FX is known for putting forth a diverse slate of content that repeatedly breaks new ground. ”The Bridge” is no exception. Socially conscious, the series maintains a nail-biting narrative while shedding light on US/Mexico relations and the buried injustices that occur on both sides of the border.
The crime thriller focuses on two police stations, one located in El Paso, Texas, the other in Juarez, Mexico. This season the cases being investigated by both stations have ties to each other linking together the jurisdictions of both police departments and allowing the stations’ star detectives, Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger), El Paso police and Marco Ruiz (Demian Bichir), Juarez police, to team up once again. Carrying the weight of his son’s death and the estrangement from his family, Ruiz finds himself making decisions that threaten Sonya and himself. At the top of the season, it’s revealed that Sonya along with her boss, Lieutenant Hank Wade (Ted Levine) are attempting to protect the victim of a Juarez gang rape, Eva (Stephanie Sigman). This leads them to discover to discover that the Juarez police department has been aiding the Juarez Drug War.
Daniel Frye (Matthew Lillard) and Adriana Mendez (Emily Rios), reporters for the El Paso Times are pursuing a story on the Millie Quintana Money House – leading them to cross paths with Sonya and Marco. Inevitably they are all drawn deep into a world of police corruption, drugs and money laundering. Frye is emerging from the depths he was pulled to while working on his last story. Struggling physically and mentally at times Frye is content with being alive as he has already dodged death twice. The character’s struggles have given Lillard a lot to play with and he has managed to create a character that is wonderfully disfigured socially and compelling to watch.
Moviehole had the chance to talk to Lillard to discuss taking on a dramatic role, his character’s moral code, working with Emily Rios and why he wasn’t killed off mid-way through season 1 – as planned.
Could you just talk about how you got involved in the project?
Yes. Like most of my jobs, I auditioned for it. There actually is a fun story behind it. I got a phone call one day from Annabeth Gish, who I’d done a movie with years ago, and she said, “You should go in and audition for this character on the show called The Bridge.” I was like, “I don’t know what it is, what is it?” She said, “It’s Diane Kruger and Demian Bichir and it’s this adaptation of the Swedish show.”
I immediately called my agent and said, “What’s the deal with this gig? Why isn’t it in my world?” They said, “Well, they basically have no money, and it’s only six episodes.” The character dies after six episodes. I’m like, “Well, I’m not doing anything so some money is better than no money.” And agent’s idea of no money and my idea of no money are usually quite different. I said, “Why don’t you send me the script? If it’s not something I want to do—just let me see it anyway.”
They sent it to me, and I read it. It’s one of those scripts—the pilot was unbelievably well read. You kind of fly through it, and you get to the last scene in the pilot and you’re like, oh my, God, what an amazing scene. The more I thought about it, the more I was convinced that I’d rather do something than not do something.
I had never been on TV, and I said—this is one of those things that actors sometimes struggle with, because I was like, “All right. I’d love to do this even if it is no money. Why don’t you see if they’ll have me?” expecting some kind of offer. They were like, “Yes, they like you. They want you to come in and audition for it.”
The thing was like, there’s no money; the guy dies in Episode 6; he’s barely in the pilot. I have to audition for it? Then it just feels like you’re fighting for something that somebody doesn’t really want you in. The more I dug into it the more I realized they had tested a bunch of guys for it, and none of the guys had gotten the job. Now I’m just rambling.
The point was that, I went in and auditioned for it, and the audition went great. Then, Elwood called me into his office and said, “There’s no money, and he dies in Episode 6.” I was like, “Yes, but look at this part, and look at how amazing this scene is; I get to do this scene. I’d love to do it.” So I did it. On Episode 6 I lived and in Episode 10 I was supposed to die and they re-wrote it after I fell off the bridge, and I made it to Season 2, which is the longest story I’ll tell this entire conference. I’m sorry it was so long.
The Bridge is obviously a very heavy dramatic project; you always seem to provide some kind of comic relief in your roles. Do you seek out those roles, or do you try to inject a little bit of extra humor at times on the page that’s not already there?
I think what I bring is energy and, yes, I generally find opportunities to be funny in really high stakes; Scream is a great example of that. When you’re running for your life, and you’re at the end of your rope and the stakes are really high, to be able to make people laugh in that little sweet spot; I like doing that.
I think that it’s a combination. I think that the writers and Elwood have found a great way to use me in the show. I think that Emily and I do a lot of solving the case, but on top of it, we can add a little levity to a world that’s so ripe with drama. Yes, I think it’s a combination of both. I think that they lean into me for that, and I tend to find it on the day.
Can you give us any teasers about what’s in store for Daniel in the upcoming episodes?
Yes. I think that leading into the first episode of the season, the idea of having a two beer rule or two beer limit is pretty rife with drama. He doesn’t really hold onto that rule very well. He struggles with his sobriety. One of the great things that I love about playing the character is that he’s this incredibly tortured soul, and he happens to be a reporter. He struggles with his sobriety, and as he’s on this journey he may fall into that pit somewhere along the line.
Daniel has his eye on the prize with this big story he’s pursuing. What is he willing to do to find the truth and solve the case? Does he ever go too far?
Daniel has no scruples. I feel like there’s no end to what he’ll do and where he’ll go. The great thing about playing this guy is that he doesn’t really care. At the end of the day it’s all about the story. He’s got a great line, I think, in Episode 4 where he says, “All
I care about is how to fix the story, I don’t care if the guy blew his brains out.” That kind of drive to him, that kind of single-mindedness, that’s fun to play. This season he stays relatively within the bounds.
Talk to me a bit about working with Emily Rios, you’re really good together onscreen.
She’s great. I think that we’re a little bit of the wonder twins. I think she and I are very simpatico in how we approach the work. On set, we have developed, over the last few years, great shorthand. Together, we work on scenes before we ever get to set; we’ll bring scripts to set. I think that together we have a rhythm in terms of how we work. We’re great friends. Between having the same approach to the work, and caring deeply for her and loving the woman, it makes work a real joy.
On top of that, I think that we both are really proud to be on the show. You can’t always say that on every show you’re on or every piece of movie you do. I have been in God knows some horrible films, and when you’re doing those movies there’s a lot of that. You understand that you’re just trying to make your rent and feed your kids. This is a show that I think that we both appreciate every day we’re on set, and are having fun doing it. I think that that comes out in the work we’re doing, and I think it’s translating to the writers room and I think that they like writing for us. All in all, I can’t imagine a better situation to be in as an actor.
You were talking about having a rhythm with Emily. What have you enjoyed about the Daniel/Adriana partnership this season and where is it heading in the remaining episodes?
Well, the thing I like about it is that the writers trust us, and they know that we’re going to be around. A lot of the problems were last season, so like they were beholden to what was happening in the Swedish show and they weren’t creating their own story. Last year, I don’t feel like they had a clear sense of what they were doing with us.
The thing I like about us this season is that the writers are using us in a really great way to help solve the case. Diane, Marco and Sonya are off doing their thing, and I think that one of the great things is Emily and I can help piece together the story, and they’re different trajectories. They’re working on their story; we’re working on our story. The great thing is that I think we’re more active this year in the main storyline.
Sometimes if you’re third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh on the call sheet you get relegated to one or two scenes, and I feel like towards the end of the season we start to get more work, and we start to answer that riddle a lot for the writers. The writers like writing for us, and that’s one of the great things I like, is that they like putting words in our mouth, so we get great words and we great opportunities to do good stuff.
Where we’re going, I think that we get connected to the case, and we start to help solve it. Not to give away spoilers, but we’re in the last episode and we’re part of answering part of a big riddle of the season. As it expands, we expand with it instead of getting left behind so that’s been pretty great.
Your character, Daniel, is an embittered chip-on-your-shoulder type journalist, which I’ve been accustomed to work with. Did you channel any particular journalists that have interviewed you in the past, or any Hunter S. Thompson aspects of the character that you’re using? How’d you put Daniel together?
I just dip into my own angry bitterness that I possess, and I created it from a wealth of anger that lives within me. You know, not really. It’s not built on anyone specifically, so to speak. There’s an aspect of the drug use and alcoholism and being an addict that there’s somebody that I’ve drawn on in my life in terms of how they acted, and I’m very clear as to who that person is when I get into that kind of a state. In terms of the journalist, no, I trust the words of Elwood and the writers.
We also have a New York Times writer on our staff. He and I sat down a couple times and talked about what it’s like to be on that drive, to be on the hunt of a story trying to figure out where the passion is. What is the motor that drives that person, because I didn’t really get it?
Is it winning the Pulitzer Prize? Is it showing the world that you can write? What is that thing that motivates that guy? Daniel’s been great to give me that insight as to what it means to him, and I’m just extrapolating what he’s said and what he’s given me has helped. I guess, let me revise my answer. Yes, I have. .
That’s all right. What’s your favorite aspect about the character of Daniel, and how does it compare to your own personality?
Oh, good question. I think my favorite aspect of the personality is that I like the fact that he’s tragically flawed. I like the fact that a modern drama on cable even has characters that are really intricate and deep and have multiple layers. I love the fact that he is a character that is tragically flawed and is continually trying to rise up and do his best; that he hasn’t given up, and he’s not living in a hotel room in Juarez just getting drunk and high all day every day. He’s still on this pursuit of redemption and that’s what I love about the character is that he’s incredibly broken and still trying to get back. There’s a resiliency that I love.
I think that that is the part that I can relate to as a man, and as an actor in this industry, being resilient. Look, there are a lot of people in ‘90s films that just never came back. Having been a guy that didn’t work for a year and didn’t have a job and downsized his life and sold his house and his cars and just tried to figure out what the heck I was going to do if I never had a chance to come back. Looking into that kind of abyss of being cooked in this industry and sticking with it and finding myself in the place I am now, which is a place I’m, again, proud of my work and proud of where I’m at and on a great show, I think that that resilience I understand in a really great way.
Do you have a favorite memory from the show?
Well, I think that I do have a favorite memory. What is it? There are a couple things, but I think the first thing that jumps to my mind is the fact that in the pilot episode where I’m losing my mind in the front seat of the car because I’m on the bomb. When I did that scene the first time, I think that I surprised people. The reason I wanted to do the show so bad is, I saw an opportunity in that scene to do really amazing great textured work.
I took the opportunity and I relished it; I loved it and I felt like in that scene, in the car, was some of the best that I’ve ever done as an actor on screen. The crazy thing is, is that after seeing that scene the network and the studio loved it so much but there’s something that—we’d shot it initially outside so outside in the middle of this parking lot. In the original version of The Bridge, the Swedish version, it was underground in this parking garage. The guys at FX, they loved the scene, it was great, but something was missing in that it wasn’t in the dark, foreboding kind of area, which is underground in the parking garage.
They went back and asked me to do the scene again. Some of the best work I’ve ever done in my life was—I walked away going, wow, that was great. Then they came back to me and they said, “Can do you do it again?” I’ll never forget; we were at dinner. We were at a celebratory dinner, and we’d just gotten picked up. Elwood leaned over to me and said, “You know that scene that you did at the end of the episode?” I’m like, “Yes, you know the best scene of my life?” He’s like, “Yes. Do you think you could do it again?” I was like, “Yes, of course I can do it again,” because it’s my job.
There was a part of me that was like, oh he’s kidding, or oh he just wants to know about the craft. Then I sat there and I thought about it, and it was like the next day I called him up. I’m like, “You’re kidding right? You don’t want me to do it again do you?” He was like, “Yes, they want to do it again.”
For the next two months was sh****** my pants, quite frankly, because I was like, what if we go back and do it again—that moment’s very elusive for me and actors and in defying that and be connected with something real. What happens if I get back there and I can’t do it again? We got to that scene and we started to do the work, and it happened again. Again, now I’m even doubly more proud of that scene. That’s not proper English. That, I think, is the most memorable moment for me, is having to do that scene twice.
This show’s obviously a really dark show, and we’ve been talking about how you added a comedic element to the character, and the show. But, do you ever take any of the darkness from the show home with you, or do you find you don’t have too much of a problem separating yourself from your character?
I know it’s so funny is, we just wrapped two weeks ago, and I have been in this absolute funk. I’ve been in this weird kind of really sad, morose kind of mellow place. Normally when I wrap I’m immediately, what’s next and I start writing something and I start directing; I’m always going.
After the wrap of the show I’ve found myself to be in a really different, quiet place, and personally I think it’s the effect of the show, it’s had on me, endearing in this—certainly towards the end of the season Daniel goes to a darker place, and living in that space on a set all day and having to deal with that and the tension of that and the really high stakes of that, I feel like it has left an impact on me. There’s been kind of a re-entry period.
When you are on location for two months or something and you come home and you immediately are expected to be a dad again and a husband again, and you’re picking up from school and your whole world is upside down. There’s a re-entry period; that’s what I call it with my wife. Generally, there’s this moment where you have to recollect yourself and re-attune to who you are as a man back in the real world. This season—because I know I’m on the show all season and there’s a darker place, and from the beginning of the season I had a very clear sense of where we were going to start and where my character was going to finish, I felt like this year has definitely left its mark on me in a really great way.
Daniel, at his best, is a high-functioning addict. I’m wondering—there has to come a point where he’s going to self-combust. I’m wondering how long will it be before we get to that point, and could you maybe hint at what some of the consequences might be?
Episode 207—that is really great, it’s a really great episode for me. I remember reading 207 and thinking to myself, this is what he [Elwood] promised when I came back is episodes like these. So 207, he starts self-destructing in the teaser, and he—Daniel Frye is like any guy, when they self-destruct they do it in pretty glorious ways. I think 207 is a great episode for me. If you want to see self-destruction, probably look at that one.
Consequences will play out over the rest of the season?
Yes, for sure. Yes. I think that consequences from 207 directly impact the character for seasons to come. Our show is hard. Once you’re past Episode 203 you are really connected to a story, 204, 205, 6, 7, 8; these episodes start to drive forward. In general, I’m not number one and number two on the call sheet; I’m number three or four. Consequences are not really that important to the show, meaning the show has a lot of pieces to pull together and what happens is, Daniel Frye isn’t necessarily on the top of the agenda. The consequences, though, are over the course of the end of the season, and into next year I think will be felt deeper. Yes. My storyline isn’t the most important—I love that we’re talking about me, and I get to talk about my character and the great show. The amazing thing about the show is, the two leads are incredible and the stories that we’re chasing are multi-faceted, dark and twisted and long reaching. In general, the impact of what happens to Daniel Frye isn’t necessarily as interesting to the world as what happens to our lead stories.
I was just wondering, your character has dodged death once, and he looks like he’s getting into a little bit of trouble again on the show getting into some danger. I know you can’t give away any spoilers, but do you think that Daniel has it in him to keep dodging death and stay on the show a little longer?
Look, I will say that there’s an episode that comes up that is mind blowing the things that happen. No character is safe on our show, and I will tell you, I’ve seen a script where I died in Season 1. I got the script and it said Daniel Frye is dead. I’ve seen it and I know how it happens and I know the look on Elwood’s face when he hands you the script. I’m not beyond that, I don’t think anyone on our show is beyond that. Saving probably Diane and Demian, I think that—everyone is up for grabs, and I think there’s an episode coming up that will surprise people on what happens to characters.
The truth of the matter is, I would love to be a character that they use and use and they dig him deeper and deeper into a pit of despair, and then they have to kill him because there’s no way out. I’d love to be that kind of character; that means that they’re using you in a way that’s full of muscle. As an actor, that’s what you want. I’d love to go out in a blaze of glory if you’ve given me an entire season of work that gets him to a place where you have to kill him; that’s the truth. If you can build a great story around it and it supports Season 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 of the show and you have to kill me, then God bless him. Kill me good.
Do you ever get to sit down and speak to the writers about how you would like them to develop your character?
No. I do not do that. What I do do is, I go in and say, “Why are you doing this to my character?” I think that was one of the things, and Elwood said this is the past, is that he is an open door. I believe in the idea of being an advocate for your character. It does not happen on every show, I know that for a fact, but his door is open and I’m one of the guys that uses it to walk in and say, “Why is this happening? Why are you doing this?”
I definitely don’t tell them what to do with my character, but I certainly help shape what’s happening to the character in the moment. I have strong opinions; they’re not always listened to. There’s some times that I go in and pitch something or ask to change something and it doesn’t happen, and there are a lot of times that they listen to what I’m saying. One of the things is that look, I walk and I talk and breathe and I walk in that skin of Daniel Frye in every episode. I know him better than anyone.
Our writers come in and they have to service 20 different voices, and all I do is service one. I have a clear sense of who he is, and the decisions I’ve made about being an addict and trying to rise from that and finding strength in that and being the smartest guy in the room. There are all these choices that I’ve made, so they write something that’s completely contrary to who he is I’ll go in and say, “How does this track with Episode 4 of Season 1? It doesn’t make sense.” Together, we’ll try to find a good way to bridge that gap that sometimes happens between the writers and Daniel Frye.
The best way I would describe me is being an advocate for my character. I’m really lucky that we have a writer whom and a show runner who is gracious enough and humble enough to say, okay, and will at least listen.
“The Bridge” airs on Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. Eastern/Pacific. For more on the show visit the website: http://www.fxnetworks.com/thebridge/.