Having a ball and clearly having the time of her life, Julie Ann Emery continues her hot streak of television roles in this week’s episode of THE FOLLOWING. Albeit a brief guest appearance, Julie still left an impression as her character Nancy took a bullet in the chest for being a snoopy neighbor, setting off a chain reaction that left Theo (Michael Ealy) on the run and a trail of bodies in his wake.
In the past year, Julie has also played Ida Thurman in FARGO, the mourning widow of Sheriff Thurman, and Betsy Kettleman in BETTER CALL SAUL, wife of a city treasurer accused of embezzlement. Julie’s ability to inhabit each of these characters and breathe life into them makes each that much more memorable and interesting to watch. Her characters are entirely human, with flaws and foibles.
In an exclusive interview, Julie Ann Emery talked about the fun she had working on THE FOLLOWING, FARGO and BETTER CALL SAUL, including this week’s big death scene, and shared a few behind-the-scenes anecdotes and previewed what is next.
It was such a great surprise to see you pop up in last week’s episode of THE FOLLOWING.
JULIE: I love THE FOLLOWING. I spend a lot of time living in New York because my husband is a Broadway singer, so anything that shoots in New York, I’m totally down for and a dear friend of mine who I worked with 9 years ago on LINE OF FIRE, my very first short-lived network series, wrote that episode. It was really great to get to say her words. I’m really proud of her.
Did you look at her and say, “And why am I playing the character that’s getting killed off?!”
JULIE: [Laughs] Actually, when she sent me the script, she called me and said, “I just sent you the script — I’m really sorry!” That was funny.
What was the appeal of the role? Why did you want to play Nancy in THE FOLLOWING?
JULIE: I like playing women who are a little bit off — obviously. I thought Nancy was interesting. I think we all know someone in our neighborhood that just takes it too far, that takes meddling just a little too far, and turns that onto those outside of their household and onto others. So I thought it was interesting to see what happens when that character crosses someone that she does not expect. We all live our lives and like to think we really understand what is going on in our immediate surroundings. Plus, I just like THE FOLLOWING. Frankly, I would have done anything on the show. I think it’s really great.
Since you’ve been watching the show, are you Team Ryan Hardy or Team Joe Carroll?
JULIE: I’m Team Ryan Hardy, since I’m always going to be a good guy at heart. Here’s what’s interesting about THE FOLLOWING, when I’m in New York, I can’t watch it at night. It scares me too much because it looks like my New York. It’s not the glamorized New York. It looks like the New York I walk around every day. That subway scene from the beginning of Season 2 freaked me out so bad that I was like, “I can’t watch this show living in New York.” But if I’m living in L.A., I can watch it.
What was it like working with Michael Ealy, particularly in such a creepy role?
JULIE: He’s a love! And Alexi Hawley, one of the showrunners on THE FOLLOWING is Noah Hawley’s brother, who I worked with on FARGO.
Watching THE FOLLOWING, everyone always has such a face of innocence and then you get to know them as these vicious serial killers and you’re wondering, “Why did I did I ever think they looked so innocent?!”
JULIE: I know, right? Michael Ealy is (a) insanely good-looking and (b) is such a really nice guy — and then we get to that scene where he’s holding a gun in Nancy’s bedroom and he’s so scary and I’m thinking, “where did that come from?!”
What was fun about working on the show for you?
JULIE: I got to get squibbed, like when they shoot you and the little thing explodes with blood and everything. I am dork enough to think that is really fun. I really enjoyed it and thought it was fun.
Other than getting a chance to portray a fabulous death scene, what else did you take away from the experience of working on THE FOLLOWING?
JULIE: It’s a really nice community of people working together in New York. Shooting in New York is difficult — you have to contend with extreme weather and it was in January when we filmed and it was incredibly cold outside and everybody really comes together or really goes into their own corner — and I thought it was a really lovely place to work. Marcos Siega, who directed the episode, directs a lot of their episodes and is a producer on the show is a lovely, lovely guy. I really enjoyed working with him. It’s the kind of place that you are sad that you are not there all the time, that you are there only for one episode. It’s just a great, first-rate environment.
Turning to BETTER CALL SAUL, it wrapped up its season with the Kettleman’s kind of getting their comeuppance a little bit. Were you happy with the journey that Betsy went on in Season 1?
JULIE: When I read our big episode, Episode 7, I was like, “I can’t believe someone just handed this to me.” As an actor, I was absolutely thrilled. It is interesting when we talk about Betsy because her husband is going to jail, but Betsy is not. I am automatically obsessed with the fact that Betsy has been left with no money, no job and no way to feed her kids and I don’t think she’s laying down. In my head and as an actor, I’m not done with Betsy. I continue to think about how she hates Jimmy right now and what does she do — what does someone like Betsy do when someone takes away all their money and her ability to take care of her family? It’s fascinating.
So there is hope we might see Betsy again in Season 2 as her story may not yet be done?
JULIE: Well, Peter Gould did an interview right after the season finale and said they were breaking Season 2 in the writer’s room and they have a little board on the side listing the characters that they would like to see pop back up and the Kettlemans are listed there. So I think there is a desire, but it would have to be right for the show. If the Kettlemans serve a purpose in helping Jimmy become Saul Goodman, then I would love to see that happen. I loved playing Betsy. What a gift of a character.
Betsy was a twisty one. She seemed so naive in her criminal ways.
JULIE: I know! I don’t know that we have seen a woman like her on television and I’m really proud of that. I am so fortunate that the writers handled it the way that they did. I hope she is not done. It will have to serve a greater purpose of their story if she were to come back. But what a gift of a character.
Also, congratulations on the Peabody award for FARGO. That was just announced and since you got to work on FARGO during its first season that has to feel great.
JULIE: Thank you. And congratulations to Noah Hawley. What a big accomplishment, right? He wrote the entire thing — all ten episodes. It’s truly incredible. It’s a big, big thing for him.
Thinking about it, it felt like you may have been channeling a bit of Lester Nygaard from FARBO into Betsy on BETTER CALL SAUL. It just seemed like there was a little bit of that flavor.
JULIE: I’ve never thought of it that way! Although, to be honest, in Vince Gilligan’s mind, Betsy is very dark on the inside and I will agree with him. When I did the insider podcast, we were talking about what would happen if Marie (Betsy Brandt) from BREAKING BAD and Betsy from BETTER CALL SAUL met in real life and I said, “Oh, they would be shop-lifting at Prada and selling it out of the back of their cars” and Vince said, “No, no. They would shop-lift at Prada and Betsy would say, I think that salesman saw you, we have to go kill him now” [Laughs] So you’re not very far off on the Lester Nygaard observation. That’s really funny. I had absolutely not thought of that. It’s an interesting comparison for sure. I think Betsy is fun to watch not knowing what is really going on in her head. For the research I did on her, I scoured YouTube for anything where a person watching like they had something happening in their head that you couldn’t quite put your finger on.
What was one of your favorite memories from working on FARGO?
JULIE: Allison Tolman is a dear friend and I loved working with her. The scene in the hospital, in Episode 5, right after Ida had the baby, I think will be one of my all time favorite scenes. Not because it is showy or flashy in an actor way, but there is something between those two women that is so unspoken and so real and so true to life — like that we don’t often talk about what we’re actually talking about. I loved that. When I read it the first time, I thought that Noah trusts us so much in that scene and Colin Bucksey, who won the Emmy for directing FARGO, directed that episode. I will always take that away from it. It is a really wonderful thing. Also, I have never been pregnant in real life, and in FARGO, my character was 8 1/2 months pregnant when the show starts, and there was only a couple days of rehearsal. So when I went to put on my costume and my fake belly was so big, I asked the wardrobe department to keep the belly so I could practice with it before my first day of shooting because I had a very full first day and I didn’t want to use that time to try to figure out navigate what that was. So for two days, I walked around the stages and production offices with a giant pregnant belly on. It was fascinating to walk in one way with the pregnant belly on and see how differently people treated you. It was interesting. It was very kind. Part of it was just logistical and it was also really helpful getting into the character. So since we had that time, it was a great kindness for the wardrobe department to allow me to do that. Not only did they have to assist me into the belly, they had to pull out maternity clothes that we were not going to wear on the show for me to walk around in — because, obviously, my clothes would not fit over it. So it was very sweet of them to allow me to do that. It helped so much in developing Ida and figuring out where she is at. It helped so much physically with those first few episodes.
You have had an amazing year. These are some remarkable characters: Ida, Betsy and Nancy, that you have brought to life on screen for viewers. So what are you looking to do next?
JULIE: I just wrapped a pilot for ABC, the untitled Johnny Knoxville show. It’s a half-hour comedy and we are waiting to hear if we are going to get picked up for next season. It’s set in the late ’70’s and early ’80’s and I play his 10-year old self’s mother and she is a character. She is totally different from Betsy Kettleman and I would love to spend some time in her shoes. That aside, I am looking for what I am always looking for — I just had a really lucky year last year in terms of work — I’m looking for interesting characters and good writing, and that is now more often on television. We are living in such a great TV moment right now. So I hope that I can find another interesting character to play with some really talented people. I spent the last year surrounded by the best writers, directors and talented actors on television. I don’t know if that can ever be topped. I had a really lucky year surrounded by some truly wonderful people, and that’s all you can hope for. Artistically, I don’t think you get a better year than going from FARGO’s Ida Thurman to BETTER CAUL SAUL’s Betsy Kettleman. It was an amazing opportunity.
After such an extraordinary year, here is to hoping that we get a chance to see more of Betsy Kettleman in Season 2 of BETTER CALL SAUL and more of Julie Ann Emery on our TV screens this year.