Marvel is hoping Jessica Jones can be their next breakout character, as well known as Daredevil (minus the terrible movie and even worse soundtrack). As its star, the company cast an actress who always seems on the verge of breaking out, the perpetually almost-famous Krysten Ritter, who showed up in several movies and shows as That Girl before breaking big in Breaking Bad, and eventually Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23 and Netflix’s Jessica Jones. Here’s how she went from commercials to superhero shows.
1. Ritter, who was born in Pennsylvania in 1981, was a model before she made her first on-screen appearance in a Dr. Pepper commercial. She got the gig by “being a goof, and dancing around” during the audition; she enjoyed acting, and soon gave up modeling to make it her full-time gig. Like any new actor and actress, she had to prove her chops. So Ritter took a number of small, but thankless parts in Mona Lisa Smile, where she played an unnamed art-history student; Whoopi Goldberg’s short-lived eponymous NBC sitcom; and, of course, Law and Order and One Life to Live. She stood out in every project — it’s hard to not look at the tall, classically gorgeous woman with the mysteriously large eyes — but these parts were nothing to write home about, until 2005, when she scored a role on Veronica Mars as Steve Guttenberg’s daughter.
2. Ritter’s time on Veronica Mars was short, but it was a recurring role on a critically admired show. In other words, it wasn’t Whoopi. From there, Ritter jumped to fellow WB-originated series Gilmore Girls. There’s much to not like about season seven — namely, that creator Amy Sherman-Palladino was no longer involved — but Ritter, playing one of Rory’s rare Yale friends (who ends up dating an old crush, Marty the Naked Guy), was a rare bright spot.
Lucy was mischievous and clever, and the fast talking came naturally to the instantly engaging Ritter. The same year she was on Gilmore Girls, Ritter also showed up on ‘Til Death, Brad Garrett’s conventional and forgettable sitcom on Fox. She was the first of four actresses (take that, Second Becky) to play Garrett’s’ oldest child, Ally, the others being Laura Clery, Lindsey Broad, and the always-welcome Kate Micucci. That’s a lot of friend and daughter roles — she’d play more of the former in the next stage of her career.
3. Don’t hold 27 Dresses, What Happens in Vegas, and Confessions of a Shopaholic against Ritter. She’s a working actress, and she needed the work. She’s fully aware of the curse and blessing of being the undersexed best friend in romantic comedies. (Only one, She’s Out of My League, rises above the mediocre pack.) “For me, like, those were huge jobs,” she told the Hollywood Reporter. “It’s hard to get a studio film. It’s hard to get a movie that will be seen… It’s all about keeping the ball moving forward, in terms of your acting, the work, and your viability.” Spoken like a true I-don’t-want-to-offend-anyone-but-I-know-these-movies-weren’t-very-good professional. (Ritter also wrote her own rom-com, the well-cast, but sappy L!fe Happens, so she knows how tough it is.) Besides, it worked.
4. After a quick spot on Gossip Girl, the lesser of the WB/CW double-G shows, Ritter was offered a recurring arc on The New Adventures of Old Christine. She almost took it, until something better came along: Breaking Bad. Jane was Ritter’s biggest role to date, and still the one she’s recognized for the most. It was a tricky part to play: Jane had to command every scene she was in, usually with boyfriend (and landlord to) Jesse Pinkman, while also showing a drug addict’s vulnerability. Ritter pulled it off with aplomb. Her death scene, where she choked on “oatmeal and Mylanta,” was a pivotal moment in the series; it’s when viewers realized there was no going back for Walter White. Bryan Cranston praised Ritter for doing a “superb job,” and despite the show, y’know, killing her, she continued watching. And people started watching her.
5. Ritter was billed second in How to Make Love To a Woman, co-starring Jenna Jameson, but the less said about that movie, the better. Still, it was a big, above-the-line step, and she contemplated giving up TV-show offers.
Until, that is, she received a “straight offer on a pilot,” meaning she wouldn’t have to audition. Ritter reconsidered her decision. Good thing, too, because according to the Hollywood Reporter, “One of Ritter’s friends… forwarded her an article that she had read online about plans to cast a pilot of a show called Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23.” TV scholars will debate for centuries whether the attention the title grabbed was a good thing, but one thing’s for certain: It was a very good show. Don’t Trust started slowly, but once the relationship between Ritter’s amoral Chloe and Dreama Walker’s wide-eyed June was established (not to mention James Van Der Beek’s comically exaggerated version of himself), the snappy show, with its unique blend of toxicity and sweetness, was off and running. Unfortunately not for very long: It was canceled after only 26 episodes, one of many gone-too-soon ABC sitcoms with stupid names (#BringBackHappyEndings). Ritter’s career didn’t stall in a post-Don’t Trust world, but she was back to co-starring, not starring.
In quick succession, she played Jonathan Pryce’s daughter in Listen Up Philip, reprised her role as Gia in the Veronica Mars movie, played a bounty hunter on The Blacklist, and co-starred as the quick-witted DeeAnn in Tim Burton’s Big Eyes. Then Jessica Jones came along. Ritter got the part because of her ability to balance comedy and drama, something showrunner Melissa Rosenberg called a “rare talent.” Ritter had finally gone from sidekick to superhero.