The Jessica Jones star talks celebrity, photo shoots, and handling the darkness of her role.
It’s a cliché, but you really do think you know Krysten Ritter from the troubled characters she plays. You’ve seen her die horribly on Breaking Bad, con coldheartedly on Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23, and be twelve different kinds of troubled on Jessica Jones. And then you meet her in person, and she rocks in her seat as she talks, gushes, and—look, there’s no other way to put it—bubbles with enthusiasm. The 34-year-old actress has just come from her Esquire photo shoot, which she raves about not only because the photographer was a woman (“I’m always working with women,” she says) but also because it involved a motorcycle rather than a bedroom. “I didn’t want to do the rolling-around-in-sheets thing. Nobody wants to see me doing that.”
The statement is preposterous, but her passion is convincing. Momentarily.
We’re at a coffee shop surrounded by writers tapping away at their laptops and actors trying to get noticed. They all look familiar, because this is Hollywood; everyone’s at least done a commercial or had an under-five on a procedural. Ritter thinks she knows three different people in this place, but she’s reluctant to check; a youthful geek-out over her early idol, Claire Danes, has given her permanent cold feet. “I ran up to her on the street like she was my friend, like, ‘Hi, Claire!’ She looked at me like I was crazy,” she laughs. “As she should have.”
If she has any other lingering fears, you’ll see no evidence of them on Jessica Jones, her gut-punch of a Netflix action show. Ritter plays the title role, a mutant living in a world alongside the Avengers and Daredevil who’s a little too screwed up to be a superhero. Jessica Jones is dark. It’s not just violent; it’s not just complex. It’s emotionally upsetting—episode one ends with a young woman murdering her parents while under mind control. The shoot was long, too: about 140 days, of which Ritter had two off. “When I got it, my acting teacher said, ‘Baby, you have your work cut out for you. We have to make sure that you are surrounded by people that take good care of you and love you.'”
Since season one of Jessica Jones wrapped, she’s racked up frequent-flier miles promoting Netflix. Brazil, Tokyo, Paris, Milan, Madrid, Vegas, New York. She’s used to the travel: Halfway through high school in Shickshinny, Pennsylvania—she assures me that this is an actual place and not a setting from a Marx brothers movie—she was discovered in a mall by a modeling agent. From then on, she spent her summer breaks at shoots around the world. Modeling trips were “like being at camp with people that kind of looked weird and skinny like I did. The girls in high school were way worse.” She crossed the globe on her own as a teenage model and emerged unscathed. “When you’re young, your brain’s not formed yet, so you just go with it.” She shakes her head as she undoes her ponytail and lets her coal-black hair down. “I was so fearless.”
Ritter went from high school straight to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in 2000, “back when it was OG,” and began her transition into acting. It suited her. “I went to these auditions and felt like I finally had some control over my life because I could always be better, funnier, show up on time, show up earlier. Whereas if you’re a model, you just show up and people look at your pictures and that’s it.” In auditions, she could show her personality. “I was never a wallflower. I’ve always been sort of scrappy.” And then she takes a swig of the green juice she’s brazenly smuggled into the coffee shop. Story checks out.
A one-line role in Mona Lisa Smile led to slightly bigger parts—including three late-aughts best-friend roles in some of the era’s more memorable rom-coms (Confessions of a Shopaholic, 27 Dresses, What Happens in Vegas)—before she was cast as Jane on Breaking Bad. And then as Chloe, the titular B of ABC’s much-lamented Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23, on which she worked with that still too rare of things: a female showrunner. She’s done it again with Jessica Jones‘s Melissa Rosenberg. “I like to be in a position where I can be vulnerable and speak about things in a raw way.” It’s especially crucial during the sex scenes between Jessica and the indestructible Luke Cage, scenes that helped the series score a TV-MA. “I don’t want to have those kinds of conversations with a dude. With, like, a man who’s older than my dad.”
So what’s next? “The bar is kind of high. It’s hard for me to look at a male buddy comedy where I’m the girl rolling her eyes. Like, ‘This shit.'” At the moment, she actually is a girl rolling her eyes, but you’re with her.
“On a set is where I feel most like myself,” she says on the way out. She likes to toss some surprises at her crew: She’ll spring for pizza on Fridays or slip a lottery ticket into someone’s pocket when they’re not looking. “Nothing would make me happier than making the boom guy on my crew a millionaire,” she tells me, and it is a testament to the genuine joy emanating from Krysten Ritter that I believe her.