Joanna Going Talks ‘Kingdom’, Character Research and How She Prepares for an Audition
Joanna Going‘s played the (now former) First Lady on House of Cards, appeared on Mad Men as the swinging soap actress Arlene and in the underrated film, Love & Mercy. Now, she’s starring as a drug-addicted prostitute Christina in DirecTV’s Kingdom.
The show is set in Venice, California, and centers around Alvey (Frank Grillo), a former MMA fighter turned trainer who struggles to keep his gym running, along with his relationships with his sons and his fighter. Christina (Going) is Alvey’s estranged wife who has somewhat sporadic contact with her and Alvey’s kids.
I talked with Going about Kingdom and the research she did to play her, how she prepares for an audition and her time on a soap.
New episodes of ‘Kingdom’ air on June 1st only on DirecTV
Are you working today?
Joanna Going: No, were on hiatus on Kingdom. We’re preparing for the next episodes to go on the air in June and so I’m looking for another job.
How long is your hiatus for?
Joanna Going: This is a long one. We expect to be coming back in October, it’s not a done deal yet, but in the fall sometime.
Are you actively auditioning right now?
Joanna Going: I am, yeah.
You play a mom who is also a junkie and a prostitute. That’s gotta make for an interesting day at work.
Joanna Going: Yeah, it has. She definitely has her ups and downs. It’s been a challenge and a lot of fun. It’s been a great deal of material dive into research wise.
How you go about researching all that craziness?
Joanna Going: Well, in preparation for the first season, right in the beginning I did a lot of research about heroin addiction. I read a lot, I watched some documentaries. I watched a lot of YouTube videos that were put up by actual users. Often people who are trying to kick and are going through detox and kind of making a video diary, which is incredible that they have the wherewithal to do that. There a lot of people out there who are using but are wanting to get clean or are putting out cautionary tales to other people. There’s a lot of pretty intense material on YouTube, I found out.
And I also did research into prostitution in Los Angeles in particular. That’s where she lives. And the two go hand-in-hand. Often, drug addiction and prostitution, the prostitution is usually what they end up doing to support the drug habit which is pretty much the case with Christina. I looked at some photo essays.
There is a fascinating television series called John TV that I also found on YouTube. This man back in the early 80s. He took it upon himself… He wanted to out the John’s, trying to solve the prostitution problem in his city and he would film the John’s who were going to the prostitutes and put them on TV. It was fascinating. And to the course he got to know a lot of the prostitutes and would interview them and they trusted him and they knew that he was not out to hurt them. So, there were some amazing interviews on there and I was able to glean from.
And then we just have really great writing to settle into. I did as much research as I could in the short time that I had.
And also I had one recovered heroin addict who is a friend of a friend who I talked to on the phone and she was very helpful because I was able to call her up with specific questions about the scripts. Particularly the early scripts where Christina was using a lot.
When they tell you that you have the part, how long before you start filming?
Joanna Going: Well, it changes. It’s all different and it usually depends on where you are in the call sheet. If you’re familiar, there’s number one on the call sheet that’s usually the star, the first person who was cast. I’m number six on the call sheet.
They cast the guys early because they had to do a lot of training. I was cast… I think I was cast maybe a month before we started shooting and I was actually shooting a film, a short film while I auditioned for this and so I kind of couldn’t really focus on it until after that film was done. But yeah, I think it was a month.
Can you tell me about the audition for the show?
Joanna Going: It was really a run-of-the-mill type of audition. I got the material the night before… It was the Friday before that I was starting to shoot this other film. So really that’s where my head was mostly.
But you get the material… sometimes you’re lucky enough to get a few days before. Sometimes you get it the night before. I went into the Endemol offices and actually I was sitting there with two friends of mine who were also auditioning. And we’re all moms in the business for really long time and we had to wait a while so we’re just gabbing away and talking about our kids and our lives and the traffic and how crazy it is to do this and be a mother at the same time. And one by one, we went in and Byron [Balasco] was there and Kate our casting director, Kate Caldwell, and I read the material.
The pilot script, the first episode, Christina just has one small thing towards the end. So I read that but the scene they gave me to audition was kind of a made up scene between Christina and Alvey. Sat in a chair did the scene and I was it.
And then I heard that I was in the running for it and there was some attempt for me to come in and read with Frank who plays Alvey but we were both working on other projects that we were both shooting and it was just impossible to get together. So they just took my tape to the studio and to DirecTV.
When you get the sides like that day or night how much work. Are you putting into it?
Joanna Going: It depends on what the material is but basically memorizing it or trying my best to memorize it. If I’ve been given the sides at like 7 o’clock at night and there’s like 10 pages of material and I’m supposed to go in at 10 in the morning, that’s not gonna be my first priority because it’s not a test on memorization.
That said, it does help you if you can be out of the paper, not looking down. You want to be as familiar as you can. I never feel like I need to go in and show that I’ve got the scene memorized because that’s not what it’s about. And if that’s what it is about for them, I probably don’t want to be working with them. I like to have the papers in my hand just in case.
The scenes for Christina was pretty straightforward. I connected to it emotionally pretty quick. I think you want to find your hook in there with it and feel like you relate to it and understand the scene.
Sometimes you might need to break it down a little more because you want to know what you’re talking about. Auditioning for law procedural roles or police procedural roles or medical procedural roles, they are a little bit more difficult because you’re looking up a lot of words but most of the time you just have to have an emotional connection and then just be present and breathe.
The breathing part is the one that gets me. Especially if I haven’t gone to an audition for a little while, you can see my hands shaking.
Joanna Going: I didn’t shake. Early on, when I was younger, no matter what I was doing I would turn red, I was flush. But it was also good because I knew of that I was really connecting [laughs] It happens less now that was the thing.
Do you still get nervous?
Joanna Going: Of course. Of course. Different levels of nervous. I will say that this Kingdom audition I was probably the most relaxed I have ever been in my life. Mostly because, first of all, it’s easy to relax when you have another job at the moment. “I’m going on this audition but right now making a movie.” There’s just something about it. Something about sitting there with these women that I’ve known for years, we’ve all been like ‘here we are again.’ We’ve been seeing each other in these rooms for years and now our lives have changed.
There’s something about Christina in that particular scene and that dynamic that was relaxed and in fact going into the first few episodes, I think it was playing the heroine.. playing when she was on drugs that kind of gave me insight into a whole relaxation that I felt more with this part than with most others. Just because I had to physically be in that place.
You spent a lot of time on soaps early on in your career. I’ve talked a bunch of actors who got their start on soaps and they told me that it’s one of the best acting schools you can go to.
Joanna Going: Absolutely, it was. I was pretty much right out of acting school, maybe it was nine months or so that I actually graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. And from the Academy, one of my teachers there started a theater company, so I was still in a class situation and I got that job.
I came out of theater training, it was really strictly theater and I never worked with cameras in school. My whole idea was that I would work in theater. So, I went to audition for a soap opera having really no idea of what the procedure was. I had never been on a three camera studio floor. So it was a huge learning experience for me and yes, you learn to memorize quick and you learn to make choices quick. I feel like that’s also really important that you have to sort of make a choice and commit to it because it’s all moving so quickly and you’re doing like five or six scenes one after another in a day or sometimes even more. And it just has to roll along really fast. So, yeah, making choices and being very present.
I was talking to somebody the other day and he was telling me that he would film several different episodes in a day and he would be working with several different directors on that day.
Joanna Going: Back when I was on a soap, that would be rare. Sometimes that would happen if there were big events or if they were picking up scenes but that was rare.
But think about it, that was almost an hour of television, a good 45 to 47 minutes of television per day that the soaps would make and then primetime dramas would take two weeks to make their episodes.
How long does it take an episode of Kingdom?
Joanna Going: I guess it’s technically allotted seven days per episode, but we shoot two at a time. So each director is shooting kind of like a two hour movie. We shoot 10 episodes in a block and each director is shooting two.
How do you like shooting 10 episodes in a block?
Joanna Going: I like having the chapters, the 10 episode chapter is an enclosed chapter of the story. I don’t like the long hiatus that we are on right now. But it’s weird, you know, we’re on a different kind of platform on DirecTV and there’s no rules, they can pretty much put us on the air whenever they want to so there’s no real pattern to it. We’ve only been doing this for a couple years we’re about to do our third set of 10. But on the other hand, it does give you time to go off and do other projects.
But it is good that we get in there and we’re working hard and everybody in the cast and the crew and the writers, you’re finished before you’re tired of it. The shorter season helps to keep it fresh and keep us all extra invested.
What was the worst audition you’ve ever been on?
Joanna Going: Well, we block those out, don’t we? Otherwise we would never go again. [laughs]
I’ve had plenty of bad ones. I’m having trouble bringing to mind. I don’t carry around a banner of my worst one.
I think sometimes you’re trying to please a lot of other people like agents or managers and trying to be a good sport and go on the audition. Even though you’re not really right for it, you know you’re not gonna get it. And that’s never a good way to do it, and yet I’m guilty of doing it because I just want to be like, “Yeah, I’m making an effort and you guys are working hard for me and I’m going to go out and do that audition.” But I know that I am not always right for something and you walk out like, “Why did I do that?”
This might be the worst audition I ever went on and why it’s probably why I never really had a career in commercials. It was early on and probably when I was on the soap. I went in for a commercial and you were supposed to wear a bathing suit. You go in and they handed me a blow dryer and I was supposed to dance around the blow dryer and they put on some music and dance around in a bathing suit with the blow dryer and I was like, “No, this is not for me. I’m not made of this.” Some people can really do that and nail it and I admire them and I wish I had sort of that mechanism but yeah, that was pretty humiliating.