The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Eric Ladin (“The Killing”)

If you’ve been trying to figure out why Eric Ladin, who plays Jamie Wright on AMC’s “The Killing,” looks familiar to you but can’t quite pin down why, maybe this will help: in addition to being one of the cast members of HBO’s critically acclaimed miniseries “Generation Kill,” he’s also turned up in a few episodes of “Mad Men,” playing Betty Draper’s brother. Now, however, he’s back to playing Darren Richmond’s campaign manager on “The Killing,” which – as you may already be aware – returned to AMC for its second season on Sunday night. Unfortunately, the ratings weren’t necessarily what you’d call stellar, but Ladin’s enthusiasm about what viewers can expect during the course of the series’ sophomore year may prove infectious.

Bullz-Eye: So are you psyched that “The Killing” is finally back?

Eric Ladin: I am. It’s about time! I think everybody is.

BE: Of course, you realize that a lot of people are really just desperate at this point to find out definitively who killed Rosie Larson.

EL: I do realize that, yeah. [Laughs.] I’ve been reminded of that quite a lot over the last nine months.

BE: Were you shocked at the outcry about the lack of resolution in the season finale?

EL: I was, a little bit. I knew that there would definitely be some people that were upset, but I didn’t foresee the hatred and…just the pure venom that was spat towards our writers. [Laughs.] Yeah, I was a little shocked by that.

BE: At least there was a small but somewhat vocal group that was reminded people that we didn’t find out who killed Laura Palmer until the second season of “Twin Peaks.”

EL: That’s correct. And if you ask David Lynch, he’ll probably tell you that the biggest mistake he made was telling people who killed her at all. I think he said – this was in an interview I read – that if he was able to do it again, he’d never tell who the killer was. So, yeah, I don’t believe that there was anywhere that said that you were guaranteed to find the killer in Season 1, but by the same token, I think that AMC’s PR probably could’ve handled it a speck differently. With that said, as a TV viewer, I would not have expected to find the killer in Season 1. So I guess there’s that.

BE: I don’t hold a grudge, but when I talked to Veena Sud before the series premiered, she did say that everyone would be pleased by the resolution of Season 1. So maybe she had bigger plans that never came to fruition.

EL: [Laughs.] Maybe so.

BE: So how did you find your way onto “The Killing” in the first place? You’d obviously already been part of the AMC family before that, having played Betty’s brother on “Mad Men,” but…

EL: Yeah, I had. But I had a working relationship with the casting directors, and they had approached my representation with this role and said that they had me in mind for it. And then I went in and auditioned, and that was that. But, y’know, as soon as I read the script, as soon as I got it, I knew it was something that I felt very strongly about and wanted to be a part of. It just was so different from anything else I had read.

BE: Going in, how much were you told about Jamie’s plotline beyond the pilot?

EL: You mean after we were shooting, or during the audition process?

BE: During the audition process.

EL: Not much. I kind of gathered what I could from the pilot script and had some conversations with them about it when I came in to speak with them before the audition, but not very much at all. I just kind of came up with stuff, like we always do, and I guess my instincts were correct.

BE: What would say you brought to the character that hadn’t existed on the page before you got there?

EL: You know, it was important for me that… [Hesitates.] There were rewrites on the pilot, and I think that through the first draft and also just through first impressions of Jamie, you don’t see a lot of humility. You see a guy who’s extremely cutthroat. But what you don’t see, I don’t think, is that there’s a reason for everything he does, and he’s always just kind of thinking several steps ahead. There’s a very deliberate and thoughtful process that’s going on through his head, and there’s a reason he’s doing everything he’s doing, so it was important for me as I started to explore him to make sure that that came across. But like most great television, that’s not going to happen right at the beginning. You have to allow characters to kind of live and breathe a little bit before you get to know them.

BE: Initially, your predominant scenes are with Billy Campbell, who plays Darren Richmond, but as the first season went on, you ended up working a bit with Patrick Gilmore, who plays Thomas Drexler.

EL: I did!

BE: There’s a particular scene with Jamie and Drexler…

EL: Was it when we went to his house and he had the 19-year-olds swimming in the rooftop pool?

BE: It was, in fact.

EL: [Laughs.] Yeah, that’s quite an apartment. It’s a famous bachelor pad here in Vancouver that…I think they’ve used it in several other films and stuff. But it was great. Patrick’s fantastic. I love his work on the show, I think that he’s a really talented guy, and it was fun working with him. We got along great, so it was a lot of fun.

BE: Can you speak at all to what we’re going to see in Season 2, either with Jamie specifically or with the show in general?

EL: Yeah, I think that, in terms of Jamie specifically, it’s going to be a different to Jamie than you’ve ever seen. Things happen right off the bat, moments into Season 2, that will let the audience see parts of Jamie and, more importantly, parts of Jamie and Darren Richmond’s relationship that you’ve never seen before. And for Jamie, it’s about finding out how important it is that he cultivates this friendship, and the lines are blurred between work and friendship, as I navigate the season. And then overall, I think just as a theme for Season 2, it’s about the past coming back to haunt us…and every character has that weaved in their storyline. Everybody’s decisions that they’ve made, everybody’s secrets that they’ve tried to keep buried, are all coming to head in Season 2.

BE: Are you hopeful that the people who felt like they got burned by Season 1 give the show another chance?

EL: If not, they can go watch something else. [Laughs.] I’m just being honest. Am I hopeful? Well, obviously. I’ve done a lot of good work out there, as has everyone in the cast, and I think it’s a show that deserves the attention. So, yeah, I’m absolutely hopeful. If people aren’t going to turn back in because they were upset by Season 1, then, frankly, this isn’t a television show for them. They can go watch “Hawaii Five-0.” And nothing against “Hawaii Five-0,” but this just isn’t their television show. This is a show that is for somebody who wants to watch character development, wants to watch themes, wants to watch a family get torn apart and how they react to that and respond to that, how detectives don’t draw their gun every single episode, that there’s more methodical and cerebral things that go on in day-to-day life when trying to solve a murder.

BE: For those who might be tuning in with the mindset of “I’m giving you one more chance,” will they get enough in the early hours of Season 2 to feel like it’s been worth their while to give “The Killing” another go?

EL: I think so, yeah. I feel like the first two hours are a fantastic two hours. I think they answer some questions that people were unsatisfied with, maybe, in the first season, and things that have been lingering on their mind throughout the hiatus between Seasons 1 and 2. But in true fashion of our television show, they’re going to open some more doors. But, you know, I think that’s kind of the great thing about this show. It’s why people like to sit around and talk about “Lost.” “What are your theories? What are your theories?” And the same with “Twin Peaks.” We have that in our show. “I think he did it.” “Well, I don’t know, ’cause the way he did this…” And I think that breeds conversation, it breeds theories and all that, and I think that’s what makes it kind of fun.

BE: The Onion AV Club, although they may not have loved the entire first season, had a fun thing going with each review where they declared the episode’s Guilty, Guiltier, and Guiltiest characters.

EL: Yeah, and that’s kind of… For me, at the end of a standard procedural, it’s tied up and it’s finished, and there’s not really much more to talk about. Television should make you think, make you leave and go back in your head and think about the scenes you saw and why people did certain things. I mean, I think one of the things in particular with this show that the writers do so well, and one of the payoffs in Season 2 for viewers who were fans of Season 1 and have stuck with the show, all of a sudden things are going to start to unravel as we get closer, and you’re going to start to be able to call back to the things that happened in Season 1 and go, “Oh, that’s why they did that! Okay, all right, I get it now…” They do an incredible job of mapping out the entire two seasons, so, y’know, I think that’s gonna be a huge payoff for our avid fans.

BE: My favorite episode of Season 1, even though it got mixed reviews from critics, was 1.11 (“Missing”), just because you actually got to feel like you knew Sarah and Holder.

EL: Absolutely. I love that episode. A lot of people did not. A lot of people thought that it was a stall tactic. But I am right with you. I thought that it was a perfect chance to get to really know those two characters and realize a little more about their relationship. And it also shows that, even though it’s television, other things happen in our day-to-day lives. Even detectives. Things happen in their daily lives that they have to deal with in addition to the crime they’re trying to solve. So I enjoyed it.

BE: I wanted to touch on a few other things you’ve worked on over the years. First of all, how did you come to be the narrator on the History Channel series “Mudcats”?

EL: Oh! That was also an audition process. In voiceover, I’ve started to get a little more work here and there, and things have started to get on kind of a roll for me, which is awesome. I really enjoy doing voiceover. I think they probably heard my voice on something, and then I went in, and…I think we did about three runs of it in different fashions, and then they offered me the job. It was a blast. It was a blast to do. They’re really great. All the producers are fantastic, and the show… [Starts to laugh.] The show is neat. It’s not something I would do. I don’t know that I’d stick my hand in a hole for a 60-pound catfish. But it’s fun watching these guys do it.

BE: Have you seen that they’ve already spotlighted the series on “The Soup”?

EL: [Laughs.] No! What did they say?

BE: Oh, you know: Joel McHale picked out as many sexual double entendres on your show as he does for “Hillbilly Handfishing.”

EL: Nice! That’s fantastic! I’ll have to look that up on YouTube. That’s funny!

BE: On “Mad Men,” you get to play Betty Draper’s younger brother. What was it like being a part of that ensemble?

EL: It’s amazing. You know, that’s a show that, in all honesty, I think is maybe one of the best television shows ever. I love “Mad Men.” I’m a huge fan of that show. And, y’know, I got to work very closely with Jon (Hamm) and January (Jones), and that was a treat. And just working with Matt Weiner…he’s incredibly specific, and he’s so detail-oriented in everything from the writing to the sets to the costumes…which, of course, everybody hears about all the time. But it is so true, and having worked on it, you see that first hand. And it’s pretty great.

BE: Presumably you can neither confirm nor deny if we’ll be seeing William in the upcoming season.

EL: I cannot. [Laughs.] In the secretive fashion of “Mad Men” and AMC’s shows in general, I can neither confirm nor deny that.

BE: You’ve done a lot of one-off roles on shows as well, particularly in the last year or so, where you turned up on “Criminal Minds,” “Miami Medical, “Dark Blue,” and so on. Do you have a favorite of the bunch that really stands out for you?

EL: You know, they’ve all been great. I think one of the ones…I worked on “Justified” earlier this year, which is a cool show, and I had a lot of fun working on that because I’m a fan and I think they’re great over there. And…going back, I think one of my favorite shows that I’ve worked on was “Cold Case.” That was a way back, but I worked with a fantastic director named Paris Barclay, who I’ve worked with since then, and he’s fantastic. I also worked with a great actor named Arlen Escarpeta. I’ve remained close with both of them, so that was a lot of fun and something that I’ll always remember.

BE: What was the “Generation Kill” experience like?

EL: Maybe the best ever. [Laughs.] Yeah, that was seven months in Africa, shooting this really intense but great show, but it came at a perfect time in my life, and it really helped me kind of get on the career path that I’m on right now. HBO, as I’m sure you always hear, is fantastic to work with, but that show in particular just…it gave all of us an experience that I’m not sure we’ll have again. It was something special, and a lot of those guys I’m still very, very close with today.

BE: You don’t hear as much about that show as you do, say, “The Wire,” but how interactive was David Simon on the set?

EL: Extremely. Ed Burns was a little bit more interactive, only because about a month into our shooting schedule, “The Wire” picked back up. So David went back to “The Wire,” and he would come back intermittently, and Ed stayed with on set with us throughout the remainder. So he was there the whole seven months. But both are fantastic, both have such a unique way of working. I’ve said before, one of the most fantastic things about them is that they really allow you to play and find your character, and once you do, they’re so open to hearing what you have to say and allowing you to kind of test the waters with things you want to do and things you want to explore. They’re really great, and they’re really fantastic people to work for.

BE: Now, you filmed the episodes in South Africa and…where else?

EL: We started in Namibia, spent about five weeks there, and then we spent close to three months in South Africa, in a little town called Upington, which is right in the middle of South Africa. Maybe a little north of the middle, but pretty much right there in the center. And then we went to Maputo, in Mozambique, and we spent maybe two months there to finish off. So it was quite a trip. And in the meantime, we traveled, and when we had a few days off, we went to Zimbabwe and Zambia on trips, and we went scuba diving off the coast of Tofu Beach…oh, we had a ball.

BE: How do you enjoy doing the voiceover work for video games?

EL: It’s cool! It’s a lot more work than I thought it was, I’ll tell you that. With “inFAMOUS 2,” because that was motion-capture work in addition to just the voice work, it got grueling. And not to mention, Cole McGrath doesn’t do a lot of sitting around on his couch. [Laughs.] He’s jumping and climbing and flying and shooting and killing and everything in between. So, yeah, it was a neat experience and something I would gladly welcome again if the opportunity arose.

BE: Lastly, most of your work as an actor has been dramatic. Has there been a comedic role that you’ve had that you’d recommend?

EL: You know… [Starts to laugh.] I love doing comedy, but, yeah, for some reason, my career has kind of continued to steer me toward hour-long television. I’ve booked half-hour pilots that seemed to never get off the ground. Maybe that’s because I’m involved in them…? I don’t know. But, no, I can’t think of anything in particular. But I hope to be putting some more comedy under my belt soon.

BE: Well, I was mostly curious about this movie called “Bar Starz” that’s on your IMDb page…

EL: Oh. Oh, wow. Did you see how I didn’t mention that? [Laughs.]

BE: I haven’t seen the movie. I’ve only seen the poster. But having seen that, that’s why I had to ask.

EL: Well, that, uh, is a comedy. So there’s that. And, uh, yeah, there I am on the poster with my shirt off. [Laughs.] It actually was a very fun project to work on. It’s on Netflix, if you have 90 minutes to kill.

BE: We’ll be linking to that…

EL: It’s got an incredible cast, actually. One of my buddies, Jon Bernthal (“The Walking Dead”) is in it, and there’s some other great actors in the movie, but…it’s, uh, fairly silly. [Laughs.] Definitely not for everyone.

The Killing Season 2 poster


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