives running commentary. When you watch a movie or hear a story, do you sometimes comment in the middle of it? Or are you a patient viewer or listener?
I would say I’m a patient viewer and listener, but that is one quality about the character that I loved and was able to hook into. It was something I understood. She’s a know-it-all, she always has a comment and she always has to one-up everybody. So I had a fun time playing that color in the character, but I wouldn’t say that I am like that.
She also detests happy endings for understandable reasons. Do you tend to gravitate more towards movies or stories with sad endings? Or do you prefer Hollywood or fairytale endings?
I mean, I think it’s about a satisfying ending, right? Any time you hear anything or watch any movie, you want to have a complete, satisfying ending. Whether that means happy or sad, you want to leave on a note that you didn’t just spend time with characters for no reason. So I guess I would say I prefer a happy ending.
Natacha uses food to capture children. What would she have to tempt you with in order to lure you into her trap?
I love pizza and burritos. Those are my two go-tos almost every day, especially with a toddler in the house. (Laughs.) I’m literally eating a frozen pizza right now.
The costumes are incredible, especially that pink transparent raincoat. Did those outfits get you into character rather quickly?
100 percent. I worked really closely with Autumn Steed, our fabulous, fabulous costume designer. I saw an early lookbook that she had, and then we just kept going back and forth to really hone in on what we were going to do with this character. And then it got to the point where I was just finding any way to support her amazing ideas because she was just bringing this beautiful art to it. We wanted to do a witch that we haven’t seen before. And the hair, the makeup, the wardrobe, the walk, all of that comes together at the end, and it’s what really helps you sink into a character. And it feels like a real transformation. So that was super important to me and it really, really informed who she is.
On the surface, Jane Margolis seemed to change everything for you, but does that role also feel like the turning point to you?
You know, I don’t really know. I’ve always just said yes to everything, and you just want to be a working actor, right? When you’re starting out, you say yes to everything. And I think all of my characters were really different from each other; that’s something I always keep an eye on. Breaking Bad was probably the thing that started getting me lead roles, but I just kind of approach everything like a working actor.
It’s still amazing that this tiny AMC show from 2008 produced not only a spinoff [Better Call Saul] but also a movie [El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie]. How did that day or two on El Camino feel a decade later?
Oh, it was so fun. I love Aaron [Paul]. It was really fun to compare the old photos that were almost ten years to the day of what we were wearing before versus the new version that was crafted for us. I remember there was one really ridiculous hat that Aaron was maybe going to wear. (Laughs.) He was like, “There’s no way I wore this ten years ago!” And sure enough, he did. It was so fun. [Breaking Bad] was the best. I mean, it’s one of the best television shows in the history of television, and being a part of this legacy is so cool. So revisiting it just felt like a piece of candy. It was like, “I’m doing a victory lap and I’m reliving the glory days.” (Laughs.) It was awesome, as you can imagine. It was awesome.
Did the two of you approach the scenes in the same fashion? Or do you both have different ways of working now?
We just slipped right back into it like no time had passed, and I think that’s often the case when you get together with someone who is an old friend. You just pick up right where you left off. So it really did feel like that. Aaron and I have always had a really awesome working relationship. We’ve always had great chemistry playing off of each other, improvising little things here and there, and that’s still there. So it was awesome, and it was so lovely to be invited back. When I got that email from Vince [Gilligan], saying, “Oh, I’m going to call you today at this time,” I was like, “Oh my God, what? I wonder what he’s doing.” It was just awesome.
Vince has talked about this, but the earliest draft of the script was rather different and didn’t actually have Jane. But once he showed [Breaking Bad writer, Better Call Saul co-creator] Peter Gould the script, he quickly stressed the importance of Jane. Did this story ever make its way to you?
Yeah, he told me. He said that I originally wasn’t there. Because the character is dead, you have to really make it make sense. But the ending of [El Camino] was so beautiful because he sent Jesse off into the sunset with Jane riding shotgun. So I thought it was such a beautiful ending for that character. It ended on a positive note. He was going to be okay, and she was there with him. So I thought it was awesome. I’m so glad that they included me, but yeah, I did hear that I wasn’t in the original draft.
Season two of Breaking Bad was one of rare instances where they had everything mapped out prior to filming. Did they tell you the tragic storyline from day one, or did they want you approaching the character script by script?
I thought I was going to be doing a few episodes, and then I ended up doing more. I knew I was going to die, but I didn’t know how. And the show was so young at that point. It wasn’t the big phenomenon that it became five years later. At that point, when I signed on, only seven episodes of the first season had aired. I think it was only seven because of the writers’ strike. So then I signed on to the show, and then Bryan Cranston won the Emmy for the pilot in the first season. And it just kept snowballing. So at that time, I was just like, “Oh, this is another gig. Another notch in the belt. I’m a working actor. What are we doing next?” But then I ended up being on the show a little longer, and I did eight episodes in the second season. I came back again in the third season, and I didn’t expect that either. Breaking Bad is just one of those gifts that keeps on giving. (Laughs.)
When Jane calls and blackmails Walt, were you and Bryan present for each other’s side of the call?
That is a good question. I don’t believe so. (Ritter takes a moment to speak to her toddler.) “Here, let me help you. You want to put some gas in your gas tank?” Sorry, that was my toddler who’s trying to put pretend gas in his pretend car, and he’s getting a little frustrated about it. So I don’t believe we were there for each other’s side of the call, but I don’t really remember. I want to say that we were not.
Do you remember your reaction to when Walt finally told Jesse about Jane’s death?
Yeah, I think I was standing at the time, and it really moved me. The whole show, including Jane’s whole arc, really moved me. And the fact that she had such a big presence and was referenced in this pivotal moment was pretty powerful.
In recent years, Bryan Cranston has talked at length about how difficult Jane’s death scene was for him. Could you sense that on the day?
Yes, it did feel extremely heavy. It’s an on-set experience that I still have a very visceral response to and can see pretty clearly. I can see Bryan going across that line and taking a minute and sitting in the corner. And I also struggled because I was in this chest cast, so I couldn’t get a full breath of air. And Aaron Paul was pounding on my chest for the next one. So it was just such an intense day. It was definitely one for the books. (Laughs.)
So I’m going to pitch you a Breaking Bad prequel series.
It’s called ABQ Ink. It chronicles Jane’s time in the tattoo parlor and all the colorful characters she tattooed. And there would certainly be some weight to it since she’s still going through recovery. Should your agent start clearing your calendar now?
(Laughs.) Love it! I’m in. I love this pitch and think it’s genius. I would, for sure, be there in two seconds flat. It sounds like a great show that I would also be the target audience for.
Do you get recognized more for Jane or Jessica at this point?
It really depends on who’s around. They both happen kind of a lot. It just depends on the person.
So how’s the knitting going?
The knitting! Oh my God, it’s so hot. I’m in Texas right now. I brought like four or five projects while I’m filming. I was like, “Okay, I’m going to get my knitting done,” but it’s like 106 degrees. So I am patiently waiting for things to cool down so we can get to knitting season. So it’s a little on hold at the moment.
Do you think Charlie Cox has maintained the skills you taught him?
I bet he has not, but I’m sure he would get back into it the second we were together. He’s got two kids, so I don’t imagine he’s got tons of time.
He’s been doing a lot of press lately, and he made the point that you should be the only one to play Jessica Jones, which is theoretically possible now that Marvel introduced a multiverse.
Oh, Charlie is the best. He’s amazing. I love him, and I loved working with him. He’s such a fantastic actor, and he’s one of my favorite people in the world. He’s just such a gem. That’s nice to hear that he said that. I’ll have to send him a little note.
Can you tease the show you’re working on now?
Yeah, I’m doing a show [Love and Death] with Elizabeth Olsen, Jesse Plemons, Patrick Fugit, Lily Rabe and Elizabeth Marvel. It’s a great ensemble, fabulous cast. It’s written by David E. Kelley, directed by Lesli Linka Glatter and produced by Nicole Kidman. It’s for HBO and Lionsgate. Hopefully, this will be the new true crime thing that people are into next year. It’s what I’ve been into lately. So we’re doing that in Texas, and it’s based on a true story. I think it’s going to be pretty good. I love Lesli Linka Glatter. She’s a director that I’ve been dying to work with since the beginning of my career, so I’m really excited to come out and play with this group of people.
Nightbooks is now streaming on Netflix.
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