Since she started her acting career in 2004, Krysten Ritter has been known for playing mostly "edgy" roles. A hipster college chick who is a bad influence on young Rory in Gilmore Girls? Check. A reformed junkie named Jane who slips back into her druggie ways when she meets Jessie Pinkman in Breaking Bad? Double check.
But none of her wicked characters has held a candle to Chloe, who is the titular bitch in the ABC sitcom Don’t Trust the B—— in Apartment 23, which returns for its second season on October 23. From the first minutes of the pilot, where she is seen having sex with her new roommate June’s boyfriend atop of June’s birthday cake, Chloe has been one of the more irredeemable characters ever to headline a sitcom.
In the show’s first, brief season alone, she’s tricked Kevin Sorbo into being her date to a wedding by saying it was an MS benefit, set June up with her cheating louse of a father, and took on a foster child so she could have an assistant during her "busy season," i.e. seducing lonely UN diplomats into giving her trips and expensive toys.
Ritter, though, has pulled off the trick of making her bitch into a likeable one, a scoundrel who is fun to watch week after week. Co.Create talked to Ritter about Chloe and some of her other bitchy characters, and she explains how she is able to take a role that could be one-dimensional and make her into someone viewers root for.
I try to put a positive spin on things. I think that you can’t just have an evil bitch. She has to be fabulous, and she has to be fun. I think what I try to do is make everything fun and fabulous and a little light on her feet. If she is having a really fun time doing these evil things, I think other people have fun with it as well. There were a lot of moments to do that. For example, when June comes to interview for the apartment for the first time and my character is just laying it on super thick with her pink drink and her pictures of Dawson’s Creek and her chicken satay, and her love of Baz Luhrmann movies. That was sort of where I started with her.
My favorite thing about that pilot, it was the best half-hour pilot I’ve read in my entire career. In one episode alone I had a switchblade, I was having sex in a birthday cake, I was dancing in a hip-hop music video, I was getting a kid drunk, and I was selling drugs. I was like, "This is fun," and I just felt like for me, if I was going to sign on to potentially play a character for a long period of time—even though I’m in season two this is the longest I’ve ever played a character—I wanted to make sure that I was excited and that I loved doing it. And let me tell you, nobody loves their job more than me. I just love Chloe. I love playing her. It is just beyond.
Whatever headspace you need to live in for your character is sort of where you stay in between scenes. I sort of get in the character every day by driving to work fast with the top down listening to hardcore gangster rap and just getting super-sleazy. That is what I do, and mostly I would never do things like that. I find myself making a lot of dirty jokes. I find myself being a little bit more fabulous than I normally would. Just the little things like that. I just kind of get there and stay there. When the show is over I go back to wearing Uggs and my pajamas to work.
Chloe takes a lot of energy. She is a live wire. In order to do that, I take really good care of myself. I get all of my food delivered. While I’m shooting I’m on my A-game. I eat very, very healthy. I go to bed very early. I do yoga four-times-a-week. I do everything I can to make sure that my body can function at full-throttle.
Well it turns out that [in one episode, Chloe is] a registered sex offender. She was seventeen, the gray area according to Chloe, and when I announced this piece of information, this exposition, I completely threw it away, threw away the live dialogue and quickly moved on to something else. If you just breeze past those things that sort of undercuts the evil and makes it funny, and you’re kind of like, "What just happened?" It is just another way to get a laugh.
I think that basically, [series creator Nahnatchka Kahn] and I were always on the same page from the very beginning. My concerns before having a conversation with anybody were, "Yeah, she’s not going to be a bitch. It is going to be softened." I want to make sure that is not happening. She told me from the very beginning. She was honest. She said, "We’re not going to soften this character. It is called Don’t Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23. If you can trust her, we have no show."
This is a crazy person. This is Holly Golightly if she were to exist now. This is a lift on Audrey Hepburn’s character in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Why is she dressed like that? Where is she coming from? She’s standing in front of Tiffany’s, and she’s dressed like that. What is she getting into? That was the most exciting thing ever. I love this character. I love that she’s not pining after a guy. I love that she’s not climbing the corporate ladder. I love that she is a fabulous force of nature. It is true. I’ve never seen a character like this on television, especially in the form of a female.
Well you always want your characters to be dimensional and human, you know what I mean? You have to bring something to it. I try to bring myself to every role. The last thing you want to seem like to other people is a talking head or an actor reading lines. It is sort of like the exact opposite of what it actually is. Of course I try to find nuances and little things to make a character pop in whatever way, but good writing is good writing.
[With Jane in Breaking Bad] I just sort of personalized things. I think that is like my secret stuff that I don’t have to tell you about. Do you know what I mean? I have experiences with friends that have had drug issues, so it wasn’t that hard to tap into someone that has inner demons. That’s all you do. It is always an "as if." You have to make the stakes high for yourself. I have an acting teacher that we worked hours and hours findings actions for every, single scene. I won’t walk on the set without hours of rehearsing.
I think that the more comfortable and the more you rehearse—granted, I don’t like to take the air out of a tire; there is a fine line—but I think the freer you are with your dialogue, for example, the more open you are to a good idea walking up to you. I think if you don’t know your lines and you’re not comfortable, you can’t be completely present. You can’t really listen, and I’m trained in Meisner, and working with someone like Aaron Paul gives you so much. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re not going to be free to listen and react to what amazing stuff he’s giving you, etc.
I think for me, rehearsing is just about putting that time in, and two heads are always better than one. I usually find 90 percent of it on my own and then you go and work with your teacher. My teacher is Marjorie Valentine. She is awesome. She finds stuff, and I’ll be like, "Jesus, that never really crossed my mind." It is a collaborative thing. It is important to rehearse and get things back and have somebody to bounce ideas off of.
It is getting to the point where I know Chloe [from Apartment 23] better than anybody else. I rehearse on my own, weekends. For me, I spend hours and hours on the weekends working on Chloe. I run my entire script, and then during the week I don’t really even look at the call sheet to find out what scenes are what day. I run the entire script, and then when I get there in the morning, "Oh right, we’re shooting this scene." Or I’ll work with wardrobe, and "Okay, I want her to look like this for when she does this," Or "I want this to add a joke or add a little of sexiness or just comfort for somebody else."
I do a lot of hard work for Chloe. With comedy, the better you know your character, the better you can improvise. Sometimes you can find some really great stuff when you improvise. When you can’t do that, you don’t know what you’re doing.