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Kathleen Robertson has come a long way from playing Beverly Hills, 90210‘s Clare Arnold.
On Starz’s Chicago-set political drama Boss, Robertson plays the duplicitous Kitty O’Neill, Mayor Tom Kane’s (Kelsey Grammer) press aide who has a knack for sleeping with the opposition.
In the freshman season finale, Kitty’s luck runs out when she quits her job and learns she’s pregnant — likely with the child of the cross-me-and-I’ll-cut-your-ear-off Kane’s opponent.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Robertson about navigating the show’s dark tone, doing her homework to play Kitty and trying to get through a grueling scene opposite a fierce Grammer.
The Hollywood Reporter: How do you navigate the dark tone? There isn’t a lot of humor on Boss.
Kathleen Robertson: This season isn’t as dark; we have new cast members and the season moves a little differently in that it deals with the progression of Kane’s disease. It’s almost like the progression changes the tempo of the way the show moves and feels. I wouldn’t say it feels lighter, but it definitely has more adrenaline to it. It’s funny, we don’t feel and see it as being really dark but I guess it is. My first day on set, I was with Martin Donovan and it was Kelsey’s first big monologue scene and we were waiting to see how he would execute it and were sitting there sweating for him. He did the first take and Martin and I looked at each other and went, “We’re good.” It’s a great show for actors: there are no explosions, special effects or tricks; it’s all about character and great writing.
How did you prepare to play his press aide, Kitty?
It was a world that I didn’t know a lot about. I knew the obvious: Chicago equals political corruption. I met with a lot of women who did the same job for a Mayor Daley, who no longer are even in that world or in the political arena and picked their brains and researched who Kitty is and what would possess any human being to completely dedicate their life to this man and this world. I met with three different women who all worked under Daly, they weren’t specifically doing what Kitty does, but they were all exposed in that world and that arena and were quite a bit older. [I learned that] underneath everything, it has to be about wanting to affect change and wanting to do something good. They all laughed when I would say that, and shook their heads and said, “No, it’s not about that. It’s about power and everyone knows it and is OK with it.” The trick to Kitty was accessing and figuring out within myself what that would be; it seemed so foreign. Hollywood is pretty corrupt but politics is even more so. This season, I’ve been able to talk to a lot of people who are working for [Chicago Mayor] Rahm Emanuel and they’re all huge fans of the show.
Looking back on Season 1, what were the toughest moments that tested you?
Episode 7: There’s a scene where Kane eviscerates Kitty and says, “Do you think you have worth? Because if you think you have worth, you don’t. You’re nothing.” He just cuts her down to nothing after he finds out she was considering the betrayal. It was a scene that was hard for me because Kelsey was so intense, I couldn’t stop crying. You see me cry and the character would never show him that. Every time he’d come near me and lay into me I would get very emotional. That was the hardest scene but it’s fun scene to watch because you can just see that I’m trying so hard to keep it together and having a hard time not being successful at it.
How many takes did you do for that scene?
[Director/executive producer]Gus Van Sant set the tone for the show in that we don’t do more than two or three takes on anything; we don’t rehearse, there are no marks, no lights — it’s a very unconventional show. We talk about how it feels like we’re working on a documentary. For that scene we did maybe three or four takes at the most, which would be considered excessive on our show.
How will Season 2 be different with the additions of Jonathan Groff and T.I. and Sanaa Lathan?
With [Ezra] Stone and Kitty now out of the Mayor’s Office, Sanaa is replacing Stone and Jonathan is replacing Kitty. Stone is technically dead but we all are technically kind of dead and we’ve all been essentially decimated. With Kitty it’s, “Who is she, how did she get to be the way she is, why did she get to be the way she is and how is she going to navigate back into politics? Does she want to be in that world anymore?” At the end of Season 1, she’s pregnant, she’s out of a job, she’s walked away from everything she’s sacrificed and dedicated her entire life to. Season 2 is all about all the characters finding their way and figuring out what the next step is.
Boss returns Friday, Aug. 17 at 9 p.m. on Starz.
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