‘American Crime’: Caitlin Gerard on 1000 Auditions and Blacked Out Scripts

Caitlin Gerard Interview on American Crime
Caitlin Gerard stars in ‘American Crime’ (Photo by Bob D’Amico © 2014 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.)

American Crime has an all star cast led by Felicity Huffman and Timothy Hutton and comes from the high pedigree of Oscar-winning screenwriter John Ridley. When ABC brought the entire cast to the Television Critics Association, I was introduced to one of the show’s new discoveries.

Caitlin Gerard has been acting since 2010’s The Social Network, and she landed a role in the ensemble cast of American Crime. The show’s mystery is rather secretive and we’ll find out as the show airs Thursday on ABC. Gerard told us a bit about her role and the show’s secrecy, as well as the background that led her to prime time.

Were you looking to do television? Did you do the whole pilot season thing?

Caitlin Gerard: “Yes, I did. I did. I went through the wringer. You see so many scripts and it’s kind of this flurry. When I got the script for American Crime, it was this moment of just stillness. Everything just grounded itself and I saw clarity and I was like, ‘This. Is. It.’ That was for a pre-read and I just went through 1000 auditions it felt like. I never thought I was going to get it, so I had to approach each audition each time I got called back as the last time I was going to get to be this character. I had to fulfill what I needed from her to be able to walk away and be like, ‘That was cool. That was great. I’m happy I had this moment,’ because I just didn’t think I stood a chance.”

So how fulfilled are you now that you’ve gotten to do several episodes?

Caitlin Gerard: “Several, we did 11! We finished shooting in November, so phenomenal. It sets the bar so high for quality that it’s going to be hard to measure up to that.”

How painful has the wait been from November to people getting to see American Crime in March?

Caitlin Gerard: “God, honestly, it’s awful. I want to watch the show so badly, because I haven’t seen any episodes. I am just so eager. I want to watch it. I just want to watch the whole thing. I can’t wait.”

What did you understand about this character just from the sides you got at that first audition?

Caitlin Gerard: “I think what I saw in this person who was a drug addict, a lot of people come at it with preconceived notions, with judgments. To be honest, what I saw was this human individual who will do anything to live life to the fullest. When you want to live at the edge or at the precipice and will do anything at all costs to be at that state, there’s this want to live and to feel so fully that normal life just doesn’t cut it. So that was how I approached it. Do anything at all costs to be and to feel complete.”

How did that change over the course of 11 episodes?

Caitlin Gerard: “I would say that was the consistent theme. I told directors, because we had a circulation of different directors, I told them, ‘Please don’t share with me your judgments,’ because everyone was very judgmental about my character. I just said, ‘Please don’t come to me because I only approach her in one way which is with utter truth.’ Everything she does is based out of a truth and a humility and respect, which is very strange when you’re playing a drug addict, but that’s how I did it. I had to believe in her so fully I could never question or doubt anything she did, because then I would doubt her person.”

Is there a particular episode out of the 11 that’s really strong for you, that we should look for?

Caitlin Gerard: “Oh my gosh. I would say we started to black out the scripts for privacy reasons. They were afraid of leaking a lot of plot developments that happen. From episode seven on, all of my scenes were blacked out. So I had these scenes that no one else in the cast or crew had. People would be like, ‘What is your character doing?’ There’s a scene in episode seven. There’s a scene in episode nine. I cannot say anything about it because it will just give too much away.”

Were other actors’ scenes blacked out for you too?

Caitlin Gerard: “Yes, certain ones were. The last script, for example, was completely blacked out. No one got it except for the cast. The crew members had no idea what was happening. At one point, a crew came up to me and she was like, ‘You know, nobody knows what’s happening anymore? The only people who are able to piece it together is sound because they can listen to it. It’s like a telephone of them reporting back and it circulates around.’ Everybody was so invested emotionally. Even the crew members. Everyone put their heart and soul into this one.”

Is there some makeup involved to make you look strung out? Does it change over the 11 episodes?

Caitlin Gerard: “It does and to be honest, I wore absolutely no makeup. None whatsoever. They did a little bit of bags under my eyes at times but my process was actually incredibly physical. I showed up to work looking very much like my character. A funny little bit of information that I don’t know if it’s too much to share, but I had a really bad skin reaction and my skin broke out right before we started shooting. We actually used that. We actually let my skin breakout be a part of it. As an addict, your skin does go through that. It’s interesting. It puts you in a vulnerable position to let people see your flaws like that.”

But then you have to maintain that for the rest of the show.

Caitlin Gerard: “Well, then it started to fade and so they had to fill it in. But at the same time, my character goes through a process of cleaning up to a degree so it was kind of crazy how it worked with the development of the character. My body was doing a lot of the work. It was great. My poor body, but…”

What is your background and training?

Caitlin Gerard: “My major was creative writing at UCLA. I worked with a private coach. I had taken theater classes at UCLA. I had taken other classes but the theater community is a very loud space and it overwhelmed me. I’m much more intimate. So I found a coach that I’ve been working with for a few years and we did one on one work gearing up to this pilot. After the pilot was done and I didn’t know whether the show was going to get picked up, I just took the notes from John Ridley and I went to her. I said, ‘We’re going to meet twice a week. I don’t know if the show is getting picked up but we’re going to meet twice a week and if it gets picked up, great. Then we’ve done a lot of the work. And if it doesn’t, then we’ve got some great practice under my belt and I’ll apply it to something else.'”

Now that you’re a working actor, how is it similar or different to what you expected?

Caitlin Gerard: “You know, I resisted it a lot. I went to school for creative writing and I honestly wanted nothing to do with the industry. But it kept coming at me from the strangest, oddest angles. One day I kind of threw my hands up and just thought, ‘You know what? I just have to try this. I can’t keep saying no.’ I did commercials. That’s how I paid for school. It was my livelihood. As far as taking a profession seriously and even believing that I could, it was really my younger sister who ran into a manager. I was going to school, I was not planning on acting and my sister said, ‘You need to represent my sister.’ She was 16 and he met with me because he was blown away by this 16-year-old who goes, ‘I understand how the industry works. Here’s my information. If you’re willing to meet with her, I’ll put the two of you in contact.’ And she walked away and he was so intrigued that he called me out of curiosity. That’s how it started.”

– By Fred Topel

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