On the AMC crime drama The Killing, actor Eric Ladin plays Jamie Wright, the brilliant campaign manager for Darren Richmond (Billy Campbell), who currently has his sights set on being the Mayor of Seattle. After the body of local teenager Rosie Larsen was discovered in the trunk of a car owned by the campaign, things seem to be at their most vulnerable, and someone on the campaign staff seems to be leaking confidential information. Loyal and focused, Jamie is secretly working with Richmond to figure out who it is, in an attempt to restore Richmond’s slipping image.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, Eric Ladin talked about being a part of the ambitious mystery series, learning about your character as they unfold over the course of a show where each episode is one day, how he often wondered if he could be the one responsible for the murder, how his grandmother has come the closest to guessing where things are going, and how he would love to get to do some more comedy, in the future. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
Question: How did you come to be a part of The Killing?
ERIC LADIN: I got the script from my manager. Casting had me in mind, from the beginning, luckily. They sent over the script and had me take a look, and I read it and fell in love with it. That’s all she wrote. Once I read it, I decided this was something I definitely had to be a part of. I was really excited to get in there and be with them and talk about it.
You’ve consistently done work on really solid dramas, with your guest starring roles, as well as your work on Mad Men, Big Love and Generation Kill. Were you actively looking for a really strong drama series to be a part of, was it just this specific show that caught your attention?
LADIN: I was going into that pilot season with a clear head and really wanted to do something that caught my attention and was a more serialized show on a cable network. I felt like that’s just where I had found my footing, after working on the other shows. So, when The Killing came along, it was the perfect mix of everything. I loved the show. I love the network that it was on. From the very beginning, I was just like, “This is a perfect marriage.”
Was part of the appeal of this the fact that it’s a show that’s equally about the characters and their lives, as it is the crime itself, and that, unlike other procedural dramas, you really get to know the people as individuals?
LADIN: One hundred percent. When I read it the first time, as much as it is about finding who killed Rosie Larsen, the more interesting thing to me was the lives in which this crime has effected and being able to see how that dictates these people’s lives. At the end of the day, that, to me, was more appealing than any of it. Obviously, the good, old-fashioned murder mystery whodunit is very cool and it keeps you thinking, and everybody has got a theory, but at the end of the day, it was the characters that really drew me to it.
Do you feel like you’ve really gotten to know your character in a deeper way because each of these episodes is only a day of the story?
LADIN: Yeah. I’ve had to be extremely specific and extremely clear, in who my character is and what he wants, and in his relationship with Darren [Richmond] (played by Billy Campbell) and Gwen [Eaton] (played by Kristin Lehman). That was something, from the very beginning, that I knew, because of the way the show is portrayed with one day at a time, that it was going to be imperative for me to really make sure that I had a specific goal in mind. For sure, it’s different than any other show, especially one that I’ve worked on, so you have to just be so clear on where you are. The next episode is not a week, a month or a couple days later. It’s literally the next day.
When you signed on to do this series, did you worry at all that audiences might not have the attention span to keep tuning into something that they have to watch every week?
LADIN: I didn’t. I hold audiences to a much higher standard. I know that we’re not competing for CSI’s audience or Criminal Minds’ audience. AMC is realistic about the numbers and, luckily, we’ve gotten those numbers and beyond, which has thrilled everybody. But, I really think that audiences are smarter than a lot of executives care to believe.
What have been the biggest challenges, in developing a character when you don’t really know where he’s going or where he’ll end up? Is it difficult to play a role that initially seems not to be the most likeable person, until you learn more about him?
LADIN: It is. I had to really take a chance and trust our writers and our showrunner. When I sat down and spoke with Veena [Sud] about it and said, “Let’s talk about the arc and where I’m headed, and let’s really lay out Season 1,” she asked me to just trust her and go on this journey. Of course, things that I needed to know and that were hindering me in my process, she was more than happy to help with. For me, I had to make sure that I was completely clear and specific with who this character was. That way, every time I got a script, I would attack it like Jamie [Wright], this day. It was definitely different, but it’s been interesting and fun.
Were you able to see where things were going with the story, as far as how this crime resolved itself, or were you as surprised as the audience will be watching it?
LADIN: I probably was a little less surprised, only because I had some ideas of what was happening, due to things that I needed to know to do my work. With that being said, every time I read a script, it was full of surprises. By the time we got the finale, it was crazy. There were definitely plenty of surprises in there for me. Probably not as much as for audience members, but definitely enough.
With everyone on this show being a suspect in this murder, how many times did you wonder if your character could be the one responsible?
LADIN: Often, but at the end of the day, I had to make a decision on what I thought, and then go with it and stick to that. I couldn’t change it throughout the season because it would have made a difference in my performance.
Now that you’ve played this guy for a season, what can you say about Jamie Wright and the type of guy he is? Did where he end up surprise you from where he started at?
LADIN: A little bit, but not so much that I was thrown for a loop. I was able to speak with Veena a lot about the character, so in those regards, it didn’t change so much. Events changed and there were curve balls thrown, but I was able to use those just like you do in real life. Jamie deals with curve balls every day, within this campaign, so when we got scripts and things went in a different direction, I dealt with them like Jamie would deal with them. As far as learning about Jamie, I think he is vulnerable and he’s got qualities in him that people don’t see because he doesn’t show those qualities. He’s so geared towards putting on that face to win a campaign. There are moments in there where you catch that vulnerability, and those are the nice things. I’ve gotten to know him very well.
Did you watch any of the original Danish series, Forbrydelsen, in developing your character, or did you decide to develop him entirely separate from that?
LADIN: They’re completely different. I did not watch the Danish series. As much as I thought it would be awesome and I really wanted to, I knew that there might be subconscious things that would leak into my performance and I’m not sure I wanted that ‘cause I had a pretty good idea of where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do, so I didn’t want to second guess any of it. I will wait until we are finished and done and put to bed, and then I will sit down for a long weekend and watch it ‘cause I do know it’s pretty spectacular.
Now that people are getting more and more into the show, do you find that friends and family are trying to get information out of you about how the mystery is resolved?
LADIN: Daily. My family, my sister, my mom, my dad, my friends will try to open the conversation with pleasantries, and then somehow weasel their way into it. They’ll be like, “So, you got fired. Now what?” They try to figure things out, and it’s very funny.
Have any of them come close at all?
LADIN: Believe it or not, the person that has come the closest with anything is my grandmother. She threw a dart at the wall and actually was the closest of any of them. She’s sharp. She’s on it. She’s watching very carefully.
How has it been to work with this cast of actors?
LADIN: It’s amazing! I feel challenged every day, when I come to work. I feel like I have to step up my game, and that’s a great thing. To be able to work with actors who are doing such good work, not only makes it easier for you, but it makes you better. It’s been fabulous.
Since many of your scenes are with Billy Campbell, what has he been like, in developing the relationship between your characters?
LADIN: It’s been great. There’s a backstory that you’ll learn more and more about. He’s not only a tremendous actor, but a better person. It was extremely easy for me to get to hang out with him. He was actually the first cast member I met, when I went to shoot the pilot, and we went to dinner and had some drinks and got to know each other a little bit. Ever since then, he’s been a good friend.
How did filming in Vancouver and setting the show in Seattle really help, in developing the mood and atmosphere for the series?
LADIN: A lot of that goes to our incredible crew. Our D.P. and our set designer are fabulous. They set the tone for the show. Unlike a lot of shows, the location is, without a doubt, a character. It’s damp, it’s grey and it’s rainy, and that helps set the mood of the show. It’s definitely a huge part of the show. It not only helps the actors, but it helps the audience get into it.
Because this subject matter is so heavy, does it make it more difficult for you to leave that at work?
LADIN: It’s definitely something that lingers, especially on those heavy days. It is something that, because of the nature of, not only our storyline, but where Jamie’s head is in this, it’s a little different than some of the other actors and what they’re going through. The crime, for Jamie, is a huge road block in his final objective to win this campaign, but he’s not as immersed within that as he is selfishly immersed in his own world, and this is a mere road block.
Do you have a favorite episode, or favorite moments in the season?
LADIN: I absolutely do. I really enjoyed Day Four and Day Five. My favorite parts of Jamie come out in those episodes.
When you’re dealing with a show like this that builds up to the resolution of this crime, do you worry about not being able to satisfy all of the viewers, or does that just come with signing on to do a show like this?
LADIN: Yeah. I don’t worry about it as much, but I know that there will probably inevitably be people that are unsatisfied. But, that’s what you sign up for with a show like this. It’s part of the deal. For me, I’d rather be able to be a part of a really great project. Isn’t that what art is about? It doesn’t please everybody. Some people are going to love it and some people are going to hate it. That’s the sign of a really great piece.
As an actor, is it fun for you to constantly be working with different directors who all have their own style and vision for the show?
LADIN: It’s a challenge, but I found that I really tried to learn as much as I could, from each one. The good thing is that you get a fresh set of eyes and, a lot of times, you get some feedback that you didn’t necessarily see because you’re so close to it and you’re so immersed in it. It’s a neat journey to go on because you do get so many different pairs of eyes and opinions, but at the same time, it is challenging because each director works in different ways and comes with a different approach. You have to learn how to maintain your own process, as well as fulfilling theirs.
What’s it been like to be a part of such landmark TV shows as Mad Men and Big Love? When you’re a part of shows like that, that are of that quality level, does it make you more picky about the types of roles you want to do, beyond that?
LADIN: That’s a luxury that I have. I’ve been extremely lucky to be a part of these really great shows that have gotten so much attention. Unfortunately, the bad part is that it raises the bar so high that you become a little picky in the projects that you do. Luckily for me, the projects have come, and I think that TV is in a really, really great place right now. There are plenty of really great projects out there.
Do you learn things about yourself as an actor, when you’re doing shows of that quality level?
LADIN: For sure. You learn things about yourself as an actor, every time you work, and work on a new project, but without a doubt, when you’re working on things with people of that caliber, you’re forced to challenge yourself, and press just a little bit harder and dig a little bit deeper. By doing that, you ultimately become much better.
What is Highland Park?
LADIN: That is an indie feature with a neat cast of a lot of great actors. It’s essentially about a group of six individuals who have a tradition of splitting lottery tickets, in a little town in Detroit, called Highland Park, which is a very low-income town. After years and years and years of downtrodden luck, they finally win the lottery. It’s the journey that they go on, as they find out and have to deal with splitting the money and figure out what they’re going to spend it on. It’s a neat little film. I actually haven’t gotten the chance to see all of it, so I’m interested to see it.
Who are you playing in it?
LADIN: I play a bus driver for the local school, who is a father. Deborah Ann Woll (True Blood) plays my wife, and we’ve recently separated, and we have a little boy and a little girl. He’s just one of those guys that continually makes the wrong decision or finds himself in a bad spot, but he absolutely doesn’t mean to cause any harm to anybody. He’s a really sweet guy. It was a really fun movie to be a part of.
How did you get involved with doing voices for video games? Is that kind of work really isolating, or do you find it completely freeing?
LADIN: To be honest, it’s extremely liberating and freeing. Once you get into a booth and you get to just go wild and build a character with your voice, it’s really pretty fun. With the first one I did, that’s exactly what I did. All the work I did for Left 4 Dead 2 was in a voice-over booth, and I had a great time experimenting with different voices and characters, and finally nailing one down with the creators. We had a ball together. And then, the latest one is Infamous 2, which comes out this summer, and that was a little bit more because I did motion capture work as well. I not only got to build the character’s voice, but also everything about him, like the way he moves and interacts with other characters within the story. That was a ball. It’s extremely freeing. And, when you’re in a leotard with little markers all over it, you can’t help but force yourself to go back to those childhood days when you just imagined everything on a big playground, running around and being superheroes. It’s very fun.
Were you much of a gamer, or was that a whole new world for you?
LADIN: The idea of working in them is an entirely new world for me, but now is one that I’ve become quite accustomed to. It’s been great. It’s a lot of fun. I was a gamer awhile back. I’ve always had a system, but I’ve never been one of those people that games for hours upon hours. But, now that I’ve gotten into this, what started as research purposes has turned into more of a hobby. It’s been fun. It’s gotten me back into gaming.
What do you look for, when you sign on to do a project?
LADIN: First and foremost, I have to put down a script after reading it and say, “That’s a character I’d like to get to know better.” If that’s the case, then I can say, “Okay, this is somebody that I obviously want to get to know. I want to dig inside of them a little bit and get in their psyche.” That’s step one. If that happens, then the next step is overall story and script. It’s about knowing that the work is going to be surrounded by good people and a great story that’s going to benefit that process.
Is there a type of role or a genre that you’d like to do, but haven’t gotten the chance to do yet?
LADIN: I love doing comedy. I really do. I have a ball doing comedy, but I haven’t gotten to do much. It all started for me in comedy. That’s what I did when I was younger. I did stand-up, and I’ve done some comedy pilots, but they didn’t go. I really would love to do some comedy. It’s always fun to be on a set when everybody is making everybody laugh.
How did you initially get into acting? Did you just always want to be a performer?
LADIN: I really have always wanted to be a performer. Ever since I was a kid, all I’ve ever really wanted to do is make people laugh, get people’s attention, entertain and take them for a ride. I was doing that, whether it was in a classroom when it wasn’t the right time and I was getting in trouble for it, or finally finding the stage and doing theater and that kind of thing. Eventually, I knew that’s where my passion lied.