Interview Date: 12/16/2009
Run Date: 01/11/2010
Jeri Ryan’s most iconic role – Seven of Nine, the human-turned-Borg on “Star Trek: Voyager” – is many years gone now, but even without her former character’s ubiquitous corset, she’s still looking damned gorgeous, as you’ll be able to see when she joins the cast of TNT’s “Leverage” on January 13th. As Tara, Ryan is filling a temporary void on the series – Gina Bellman’s pregnancy necessitated that Sophie be written out of the show for awhile – but you’ll be quite impressed with the way she deftly steps into the shoes of a profession conman…or conwoman, whatever. Bullz-Eye chatted with Ryan about her experience working on “Leverage,” and we also asked about her time spent as a former member of the Borg collective, found out what it was like teaming up with James Woods on “Shark,” and got her feelings about the experiences of working on “Dracula 2000,” “The O.C.,” “Dark Skies,” and “Boston Public.”
Jeri Ryan: Hi, Will!
Bullz-Eye: Hey, Jeri, how’s it going? You and I did an interview during a TCA tour a few years ago.
JR: Oh, did we?
BE: Absolutely. I’d tell you it was the time that James Woods went off on an obscenity-filled rant, but I’d guess that wouldn’t narrow it down much.
JR: Yeah, uh, that tended to happen a lot. (Laughs loud and long) But nice try!
BE: So you took some time off post-“Shark” to enjoy motherhood, but you made your return to acting on “Law & Order: SVU.” Was that a case where they came looking for you, or had you just decided that it was time to get back to business and start auditioning again?
JR: Kind of both. I mean, I had decided, “I guess it’s time to get back to it,” so I kind of reluctantly got back on my feet to go back to work. (Laughs) ‘Cause you have to, you know? Your bank account starts saying, “Okay, it’s time. I think you’ve taken a long enough maternity leave.” And I actually met Neal Baer. He and a good friend of mine happen to be good friends, and when they were talking, it came up in conversation that my friend knew me, and he said he was a big fan, so my friend actually set up a meeting for me to meet Neal. So that was really nice. And at the time, they were waiting for the pick-up for their 11th season, and he said that they were looking to add a new female attorney, and what they were thinking now was toying with the idea of, instead of adding one new character full-time, they would add three or four that would do several episodes apiece. That, for me, was perfect, because they shoot in New Jersey and I live in Los Angeles, and I had a toddler at the time. So it worked out perfectly: they offered me that, I came onboard, and that was how I broke my maternity leave. (Laughs)
BE: Was it like riding a bike?
JR: You know, it’s a little tougher than riding a bike, to be honest. It took me a few days to sort of feel comfortable in my skin again, and in a different character, and remembering how it works to act before the camera…the continuity and all of those different things that you have to remember and keep track of. But it was fun.
BE: So what was it like stepping into “Leverage,” where the cast had already been a cohesive unit? Not that you haven’t had some experience with that in the past, but did they make you feel at home?
JR: You know what? They were amazing. As you said, I’ve been in this position several times before. I’m sort of a pinch hitter. (Laughs) “Shark” was the first show I joined from the very beginning, from the pilot on. “Star Trek: Voyager” I was added Season 4, my first series – “Dark Skies” – I was added in the middle of the season, “ and in “Boston Public,” I was added in Season 2. So I’m used to walking into that kind of situation. And I was an Army brat growing up, so I was always the new kid! But they were amazing. It’s an amazing group of people, and they are so funny and so much fun to be around…the crew, the cast, everybody. So, yeah, it was great, and it was a pretty seamless transition. Everybody was very, very welcoming.
BE: When they first pitched you the role of Tara, did they let you know immediately how that first episode was going to end with a twist?
JR: They didn’t have the first episode written. (Laughs) We actually shot out of order. We shot my second episode…which is the winter season opener…first. They didn’t know how exactly they were going to introduce her yet until we shot that one. So, basically, we shot my first episode second, which was a little interesting.
BE: I should think. Well, in that second episode...or, rather, the first one you filmed…you got to play dress-up for your portrayal of a fashion designer, doing a whole photo shoot. I know you did the pageant thing, but did you ever actually do any modeling?
JR: Briefly. Very briefly. When I was in college, and then in my first year out of college, when I first moved to L.A. But then I started acting often enough…or auditioning enough, at least…that I didn’t keep up with the modeling thing. And I was a terrible model, anyway. (Laughs) I’m not tall enough. I’m not built to be a model. That was never my thing.
BE: So what was your knowledge of “Leverage”? Had you watched the show prior to coming aboard?
JR: I knew of the show, but I hadn’t actually seen it until I met Michael Ray, who’s the head of TNT. He gave me a few episodes to watch, and then Dean (Devlin), the executive producer of the show, was nice enough to bring me into his offices and screen several more episodes. But I love it. This is the kind of show that I like, that I’d watch. Do you know what I mean? Its tone…it’s fun, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it’s not just this big action shoot-‘em-up. I love the banter, I love the pace of it, I love the lighthearted tone of it, but you still get tender moments and you still get a lot of character work. I really enjoy it. I really, really do. I think it’s very well done, and I think it hits all the right notes.
BE: So how much did they tell you about the character of Tara when they pitched it to you?
JR: Well, when they first pitched it, they were just sort of working out the details, so I don’t think they had her completely fleshed out. I don’t think they were entirely sure of who she was going to be yet. But by the time we started shooting, John Rogers had sent me a very, very detailed character breakdown and back story. Very detailed back story. (Laughs) Not all of which ends up onscreen, so there’s still a lot of mystery for the audience about her. But I do love how thought-out everything about her was. And she’s a riot! I loved playing the character!
BE: Who’s been your favorite person on the show to work with thus far?
JR: Oh, my goodness…
BE: With the caveat that they’re all great to work with, of course. (Laughs)
JR: God, do I have to pick just one? See, you’re going to get me in trouble. But I loved…okay, in all honesty, my two best work experiences of my entire career have been “Boston Public” and “Leverage,” and the entire cast and crews and producers of both shows, I absolutely adored. These were two very special work experiences, where you’re jus tkind of working in this perfect little bubble, where all of the lements are right and everyone gets along and there’s great energy and great personalities. But if I’ve got to pick one person….? Ugh! But, okay, it’s Beth Riesgraf, who plays Parker. I just adore her beyond words. I was ready to pack her in my suitcase and bring her home with me…and I’m not even kidding. She’s so much fun and such a delight.
BE: I’ve also seen the episode where you’re in the Irish bar…
JR: …which I loved.
BE: I have to say that, uh, they really gave you some excellent wardrobe to work with.
JR: (Laughs heartily) Nadine Haders is the costume designer on “Leverage,” and I have to say that she did an amazing job working with Tara’s character. We had a lot of fun.
BE: I would guess that it’d be entertaining to play a character where you get to unabashedly use sex appeal.
JR: Well, yeah, it was so refreshing, because she’s so unapologetic about it. “Oh, you want me to case this bar? Okay, I’m a barfly.” And I just love that about her: she’s such a ballbuster, and she’s so there, in your face, and doesn’t care what anybody thinks. Whatever it takes for her to get this job done, she’s going to do it, and that was really refreshing and a lot of fun to play.
BE: So how close to Tara are you?
JR: (Hesitates) Um…I think we share a sense of humor. I’ve got that sort of sarcastic, dry sense of humor sometimes. But she’s more out there than I am. (Laughs) I’m not quite that comfortable. But it was a ball to play her, I have to say.
BE: I wanted to ask you about a couple of other things you’ve worked on over the years, the first being “Shark.” Working with James Woods, at least based on the TCA panel, would seem to have been challenging but fun.
JR: Uh, yeah, that’s a good way to put it. (Laughs) But, no, he’s an amazing actor, of course. Everybody knows his resume. So it was pretty exciting to get to work with him.
BE: So if the show had returned for a third season, would you have returned with it?
JR: Well, I was under contract, so… (Starts to laugh)
BE: No, I understand that, but I didn’t know if, with your pregnancy, a possible departure had been discussed at all.
JR: No, I would’ve gone back.
BE: You were on “The O.C.” for several episodes…
JR: Uh, yeah. (Laughs)
BE: …but it seems to be a relatively universal opinion that you were great but the storyline never quite gelled with the series.
BE: What was the experience itself like, though?
JR: It was fun. It was a great group of people, and everyone was very sweet. Again, a group who were nice and welcoming to a new person being around, but…you know, it was light, it was a fluffy character. It was a nighttime soap, so it was fun. It wasn’t any huge, deep, angst-ridden character work. She was just…fun.
BE: With “Boston Public,” I know there was occasionally a battle as far as wanting to focus on the students versus the teachers. Was that something that you were aware of at the time?
JR: I didn’t experience that battle. I wasn’t even really aware of it. For me, that was just this perfect little crystalline bubble of a work experience. Everything about it was just amazing. I mean, it was the first show I had ever worked on up to that point, and one of the very few still…”Leverage” is the only other one…where, literally, you go to set, they say, “Camera’s ready,” every actor walks out of their dressing room, hangs up their phone, and you walk to set. You don’t keep 200 people on the crew waiting or other actors. You don’t say,” I’m not walking ‘til so-and-so walks,” or whatever. Everybody there was so happy to be there, we were so proud of what we were doing, and we genuinely liked each other. It was amazing. It really was amazing. So that was really refreshing and so much fun.
BE: On “Star Trek: Voyager,” how tired did you get of wearing the Seven of Nine costume?
JR: (Bursts out laughing) Oh, God, I so, so wanted to have a bonfire when that show ended. I was so lobbying for them to let me just burn one of the corsets. “Just one!” But, no. (Laughs) It was so nice to get on a show with actual clothing!
BE: What were your favorite episodes of “Voyager”? I’d presume that you’d include any one which didn’t involve wearing the costume.
JR: You know, I loved the ones where Seven was sort of experimenting with humanity, so some of the later seasons, there were episodes where she was… (Hesitates) Of course, I’m not going to remember most of the names of the episodes, because I’m a terrible “Star Trek” fan! (Laughs) “Someone to Watch Over Me” was one of them. I think that was the one where the Doctor was…it was sort of “Pygmalion,” and he was teaching her how to be human and how to date and things like that, and he sort of started to fall in love with her a little bit. It was very poignant and touching and very sweet. So I loved that one. And there was another one, I think it was in the last season, though I can’t remember right now…when she built this entire fantasy life on the holodeck and fell in love with Chakotay, then realized that she couldn’t experience intense emotions because her Borg hardware would short out or whatever. (Laughs) They just ignored that entire storyline for the series finale, though. That all just went by the wayside! But that was a great episode that I enjoyed doing as well. (Writer’s note: The episode in question is entitled “Human Error,” and it was indeed in the final season of “Voyager.”)
BE: I talked to Jonny Lee Miller a few months ago and asked him about working on “Dracula 2000.”
JR: Oh, God. (Laughs)
BE: He said the experience of making it was a great deal of fun, but the script was a lot more interesting than the film turned out to be.
JR: Yeah, that’s exactly it. Oh, yeah. We were all doing it, thinking we were shooting “The Matrix.” (Laughs)
BE: What was it like going into it and then discovering as it progressed that it was in no way going to shape up to be what you expected?
JR: Well, I don’t know that we really realized it while we were still shooting it. I mean, I guess we suspected, but we were still thinking, “Oh, no, no, there’ll be the effects, and it’ll be this and that.” But, uh, yeah, it wasn’t. (Laughs) But it was fun shooting it.
BE: Last question: what’s your favorite project that you’ve worked on that didn’t get the love you thought it deserved?
JR: My first series, “Dark Skies.” NBC gave it a huge send-off when they launched it, then they just left it to the wolves. That was years and years and years ago, of course, but, yeah, they would pre-empt it, then they’d announce that it was going to come back, but the fans never knew where to find it because it would bounce around from night to night. But I think that was a great show that wasn’t really given a fair chance.
BE: Well, it’s been a pleasure talking to you again.
JR: You, too!
BE: I’ve enjoyed the “Leverage” episodes that I’ve seen, and I look forward to seeing more!JR: Thanks a lot. Take care!