Season 2 of the FX crime thriller The Bridge has Detective Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger) and her Mexican counterpart, Detective Marco Ruiz (Demian Bichir) teamed up again to when the body of a cartel member is found on U.S. soil. Brutal crimes and dangerous enemies will see them pulled into a complex web of drug running, money laundering and police corruption. The Bridge season 2 also stars Ted Levine, Matthew Lillard, Emily Rios, Thomas M. Wright, Annabeth Gish, Franka Potente, Nathan Phillips, Abraham Benrubi and Lyle Lovett.
During this interview about the series and his role on it, actor Matthew Lillard (who plays arrogant El Paso Times reporter Daniel Frye) talked about how he came to be a part of The Bridge, what’s in store for Daniel, how far he’s willing to go to find the truth, working with Emily Rios, his favorite aspect of his character, living in such a dark place this season, how much longer his character can dodge death, and having an open door to talk to the writers. He also talked about what he’d like to do next, and his thoughts about Scream being turned into a TV series for MTV. Check out what he had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
Question: How did you get involved with this show?
MATTHEW LILLARD: Yes. Like most of my jobs, I auditioned for it. There actually is a fun story behind it. I got a phone call one day from Annabeth Gish, who I’d done a movie with years ago, and she said, “You should go in and audition for this character on this show called The Bridge.” I was like, “I don’t know what it is. What is it?” She said, “It’s Diane Kruger and Demian Bichir, and it’s this adaptation of a Swedish show.” I immediately called my agent and said, “What’s the deal with this gig? Why isn’t it in my world?” They said, “Well, they basically have no money, and it’s only six episodes. The character dies after six episodes.” I was like, “Well, I’m not doing anything, so some money is better than no money.” And agent’s idea of no money and my idea of no money are usually quite different. I said, “Why don’t you send me the script?” They sent it to me, and I read it, and the pilot was unbelievably well-read. You fly through it, and you get to the last scene in the pilot and you’re like, “Oh, my God, what an amazing scene.” The more I thought about it, the more I was convinced that I’d rather do something than not do something.
I had never been on TV. It’s one of those things that actors sometimes struggle with. I was like, “All right, I’d love to do this, even if it is no money. Why don’t you see if they’ll have me?” I was expecting some kind of offer, but my agent was like, “Yes, they like you. They want you to come in and audition for it.” I thought, “There’s no money. The guy dies in Episode 6. He’s barely in the pilot. And I have to audition for it?” Then, it just feels like you’re fighting for something that somebody doesn’t really want you in. The more I dug into it, the more I realized they had tested a bunch of guys for it, and none of the guys had gotten the job. So, I went in and auditioned for it, and the audition went great. Then, Elwood [Reid] called me into his office and said, “There’s no money, and he dies in Episode 6.” I was like, “Yes, but look at this part, and look at how amazing this scene is. I’d get to do this scene. I’d love to do it.” So, I did it. In Episode 6, I lived. In Episode 10, I was supposed to die, and they re-wrote it after I fell off the bridge, so I made it to Season 2.
What’s in store for Daniel, in the upcoming episodes?
LILLARD: I think that leading into the first episode of the season, the idea of having a two beer limit is pretty rife with drama. He doesn’t really hold onto that rule very well. He struggles with his sobriety. One of the great things that I love about playing the character is that he’s this incredibly tortured soul, and he happens to be a reporter. He struggles with his sobriety and, as he’s on this journey, he may fall into that pit somewhere along the line.
LILLARD: Daniel has no scruples. I feel like there’s no end to what he’ll do and where he’ll go. This season, I don’t think he really gets to that end. The great thing about playing this guy is that he doesn’t really care. At the end of the day, it’s all about the story. That kind of single-mindedness is fun to play. This season, he stays relatively within the bounds.
You always seem to provide some kind of comic relief in your roles, but The Bridge is obviously a very heavy, dramatic project. Do you seek out those roles, or do you try to inject a little bit of extra humor, at times, that’s not already there?
LILLARD: I definitely bring an energy that’s different than other people on the show. I don’t really have a lot of jokes. It’s not like Elwood, and our incredible writing staff, give me a lot of jokes. I certainly get to say more funny things on the show than anyone else. And I generally find opportunities to be funny in really high stakes. Scream is a great example of that. When you’re running for your life, and you’re at the end of your rope and the stakes are really high, to be able to make people laugh in that little sweet spot, I like doing that. I think that it’s a combination. I think that the writers and Elwood have found a great way to use me in the show. I think that Emily [Rios] and I do a lot of solving the case, but on top of that, we can add a little levity to a world that’s so ripe with drama. I think that they lean into me for that, and I tend to find it on the day.
What’s it like to work with Emily Rios?
LILLARD: She’s great. I think that we’re a little bit of the wonder twins. She and I are very simpatico, in how we approach the work. On set, we have developed, over the last few years, great shorthand. Together, we work on scenes before we ever get to set. We’ll bring scripts to set. I think that together we have a rhythm, in terms of how we work. I love her to pieces, and I think that she feels the same way about me. We’re great friends. Between having the same approach to the work, and caring deeply for her and loving the woman, it makes work a real joy. On top of that, I think that we both are really proud to be on the show. You can’t always say that on every show you’re on, or with every movie you do. God knows, I have been in some horrible films. You understand that you’re just trying to make your rent and feed your kids. But this is a show that I think that we both appreciate, every day we’re on set, and are having fun doing it. I think that that comes out in the work we’re doing, and I think it’s translating to the writers’ room. I think that they like writing for us. All in all, I can’t imagine a better situation to be in, as an actor. That’s how goo-goo, ga-ga I am over her, and what’s happening with us on the show.
What have you enjoyed about the Daniel/Adriana partnership this season, and where is it heading in the remaining episodes?
LILLARD: The thing I like about it is that the writers trust us, and they know that we’re going to be around. Last season, they were beholden to what was happening in the Swedish show and they weren’t creating their own story. Last year, I don’t feel like they had a clear sense of what they were doing with us. The thing I like about us this season is that the writers are using us in a really great way to help solve the case. Diane, Marco and Sonya are off doing their thing, and Emily and I can help piece together the story. They’re different trajectories. They’re working on their story, and we’re working on our story. The great thing is that we’re more active this year in the main storyline. Sometimes if you’re third, fourth, fifth, sixth or seventh on the call sheet, you get relegated to one or two scenes, and I feel like, towards the end of the season, we start to get more work, and we start to answer that riddle for the writers. The writers like writing for us and putting words in our mouth, so we get great words and great opportunities to do good stuff. Not to give away spoilers, but we’re in the last episode and we’re part of answering a big riddle of the season. As it expands, we expand with it, instead of getting left behind, so that’s been pretty great.
LILLARD: Good question. I think my favorite aspect of his personality is that I like the fact that he’s tragically flawed. I like the fact that a modern television and modern drama on cable has characters that are really intricate and deep and have multiple layers. I love the fact that he is a character that is tragically flawed, and he is continually trying to rise up and do his best. He hasn’t given up. He’s not living in a hotel room in Juarez, just getting drunk and high, all day, every day. He’s still on this pursuit of redemption, and that’s what I love about the character. He’s incredibly broken and still trying to get back. There’s a resiliency that I love. I think that that is the part that I can relate to, as a man and as an actor in this industry. There are a lot of people in ‘90s films that just never came back. Having been a guy that didn’t work for a year, and didn’t have a job and downsized his life and sold his house and his cars and just tried to figure out what the heck I was going to do, if I never had a chance to come back, looking into that abyss of being cooked in this industry and sticking with it and finding myself in the place I am now, which is a place where I’m proud of my work and proud of where I’m at and on a great show, I think that that resilience is what I understand, in a really great way.
This show is obviously a really dark show, so do you ever take any of the darkness from the show home with you, or do you find that you don’t have too much of a problem separating yourself from your character?
LILLARD: We just wrapped two weeks ago, and I have been in this absolute funk. I’ve been in this weird, really sad, morose, mellow place. Normally, when I wrap, I’m immediately like, “What’s next?,” and I start writing something to direct. I’m always going. After the wrap of the show, I’ve found myself to be in a really different, quiet place. Personally, I think it’s the effect that the show has had on me. Certainly, towards the end of the season, Daniel goes to a darker place, and living in that space on a set all day, and having to deal with that and the tension of that and the really high stakes of that, I feel like it has left an impact on me. There’s been a re-entry period. When you are on location for two months, and then you go home, you are immediately expected to be a dad and husband again. You’re picking kids up from school, and your whole world is upside down. There’s a re-entry period. That’s what I call it. Generally, there’s this moment where you have to recollect yourself and re-attune to who you are, as a man back in the real world. From the beginning of the season, I had a very clear sense of where we were going to start and where my character was going to finish, and I felt like this year has definitely left its mark on me, in a really great way. I just want to clarify that I don’t think I’m a comedic element. I think I bring some levity, but I still think that he’s dealing with these really high stakes. I don’t think he’s a piece of comedy. It definitely left an impact on me this season, for sure.
At his best, Daniel is a high-functioning addict, and there has to come a point where he’s going to self-combust. How long will it be before we get to that point, and what might the consequences of that be?
LILLARD: One of the great things that Elwood said to me is that he likes writing for me because he feels like he can give me anything. Episode 207 was a really great episode for me. I remember reading 207 and thinking to myself, “This is what he promised, when I came back.” He starts self-destructing in 207, and like any guy who self-destructs, he does so in pretty glorious ways. And I think that the consequences from 207 directly impact the character, for seasons to come. Our show is hard. Once you’re past Episode 203, you are really connected to a story that starts to drive forward. I’m not number one or number two on the call sheet. I’m number three or four. Consequences are not really that important to the show, meaning that the show has a lot of pieces to pull together. So, Daniel Frye isn’t necessarily on the top of the agenda. The consequences, over the course of the end of the season and into next year, will be felt deeper. The amazing thing about the show is that the two leads are incredible, and the stories that we’re chasing are multi-faceted, dark, twisted and long-reaching. In general, the impact of what happens to Daniel Frye isn’t necessarily as interesting to the world as what happens to our lead stories.
Do you think that Daniel has it in him to keep dodging death and stay on the show a little longer?
LILLARD: I will say that there’s an episode coming up that is mind blowing, the things that happen. No character is safe on our show. I saw a script where I died in Season 1. I got the script and it said, “Daniel Frye is dead.” I’ve seen it, and I know how it happened. I know the look on Elwood’s face when he hands you that script. I’m not beyond that. I don’t think anyone on our show is beyond that. Saving probably Diane [Kruger] and Demian [Bichir], everyone is up for grabs. And there’s an episode coming up that will surprise people with what happens to the characters. The truth of the matter is that I would love to be a character that they use and dig deeper into a pit of despair with, and then they have to kill him because there’s no way out. I’d love to be that kind of character. That means that they’re using you in a way that’s full of muscle. As an actor, that’s what you want. I’d love to go out in a blaze of glory, if you’ve given me an entire season of work that gets him to a place where you have to kill him. That’s the truth. If you can build a great story around it and it supports Season 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 of the show, and you have to kill me, then kill me good.
LILLARD: No, I do not do that. What I do is go in and say, “Why are you doing this to my character?” Elwood has an open door. I believe in the idea of being an advocate for your character, and that does not happen on every show. I know that, for a fact. But his door is open and I’m one of the guys that uses it to walk in and say, “Why is this happening? Why are you doing this?” I definitely don’t tell them what to do with my character, but I certainly help shape what’s happening to the character, in the moment. I have strong opinions, but they’re not always listened to. There are some times that I go in and pitch something or ask to change something and it doesn’t happen, and there are a lot of times that they listen to what I’m saying.
I walk and talk and breathe in the skin of Daniel Frye, in every episode. I know him better than anyone. Our writers come in and they have to service 20 different voices, and all I do is service one. I have a clear sense of who he is, and the decisions I’ve made about being an addict and trying to rise from that and finding strength in that and being the smartest guy in the room. There are all these choices that I’ve made, so if they write something that’s completely contrary to who he is, I’ll go in and say, “How does this track with Episode 4 of Season 1? It doesn’t make sense.” Together, we’ll try to find a good way to bridge that gap that sometimes happens between the writers and Daniel Frye. The best way that I would describe me is being an advocate for my character. I’m really lucky that we have a writer and a showrunner who is gracious enough and humble enough to say, “Okay,” and will at least listen.
Since you’ve already wrapped the season, do you have another project lined up already?
LILLARD: No. I would like one, though. Can you please put me in Guardians of the Galaxy 2? I’d love to be in that movie. I’d like to be in any movie, actually.
Since you’re so good at both comedy and drama, are you looking to do more of a mix of the two now?
LILLARD: Yes. I think that every actor is interested in doing that. There’s not a comedy actor out there who doesn’t want a chance to do drama, and vice versa. As actors, we’re always looking to be pushed and to do the other side of the coin. For me, I would love to do both. I’d love to just continue to work in great things. Having worked with Alexander Payne in The Descendants, and doing the kind of tone where you’re laughing one moment and the very next moment you’re crying, I think that’s real life. I think that comedy and drama live a breath away. For me, if I’m doing really great work, and I can be connected to the words and be real, and then immediately make people laugh, I think that that’s a fantastic place to live. I feel like there are not a lot of people that deal in that nuance. Film and television has been pushed in extreme directions, having extreme horror and extreme comedy, and I don’t think that that reflects real life. I would just love to have great jobs. That’s what I’d love to have.
What are your thoughts on Scream becoming a TV series, and if that is a good format to tell those stories?
LILLARD: It makes me very old. Any time that they’re remaking something that you’re in, in a completely different format, it generally means that you’re ancient. As far as the format’s concerned or whether it works, I don’t understand how Scream rolls into a TV series, but there are very smart writers in the world, and I’m sure they can figure it out. I’ll be interested to see the first episode, and see how they do.
The Bridge airs on Wednesday nights on FX.