Since making the move from modeling to acting, Krysten Ritter has enjoyed a steady rise, graduating from quirky TV guest spots (Veronica Mars, Gilmore Girls), to big screen best friends (Confessions of a Shopaholic, She’s Out of My League) to a jaw-dropping turn as a junkie on AMC smash Breaking Bad. During a summer vacation from the screen, Ritter has returned to Second Stage Theatre, where she appeared in Rajiv Joseph’s All This Intimacy, to play a quirky British real estate agent in Zach Braff’s All New People. The 29-year-old actress recently chatted with Broadway.com about her humble beginnings, love affair with New York and shark-like approach to the entertainment business.
What brought you back to the stage?
I have a pilot that got picked up [the forthcoming ABC sitcom Apartment 23] so I had a summer window and thought, “You know what would make me happy? Going to New York and walking to a theater every day.” So we scoured the land for a good play.
What about this script appealed to you?
My manager said, “You’re gonna love this, she doesn’t stop talking for the first third of the play!” My character, Emma, has a really interesting past and a great dramatic arc. Great scene partners, a great arc, drama and comedy? There’s not much more you can ask for.
What do you like about doing theater?
It’s the rehearsal process, it’s New York in the summer, it’s walking to the theater, zoning out, listening to headphones. There’s something sexy and romantic about it. It’s not about anything except the work, the play, and getting back to basics. It’s a nice break from Hollywood.
Are you an L.A. girl full time now?
I’m wherever the work is, really, so I’m probably only there two or three months out of the year.
So, you're a nomad?
Totally. I’ve been living out of a suitcase since I was 16 years old, when I started modeling. I just bought a bed for the first time and I had to have someone come help me, because I didn’t even know where to start!
What do you think you’d be doing if you hadn’t been scouted as a model?
That scares the shit out of me. I don’t want to think about it! I’m very grateful for that fateful day. I’m from the smallest town of anybody I know [Shickshinny, Pennsylvania]; my graduating class had like 52 kids in it. I’m from a beef farm, dude. 5:00 AM: cows to feed, no matter what.
Do you get back there often?
I go when I can. I recently went and visited my family and spoke at my high school, which was cool. Sometimes in small towns you’re not really encouraged to have big aspirations, so it’s nice to maybe inspire people a little.
Were you an aspirational kid?
Not really, because I’m from a place where nobody says you can be. I was like, “Oh…so I can be a dental hygienist?” I was absolutely terrified. So when I started modeling, I thought, "How do I work really hard and turn this into something else and never go back?"
Were you ever nervous about making the transition to acting?
You know, I never really thought about it. You get rejected all day every day, no matter where you are in your career, and I never take it personally. You just have to keep going. Like a shark.
What do you look for when picking projects?
I look for proper scenes. That sounds so silly, but I really love a well-written scene, a good arc and a character that’s clearly defined. There are a lot of crappy roles out there for women. I’ve been lucky in the last few years that every role I’ve done has been very different from the last one. That’s what excites me.
You’ve done TV shows with serious cult followings—Gilmore Girls, Gossip Girl, Veronica Mars, Breaking Bad. What are you most well known for?
I’ve been on bad shows too! I got really lucky with Breaking Bad; that was career changing. I get stopped at least two or three times daily. I was in Times Square and a garbageman started yelling from a truck, “We love you on Breaking Bad!” People just go apeshit.
You’re in a new movie, L!fe Happens, which you also wrote, right?
Yeah, my friend Kat and I thought there was a void of fun, female stuff, so we decided to write our own. We ran into problems trying to make like a female Swingers, because there are double standards and girls end up coming across slutty, so thank God Kat went and had a baby, which inspired this movie.
Are you swapping war stories with Zach Braff, who wrote and starred in Garden State?
We’ve waxed poetic about it all day, every day. I missed my movie’s premiere because of the play, so we all passed around a screener and Zach was very big brotherly and proud of me. It’s been great, I really enjoy getting dirty and making stuff on my own. I want to do it all!