“Sticking with it is probably one of the hardest things to do, but I think it’s the only way you can make it in this industry” – Katrina Bowden on Acting
If your perception of actress Katrina Bowden is based on her 30 Rock character’s inappropriate and airheaded antics, you’re in for a surprise.
After seven seasons as Liz Lemon’s assistant Cerie on the acclaimed comedy 30 Rock – for which she shared a Screen Actors Guild Award with the cast for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series – and roles in comedies like Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, Scary Movie 5, Piranha 3DD, American Reunion, and Sex Drive – Bowden has switched gears to appear in a cable drama, Public Morals, the Edward Burns-created series about the New York Police Department in the 1960s.
In the series, Bowden plays Fortune, a high-class call girl whose curious background catches the attention of the NYPD.
I spoke to Katrina about acting in New York, her role on the series, and what it’s like working with a director who is also an actor.
Public Morals premieres on TNT on August 25 at 10/9c.
You grew up in New Jersey and your most significant television role to date was on 30 Rock, which was based in New York. Now you’re doing another New York-based television series. Is your game plan to stay close to home for most of your jobs?
Katrina Bowden: [Laughs] I’ve been very fortunate that it just worked out that way. It was kind of in the back of my mind, but of course if something else came up I would have taken another great role that was shooting someplace else. I’ve just been fortunate that I was on 30 Rock for seven seasons and then not long after that ended I booked this project and shot the pilot. My husband and I were thinking about moving, but then we decided not to because things keep keeping up here.
In the first episode your character, Fortune, identifies herself as a schoolteacher named Stacy Potter after being arrested for prostitution. That’s a pretty unique combination. Can you talk about her background?
Katrina Bowden: She is a high-end call girl in New York City in the Sixties. While I can’t give you too much information, she is a part of the schoolteacher’s union and she has been involved in prostitution on the side to make money. She’s independent and works on her own without a madam or anything like that, so she’s like a lone wolf in this field. But as you can see in the first episode, she does get busted, and the relationship between her and Bullman, who is played by Michael Rapaport, evolves as the series unfolds.
How did you get involved in this project?
Katrina Bowden: I auditioned for the pilot about a year and a half ago. I read the script and I loved the character immediately. I have been a big fan of Ed Burns for a really long time and I really wanted this. I auditioned a few times and eventually booked it.
The driving force behind this series is creator, producer, writer, director, and actor Ed Burns. Being that he’s an actor, do you notice anything different about the way he directs actors compared to other filmmakers you have worked with?
Katrina Bowden: Completely. He is really, really good at talking to the actors, getting through to us, and getting exactly what he wants out of us. Not to say other directors don’t have that ability as well, but I think when you’re dealing with a director who is also an actor they kind of understand a little bit more and can talk to you in a way that maybe makes more sense to you in the moment. He was really great at getting the best performances out of everybody. He’s just so cool and easy to work with too, which makes for a low-stress, easy feeling on the set that also keeps everyone happy.
Before working on Public Morals, did you have any favorite Ed Burns movies?
Katrina Bowden: I always loved The Brothers McMullen. I’ve always loved the way he writes dialogue. He’s so good at that and it’s so natural. He adds a lot of humor in moments where you wouldn’t necessarily think there would be humor. So I think he does that really well, and there’s a lot of that in our show too. It’s a heavy, dark show at times, but people laugh when they watch the episodes because there’s these little bits of funny dialogue that he throws in there.
Did you do anything to research this character or era?
Katrina Bowden: A little bit here and there, but with my character most of what I’ve seen and heard about with prostitute characters is that they aren’t as multifaceted and layered as Fortune is. She’s a prostitute, so she’s a little dirty and gritty and definitely has made some bad choices in her life, but she’s also sweet and kind of innocent and mysterious at the same time. It wasn’t hard to do research on playing a typical prostitute, but I wanted to make her to feel real and likeable, but believable as a prostitute in the Sixties at the same time. I had to figure out ways that all that made sense to me in my head. Of course, there were other things like the cadence of speech that people talked in back then.
What was your favorite thing about having a chance to “live” in the Sixties?
Katrina Bowden: It was just such a beautiful era. The hair, the makeup, and the wardrobe are just so fantastic. The team of people we had getting us made up to look like these characters were incredibly talented. I think when you’re doing a period piece the hair, makeup, and wardrobe really help you feel like that character in ways that you don’t get from shooting something in a modern day setting. That was one of my favorite parts of shooting in this era. When you put on the costume and your hair and makeup you feel like you were transported back in time, and that was a really cool feeling.
The landscape of television has changed pretty dramatically during your acting career. Cable series like Public Morals offer substantial dramatic roles for actors. Do you feel lucky being a young actress at such an exciting time for television?
Katrina Bowden: Yes, I think it’s such an exciting time for television. There is so much good TV now. I feel very lucky to be a part of that. I’m a huge TV fan, and there’s so much out there that is so good, so different and so out-of-the-ordinary. I think it’s a very exciting time to be involved in TV. Not that it wasn’t exciting in the past when I was on TV, but right now people are taking more chances. They’re making TV shows that are like long movies. I think it’s really exciting.
What are some of the shows that you have been a fan of over the last few years?
Katrina Bowden: I was a huge fan of Breaking Bad. Right now I’m really into Mr. Robot and The Americans, and The Walking Dead is one of my favorite shows. I think Masters of Sex is really great too. Two of those that I named are period pieces like Public Morals, which is funny. I just started watching House of Cards. I know I’m very late in the game on that, and I love it so far. It’s so different and unique.
The first season of Public Morals is ten episodes. How much about your character’s storyline for the season did you know when production started?
Katrina Bowden: We didn’t get all our scripts ahead of time, but Ed Burns talked to us and gave us insight on our character and where it was heading. I didn’t know everything, I just knew little bits and pieces. It was kind of a surprise when we got our scripts finding out where we’re headed. I mean, this is a show where people get killed off, so it’s also exciting to read the scripts and find out, “Oh my God, is someone going to get killed off? Is there going to be a big twist in the script?” Of course, the producers would tell us if anything major was happening with our characters, but the big ensemble cast makes it exciting. If the show goes past the first season, there will be a lot of changes because of the dramatic twists and turns in all of the different storylines.
Being on any series that involves the mob has to be concerning because you know your character could be one script away from being killed off.
Katrina Bowden: But you know what? Most really good shows have to kill somebody off to keep it interesting and to emotionally affect the audience. If my character got killed off, I would at least want everyone to be upset about it and for it to happen in a cool way, you know? [Laughs]
What’s a big nightmare audition that you’ve had?
Katrina Bowden: One time I was auditioning for a recurring role in a pilot, like when I was a recurring character on 30 Rock. It was in New York during pilot season and I was walking outside and it started pouring and I didn’t have an umbrella. There was nowhere to get cover and I just ran. I ended up being half an hour late for my audition, I was soaking wet, and I didn’t know what to do! [Laughs] So I auditioned soaking wet, and I didn’t get it. But that was a pretty horrific audition experience. [Laughs]
I bet you have never forgotten an umbrella since.
Katrina Bowden: You’d be surprised. I definitely do! [Laughs] But if I’m going to an audition I will never forget an umbrella. Never again!
As an actress, what kind of advice do you have to offer?
Katrina Bowden: It’s such a tough industry, but stick with it and never lose focus of what you want to do and what you’re capable of doing. Every actor’s experience has letdowns because there are so many of them, but with all the letdowns there will be one amazing success. Sticking with it is probably one of the hardest things to do, but I think it’s the only way you can make it in this industry.