Q & A: Mary Lynn Rajskub on Returning to ’24’, Chloe and Her Approach to Acting
Oh Chloe, how we’ve missed you.
24 is back on FOX, this time as the limited series, 24: Live Another Day. Set and shot around London, the new series brings back Kiefer Sutherland, Rajskub and William Devane as James Heller, now President of the United States. The show also stars Benjamin Bratt, Yvonne Strahovski, Tate Donovan, Kim Raver and Stephen Fry.
Rajskub participated in a conference call while on location in London where she talked about returning to 24 and Chloe, her new look and more!
24: Live Another Day airs on Mondays at 9pm on Fox
When they came to you and they said this is what we’re going to do with Chloe, what was your reaction and what was your input?
Mary Lynn Rajskub: I was very shocked when I found out because I had moved on with my life. It had been four years and so I spent a few days with my husband and my child and my dogs walking around my pajamas going what is happening? Kind of not believing it and watching my Twitter feed blow up and I responded like we’re very excited. Meanwhile, I was waiting for them to actually pick up the phone and call and ask me to be involved.
And, of course, I said yes without hesitation. How could I not? It was announced that it was in London. And when that was announced, I thought, we’re not actually going to shoot it in London because typically in the past when it’s been in New York and different locations, I’ve always been inside on the computer with a bunch of stuff that says New York but they may be sent a smaller crew over there and this time they said no, you’re going for the duration. So I packed up the family, came here, and what else was in the end of that?
I just wanted to know your reaction to the new direction of the character – how you reacted when they told you about that and did you have any sort of input in shaping her into what we see now?
Mary Lynn Rajskub: Oh, okay. Yes. So, you know, as I was describing the announcement in the announcement was London and finally got the first two scripts, first of all, when I read them, they were very exciting and red like classic 24 scripts. And I kind of hopped up at the ends of reading two of them and then I was like wow, I want to know what happens next. So that was exciting. And then, of course, in the description it was a very different Chloe. It was very briefly and loosely described, and it wasn’t until I got to London, and it was about a week and the first thing we did was the Super Bowl promo. So that was kind of cool because that got me together with Kiefer and then we kind of came up with a look that was the first thing we shot. So I met with the hair and wardrobe and makeup, and we just had a great few days of coming up with this idea for this character. So I did it with that team and then we presented it to the producers and everybody and sort of took it from there.
What do you think that fans believe Jack and Chloe are one of the greatest duos on television, and what will be the dammit factor this season?
Mary Lynn Rajskub: Well, so far, dammit – I’ve witnessed a few dammits. It’s so funny because I’m trying to remember, there was one scene in a car where I’m on a laptop and I am just – it was one of those moments where Jack and I had a back-and-forth and then in between takes, I was like, okay, so that was really familiar. And we were doing this theme and, you know, as you can imagine, it was 24 so everything was super heightened and intense, and he did throw in a dammit. And it was just awesome because it was really real so I went from being in the scene and living the dammit and then when the cut happens we both started laughing and then he started singing, “Welcome back,” the theme from Welcome Back, Kotter.
So, you know, and that thing about our relationship, you know, it’s 24. It always surprises me. I never thought this would come back. It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing that is now twice in a lifetime, and the response to it, especially with social media, which just occurred to me, was not around very much, not until the tail end, and I certainly wasn’t using it as much as I am now as a thing that I kind of go to. I absolutely will go to it throughout the day and right after the show and leading up to the show, and it’s amazing, because not only have Jack and Chloe, it’s like they never left, but it’s heightened even more. So I think this has turned out to be a really cool thing bringing it back.
You’ve already talked a little bit about how this incarnation of Chloe was developed. There is a range of acting processes that goes from Laurence Olivier’s it’s all just pretend to Stanislavski’s method, and I was just wondering where does your style, your process fit between those two extremes, and how did that play a part in the development of the new Chloe?
Mary Lynn Rajskub: This is one of those questions that, as an actor, I feel like diving in and talking about it for 45 minutes, but how to encapsulate that – I mean, I have a comedy background. So my approach is very instinctual, and I like to feel it out, you know, in the moment, especially in rehearsal. I’m comfortable with things happening really quickly, and kind of adding that to stuff that I’ve done alone going over scripts and then putting that altogether in the moments.
Certainly, when Chloe first came – when I first played the character. I think I brought a lot to it, just by virtue of my interpretation of what I would be like as that person and then, as we’ve seen the years go on, it turned out to be, I don’t know, I somehow managed to bring humor to a situation where there was none. Now, having said that, I obviously take my job very seriously and love it. I did acting in high school and things like that but it’s interesting to be with Kiefer, who, somehow, we work really well together, but I think we have different styles in that respect. I feel like I’m not really answering this specifically. It’s more a follow-up question.
I think that was actually very good. I’m wondering, will we get to see that side of Chloe that fans have come to call commando Chloe at some point in the series?
Mary Lynn Rajskub: I hope so, I mean, she showed up a little bit. I just thought of something that I want to follow up with as far as approaching the character that pertains this time around, which kind of is a bit of commando Chloe, but it’s, as you call it – I just adopted your phrasing there. I love it. But she is really in a lot of pain, and kind of just holding on. She’s not very happy with Jack, and we saw that in episode two, and so the first time for me there are moments where, even though I could always find humor somehow in the most intense situations or some sarcastic remark at least, this time around, she’s in such pain that I wasn’t really able to find any levity at all and that was another surprising layer to play and kind of challenging as an actor. She certainly is very different. It’s like the writers are always holding back from Chloe becoming fully blown with a gun riding side-by-side. I mean, she is with Jack but I haven’t really brandished a gun yet, I’ll tell you that.
How has the gloom in the setting of London has contributed to the darkness of the show in the drama?
Mary Lynn Rajskub: Well, mostly it’s from my husband because I dragged him here. No, I just thought of that. I’m just here at home, but he’s about to go back to L.A. early, and I got the motivation from him because I dragged him here in January when it was just relentlessly freezing and cold from Los Angeles. But, in seriousness, it’s been a really cool experience to be here for that sole purpose. On a personal note, I have used it as a way to not really Skype with anybody and have very minimal contact. I don’t know what that says about me, but it’s just a great locale.
I’ve seen the first two episodes, and I love seeing the color and the grayness in the history, and I think it adds to 24 that everyone’s familiar with but it gives it another layer, and it certainly feels more international – more like we’re in the center of the world and the center of these conflicts that were dealing with on the show. Filming in the London underground is a lot different than being in LA underground. There’s a lot more going on here.
What’s your favorite aspect of Chloe has been over the years?
Mary Lynn Rajskub: I think I touched upon it a couple of minutes ago, when I said the surprise of her in surprise of the show and the fact that she started out as being someone that people didn’t really like and was annoying and that maybe people could relate to in a negative way – like there’s a person like that in my office and that she would like such a rule follower, and that she became Jack’s ally. It was something very exciting and unexpected, and that continuing even now I feel really lucky that there is more to play this time around in a big way, so you yes, just having that evolution.
Given everything these characters have kind of gone through together over the past however many seasons – however many years the show’s been – but is there any way for Chloe and Jack to ever get to a point in their lives where they can be happy again?
Mary Lynn Rajskub: That’s such a sweet question. I think that’s like, to me, from where I’m coming from in being part of the show – that’s always something that can never happen. That’s happening with Audrey right now. It’s like that forbidden love. It’s that life you can’t have, and I feel like Chloe this time around has been more dragged to the dark side, for lack of a better description, where she’s now part of that in trying to always save the world and deal with these larger-than-life intense situations.
There is always the personal simple happiness doesn’t happen. I think back on Chloe and her husband in the past, and they had some moments – there are always moments in [indiscernible] or my character with different people. There was another guy that I slept with years back, before my husband, and it seems like personal relationships always end badly, but we kind of hope for that happy moment but maybe not really. But who knows. Maybe Jack will get it. I don’t know about Chloe, to tell you the truth. She’s in a pretty bad way.
The way Chloe looks right now is a function of her being beaten down in the way she feels, I guess. How many hours do you sit in that chair trying to look less glamorous, with the tattoos and everything?
Mary Lynn Rajskub: It is rough because I am so glamorous and beautiful – oh, by the way, I got a tweet from a girl who said I am pierced and tattooed and I’m in a really good place. I just tweeted her back and I was like I love your piercings and tattoos. Keep it up, but for Chloe, it’s a reflection of her pain and her trying to hide, and it’s a really – I feared going into the make up feeling like I could never be in the movie where there were lots of prosthetics or anything. Cut to next year and I’m a gargoyle in Lord of the Rings, completely – that would be kind of funny.
But we actually got it to a place where it’s very efficient, and most of the time was taken coming up with the look, but we have like a little – you probably wouldn’t even really notice them, but there are little clip-ins in my already crazy hairdo that I have in real life – the asymmetrical hairdo, but we have little clip-ins that make it look like she chopped into her own hair, so like little short extensions and then the tattoos of like kid’s tattoos were you just put water on them and the really beautifully designed, and there’s ones which you really only see very briefly in 24, but they’re reflective of my husband and my sons, Morris and Prescott, and there’s like computer code in the shape of a skull. They’re really thoughtfully designed, but they’re actually pretty quick to put on.
Since you’re in London, did you have any scenes with Stephen Fry at all?
Mary Lynn Rajskub: I haven’t. I always see him, not always, but the couple of times that I’ve seen him, we’ve chatted at an event party, a Fox event party, and also I’ll see him on set at base camp, and he’ll be on his way out or on his way in the lime on my way out or in as is the way with 24 with all the other actors that we sort of say hi and bye and I really don’t get to see their performances until everything is cut together, which is always really fun.
But Stephen Fry– I was really nervous in that way of somebody who is such a force of nature. I knew he was going to be in the make-up trailer and I walked in there, and he’s such a brilliant presence. I walked in there and he couldn’t have been more disarming and almost self-deprecating and just funny and present and humble. So that was really neat, and he’s a big fan of 24, so that was a thrill to meet him.
What was it like working with the other stars, like Benjamin Bratt and some of the new faces that we’re going to see?
Mary Lynn Rajskub: Benjamin Bratt is great. Tate – again, we haven’t had scenes together, but those two guys and my husband and I, we enjoyed a football game together and that was a lot of fun. Everybody’s cool so far – no jerks.
I’ve been a fan of your work ever since the Larry Sanders Show.
Mary Lynn Rajskub: Oh, my gosh. Thank you so much.
That was a while ago, huh?
Mary Lynn Rajskub: Yes. I love that show.
Why do you think there have been so many characters on 24 over the years – big ensemble show – why do you think Chloe has such staying power?
Mary Lynn Rajskub: By the way, before I answer that, Garry Shandling kind of taught me how to act because I was in a scene and he stopped me and he goes, “Why did you say that?” and I gave him some answer, and he was like, “Well, what were you thinking,” and I realized that I wasn’t thinking anything and so, in that moment, in kind of like a tough love fatherly way, he showed me how to have subtexts, which I had done acting as a kid in high school and a lot of performance art and a lot of comedy, but that was such an on-the-job great training and great characters, and he’s a real student of acting.
Anyway, what’s the question? Chloe –
Why do you think Chloe is still around and everyone else is gone, practically, except her and Jack.
Mary Lynn Rajskub: I don’t know. I’m just lucky. Probably because every once in a while I’ll get somebody saying why haven’t Chloe and Jack gotten together, and thank God they haven’t because it always seems – although Audrey’s still around, but they were like separated, unrequited – probably because Jack and I have not gotten together in any way romantically is one of the reasons.
I mean, I keep going back to that surprises thing. I think I was kind of a lucky surprise and just like, oh, there wasn’t any strong plans to kill me and since I was so loyal to Jack, I think it just kind of started working and maybe I had the luxury of being on the computer and not being in the middle of – well, I mean, that’s not true either. I don’t really know. It’s like CTU. We had nerve gas. We have explosions. We have people in there shooting. I don’t know – just lucky.
Chloe is known for being the intelligent computer genius, and do you have any idea what Chloe is saying and doing? Do you understand the computer talk? She talks usually every episode.
Mary Lynn Rajskub: No, absolutely not. I don’t. And I feel like I should not even really be admitting it as an actor. I feel like the right answer would be that I know exactly what she’s talking about, but for me, I feel like I get the gist of what she’s doing and why she’s doing it, and certainly what’s happening in the story so that, you know, the interesting thing over the years – I was probably more stressed about that early on, but the technical exactness of what is happening in the computer – I mean, I probably picked up some stuff, like I have a very loose understanding of what coding is, very loose. But I’ve always approached it as the realness of what she’s trying to do, you know what I mean, the emotional realness of that, and the technicalities have not been as interesting to me, to be honest with you.