2:27pm PT by Scott Feinberg
'Awards Chatter' Podcast — Krysten Ritter ('Jessica Jones')
"Jessica Jones is the most demanding script that ever came across my desk," says Krysten Ritter, the star of that Peabody Award-winning Netflix superhero drama series, as we sit down at the offices of The Hollywood Reporter to record an episode of THR's 'Awards Chatter' podcast. The Marvel-affiliated show's second season dropped on March 8, more than two years after its first, and it was recently renewed for a third. Of its titular character, a private investigator who is haunted by past trauma but remains unwaveringly committed to sparing others from similar pain, Ritter — a 36-year-old former model best known for her work as a heroin addict on AMC's Breaking Bad and a twisted city girl on ABC's Don't Trust the B---- in Apt. 23 — explains, "I had to really build a whole person, from the way she stands, the way she leans, the way she walks, where her voice lives in her body." She emphasizes, "It's a full overhaul."
* * *
LISTEN: You can hear the entire interview below [starting at 39:01], following a conversation between host Scott Feinberg and Daniel Fienberg, a THR TV critic and the president of the Television Critics Association, in which they discuss what it's like to be a TV critic in the era of Peak TV, the shows you're not watching but really should be and the things about which critics and Emmy voters most and least agree.
Click here to access all of our 211 episodes, including conversations with Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg, Meryl Streep, Lorne Michaels, Gal Gadot, Eddie Murphy, Lady Gaga, Stephen Colbert, Jennifer Lawrence, Will Smith, Angelina Jolie, Snoop Dogg, Elisabeth Moss, Jerry Seinfeld, Reese Witherspoon, Aaron Sorkin, Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, Kate Winslet, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Aziz Ansari, Jessica Chastain, Denzel Washington, Nicole Kidman, Warren Beatty, Amy Schumer, Justin Timberlake, Natalie Portman, Tyler Perry, Judi Dench, Tom Hanks, Jane Fonda, J.J. Abrams, Emma Stone, Guillermo del Toro, Jennifer Lopez, Michael B. Jordan, Mandy Moore, Ryan Murphy, Alicia Vikander, Jimmy Kimmel, Greta Gerwig, Robert De Niro, Claire Foy, Bill Maher, Rachel Brosnahan, Michael Moore, Kris Jenner and RuPaul.
* * *
Pennsylvania-born Ritter, a social outcast who became a model during her high school years, has long been described as "quirky" — but what does that word actually mean? "I have no idea," she says with a laugh, but notes that when she broke into the business, "A lot of the girls that were leading shows and were leading movies looked way more conventional, way more appealing, way more four-quadrant, and I wasn't that. I'm not that — I'm way more specific." Indeed, Ritter, with her pitch-black hair, saucer eyes and long thin face, doesn't look like many other stars — not to say she isn't very beautiful — which may partially explain why, for quite a while, she wasn't one herself. Early on, she was the go-to 'best friend,' playing that archetype in the films Confessions of a Shopaholic (2009) and She's Outta My League (2010). That didn't bother the self-described "character actress." "I like to work, and I was working," Ritter explains. "I worked a lot — like, non-stop." Still, she always held out hope for more multi-dimensional parts.
Ritter had almost committed herself to a guest spot on CBS' Julia Louis-Dreyfus comedy series The New Adventures of Old Christine, in a part not unlike those described above, when she learned of the opportunity to audition for the role of Jane Margolis, a heroin addict with whom Aaron Paul's Jesse Pinkman becomes romantically involved, on Breaking Bad. She aggressively went after it. "I thought it was cool," she says of the show, which had been around for only one under-the-radar season at that point, "and I thought the part was more in line with my real vibe. I'm not a heroin addict, but I was playing really bubbly, adorable, silly, ditzy characters at the time, and I just thought I was cooler than that!" Ritter landed the part over a host of other up-and-coming young actresses, and then impressed Vince Gilligan and others to the extent that the part was expanded from just four or five episodes to nine. Ritter's run on Breaking Bad, which was just beginning to accrue massive acclaim, changed the course of her career. "I think the industry watched the show," she says. "I mean, that job got me Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23."
The next pilot season, Ritter says she was hoping to find "something cool and something fresh and something original and something actually funny," and therefore was delighted to receive an outright offer to play the eponymous leading role in the pilot for Don't Trust the B----. The brainchild of Nahnatchka Khan, a darker and gender-reversed version of The Odd Couple, was picked up by ABC and became one of the edgier comedies ever to air on a broadcast network. Ritter, meanwhile, popped with viewers, somehow managing to make a twisted character endearing. "I don't know how I made her likable," she admits. "I just played her as authentically as possible. I just committed and kind of got lucky that people still liked her despite the horrible things that she was doing. I think I did it with joy, and I think that's why you still want to hang out with her." Don't Trust the B---- was well-received by critics and audiences and was picked up for a second season — until it wasn't. The network, somewhat inexplicably, abandoned it in 2013.
"I was devastated and I was depressed," Ritter acknowledges — but she was not defeated. "It was a bummer, but it wasn't a death sentence." Over the ensuing two years, she popped up on an episode of NBC's The Blacklist and in the Tim Burton film Big Eyes, and she also started her own production company, Silent Machine. As she recalls, "I was, like, 'Let's figure out what I really want.' And I kind of put it out there and put it on my refrigerator." The actress remembers exactly what she put on her "vision board": "I wanted to do a dark, gritty, edgy drama on either Netflix or HBO." And, as she marvels, "Eventually Jessica Jones showed up."
"When I first got the call about the audition, I knew nothing about it," Ritter says. "Just, like, 'Marvel and Netflix superhero show.' And I'm, like, 'Well, I'm not gonna get that, but I'll go.'" She elaborates, "I didn't really know anything about comic books. It wasn't my genre that I was watching or reading. But when I met with [showrunner] Melissa [Rosenberg], she never talked about it in those terms. She talked about the show like a straight drama, a psychological character-study like Homeland, like Dexter." Ritter, who has been told she was the only actress ever seriously considered for the part, signed on to play it in 2015. She has loved — and been challenged — by it ever since, explaining that, unlike many other shows she has come across, it doesn't just call for her to be 'the funny one' or 'the brave one' or 'the snide one' or any other one-dimensional description, but rather to be many different things to many different people, essentially putting on different masks for when she is alone versus interacting with neighbors versus interacting with potential clients versus interacting with lovers versus interacting with mortal threats. Moreover, in a season-two flashback episode, Ritter portrayed her character before the trauma that changed her life. "It felt like a totally different project," she says. However, her favorite episode of the second season — and indeed the entire show — is the eleventh, in which, she feels, Jessica Jones shows what she's all about.
One of the most remarkable things about Jessica Jones is that both the first and second seasons — which were separated by a long hiatus during which Ritter wrote a novel, produced a TV pilot for Pop and teamed up with Marvel's other TV superheroes for The Defenders — were shot before the Harvey Weinstein sexual misconduct scandal broke and started an international reckoning. It illustrates how prescient the show has been, centering on a sexual assault survivor, showing the aftermath of another sexual assault that occurred in a hotel and the sexual assault of an actress by a producer, and even making the explicit statement that other sexual assault victims would only come forward if there was a change in public perception. Says Ritter, "Sometimes we're like, 'Melissa, how is our show lining up with all of these social conversations?' And she says, 'Because it's not new. These things have been happening forever.'" Ritter's portrayal of a character who has lived through such dark things — and who still spends a lot of her time in a dark mindset — has touched many viewers who have experienced similar things, and has also had a major impact on the actress herself. "It's a heavy load to carry," she grants. "Sometimes it's really depressing and sometimes I have to shake it off, and I find ways to do that — knitting, I've got my cute dog, I've got my cute boyfriend. But I do go to those places."