One of the most ridiculously funny scenes in Jury Duty shouldn't even exist.
Amazon Freevee's surprise hit Emmy-nominated series is a genre-bending comedy mockumentary about the jury duty process where the trial is fake and everyone is an improv actor playing a role except for the "hero": Ronald Gladden, a solar panel contractor from San Diego, Calif., who has no idea this was not official jury duty. To sell the bit even further, James Marsden plays a fictionalized version of himself as a narcissistic, entitled Hollywood jerk trying to use his fame to get out of his civic duty. And Marsden would stop at nothing to make sure Gladden didn't wise up to the fact that everything was fake... including simulating a "soaking" sex scene between fellow jurors Jeannie (Edy Modica) and Noah (Mekki Leeper).
Amazon Freevee The cast of 'Jury Duty'
Watching Marsden jump on the bed to help Jeannie and Noah "consummate" their relationship as a handheld camera captures it all is one of the most laugh-out-loud moments in a series full of jaw-dropping scenes as Jury Duty continued to pull off the seemingly impossible since Gladden never suspected it wasn't real (until the ploy was revealed to him in the finale). But it's the wild soaking scene that is particularly shocking since Gladden isn't even in the room — meaning all the people there are in on the joke and it didn't need to happen at all. According to Marsden, that's just how committed they all were to selling the story.
"Some people have asked me, 'Did you shoot that later?' No, we shot it right after we left the room with Ronald," Marsden tells EW about the soaking scene in an interview conducted prior to the start of the SAG-AFTRA strike. "We wanted to make sure that if he left his room and came and listened or peeked in, that's what he'd see. We got really lucky with that."
The entire setup was actually the least complicated scene of the series, as Modica was holding the camera and no one else was in the room with them. "It happened in sequence — we literally left the room from Ronald and we went and filmed it," Marsden says. "It wasn't something we got once Ronald was gone and we were like, 'Let's go shoot this.' We did everything sequentially, and we just went into another room in the hotel, we'd practiced what was going to happen, just jumped up on the bed, and Edy shot on that. It was perfect."
Freevee/Everett James Marsden on 'Jury Duty'
But since Gladden wasn't in the room, it was actually, well, harder for Marsden, Modica, and Leeper to stay in character since the stakes were lower. "Because it was the three of us, we struggled keeping it together and not laughing because it felt so ridiculous," Marsden remembers with a laugh. "All that stuff was unscripted: 'Harder!' 'Faster jumps!' 'Slower jumps!' We just had fun. It was such an absurd circumstance and Mekki was so brilliantly virginal in that scene — it was great."
The Dead to Me and Westworld actor says filming the soaking scene was some of the most fun he has ever had in a role because of the freedom he had to "mess around" with a character. It's a feeling that permeated the entire project for him, as he got to form this exaggerated version of himself from the ground up. And it's culminated in his first-ever Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series.
"I'm still trying to find the right words to describe what that feels like," Marsden says. "It is me and he's in the room with me and I'm playing James Marsden, the actor from these movies. But it's such a creative character and that was always in the script as the highfalutin entitled Hollywood celebrity. It was too fun. And there was a dance while we were filming the show where I would go between normal me — 'Let's have a good time and chit chat and bond and shoot the s---' — and then I would pick my moments to exercise these comedic beats that were written in the scripts. So it was a tricky one because a lot of the comedy beats were me making an ass of myself, and some of them are a little off-putting to Ronald."
Everett Collection Ronald Gladden and James Marsden on 'Jury Duty'
He was constantly having to walk that tightrope and be in tune with how Gladden was feeling toward him — if he pushed Gladden too far, the entire experiment could be ruined.
"Once I call the paparazzi or I destroy the birthday party, I have to make sure that those moments are followed up with some level of affability, where I go back to me, back to normal James Marsden, friendly and asking him about himself and not just about talking about my Hollywood projects," Marsden says. "I knew that we're going to have a whole lot [of those nicer moments] that we can cut out later that just builds the trust bank with him, because if I was just that self-involved and despicable throughout the whole show, he would just never talk to me. What was important to me was that [this version of me] wasn't only a one-dimensional, self-centered prick. I wanted to add a little layer of pathetic to him because he's not always a bad guy."
Making those calls in the moment is the closest Marsden has ever come to method acting — a technique he doesn't normally employ while filming projects. "I would make jokes with some of the other cast after we wrapped and cut and Ronald went home," he adds. "I was too happy to get back to my normal self."
After steadily working for three decades with lead roles in countless major films and shows, Marsden isn't quite sure whether it's a compliment that the TV Academy finally recognized his work as an actor when he's essentially playing himself. "Maybe it's more like they wanted to congratulate me on how far away I could go from myself," he jokes. "Like, 'We've seen him be charming James or a nice guy, and now we've seen him be the really unsavory, conceited jackass.' That's almost like a Jekyll and Hyde act. It is a funny thing to say I've been doing this for 30 years and I finally got an Emmy nomination, and it's for playing a character named James Marsden. It's so surreal."