‘Jury Duty’ Star James Marsden on Ronald’s Big Reveal & Keeping Antics Comedic
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Jury Duty Season 1.]
Jury Duty has reached a verdict and come clean to Ronald Gladden, the kind-hearted target of Amazon Freevee‘s hidden camera experiment. The unsuspecting everyday guy was shocked to discover that the case between a business owner and ex-employee was entirely fabricated, along with the rest of his jury members, the judge, the bailiff, and more.
Among the planted jury members was movie and television star James Marsden (Westworld, Dead to Me). Along the way, the actor has forced the jury to become sequestered for the case, clogged up toilets with faux feces, and leaned into the stereotypes of celebrity personalities for this grand ruse only to be faced with kindness from Ronald. So, what was it really like to serve jury duty for the Amazon Freevee series? Below, Marsden opens up about embracing a heightened persona and highlighting kindness.
You’re the reason the jury has to be sequestered, and then you don’t even participate in the sequester. How did it feel to play an antagonistic version of yourself?
James Marsden: I get to play a jackass version of myself. I mean, a completely self-involved, egocentric Hollywood celebrity who thinks he’s better than anyone else in the room and assumes that everybody in the room wants to hear about what project he’s doing next and they really don’t give a s**t. But that to me was where the comedy came from, to be able to play this entitled celebrity and everything that entailed. And the contrast of that character in the most equalizing experience that we do here in America. You’re serving jury duty in this broken-down courtroom with crappy lighting, and you don’t know when you’re gonna leave. You don’t have your assistant with you. You don’t have your glam squad with you. It’s the great equalizer. So to me, that scenario on paper alone was just fertile for a lot of comedy. And the more ridiculous I can be, the more fun that was gonna be.
[Ronald] clearly knew that I was calling the paparazzi to create a disturbance to get out of jury duty, but never once ratted me out, you know? And day after day he kept proving to be the hero. That’s in all of the seven or eight scripts that we had. We didn’t know his name at the time, it was “Hero,” and every day, he just proved that he was a pure-hearted person with a strong character. This is the guy we wanted to celebrate at the end of it. So that when we do lift the curtain, he’s not feeling humiliated or embarrassed. If we achieved what we wanted to achieve, he went on an adventure and was the center of it, but he’s being celebrated.
When it comes time to film, how do you keep a straight face in all of these scenarios? Whether it’s the clogged toilet or the Margaritaville outing?
The only thing that would keep me from laughing was knowing that if I did, you risk the whole thing being popped. Amazon’s shooting two and a half weeks of footage that they can’t use now. It required some adaptability along the way. There was several moments where he started to become suspicious. He would confide in all of us because he thought that we were just normal everyday jurors, and he’d say, “this just feels crazy. Like it’s a reality show or something.” And so once we heard that our eyes just were like, “oh s**t.”
Every day we would all meet for an hour before [Ronald] came, and then once he left, we all would come back and talk about what happened to the day. And there was a day when he was getting suspicious, and so the next day Jake, the director said, “Get ready for a boring day in court. We’re not pushing any of the written comedy beats. We’re just gonna listen to two attorneys droning on court speak for five hours.”
What was the rehearsal and prep process like for the show?
I rehearsed for maybe three or four days before we started. And I felt very ill-prepared going in because the other actors and the improv folks rehearsed for another week before me, but I was on a job that didn’t finish until a few days prior to when we started shooting. So I was having to play catch up really quick, and they were so helpful in getting me up to speed. But if I could do it again, I’d rehearse for a couple more weeks to be really prepared. But the fact of the matter is once he comes in, you know, he’s the wild card. You don’t know what’s gonna make him laugh. If he’s gonna even know who the hell I am. I think that’s the appealing part of it for me, that it was sort of live theater. You get one take, and you’ve gotta be quick on your toes and go with the flow.
Ronald recognized you, after all, from the X-Men movies. When you listed your projects in the waiting room, you really pushed the Sonic the Hedgehog agenda. Why?
Sitting there next to him in the waiting room, I’m just thinking, as an actor playing this character of myself, how do I bring up myself because I feel like I’m giving somebody a gift, as this character? And literally, there was another background player sitting there who had a sock that had a word on it that looked like Sonic. That’s how that came up. That’s how I decided to push Sonic. I thought it might be something that he would recognize because it was something more recent.
Ultimately, Ronald went home and watched Sonic and your other films. How did that feel?
Oh, it was so sweet. It was comedy gold when I brought it up, and he goes, “Oh, I didn’t see that movie because I heard it was really bad.” That’s the meatball right over home plate to take the comedy so many different places. I could just sit there and be upset by the fact that he thought it was a bad movie. It would’ve been harder or less funny if he was like, “Oh, I love that movie.”
But then the next day, he comes in, tail between his legs, “I saw the movie, and it was actually really great. I can’t believe I didn’t know you were in it.” He’s such a sweet guy, such a kind person. A lot of people in the same situation might have been turned off by some of the crazy antics that we get up to as the cast and looked in the other direction. And he kind of just welcomed everybody and their weird characteristics. He embraced them, which made him even more likable at the end when we’re hoisting him on our shoulders and celebrating this [with] him.
Jury Duty, Streaming now, Amazon Freevee