IN CONVERSATION WITH KRYSTEN RITTER
Krysten Ritter will be starring in the upcoming American crime drama streaming television miniseries ‘Love and Death’, directed by Lesli Linka Glatter and written by David E. Kelley. It is set to premiere in 2023 on HBO Max. Through her production company ‘Silent Machine’ Krysten juggles many projects with the objective of highlighting complex female protagonists.
Krysten, viewers mostly remember you from your roles in Marvel’s ‘Jessica Jones’, ‘Breaking Bad’ and ‘Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23’, among others. Which role that you’ve portrayed so far has left the biggest impact on you as an actor?
I think that those were the big jobs that really changed the direction and changed the game for me. ‘Breaking Bad’ was such a huge opportunity, and that ended up being a show that people watched. I was seen in a new light and started getting offers, so I went from being take anything kind of actor to being somebody who had choices. ‘Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23’ was one of the most fun characters to play that you could ever imagine. And obviously, ‘Jessica Jones’ was just a monster of a gig. And I think that one probably means the most to me in terms of what she represented for the fans, because she was a victim of assault and a survivor, someone who was dealt a very bad hand of cards in her life with her family and struggled with alcoholism. Audiences and women, especially, connected with her and celebrated her in a way that I could have never anticipated or expected.
I feel so grateful to have been given the opportunity to play such iconic characters that are so different from each other and so cool. It’s always about the writing and the material, and I’ve been very blessed in my career, especially in the television space, to get very good parts.
When you’re in television, because it goes on for a little while, the characters inform your personality a lot. I remember when I was doing ‘Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23’, I was real sassy and I was driving a red convertible blasting Hip Hop music really loud around LA. And then after ‘Jessica Jones’, you couldn’t get me to put on a dress. My whole physicality kind of changed because of that character, but she also made me feel way more confident in my skin than I had ever been before. It was just about I do what I want, I say what I want. I think that did a lot for me as a woman as well, it affected how I carried myself in the world from that point on.
For your role of Jessica in the Emmy Award-winning Netflix original series, Marvel’s ‘Jessica Jones’ you received numerous awards and award nominations. The series received rave reviews for its groundbreaking depiction of a reluctant anti-super-heroine with an alcohol problem and a wicked case of PTSD who will not let a sexual assault from her past define her. How was playing Jessica for you? Did you have any special preparations to portray her character to the fullest?
Whenever I step foot on set, I wanna make sure that I am ready to nail it. I work like crazy on a backstory and I work with an acting teacher relentlessly. In television you shoot quickly, you don’t have a luxury of doing 15 takes and I love that about it. I always felt like the more homework I did, the freer I could be on the day for another great idea to walk in the door or to be surprised. And the more prepared I am, the more flexible I can be in my choices, the more present I can be with my scene partner. The locations might be different than what you pictured in your head and you have to be able to think quick.
I spend a lot of time preparing for my roles, especially for one like Jessica Jones, because the pressure was so high. It was a big job to get and I think it was a surprising casting choice for me at that point, being mostly in the comedy world. So I was training like crazy, working with my acting teacher. I would spend time by myself, cause she was such a lonely character. I would practice how could I physicalize all of the things that she had been through in her life, how could I make sure to feel like I’m always carrying the weight of what she’s been through and thinking about it all the time. It was really hard work, that is also the most satisfying kind of work as an actress. You don’t always get those great parts that have so much to draw from. The preparation for that was beyond what was expected of me, but it was something I’m incredibly proud of.
Would you say it’s easier preparing for comedy roles as it’s such a different and lighter genre?
It’s different because, as I was saying, it kind of sweeps into your personality. When you’re doing comedy and being funny, you need to be really sure in your character, confident in order to improvise and to inhabit the character in a deeper way. When you’re playing heavier characters, like Jessica Jones, you can get the darkness a bit, you can get blues. I feel like as it went on, I got better and better at flipping it on and off. It’s like your bicep, the more you work it out, the stronger it gets.
In the beginning, I definitely got very closed off and reclusive and protective of myself. And there were definitely some days where I felt very depressed because of everything she was doing. On television, you’re working so hard, you’re working so fast. You get better at growing in and out of it. And I think that’s the beauty and fun of television, you get to keep practicing that.
You grew up in a small-town farm in rural Pennsylvania and started your career in front of the camera as a model at 15-years old. You also did runway work in Paris, Milan, New York and Tokyo. Do you ever miss being in front of a camera as a model or walking on runways in fashion shows?
I still do photo shoots and I am still in front of the camera. So that’s a skill that was almost an extra step in my education. I look at it like a business. I got to travel the world and had so much fun. It was such a great experience to have as a teenager. I made girlfriends that I lived with in Milan and we’re still friends. I was so fortunate to get my foot in the door in that way and then I was savvy and smart enough to turn it into something. It’s not a way to make a living for yourself, it’s not a way to build a career. I mean, for some people it is, but I didn’t look like those girls. I was able to get a couple editorial jobs, then realized that I was well suited to do commercials and then I used that money to get to acting classes and just keep building.
How did you get from modeling to acting? Did you always know that you wanted to be an actor?
No, because I’m from a farm in Pennsylvania. That wasn’t really an opportunity that was presented to me in any way. I didn’t know anybody, I didn’t know anything about the industry. I didn’t have any connections to anything in the business. Until I was scouted at the mall, and even then I wasn’t quite fitting in as a model, because these girls were bombshells from Brazil.
I got an opportunity to go on some commercial auditions and they were so personality driven. They asked you questions and you could tell a funny joke and make the room laugh. And that was kind of what would get you the job. It was a defining moment for me when that happened, because then I was like “Oh, I can work hard at this and get good at it and prepare my jokes in advance”. That’s how I got the bug. And it was finally something that I wanted to do and was good at, because in high school I didn’t know what I wanted to do. If you have an idea that’s in the arts or an idea that’s not gonna bring home a real paycheck or give you security, those things aren’t encouraged if you’re from small towns. But I knew that I didn’t wanna do something where I was just gonna wait for these golden years of retirement. I knew that wasn’t me.
I’m so fortunate that I was exposed to the world through modeling and went to the city and went to Tokyo at 16 and got to meet people and see this person who does makeup for living and they get to be creative. Or this person that makes music or they’re a session guitarist. You just realize there’s so many other things that anybody could do that aren’t on a list at career day. There’s so many ways to get creative. You gotta just find the thing that you are good at and love, because work is hard and if you love it, it doesn’t feel like that.
What would you describe as the best thing about your job, about acting?
My job gets us up and out of the house. We are always relocating and always getting to experience new places with the support of the show. But it’s not just like you’re on a two-week vacation, you’re living somewhere. And that’s the beauty of my job, it’s allowed me to see the world.
In 2013, you launched your production company ‘Silent Machine’, where you juggle many projects in various stages of development, always with the objective of highlighting complex female protagonists. Why is highlighting complex female characters so important today in the industrty?
It just becomes more and more important. I’ve been doing this for such a long time, but when I started many years before ‘Jessica Jones’, the leads were blonde bombshells, the men were the protagonists and the wives and the girlfriends were just there. There was always the stripper with the heart of gold. I’ve seen that in maybe 50.000 scripts in my long career. So it was always an idea to put great women on screen and develop characters and stories around women and their experience.
It’s so exciting now that we are seeing a big shift and there are so many great female characters. Everything’s changing for the better and it’s an exciting thing to be a part of. I’ve always been somebody who really loves character development, whether I’m acting or writing or working with another writer in collaboration. It’s always about how do we dig in deeper, how do we show and not tell, how do we find actionable windows that tell us who a character is based on her backstory without putting in on a platter. That’s something that I’ve always loved and enjoyed.
You also debuted your novel, a psychological thriller ‘Bonfire’ in 2017. What inspired you to write and publish a novel in the first place? And why particularly a psychological thriller?
Because that’s the stuff that I love and read, that’s my taste as an audience in movies and also books. ‘Bonfire’ was an idea that I had come up with as a TV pitch within my company. Every year you build little ideas and development. And this was one that I love because it was set in a place like my small town, around a bonfire and something going down. I felt like I could tell the story and knew the people and knew the characters. But the agent was like “This one’s gonna be a hard sell, let’s focus on something else”. There has been and continues to be a big shift, that everybody wants an existing IP. It’s gotta be based on a book. That’s why I decided to write it as a book, because then it is an existing IP. It started out as a cocky idea and then turned into this massive project.
I am working on a second book currently, and it’s something that I really enjoy doing. In television, you can only do one show as a series regular at a time. I’m the kind of person who likes to do a lot of things and variety and this writing allows me to play another character. Development with other writers, collaboration allows me to play another character and directing allows me to do that as well. So it’s kind of a way to keep moving forward, cave my own way and not just be an actor, which has never been me. I’ve always been someone who creates my own stuff, being my own boss, making my own schedule and just work really hard on things that interest me.
Will this book be connected to the first one or a completely different story?
It’s a completely different story, but I’d like to think that it’ll be for my same readership, my same fan base. It’s in the same style and genre, but a little bit more grown up.
Since you’ve become a mom, how do you balance work and time with your family?
I waited till I was a bit older to have a kid and I’m so glad that I did, because I felt ready to focus on something other than myself. But also on the other hand, if I knew how much I was gonna be obsessed and in love with my child, I would have had him much earlier and had 10 of him. Everybody says it’s really hard and it really is. It’s very busy, there’s no tap out moments.
He is so fun and so inspiring to me. He brought a level of love and joy into my life that I could have never imagined. It is like getting to be a kid again. I went to Disneyland with him recently and I might as well have been the three year old. And motherhood is so much more fulfilling to me than any job I’ve ever had, any creative thing, which I love. I’ve always been such a career person and very ambitious. I love my career and I love the creativity, but my son is so much more than any of it.
I have made a lot of decisions to work less, to stay with him, because this time is so short. When I take a job, it’s more about how I’m gonna make it work with him and have him with me. And now I take jobs that are shorter. It has to be really worth it, to take him around with me. The balance is figuring it out day by day.
Next year, you’ll be starring in HBO Max’s crime drama streaming television miniseries ‘Love and Death’, that is based on the true story of Wylie, Texas housewife Candy Montgomery’s brutal axe murder of her friend Betty Gore in 1980. Tell us more about this miniseries.
This project is directed by Lesli Linka Glatter, who’s the president of Directors Guild of America. She is the rock and roll female television director, who’s paved the way and is just one of the most inspiring women. It is produced by Nicole Kidman and written by David E. Kelley. Elizabeth Olsen stars as Candy in it and we became very close friends on the show. And there’s Lily Rabe, with whom we did our first movie together 20 years ago, called ‘Mona Lisa Smile’. We picked up right where we left off.
It is a great ensemble piece set in 1980 in Texas. I have only seen a little bit, but from what I hear, it’s very good. So I’m excited to be a part of that.
You’ll be also starring and executive producing the new series ‘Orphan Black: Echoes’. Tell us more about the series and its story, and as well your dual role as a star and executive producer in it.
I could not be more excited to take on this phenomenal acting opportunity. I can’t really share details about the show, but I’m really excited for the incredible acting challenge ahead of me. As a producer, I see things the same way as I approach acting, but from a macro level. Which is how is the best way we can tell this story as a team with a common goal. I’m still pinching myself.
interview by JANA LETONJA
talent KRYSTEN RITTER
photographer AGATA SERGE
creative director JENNY WILLIAMS
stylist CHRISTIAN STROBLE
styling assistant KASSIDY NAGY
make-up CHARLOTTE PREVEL
hair EDDIE COOK
set designer ISAAC AARON
set assistant CHARLOTTE CAHILL
producer ANNA MAKOVCHIK
director MARTY RUSH
camera ANDI CHER
video producer ALEXANDER JOHN
video production ONE TEN MEDIA
production assistant ALEXANDRA HOZHIEVA
BTS photo assistant MAKSIM I
editor TIMI LETONJA