We all know there’s truth to the old adage that all good things must come to an end, but few people actually experience this reality as often and with such determinate finality as actors. After all, no matter how successful a play, or film series, or TV show is, eventually, the sets will have to come down, the crew will have to move on to other projects, and these actors who have so fully inhabited their characters will need to search for another vessel in which to best express their talents.
Betsy Brandt knows this all too well. Last year she said goodbye to ‘Breaking Bad’, the universally acclaimed series in which she portrayed the high-strung, fiercely loyal, and proudly purple Marie Schrader for six seasons. She then followed up her amazing work on ‘Breaking Bad’ with a high profile role opposite Michael J. Fox on ‘The Michael J. Fox Show’, but this great comedy fell victim to cancellation before its time.
Fortunately, Brandt has always been an actress who is undeniably of the work, and thus it’s no surprise that without missing a beat, she’s booked a part on Season Two of ‘Masters of Sex’ as well as a series regular role on ABC’s upcoming series, ‘The Club’.
The BGB Studio’s Risa Bramon Garcia, casting director for both shows, chats with Betsy about the work and her process:
How do you feel right now?
Right now I feel…good. Sunny, a little tired, and just good.
Playing the part of Marie on ‘Breaking Bad’ was certainly a watershed moment for you professionally… How did it change you as an actor?
“Breaking Bad changed things for me in so many ways. I mean, working with (and watching) Bryan in itself was invaluable – his work, his attitude, his outlook, his instincts… all of it. And that goes for the whole cast. To be part of a group like that is such an amazing experience, and I still can’t believe the material that we got to work on. I miss that show pretty much every day.”
Was she anything like you?
“Marie and I (were) very different …and that’s one of the things I loved about (playing) her. I feel like you need to love your character…at least that’s how I feel I get inside of that person. “
You mention getting ‘inside of them’ but leaving a character on set can be just as important for an actor’s sanity… How do you go about doing that?
“At the end of the day, I like to be religious about toweling off my make up…that helps me leave that character behind. Sometimes after ‘Breaking Bad’ – certain scenes, anyway – I would cry, because Marie just couldn’t let it go, and I needed the release.”
“I started to really love spinning while I was shooting ‘The MJF Show’. You can sweat it all out…the jokes that weren’t what you wanted them to be, the moments you loved that wouldn’t make it into the show, and just leave it in that room and start over the next day or episode.”
You’re out there auditioning, now that those shows have ended. Can you describe what that process is like for you?
“I think if you can sink your teeth into the work when you’re auditioning, (then) you’re golden… and that’s where the fun of it is. Even if I’m reading for something that I’m probably not going to get, I think: a) thanks for seeing me and b) I have these 5-10 minutes to play this person and let my version of her live during that time. (Plus), usually you meet or see some nice people.”
Can you share some of your best audition stories?
“The best were “Breaking Bad”, “The Michael J. Fox Show”, and “ER”…”
“My test for ‘Breaking Bad’ was pretty uneventful, but meeting Vince was a gift, and I knew it the very first time that I read for him. He also had me read for two other female regular roles in addition to Marie, so I knew he was serious about me and it gave me a chance to show him some range”.
“I loved my role on ‘The Michael J. Fox Show’, and I LOVED reading with Mike. I honestly have never felt such chemistry with someone that I didn’t know before. I think he’s such a genius, and I loved working just to keep up with him during the audition. And we got to improvise a bit.”
‘’ER’ was a job that I felt was out of my league – and I was a little young for the role – but I took my time and played it with everything (that) I had. I thought that a recognizable actor would end up getting it, but I was happy to get into the room and appreciated that they were so gracious. Later, when I was shooting the role, one of the producers told me that when I went in they knew it was mine. I felt that too… and most of the time you don’t walk out of the room with that feeling.”
What about one of your most recent ones… for the role of Leslie in ‘The Club’?
“When I read for ‘The Club’ I wanted to make sure that I knew it well enough so that I didn’t have to think about the lines and I could focus on living the material. When you have material and a character like that to work with, you’d be crazy not to dive into it. It was a lot of fun…I could have kept going for hours. Thank God I got it…it would have broken my heart to let her go.”
Now, how about some of your worst?
“My worst audition stories involve Sir Peter Hall telling me that I was “so close to being good” and some angry man from an office next door yelling at me through a window during the middle of my audition – I thought I was being “Punked”! In a way the latter audition is also one of my best stories though. What doesn’t kill you only makes you tougher!”
How do you prepare for a role?
“I prepare differently for different roles, but my husband always reads with me. I really don’t work on audition material with anyone else.”
Tell me about your training?
“I have a BFA in Acting from University of Illinois. I also studied at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, and with The Moscow Art School at Harvard – both for under a year. I also started work on an MFA at UCLA, but left after a week to do a movie with Blythe Danner… I’ve dropped out of some very prestigious programs.”
Any advice for staying connected to the work when not acting?
“Watch good material and see plays when you can. Someone once told me that you can learn a lot from ‘bad’ – I feel awful saying that – work too, but I always worry that it’ll be contagious.”
What has helped you to remain focused and fulfilled in this business?
“There’s been more than a few times over the years that I thought: Well, that was my last job…I’m disappointed, but proud of what I’ve done. You have to remember to enjoy the good…that’ll get you through the rough times. And there will ALWAYS be rough times. Every career has ups and downs. And then more ups and down…it’s a ride.”
What are you most proud of in terms of your career?
“I’m most proud of the work that I’ve done and the characters that have lived through me. I’m also proud of being able to separate myself from them…but you still have to love them. Serial killer, Hitler, I don’t care… you have to love them.”