‘Jury Duty’ Star James Marsden Calls Reality-Comedy Hybrid Series a “Live Theater, High-Wire Act”
Of all the films and TV shows James Marsden has worked on in his career, he admits that Freevee’s Jury Duty was the most terrifying.
The comedy series centers on Ronald Gladden, an unsuspecting everyman who believes he’s a subject in a documentary examining the ins and outs of the court system in the United States. What he doesn’t know, however, is that the case for which he was selected as a juror is completely fake — and all of the people involved, from his fellow jurors to the judge, lawyers, plaintiff and defendant, are actually actors.
One of those actors is Marsden, the sole performer who is open to Gladden about his job. But even Marsden is in on the ruse, playing a heightened version of himself — an entitled, egocentric Hollywood A-lister trying (and failing) to get out of his civic duty.
“This is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before,” Marsden, 49, tells THR, describing the comedy as “a live theater, high-wire act” that felt at times like “a four-week-long improv show.” The stakes were high from the beginning. “You get one take,” says Marsden. “If he sees a hidden camera, or someone calls somebody by the wrong name, the whole thing is upended. That was really exciting to me, just from the perspective of [wondering], ‘Can we pull this off?’ ”
The actor admits that he’s long wanted to do improvised comedy onscreen. “I love Christopher Guest’s This Is Spinal Tap and Waiting for Guffman,” says Marsden. “That kind of improvisational comedy where you have an outline, but a creative license to go in and play opposite people who can speak the same language. I was always looking for an opportunity like that.”
As production started, Marsden said his castmates and the crew slowly filled up Gladden’s “trust bank,” in which they spent hours filming court scenes “where we’re just listening to attorneys drone on.” Once it was clear that Gladden did believe everything was real and it was all being captured for a presumably uneventful documentary, that’s when everyone around him started to push the comedic moments. For Marsden, that meant pushing the limits of who he was as a public figure.
“It was so fun to play against the backdrop of one of the greatest equalizing experiences we have as Americans,” he says. “Nobody gives a shit who you are at jury duty — you’re just one of the rest of us.”
One great joy of the show is watching Marsden’s fellow jurors — all actors themselves — scoff at the celebrity’s self-importance. “He’s constantly trying to drop hints about what his next project is going to be, and no one cares,” says Marsden. “I’ve always loved playing that kind of buffoon, someone who thinks they’re the greatest thing in the world, and they’re not.” Likewise, Gladden himself initially didn’t recognize Marsden — and, once he did, poked fun at Marsden’s starring role in 2020’s Sonic the Hedgehog.
Once the truth was revealed to Gladden, Marsden dropped the facade — and the two have remained in touch after filming. “He said to me, ‘The fact that James Marsden was there made it more believable,’ ” says Marsden. “That was a nice compliment, that I anchored the believability: ‘I’m on jury duty with this actor, who’s kind of a prick.’ ”
Source: The Hollywood Reporter