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Julie Ann Emery Talks Better Call Saul, Masters of Sex and More [Exclusive] 

Julie Ann Emery Talks Better Call Saul, Masters of Sex and More [Exclusive]
Photo Credit: Ben Leuner/AMC
Photo Credit: Ben Leuner/AMC

It’s awards season and we can’t wait to see who’s recognized for their outstanding work in TV this year. There’s so much great stuff to choose from and Better Call Saul is one of the shows we’re hoping picks up a few nominations. If you watched Season 1, you’re familiar with the work of Betsy Kettleman’s Julie Ann Emery. She and her husband are accused of embezzling over a million dollars and Saul tries to maneuver them into taking him on as their lawyer. This is Saul, though, so things don’t go exactly as planned.

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Last week I had the chance to speak exclusively to Julie Ann Emery. We talked about her recent turn as Betsy Kettleman in Better Call Saul, her upcoming role on Masters of Sex and more.

TV GOODNESS: I’ve enjoyed quite a few of your roles on TV. I was looking at your credits and you’ve done great stuff. I remember you from Fargo, because I loved season 1 of that show. I also remember seeing you on The Following and Suits and Damages. You’ve done so many great things.

Julie Ann Emery: “I have. I think I’ve been especially lucky because people have been willing to cast me in something wildly different from what I just played. Betsy Kettleman was wildly different from Ida Thurman on Fargo. Even early on, 10 years ago I did my first series. In In the Line of Fire I was a hardcore FBI agent and then I was immediately cast as Casey in Hitch, who was just a sweet lovelorn romantic. I’m really attracted to that, to stretching myself and to stepping into someone’s shoes that’s very different from what I just played. I’ve been lucky I’ve been able to find that on camera.”

Photo Credit: Lewis Jacobs/AMC
Photo Credit: Lewis Jacobs/AMC

TV GOODNESS: It does seem like you’ve done a lot of varied roles, which is amazing. Actually let’s start with Betsy Kettleman in Better Call Saul. How did you hear about that?

Julie Ann: “My agent sent  an audition. I’m a journeyman actor. So, I get some offers but I don’t get a ton of offers. I generally get whatever auditions come across my desk. I didn’t even need to read it before I said yes. I just saw the words ‘Breaking Bad spin-off.’ I would’ve done anything on the show, quite frankly. I would’ve said three lines. I think Breaking Bad was some of the best filmmaking we’ve had on television. It was just so wonderfully done.

Photo Credit: Chris Large/FX
Photo Credit: Chris Large/FX

And I worked with Bob Odenkirk on Fargo. We become friendly and he was such a wonderful guy that I thought working on the show would be a treat. I would’ve done anything.

I did not think I was right for it. I didn’t read her like me. I approached the audition, I thought ‘Gosh, there’s no way I’m gonna get this, but maybe I’ll make it work on me and then maybe I’ll be good enough that they’ll bring me in for something else.’ Three weeks later I got a call saying they would like me to come to Albuquerque and play Mrs. Kettleman. I didn’t expect it at all. I hoped that somewhere down the line I’d work with these wonderful people. I just never dreamed it would be in something as juicy as Betsy Kettleman.”

TV GOODNESS: That role was so great. How did you prepare for it?

Julie Ann: “I do a lot of preparation. I do a lot of character work, backstory work. I’m always searching for someone I know or someone I’ve seen that I think is like the character. In Betsy’s case, thankfully I don’t know anyone exactly like that, but the McDonnell’s were being indicted in Virginia while we were shooting. The city of Bell scandal was wrapping up in California. These were examples of politicians who were being indicted, but really, truly felt they did nothing wrong.

So I started scouring the internet for video of people who obviously did something wrong but truly feel they didn’t and also people who seem oddly pleasant on the outside, but you’d watch them and think, ‘Oh my God. Who’s buried in your backyard?’ I wanted that disconnect for Betsy from what she shows the world and what’s going on in her head. I wanted there to be a very obvious disconnect for that, so I became obsessed with youtube during our shooting.

Jeremy Shamos and I would send each other videos we thought were right on. It was a very symbiotic process with him and with Vince Gilligan. That doesn’t usually happen on television. Usually you do all your homework on your own and then show it to them and hope it bounces off the other actors and the director in the right way. Bob Odenkirk rehearsed with us a lot outside of set. Jeremy and I spend a lot of time together outside of set, running around Albuquerque and it would always, oddly, turn into some weird Kettleman behavior. We’d be at the Macaroni Grill or Starbucks and suddenly we’re acting like the Kettlemans. It was a different process than I’ve ever had before. I’m very grateful for it.”

TV GOODNESS: It sounds pretty amazing.

Julie Ann: “Yeah. The Kettlemans are a very specific headspace. It’s not an easy headspace to drop and pick up. We did Episode 1 and then we were off for an episode. Then we did Episode 3 and 4 and we were off for 2 episodes, so it was something very challenging to step back into every episode and to really feel like I had her.”

Photo Credit: Ursula Coyote/AMC
Photo Credit: Ursula Coyote/AMC

TV GOODNESS: Tell me about your favorite or your most challenging scene or something that really stuck with you during that shoot.

Julie Ann: “The most challenging scene, the juiciest scene as an actor, was probably the scene in 107 in the house when we discover our money’s gone. When we shot that, every take was a full take from beginning to end and that scene was very, very long. That scene starts out in a very pleasant place and then goes to panic and then goes to rage and then just ugly crying, so that range of emotion — you don’t want to carry that where its gonna end with you at the beginning of the scene, so I found that scene almost terrifying when I read it. It’s one of those scenes you look at as an actor and go, ‘Yes’ and then you go ‘Fuck, I have to pull the off.’

I set her up as someone who absolutely would not be deterred over up and down. She speaks her world and sticks to it more than any character I’ve ever played. Then looking at that and going, ‘Oh my God. How does a woman like this actually break down?,’ was something I spent a lot of time exploring and that I worried about a lot.

I think my favorite scene that was the most fun was a scene from that same episode in the diner at Loyola’s with Bob where we’re trying to convince him that he’s our lawyer whether he thinks he is or not. It was so fun to play. Bob has obviously proved that he has great dramatic chops on the show, but he’s such a brilliant comedic actor. It was so fun to frustrate him to that degree.”

TV GOODNESS: I also wanted to ask you about an upcoming project, Masters of Sex. I love that show so I’m really excited you’re going to be on it. Can you tell me anything about your character and what you’re going to be doing?

Julie Ann: “I’m not gonna tell you a lot because there’s a great reveal with my character that I don’t want to spoil for anybody and I hate spoilers. I try to stay away from Twitter on Sunday nights when Game of Thrones is on or Walking Dead. I hate that as a fan of other things, so I can say my character has an incredibly unusual relationship on Masters of Sex, especially for the time period. I got to work with some of the people I’ve admired for a long, long, long time and that was really a thrill. Adam Arkin directed one of the episodes. He was quite wonderful, a really brilliant director and obviously a brilliant actor, but it was a pleasure to be on that set. It was great.”

TV GOODNESS: You’ve got a knack for working on projects where you’re not allowed to say much.

Julie Ann:Better Call Saul, I shot the entire season before I was allowed to tell anyone, aside from my husband, that I was even in it. I told all my friends I had to go to Albuquerque for work. They’re like, ‘What are you doing?’ I was like, ‘I can’t tell you. But it’s great.’ I understand it because of the world that we live in now with the internet, but I have done a lot of stuff lately that’s very clamped down on talking about it before it airs.”

TV GOODNESS: I get that. It’s a joy to discover it and not know too much about it before you watch it.

Julie Ann: “I like to make my own discoveries and choices. I don’t like to be so influenced by everyone else’s thoughts on it. I think we’re losing that on television and I’m glad to see shows hit back. I’m a huge fan of various things and I can’t stand for it to be spoiled for me. So, I totally get it. You rob people of the ability to take the ride. So, I think we’re probably gonna see more and more of this. But I’ve had a year of where I’m not allowed to talk about things.”

TV GOODNESS: There’s so much good TV on right now. It’s so hard to fit it all in. If you could pick any show to star on, to guest star on, to be a part of, what would it be and why?

Julie Ann:Game of Thrones. I’ll never be on Game of Thrones because I’m American and I think Peter Dinklage is the end of Americans on Game of Thrones. I mean, he’s wonderful and it’s filled with a lot of brilliant British actors, as it should be, but those George R.R. Martin books are like crack for me. I would finish one and have to go get the next one immediately. I couldn’t stand to be away from them. I was reading them at 3 o’clock in the morning. I thought they were amazing. I think the show is amazing. They’re done an amazing job of translating something incredibly vast and boiling it down for television. I think it’s gorgeously shot. I think it’s really beautiful.”

TV GOODNESS: I agree. I like that show a lot.

Julie Ann: “I love it and I also think they found a good and interesting place for women in the time period. There’s so much period work in movies and television that leaves out women. It’s not like they weren’t always half the population. I think Game of Thrones does a really good job of being a great show that includes the female storyline.”

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TV GOODNESS: You’re also a bit of s Star Wars fan, right?

Julie Ann: “I’m a huge Star Wars fan. I’m a total geek.”

TV GOODNESS: And you’ve gone to some of the Cons, right?

Julie Ann: “I went to my first one. I went to Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim.”

TV GOODNESS: How was that?

Julie Ann: “I was like an overstimulated child the entire day. I had the best time. I think it’s a really good time to be a fan. We’re catering to fans and people are able to find like-minded folks online in a really fun and good way. It’s part of the reason I love Twitter. I have my own things I’m a a fan of that I follow and follow along with and that I love to read about. I think the internet is serving a really nice purpose that way.”

Edited for space and content.

All 10 episodes of Better Call Saul are available on iTunes and Amazon now. Season 3 of Masters of Sex premieres Sunday, July 12th at 10/9c on Showtime.

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