Q & A: Jeri Ryan “Be trained. Be ready so when [your] chance comes, you don’t screw it up”

When Jeri Ryan was in college, she had to decide between two majors: Theater and…. biomedical engineering.

That’s not the usual choice facing most actors but thanks to her “incredibly impractical nature,” she chose theater.

After graduation, she moved to LA and has been working steadily ever since; Star Trek: Voyager, Boston Public, Shark, Leverage and currently starring on ABC’s Body of Proof.

But, that’s not stopping her from guest starring on other shows. Tonight, you can catch her on SyFy’s Warehouse 13 where she play’s a woman whose fairy tale wedding is derailed when she’s exposed to an artifact.

I talked to Jeri on a conference call where she talked about her decision to act, if she still has to audition for TV roles and her advice to actors.

Warehouse 13 airs on Mondays at 9pm on SyFy.
The season premiere of Body of Proof airs on ABC, September 20th at 10/9c

For the full interview, click the audio link above or download it from iTunes

I guess this is kind of like your first trip back into science fiction in a way, since Voyager. What’s it been like to do that? What’s it like to kind of return to that genre?

Jeri Ryan: Well, I mean I’d be eager to do a lot of stuff in that genre that you don’t really get to do in typical drama or comedy which is one of the reasons you become an actor is to do as many different things as you can and live as many different lives as you can. And it’s fun to do a role where you can really kind of suspend reality a bit. It’s a good time.

What’s next for you?

Jeri Ryan: Well right now I’m shooting Body of Proof. We just started shooting Season 2. And we actually are shooting our second episode today so. That’s a full-time gig right now.

What attracted you to this particular acting opportunity?

Jeri Ryan: Well, it just seemed like a lot of fun. And, the show runner is a friend of a friend and he’s a great guy and the offer came up and it seemed like an interesting role and an interesting story line and it looked like a lot of fun to do. And it was, I had a ball. And my husband and my daughter came up with me and so we had a good time.

How you got started in acting?

Jeri Ryan: Well, it’s what I always wanted to do. When I was kid, it was always, you know, an actress or something else. So, an actress or a veterinarian or when I was in high school I had to decide what I was going to major in college. And my decision was between majoring in theater and majoring in biomedical engineering. And I had an incredibly practical nature. So but acting could be a better idea. And I did a lot of community theater when I was growing up when I was a kid and things like that and moved out to LA after I graduated from Northwestern. And I was really lucky. I sort of worked steadily every since.

What’s your advice to actors?

Jeri Ryan: Boy, it’s kind of twofold. If there’s anything else — for the people who are just starting out — if there’s anything else that would make you happy doing besides acting, then you should do that. Because this is a very difficult business and there’s a lot of rejection. So it’s hard and everybody’s sort of emotional – everyone’s psyche can’t really take all of that rejection and that’s not the best thing for everyone.

If this is all that will really fulfill you and make you happy, then do it. If you’re going to do it, you have to completely do it and you’ve got to be incredibly persistent and not give up and not take no for an answer and just keep going. And it’s a numbers game for everyone when you’re starting out. The more auditions you can go to, the better your chances of getting a job.

Because there’s a lot of rejection and it’s usually not anything to do with your acting ability, especially in Hollywood as opposed to the theater. You’re too blonde, you’re not blonde enough, you’re too tall, you’re not tall enough, you’re too pretty, you’re not pretty enough. It’s that kind of sort of physical stuff even more than your acting ability for a lot of jobs when you’re just starting out. And you have to learn not to take things personally and get a really thick skin. But you’ve got to be prepared. That’s my other piece of advice. Be prepared. Be ready.

So when that opportunity comes because it will, but you have to be ready for it because it may not come again – your big break or your big chance. So be trained. Get in class. Be ready so when that chance comes, you don’t screw it up.

Mortal Kombat which was specifically done as a web series. Can you see yourself ever doing something like that again when you’re further down the road? And how different was the production site than from say doing it for the web?

Jeri Ryan: Production wise, there wasn’t a huge difference once we were shooting. If anything, we actually had a little more time than we do shooting a TV series – a network TV series — because we have seven days to shoot a one hour or basically 40-minute episode for TV. For this, our episodes were like six to – I think the longest one was 12 or 15 minutes. So we could take a little more time when we were actually shooting it.

It’s a big difference within the prep; there was none. So I think I had three days notice of the offer coming through, making the deal, and getting on a plan to fly to Vancouver to start shooting. So the difficulty there for me was no time for fight training. So I think most of the other actors if not all of them are trained fighters. So for them just going in and learning a big fight scene is just a matter of choreography. For me, it’s not. So that was hard. I would have loved to have had, you know, at least a couple of weeks to get in some fight training and really be able to make a more involved fight scene. But that was the only big difference.

But yes, I certainly think we’ll all be doing a lot of more of that in the future because I think that’s sort of where the business is heading eventually.

With Body of Proof, was there any difficulty in changing where you were shooting? You originally shot in Rhode Island and then they moved to LA.

Jeri Ryan: Oh, God. That was heaven. Are you kidding me? That was better than having to move across country and commute every week. That was difficult because I flew between Providence, Rhode Island and LA every week and that was brutal. So being home and being able to work in town and come home at the end of the day like a normal person after work is amazing and it’s absolutely heaven.

Do you still have to audition for roles in television?

Jeri Ryan: I do have to audition for some things. For television for the most part, it’s mostly offers. But, there’s certain things that I still have to audition for. And I had to say in the last three years or four years, the business has completely changed anyway because now TV and film used to be sort of very separate kind of worlds.

If you were in the TV world, you sort of stayed in the TV world. And if you were in the film world, you sort of for the most part stayed in the film world. Well, it’s not the case anymore and there’s a lot more interesting roles now on television and a lot of film actors who traditionally who have never ever done a series are now doing TV series. So it is a very different ballgame than it used to be.

So yes everybody is kind of in a different position because producers, studios, and networks can be in a position where everybody ought to read for something because they have so many actors now to choose from.

Does it make it easier for TV actors to go into movies or not?

Jeri Ryan: No, it makes it, I mean more difficult to get roles because there aren’t as many to go around. I mean as many shows aren’t being made as they used to make to begin with because everybody’s trying to cut down their budget and all of that. But also, now you’ve got a whole other group of actors that are coming in to do television as well. So yes, it’s much more difficult. It’s much more competitive to get roles. There are fewer to go around. It’s a very different business.

And you’re speaking to someone who despises the audition process.

What do you enjoy filming more television or films?

Jeri Ryan: Personally I like TV better. The pace is very, very different between TV and films. On TV, we’ll do between six and sometimes we’ve even done eight pages in a day of script. So that’s, six or seven scenes sometimes.

In film, you shoot like two pages a day. So you’re shooting the same scene all day long. And that to me is a bit mind numbing.

And I don’t know how they do it. I was working on a movie called Dam of Love and I was sitting on the set between shots with Renee Zellweger and I asked her I said, “How do you do this? If you got a big emotional scene how do you do this?” And she said, “You just have to live in it all day.” You don’t have lunch with the crew, you don’t hang out between shots. You sit in your trailer and you just stay in that emotional place all day because you have to.

And I just don’t know how you could get your sanity doing that and go home to your family at the end of the night and not be just insane.

That seems like a tough one for me. I like the pace of TV. I like keeping it moving and having a different story to play. But that’s also been what most of my experience is so that’s more comfortable for me. That’s my comfort zone.

2 Comments

  1. Eric House via Facebook

    August 1, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    That’s a great interview. I really gained some insight into the life of an actor. I’ve always been curious about what/how much they do in a day. Thanks.

  2. Daily Actor via Facebook

    August 1, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    Thanks Eric! I appreciate the feedback 🙂

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