'Ratched' Star Jon Jon Briones on Dr. Hanover's Journey
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Season 1 of Ratched.]
Ryan Murphy's latest Netflix venture has added new depth to Mildred Ratched's story, but it's the characters she meets along the way that make Ratched so compelling.
Jon Jon Briones' Dr. Richard Hanover, the head of Lucia State Hospital, encounters Sarah Paulson's authoritative presence when she applies for a job. Like everyone, the doctor has his fair share of secrets. A drug abuse problem, funding fears and the looming retaliation over a gruesome and near-fatal medical procedure have him tightly wound.
When Charlotte Wells (Sophie Okonedo) — a women with multiple personality disorder — enters his orbit, Hanover sees it as an opportunity to make positive change. The distraction pulls his attention from nurse Ratched's actions, leading to his dismissal from the hospital. With slim hopes, the doctor makes his escape and Charlotte tags along — with deadly consequences. Below, Briones reflects on his role, whether fans have seen the last of Dr. Hanover and more.
What initially drew you to the character of Dr. Richard Hanover?
Jon Jon Briones: Luckily [Ryan Murphy] liked my work so far, and he offered it to me. I remember he told me about the role at the Emmys' after party, after The Assassination of Gianni Versace won. He said, "You know, Jon, you're going to be happy with the character you'll be playing. I wrote you a very good role." And that was amazing.
When they finally sent me the first three scripts, to see how complex this character is, and how big the role is — it's the biggest role I've ever done — and to be head-to-head with Sarah Paulson's character was so special. And the fact that the character is a Filipino was so special because they acknowledge my culture in this character, which they could have ignored, but they embraced it. It made relating to the character easier.
Your character certainly has some twists and turns. Do you think we've seen the last of him in the series, even after his death?
Well on paper you go, "Okay, he's done." But in the world of Ryan Murphy, you're never really dead. And if that happens, I would welcome the surprise, because his vision is so epic, and so unexpected. But if he is done, I think I did everything for the role [that I could]. When I first read it, I didn't know what was going to happen to him [after] the first three episodes. He kept on surprising me every time they'd send me the next script. The more I got the new scripts, the more I realized he was just peaking and peaking and there's nowhere for him to go but down.
And besides, this is such a feminist story, that it makes sense that he's rid of. They end him because he is such a mess, and he's escaping his demons, and trying to hide these skeletons, and trying to ease his pain by self-medicating. I think that was good to be ended by the hands of Charlotte's character. He sees Charlotte as his deliverance, because he's having a breakthrough with her, and for her to end that, there's something sad and poetic about it.
He claimed his true goal in life was to help people. Do you think that's entirely honest? Or is he just trying to survive himself?
Oh, I truly believe he's a good person. He's a brilliant doctor and he knows, deep inside, he can cure people. His ego got in the way, and he's got a God complex I believe. He is an outsider and wants to prove that he belongs in that world. When you think about it, it's designed for him to fail. And so he is going to do everything in his power to be recognized, but the ego got in the way and got him in trouble.
Would you be willing to say that his death was his own fault then? He did put Charlotte in a closet knowing that much of her trauma stems from being locked in a closet.
He's just full of desperation. He became so protective of her for a selfish reason. And his mistakes didn't end there. It just kept on going. For him to hide her in that closet, yes, he was not thinking. He messed up. Nothing made sense to him anymore. The whole world was crumbling all around him at that point. It just makes sense that Charlotte's demons finally literally came out of the closet to pass judgment on him.
The show could be quite gruesome at times, between Corey Stoll's Charles Wainwright being cooked alive and Brandon Flynn's Henry with his amputations and lobotomies. Was it less scary behind the scenes?
Well, it's a good thing it was a long time in the making. Before we shot, we'd have a doctor on site to guide us through how to stitch things up or how to do a lobotomy. So it was by the numbers, and I think it helps that you find the fun in it.
When we were doing the lobotomy, we had a lot of cast members in the scene, and they're just observing the way I do things. They know it's not real. There's a dummy I'm performing on, and you can hear them go, "Oh." But for me, I was okay because I had been preparing for it and it took me away from it. The pressure of delivering and not messing up so that everyone can go home early that day was on my mind. But, once they replaced the dummy with a real person, it changes the complexion of it. The doctor would just say, "You know what? Just relax. It's good. It's the same, but just be careful."
Your son Teo Briones also appeared in the series as Peter, a patient who was admitted by his family for excessive daydreaming. What was it like getting to share this experience?
Having my son there, that was so special, because I worked with my daughter on Assassination of Gianni Versace. She played one of my daughters. That was so special to be in the same set with her. And this time around, to have my son there, he's a wonderful actor. Back in the day, he worked more than we did. He was always working. I was showing him around on set. And because Ryan's set is such a family, everyone knows everybody.
In contrast to the gore, Ratched's sets were gorgeous.
When I received my script, I was picturing my office to be this 10' x 10' dilapidated room. I showed up on set the first day of filming, and said to the PA, "I would like to see my office. I want to be more comfortable with it." And I saw it, and it was so beautiful. The colors just exploded in front of you. And it was bigger than my house. It was so epic. And that's the beauty of Ryan's vision. He takes these flawed characters who are dealing with their demons and puts them in this beautiful setting, which makes their turmoil more interesting and more poignant.
Toward the end of Dr. Richard Hanover's story, he tells Mildred that hiring her was his biggest mistake. Do you think that's true, or did her presence allow him to be set free?
I think it was inevitable. He's just grasping at what to say. He had to say something to Ratched. I think there were so many things he wanted to say to her. He thought this was a different woman. And that's one of my lines: "You're not like the other women." He even references his mother. He truly believed that, "We're equal. This is my companion." And that regret there, he wanted to say something to her, but all he could say was, "I shouldn't have done that. I shouldn't have let you in." I don't think that's necessarily the hospital. I shouldn't have let you in my life, which was the betrayal that hurt him there.
Ratched, Season 1, Streaming Now, Netflix