Interview: Colton Ryan and His Eerie Role of Jed in Rian Johnson’s ‘Poker Face’

"The Night Shift" Episode 102 -- Pictured: Colton Ryan as Jed -- (Photo by: Evans Vestal Ward/Peacock)

Rian Johnson’s case-of-the-week crime mystery series Poker Face features new locations and new faces each episode for unconventional detective Charlie Cale (Natasha Lyonne) to investigate. One of these faces that Johnson and the production crew brings to life is Jed in Episode 2 portrayed by Colton Ryan, who is also fresh off a Tony Award nomination for his role in New York, New York. 

In our conversation, Colton discusses how he tapped into the role of Jed and the factors that helped support the environment of the episode that started with Rian Johnson’s writing and vision, but was extended through the makeup, costume, and location efforts of the production that built out Jed as a character.

You can read my full conversation with Colton below.

Hi, this is Danny Jarabek, here with Awards Radar, and I’m very excited to be talking with Colton Ryan. He is a key figure in Episode 2 of the hit series, Poker Face. Colton, how are you doing today? I’m very excited to be talking with you!

Colton: I’m good. I’m waking up. I’m really waking up. I’m not up this early these days, man. Not usually.

No, I totally can relate to you on that one. First of all, I want to say congratulations as well on your recent Tony Award nomination for the brand-new musical, New York, New York. That’s a huge accomplishment and huge recognition, so congratulations on that.

Colton: Thank you so much! Just for everyone to know, that’s why I’m not awake. It’s not for any other involuntary reason. It’s pure necessity. I don’t want to sound slobbish.

I’m sure, I’m sure. And, of course, simultaneous to your success with that, you’re also a part of Poker Face as well, which we’ll be talking about today. So, yeah, I’d love to hear from you, from your perspective, how did you become involved with this show, what drew you to the script, and what drew you into this character of Jed?

Colton: Well, it shot all last year, for the most part, and I was doing a whole lot of nothing. I auditioned for it a couple times, actually. A couple different episodes have a similar age range-ish character. I haven’t seen all of them. But I kept getting close, and I was like, “gosh!” I was so upset because it was Rian [Johnson], and it was so interesting, the case of the week format and the return to form in that way. So, it’s kind of like a dream job for an actor because it’s 17 days in and out, health insurance weeks and yadda yadda yadda. And yet it’s incredibly playful, the whole thing. That’s the logistics of it, sorry, but that’s what I got at the end of the summer. I was like, “Well, I’ve missed out on two different other episodes. It’ll probably be that. That’s okay.” And then my wildest dreams came true that, for whatever reason, out of synchronicity, they shot Episode 2 last. And that was one that Rian was directing, so I got, quickly, a Zoom, read it down, and I was obsessed with the script. It was so lovely, from Alice [Ju]. It’s just brilliant. Because he’s [Jed] so weird and quirky, and honestly, borderline incel guy, and yet it was so obvious how much heart was inside amongst these awful circumstances that he’s putting himself into. And yeah, it was really quick after that. I met with Rian the next day on Zoom, read it down, and then I was shipped off to Albuquerque a couple days later. It was very, very quick.

This character of Jed is the killer of Episode 2. How did you tap into this role? First of all, I’m very glad to be talking to you outside of the character of Jed because this guy—

Colton: I thought you were going to say you were really happy to talk outside of the same physical space as me so I can’t harm you.

[laughing] Oh no! Well you never know! Maybe that too. No, I’m kidding. But yeah. This character of Jed is very unsettling, very eerie atmosphere surrounding him. So, how did you tap into that? How did you build that?

Colton: Well, physically, really, a lot of it. I felt so lucky because the writing was the perfect trifecta of, obviously, gory, dark, and then sort of misunderstood outsider, heartfelt, and then just a tinge of weird. The whole script just read weird, kooky, strange. To me, we were talking about it, Alice and I, and that’s the father, son, holy spirit of you’ve hit the money. So, it was really simple because it felt like the world in the script, you already feel a sense of responsibility, honestly, because [Rian] is an auteur, so he has his own signature with everything he does. You think you have an idea of what that is, and then, of course, you get there, he’s so brilliant that it’s not that when you’re actually in it. That was also lovely. To bring this kid to life, it was going to be so simple to make it the moody blues and just make it incredibly dark, and the script was so funny. And that first scene that sets up the whole thing felt so important in terms of, oh, he’s just a boy that is looking for, not really a sense of self, but a sense of self in others, you know. He’s just looking for connection, connective tissue with anyone at all. Someone to just notice him as important. That kind of thing. And that was so obvious and so very easy to tap into. So, yeah, beyond that, Rian kept encouraging to play it forward on that. Really, he’s honestly a lovable character, a little bit, in some ways, even though he’s absolutely horrifying. Or at least I find him lovable. Maybe you do not. [laughs] But I understand. And then, beyond that, it was really just about the physicality. That was really the most fun part, getting into the hunch, the slinky mysticism of this guy.

POKER FACE — “The Night Shift” Episode 102 — Pictured: (l-r) John Ratzenberger as Abe, Colton Ryan as Jed — (Photo by: Evans Vestal Ward/Peacock)

Yeah. And part of something that adds to the physicality that you’re bringing to it as well is his overall look.

Colton: Yeah.

He’s kind of coated in a layer of dirt, it seems like, at all times. It takes place over the course of one day, so he’s got the same outfit on the whole time, but it feels like he’s been wearing that outfit for weeks.

Colton: Yeah, yeah. That outfit is his uniform and has been washed maybe bimonthly.

Yeah, yeah. Exactly.

Colton: Yeah.

How did you work with the makeup, the costume designers, all of those crew members to build that look for Jed and add to those elements that you were bringing to it?

Colton: Well, they’re so awesome. They knew so much more about all of the tone of the show, the scripts. When I got it, I didn’t even have the pilot, so I didn’t even know the setup of exactly why she would mutter “bullshit.” It was so mysterious, which was kind of lovely. But that being said, with the designers, with Trayce [Gigi Field] with the costumes and Amy [L. Forsythe] with the makeup, it was so lovely. I definitely come in and I never want to be opinion-forward with things because they’ve done such brilliant work on their own end, and they have so many design-conscious things. But I always can tell, especially with clothes, when it’s on, it’s such a sensual thing. You can just be like, “Mm, no, that’s not … I really wish this was, but you can’t.” You know? And I remember specifically Trayce was so brilliant because that Valvoline oil uniform is just the exact right look. But I remember underneath there was this tank, this undershirt. Gross, you know, but it was tight. It was well-fitted. And I was like, “Do you have this in an XXL?” And she was like, “We do.” And that, to me, was the whole thing. That was the slinky. It had to be this undershirt that was clearly his grandfather’s, or his uncle, the one he works with, and it needs to be draping and always pulling at, and then you can slither around in it. The same with the makeup. That one they were really genius on because Amy is so FX-forward as well. She has such a great background in that. They had this brilliant – I don’t know if it’s foundation or something like that, but they would put on this makeup that had the effect of drying out the skin, so it looked like I had been baked out in the sun under my eyes. It was these little details that, especially with Rian sort of pinching for color grading and whatnot in the final edit, it just pops so much. It’s so vibrant and saturated and beautiful. I looked villainy, you know? Not in a caricature way, but in a way that was just riding that line of “that guy’s definitely the bad guy.”

Well, visually, once we’re immediately introduced to Jed, you get the bad vibes.

Colton: You definitely know. Yeah. When he’s peering out through those binoculars, you’re like “that guy’s not watching just for his health.” Well, I guess, for his health, yeah.

Nothing good is happening on that roof whatever he is up to. But part of what plays into this as well, and part of the grander idea of the show, too, is the idea of location, every episode taking place in a new location.

Colton: Right.

You said you flew to Albuquerque, so what was it about this location for this episode? I think it also played into maybe the monotony, the isolation of this character.

Colton: Yeah.

So, for you, how did location help build out who Jed was and why he was doing what he was doing?

Colton: That’s definitely the first one and the obvious one. It was quite literally – even where we shot locations wise – outside of Albuquerque off of a Route 66-esque, maybe even the Route 66 highway, where it was one stop, four buildings, and then nothing beyond. A little exaggerated because Albuquerque’s a metropolis and there was some stuff beyond. But this little section, it was very easy to tap into that Western classic isolationism, Clint Eastwood, Unforgiven on the porch, just musty and crusty, saying “stay away, world.” That’s what it felt like. In the script, obviously, like I was mentioning, it felt, to me, so obvious on the surface that all he wants is someone to hug, to love him. Like most characters, but it’s so obvious that’s where this is all coming from, even though it leads to murder. But it all comes from a very pure place of, “Jeez, will someone care for me?” And to look out to that, to see all that desert, especially because I’m not from there, it definitely enhances the elements, and it definitely adds a level of eeriness as well.

One last question for you. What was it like working opposite Natasha Lyonne who is, of course, our detective for hire, the unpredictable detective here. In your episode, she’s still trying to figure it out, she doesn’t quite know how to harness her skills yet. What was it like working opposite her?

Colton: She can cut up, man. She’s funny. I was super excited because I had done this TV show Plainville, and I’d done it with Chloë Sevigny who’s a dear, dear friend of hers, and Chloë’s a dear friend of mine. Also, Natasha is New York, you know, Chloë is New York and I’m from New York, and every time I go away, I hope there’s New York-y people on set because it’s just different. It’s just different. That character is funny, very witty and quick, but she is even quicker and wittier in person. She is cutting up, she is doing a tight five whenever we’re hitting our marks, setting up. Camera’s set, we are rolling, and she’s like, “No, no, no, wait, wait. Let me tell you…” and she tells another joke, and the whole crew’s like, “Wait, please stop.” Everyone’s laughing because she is that fucking funny. I was thankful for it. I think acting is so about relaxing, you know, and I felt like a big job like that, I’d never been on set with someone like Rian of that stature. And Natasha, of course, very big stature, too, and we’re very antagonistic in our scenes. It’s very much Western showdown. So, it was so lovely to be like right as I’d be starting to get like, “Okay, I’m getting too serious about the whole thing,” she would be like, “No listen, the thing is…” Just starts cutting up about something. And you could tell it was a gift for everybody. She’s a really good, you could tell, a very natural fit to be a leader on set. It’s her version of it because no one else is going to be able to cut up like that. It’s really lovely because you can tell it’s such a lift for the whole crew, really. I was amazed by it.

Yeah. That’s really cool to hear. Everyone I’ve talked to from the show has always praised being able to collaborate and work around Natasha. But yeah, thank you so much for your time. Congratulations on this show. Congratulations on all of your work that you’re doing and all of the recognition and success. So, thank you so much for speaking with me and I really appreciated our conversation.

Colton: Thank you, Danny. Appreciate it. You too.

Have a good one!

Colton: You too!

All 10 episodes of Poker Face are available to stream exclusively on Peacock.


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Written by Danny Jarabek

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