On the A&E crime drama Breakout Kings, actress Brooke Nevin plays Julianne Simms, a computer expert with the U.S. Marshals, who was ranked first in her class at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center before her social anxiety disorder, panic attacks, depression and other ailments derailed her career. When U.S. Marshal Ray Zancanelli (Domenick Lombardozzi) hires Jules to work with the special task force that he has established with fellow Marshal Charlie Duchamp (Laz Alonso), and made up of former fugitives that are helping to catch very dangerous individuals who have escaped prison, she sees it as her last shot to reclaim a normal, productive life. All information, tips and data go through her, while she acts as a funnel for the group, who is out in the field risking their lives.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, Brooke Nevin talked about the challenge of playing someone as complex as Julianne, how much she enjoys discovering new things about her character, the challenge of having to pretend to be tech savvy, how much she’s enjoyed bonding with the cast on location in Toronto, and her hopes for a Season 2. Check out what she had to say after the jump:
Question: How did this show come about for you?
BROOKE NEVIN: I had just gotten back to Los Angeles from filming a Canadian series (Call Me Fitz) that was a comedy, and I came back to jump into pilot season. That’s basically the time of year when actors go on tons of auditions. Breakout Kings came up, and it was one of the scripts that I read right away. It caught my eye and the character of Julianne just stood out to me. So, when I walked into the room to meet the casting director and Matt [Olmstead] and Nick [Santora], the producers, I wanted very much to get the role. It was great because I went in and they had this wonderful, collaborative spirit, from the beginning. They were really interested in my take on Julianne, and it just went from there.
Was there something specific in Julianne that you felt you could most identify with, or did you want to play her because she was so different from who you are?
NEVIN: Julianne deals with a lot of anxiety issues and what was interesting to me was the challenge of doing that sort of research and finding out what makes her tick, in a way that is different from me. So, I ended up doing a lot of reading and a lot of research. That was a great challenge, just to add one of the layers that makes Julianne who she is.
Had you been familiar with Prison Break and the work that Matt and Nick did on that show?
NEVIN: Yes, I had watched some Prison Break and I knew that it was one of those shows that had amazingly devoted fans and I knew the writing was great, so I was really eager to work with Matt and Nick. I knew that they would put the same talent and expertise into Breakout Kings. It does have some of the larger than life prison escape moments that Prison Break had. What’s good about our show is that there’s a sense of completion, after each episode, because we get to catch a criminal. It’s a little more procedural, in that way.
What have Matt and Nick been like to work with? Are they very collaborative with the actors?
NEVIN: Absolutely! It’s great. In fact, they’ll even take elements from our real life and put them into the show. I think they watch us on set, when they come to visit. I’m allergic to gluten, so they were going to make Julianne check ingredient levels. Our senses of humor definitely play a role in how they decide to shape our characters, which is great.
Now that you’ve played Julianne for a season, what kind of person do you think she is? How do you see her now, after a season’s worth of episodes?
NEVIN: What I got from Julianne was a sense of strength. I feel like Julianne was encased in this self-made protective barrier. As the season has gone on, she’s been able to find her footing within this unconventional task force and has really done a great job. As the writers have peeled her layers away, with each episode, the audience gets to know more about her. I’m hoping, in Season 2, that we get to see where some of her U.S. Marshals training can come into play, maybe even out of the bull pen. We do need Julianne holding down the fort, of course, but Season 1 finds Julianne standing up for herself in ways that almost seem contradictory to how she normally comes off to the rest of the crew.
Are you as tech savvy as Julianne, or was that something you had to learn about?
NEVIN: I’m so not as tech savvy as Julianne. I’m constantly asking our tech supervisor what might happen in certain situations. There was an episode where she’s trying to catch a hacker and there were a couple of terms where I had to call up Matt and Nick and ask, “Did you guys make up this term? Is this a term I should know?” I have to give the tech savvy-ness to just acting skills and not a real, actual talent. As long as I convince people, as Julianne, that I’m super-tech savvy, then my job is done.
What have been the biggest challenges in doing this show?
NEVIN: The biggest challenge, for me, has been the tech savvy part. Being a data analyst, my role has a lot of information. You always want to make sure that you’re giving that information to the audience in a way that’s high stakes and interesting, but that also makes sure that they’re following along with the story. And then, on top of that, you have to make sure it’s in keeping with your plan for the character, in that episode, and the arc that you want to get across, during the season. It’s been a good thing and a bad thing that I get to play all my scenes in the bull pen. It’s just one room, really, but the best thing about that is that when everybody goes on location and it’s -27 degrees out, I just say, “Stay warm. Have a good time. I’ll be waiting here in the bull pen, when you get back.” It’s a really fun dynamic to play, being one of two girls in an all-male cast.
Do you have any favorite episodes or moments from this season?
NEVIN: There are some nice moments between Lloyd (Jimmi Simpson) and Julianne this season. There are a couple of times when they’re both stuck in the bull pen and everyone else is out in the field. The interplay between those characters has been a lot of fun.
How has this ensemble of actors been to work with? Did you guys do anything to get to know each other, before you started filming?
NEVIN: I think it’s an asset, working on location. I’m originally from Toronto, but we all relocated for the series. I moved to L.A. and have been there for eight years now. When you’re in a city with your cast, if you gel together – which we totally did – then a lot of social time is spent with each other. We would go out and have dinner and unwind after work. That lends itself to having more fun on set. You can also use those interpersonal relationships to make scenes pop on camera. I’m so blessed to be working with the cast that we have because they all bring so much to their characters and the show.
Is there anything that you’d love to see Julianne get to do or go through, in the future?
NEVIN: I have a lot of fun figuring out how Julianne steps up to the plate, especially with this underlying anxiety disorder that she has. I’m eager for her to have to deal even more with that next season, and confront it in ways that will surprise the rest of the people on the task force. Maybe some guns could be involved. I would love to break out a full-on kung fu move, but I don’t know if that’s in the future.
Has Season 2 been confirmed yet?
NEVIN: It’s not official yet, but a lot of people are enjoying the show and A&E is super-excited about it, so it looks promising.
Have you been getting a lot of feedback from fans about the show?
NEVIN: I recently joined Twitter, so myself and the other cast members will tweet during the episodes, as they air, and give our audience a chance to ask us questions in real time or throughout the week, about what they’ve seen on the show. We’ve gotten fantastic feedback. Anybody who watches Breakout Kings because a big fan of the show. We’d love more people to watch because people like it a lot. It’s definitely high stakes ‘cause we’re chasing these really bad people. It’s a fun, fast-paced ride, but it’s also got these great moments of comedy that are interspersed. When you get characters that are literally on opposing sides of the law and they’re forced to work together, there’s going to be tension that comes out of that, but also funny moments to break that tension.
Over the course of this season, does Julianne become friendly with any of the cons, in particular?
NEVIN: She’s definitely working in close quarters with the cons. There’s a moment in the season where Julianne admits to almost forgetting that some of the characters go back to prison. They work in such a professional capacity and sometimes those lines get blurred. When those lines get blurred, sometimes power issues come up, and that’s interesting to watch. For sure with Lloyd (Brooke Nevin), you’ll see Julianne let her guard down, and then with Ray (Domenick Lombardozzi) as well. She has an affinity with Ray, which I’m not sure if the audience has picked up on yet, but it’s definitely being laced throughout the season.
You’ve done a lot of TV work, as both a series regular and in guest starring roles. Is there anything you’ve learned about yourself, as an actress, in working in such a fast-paced environment?
NEVIN: Especially in television, it is very fast-paced. I think I’ve just learned to trust myself more. Sometimes you don’t have what you feel is enough prep time, but you end up surprising yourself and having a moment with your castmates or on camera where it’s like, “Oh, wow, I do actually really know this character as well as I hoped to.” I can just think about it less, which is great. It’s very freeing to realize that, when you’re working.
You’ve done a lot of dramatic work, but you also have a background in comedy. Is comedy something that just always appealed to you?
NEVIN: I remember, as a child, loving it when my mom laughed, but I was definitely not a class clown. I don’t think anybody in my graduating class would have figured that I would be doing full-on single-camera comedies or sitcoms, or anything like that, but it certainly has been a part of my career. I view comedy as a puzzle, in terms of the choices you make to make people laugh. It’s about finding the alchemy that’s involved in comedy. Comedy is more nebulous. There’s not something you can pinpoint and find the right way to do it. With drama, you know if you’re having a true moment, but in comedy, if somebody doesn’t laugh, then you know you’re not being funny. That’s a really fun challenge, and that’s what draws me to comedy. When I look back at what I’ve done, it surprised me that I’ve done so much comedy. But, at the end of the day, it’s just a lot of fun on set. You end up making yourself laugh with your castmates, and that’s really the big draw.
What was the appeal of doing the internet project, Imaginary Bitches? Is the attraction of doing a web series the freedom that you get with it?
NEVIN: Oh, absolutely! Imaginary Bitches came about because a good friend of mine, who is a writer, wanted to write a great comedic project for his wife, the amazing Eden Riegel, who’s won Emmys for her portrayal of characters on soap operas, but hadn’t had a chance to flex her funny bone. They’re good friends of mine, and they just decided they wanted to put together a 13-episode web series. They asked all of their friends, including myself, if we wanted to play kind of ourselves. I play Brooke, but it’s not really me, and Eden doesn’t actually have imaginary friends, who are bitches. They had complete creative control. There was nobody telling him how or when to shoot, or what to do, and we all got to collaborate. We literally shot the web series in each other’s backyards and locations around Los Angeles. We had a great amount of freedom in creating something.
You’ve done a lot of work in the sci-fi genre, with projects like The 4400, Supernatural and Smallville. Are you a sci-fi fan, or was it just those particular roles that appealed to you?
NEVIN: I started out doing a sci-fi show ‘cause, in my very first series (Animorphs), I was morphing into animals. I guess that qualifies for sci-fi. I’ve always appreciated that genre and the opportunities that it’s given me.
What’s it been like to have the support of the loyal sci-fi fans?
NEVIN: It surprises me, sometimes, how far-reaching the fandom is. I got a chance to go to England for a Supernatural convention and there were people that flew in from China and all across Europe. It was astounding. It’s an experience like no other, to have the type of fans that love sci-fi. They are so devoted and some of them know your character even better than you do because they know the whole history of the world that that character inhabits. It’s enlightening and it’s different from any other genre.
If the attention that you receive from your work on Breakout Kings leads to more film work for you, are there types of roles or specific genres that you would love to do, but haven’t gotten the chance to do yet?
NEVIN: I would love to do something in the thriller category. Not so much horror, but I would love to do a full-on psychological thriller. That would be really interesting. A period piece would also be fantastic. I say that now, but when I’m wearing a costume from a warehouse in England that’s from the 1920’s, that hasn’t been washed, and you’re out in the sun pretending it’s winter, maybe I’d change my mind.