“If you don’t have anything going on in your head, you’re not interesting to watch” – Krysten Ritter
Jessica Jones star Krysten Ritter has received extraordinary praise — and lots of fans — for her performance on the Marvel Netflix series. Being that the series is a more cerebral look at the world of superheroes, Jones (and Ritter) has to approach the content as something more than punching her way out of problems. Ritter spoke to NPR about how she approaches acting challenges on Jessica Jones and previously during in her role on Breaking Bad, and also reveals why arriving early is the key to her approach to professionalism.
Considering there are numerous scenes without dialogue in the Jessica Jones series, some might think that makes it easy on Ritter — no words to memorize. However, Ritter says those scenes are the most challenging for her as an actress. She explains:
I am doing the most work when I’m not saying lines. It’s just been ingrained in me. If you don’t have anything going on in your head, you’re not interesting to watch. So (laughter) – so I would say that the bulk and the majority of my work is when I have no lines.
And I love it when I have no lines because then – I often – like, I’ll talk to Melissa about a scene and be like, I would love the opportunity to have this play on my face. Could we cut X, Y, Z lines? And we usually do. It’s exhausting because you have all of that – like, all of my subtext, all of the history is there. Yeah, you can’t just, like, stand there and scowl. That’s not going to register… That’s not going to affect anybody. That’s not going to hit heartstrings. You’ve got to feel it if you want your audience to be in it with you. So I just make sure that I feel it, and I have a ton going on.
The interviewer brought up Ritter’s role on Breaking Bad, specifically a scene in which her father (played by John de Lancie) confronts her about using drugs. When looking back on the scene, Ritter explains how an actor finds the correct balance for the role by speaking with the production team.
That’s a scene I think that we would mark and have a good shape. I think with something that emotional, because that does get pretty heavy, you don’t want to totally take the air out of the tires. Of course, like, you end up shooting a lot, and you shoot different angles. But that wouldn’t be a scene that I would want to go to 100 in rehearsals. With stuff like that, like in – and in Jessica Jones too, there are, you know, some heavy scenes where it gets, like, you know, really hardcore, really emotional. And I would kind of have a good idea what I wanted to do.
I will kind of go to the sound department first and kind of tell them like, hey, just so you know, like, this is what I’m planning to do. I’ll talk to the camera operators, the DP, like – and the director, of course. This is kind of like, I’m going to mark it for you. But, like, I just want everybody to be ready. Like, you’d never want to do, like, some crazy performance where you get really emotional, and then, like, your mike blows out because they aren’t expecting, like, a huge volume. So I tend to, like, have a really good idea or a really good sense of what I’m going to do and then kind of show a shape and then go for it.
Thinking about some of her skills as an actress — which Ritter came into from modeling — she shares one of her most vital, but relatively simple, secrets: arriving at the right time, which fits into her goal of self-improvement. She reveals:
When I started getting sent on commercials, they were like, tell us about yourself. Tell us a funny joke. Do a funny dance. And I’m like, OK. All – I can do all of those things. So I got the bug kind of right away. I started booking all the commercials. And then I was like, I can always be better. I can always work harder. I can always show up earlier. I had a whole – a science to arrival. I wrote it… Down in my journal. Like, this is what time you need to arrive for an appointment. You don’t want to be 20 minutes early because then, like, you might annoy people. They’re not ready for you. But you don’t want to be five minutes early because what if you have to use the ladies room? Or what if they’re – you’ll be rushed. So I decided that arriving 12 minutes before your appointment was, like, the best. And this was, like, something I, you know – I came up with at, like, age 20. My science to arrival. And I still use it to this day.