In the second season of NBC’s comedy series TRIAL & ERROR one of the best new additions is Amanda Payton, who delightfully portrays the character of Nina Rudolph who sheds light on the important role of media in the latest murder trial to fall upon in the small community of East Peck. In addition, Nina’s blog M-Towne offers the perfect platform to showcase all the unique personalities of East Peck — especially since TRIAL & ERROR happily embraces the oddities and facets of human beings happy to be exactly as they are and Amanda’s character Nina fits in seamlessly. In an exclusive interview, Amanda talks about the joy and fun she has working on TRIAL & ERROR.
What was the initial appeal for you about portraying Nina Rudolph and working on NBC’s TRIAL & ERROR?
AMANDA: I was very excited right off the bat because I was already a fan of Season One. The writing is brilliant. It’s a show you have to pay attention to. There can be a small moment in episode one that might resurface in episode ten and possibly be a crucial clue in the finale. Then, when I saw that Nina was a podcast host making a Serial-type podcast, I fell in love. I have been obsessed with murder documentaries and podcasts since before it was cool and I finally got to put this weird obsession to use! To say I connected with the material would be an understatement.
How would you describe who Nina is in the series?
AMANDA: Nina is an ambitious New York podcast host who comes to East Peck to follow the murder trial of Lavinia Peck-Foster (Kristin Chenoweth), for her murder podcast “M-Towne – Where Murder Happens.” While in East Peck, Nina develops a little crush on Lavinia’s lawyer, Josh (Nicholas D’Agosto). She ends up tangled in a bit of a complicated triangle between him and his opposing counsel, Carol Anne Keane (Jayma Mays), who may be carrying his baby.
What do you most admire about Nina?
AMANDA: Nina is a hard worker and she is very driven. She also tells it like it is. I love that she doesn’t hold anything back.
What is it like working alongside Nicholas D’Agosto and Kristin Chenowith on TRIAL & ERROR in Season 2?
AMANDA: It’s truly a dream come true. The most exciting part of this experience was getting the opportunity to work with a cast of such high caliber comedians. Nicholas and Kristin are not only comedic geniuses but kind, gracious and a joy to be around. Each and every member of the cast brings a unique quality to the show. The life that Kristin, Nicholas, Jayma, Sherri [Shepherd] and Steven [Boyer] bring to the scripts is sidesplitting. It was a challenge not to break character and laugh while the cameras were rolling.
How would you describe the dynamic between Nina and Josh?
AMANDA: AWKWARD! But, also very honest and sweet at times. They can be vulnerable with each other. They come from the same place (New York) and both came to East Peck to pursue their respective careers. In many ways they are kindred spirits and understand each other.
Any favorite scenes that you can share from working on the film?
AMANDA: I got to do a scene with Kristin and a hairless cat named Fluffy. Kristin and the cat really got along. The cat liked Kristin almost as much as it liked its handlers. I, on the other hand, was very unsure of how to handle Fluffy. I’m not really ever around cats because I’m allergic, so I’m not used to them. To top it off, Fluffy was just hitting puberty and going through some hormonal changes which was making him pretty moody. He was by far the biggest diva we had on set. The dynamic between Kristin and the moody cat was fantastic, and then throwing uncomfortable me into the scene was pretty funny. The unpredictability of that scene made it one of my favorites.
What challenges did you face working on the film and how did you overcome them?
AMANDA: TRIAL & ERROR is a broad comedy, so most of the characters are pretty outrageous. Nina is, in a sense, the eyes and ears of the audience. She asks the questions and makes the comments the audience is wondering and thinking; she’s the straight guy, the “normal” one, and it was great to be that different persona in the mix of insanely funny personalities. But, at the same time, it was hard not to get carried away by the energy of the show and become over the top as well. I had to stay very grounded and be okay with not playing anything for laughs.
Has TRIAL & ERROR left an impression on you in your life? If so, in what way?
AMANDA: I learned firsthand that laughter really is sometimes the best medicine. TRIAL & ERROR satirizes not only murder trials, but pokes fun at many other serious issues including gun control, crooked politics and women’s rights, to name a few. Seeing these important issues played out in cartoon-like over the top ways that we can laugh at, rather than fret over, is a fresh angle on old problems. It’s such a tension release! Scott Weems (well known neuroscientist and author) has a quote that I love. He says “Humor is a great way for us to have evolved so we don’t have to hit each other with sticks.” I think that about sums it up.
Then as an actor, what has been the one thing you haven taken away from the experience of working on TRIAL & ERROR?
AMANDA: One thing? I have learned so much! Filming TRIAL & ERROR felt like a true ensemble experience. Everyone was safe to take risks and bring their best work. There were no divas (except Fluffy the cat), and there were no inflated egos, which made for an enjoyable, fun, and in-sync experience. This is not always the case on sets. What I learned from observing Nicholas and Kristin is that the leads of a show play a huge part in setting the tone of the entire set experience for everybody. I learned that along with being a talented actor, a big part of the job of leading a successful show is having the skill set to bring out the best in everyone. Such a priceless lesson that I will never forget.
What has surprised you most about your career so far?
AMANDA: Well, it didn’t follow any of my expectations! For a while there I thought my path was musical theatre and Broadway. But I kept walking in the direction of what made me happy, and now, this is where I am, doing a comedy on NBC. It’s so great and beyond what I could have fathomed. Growing up I didn’t realize I could have a fulfilling career in TV or film and yet, surprise, here I am!
At this stage of your career, what do you think you have learned from the roles and projects you have worked on?
AMANDA: The business of acting has taught me perseverance and patience. Acting itself is a never ending lesson in compassion and open mindedness. As an actor, I have the blessing of stepping outside of my own point of view every day and exploring other mindsets and opinions. This has helped me to discover where I’m wrong about things or where I am being closed minded.
Then what are the perks of where you are in your career right now?
AMANDA: Well, everything is new and exciting. I saw myself on a billboard last month and it was surreal! I was driving down Sunset and there I was 10 feet tall. I wasn’t really prepared for that. When I fantasized about being a working actor, I mostly thought about the experience of actually working and not the stuff that goes along with it. I pulled over, took a picture and texted all my cast mates. They got a kick out of how excited I got… they had all had this experience before. There’s been a lot of firsts lately. I hope it never gets old.
What has been your proudest achievement as a working actor at this point in your career?
AMANDA: I try to make it a point to be proud of every single step I take. Even if I go to an audition, do a great job, but am ultimately not right for the part… I am proud. There are many factors that go into making a career and so much is out of our control. Countless projects are made and never see the light of day, but if I am proud of my work nobody can take that away. That being said, I’m pretty darn proud of being a part of Season 2 of TRIAL & ERROR and I’m pretty darn proud of being able to call the members of this incredible cast my colleagues. But, hey, I was also proud when I booked my first role on “Numb3rs” right out of college. I had one line. I said, “Would you take a picture of me and my friends?” I think I cried with joy when I found out I booked it.
Has there been any great advice you have gotten about working as an actor?
AMANDA: The best advice I was ever given was when I was feeling like things weren’t happening for me and someone said, “How many hours a day are you putting into this? Most jobs are 9 to 5, so what are you doing? Are you just waiting for your phone to ring? Are you putting in the work? Put yourself into it as if it’s your 9 to 5. And if you wake up one day and think, “Hmm, I could do something else that would make me just as happy, then GO FOR THAT.” It was a wakeup call and the moment I started looking at my career in a different way. I took the power back and stopped waiting around.
What advice would you offer to other upcoming and aspiring actors?
AMANDA: Don’t compromise your morals. Follow your heart and don’t give up. Whatever direction your feet are pointed is the direction you will go, so make sure they are pointed in a direction that makes you happy and go for it! Take steps forward even when you are afraid. When you feel paralyzed, take a step forward anyway. You can course correct later. All that, and find something outside of acting that makes you happy too. Following other passions will make you a more fulfilled person and a better more interesting actor.
At a time when women’s voices are rising to be heard and respected around the country and world, what do you recommend your fans do to lend support in that endeavor?
AMANDA: I am a firm believer that we all have our own calling in how to make the world a better place. I would say, only you know what your calling is. We all have our own strengths. If you are a good organizer of people, get a group together. Organize a march, a support group, or creative endeavor. If you are a great speaker, speak out for what you believe in. If you are a great listener, lend an ear. Do anything, but do something. Even just helping a stranger on the street has a ripple effect that can move mountains. I don’t think this is just women’s responsibility either. We are all in this together.
From your view point, what lessons can be gleaned from the “MeToo” era?
AMANDA: It’s time to speak up and tell your truth. Join together, respect and support each other. I think we saw very clearly that many people were feeling alone and isolated. Once experiences were brought out into the open and shared, shame was, and continues to be, replaced with strength, both individual strength and strength in numbers. Society is being forced to change in a very needed way. The “Me Too” era highlights very ugly, very bad, very hurtful, very disrespectful, wrong behavior. It also highlights the strength we have when we share and stand together.
Do you have any other upcoming projects that you can share that fans should keep an eye out for?
AMANDA: I have my eye on a few things. Hopefully I will be able to share those with you soon! I will say that I am excited to take on new and interesting roles and characters. We are in a golden age of TV right now and there are so many fantastic opportunities for actors. I am seeing more and more interesting, strong and dynamic female characters which really excites me!
All new episodes of TRIAL & ERROR air Thursday nights at 9:00 p.m. on NBC. To see special clips and find out other exclusive information about the show, be sure to follow the show on Twitter @TrialAndError. Then to see what is upcoming as Amanda’s career continues and grows, you can follow her on Twitter @Amanda_Payton.
The first episode of M-Towne: The Death Of A Small Man:
The second episode of M-Towne: The Gal At The Gala:
TRIAL & ERROR Season 2 trailer: