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9 Actors Who Were Seriously Traumatized By Their TV roles

 

Acting is all about getting inside a character’s head and investing a performance with that empathy. It’s a difficult job to become a different person when the cameras are rolling and then turn that mindset off the moment a director yells “cut,” and the hectic schedule of filming that most TV shows require makes that job even harder. Actors need to stay in character for weeks and even months at a time, and while that emotional investment can lead to some jaw-dropping performances, it can also wear on a performer’s psyche.

The best actors infuse their characters with parts of their own personality, turning a role into a reflection of themselves. While that can lead to better performances overall, it can also lead to emotionally draining scenes and existential terror where the role ends and the actor begins. From actors who found themselves as depressed as their characters to stars uncomfortable with onscreen violence, here are TV roles that really messed with the actor’s head.

 

Justice Smith in The Get Down

The Get Down might have fallen victim to its own massive budget and co-creator Baz Luhrmann’s busy schedule, but the show’s mythic portrayal of the birth of hip-hop was a delight for all 11 episodes of the short-lived series. One of the main appeals of the show was its commitment to creating a dense setting for the characters, a New York City closer to the way people mythologize the city than the mundane reality. That commitment to world-building was also reflected in the actors, who practiced choreography on set in a reconstructed Queens neighborhood, and even involved some of the actors wearing period-appropriate underwear.

As series lead Ezekiel Brown, actor Justice Smith committed to the role with gusto for the long hours of filming. Unfortunately, that dedication to craft ended up taking an emotional toll on the young actor when his method acting techniques started to erase the distinction between himself and the character he was playing. According to Smith, “The lines get blurred and you’re like, ‘What is me and what is the character? Am I really like this or is that just him?’ My biggest fear was, ‘What if I don’t come back? What if I don’t return to who I am?'”

 

Mandy Patinkin in Criminal Minds

Crime procedurals often thrive in the comforting rhythm of repetition. Following the same characters as they investigate criminal after criminal, often in storylines ripped directly from recent headlines, can be surprisingly engrossing. The hook for Criminal Minds that set it apart from shows like NCIS (boat crimes) and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (sex crimes) was that the show focused on understanding the psychology of the killers. It clearly proved effective.

The show’s in-depth look at criminal minds proved to be a bit too in-depth for actor Mandy Patinkin, however. In an interview, he confessed that working on the show was one of the biggest regrets of his career. “I thought it was something very different. I never thought they were going to kill and rape all these women every night, every day, week after week, year after year,” Patinkin said. “It was very destructive to my soul and my personality. After that, I didn’t think I would get to work in television again.” Patinkin would return to television again in Homeland, but his character on Criminal Minds was famously killed offscreen, so there’s not much chance of him returning to that particular role.

 

Dean Norris in Breaking Bad

While there are plenty of shows that have had dark character arcs, Breaking Bad broke the mold by following protagonist Walter White’s series-long descent into meth-dealing supervillainy. The show’s chock-full of dark moments and grim performances, so consider this your spoiler warning for one specific example: In season 3, Hank, Walt’s DEA brother-in-law, is nearly shot to death and ends up crippled for part of the next season. The character’s former upbeat attitude and macho dialogue is replaced with sullen glares and moody silences, which continues episode after episode.

Actor Dean Norris found himself increasingly enveloped in the newly grim outlook of his character, which necessitated weeks of filming for the arc. “You are constantly dark for 15‑hour days, being just depressed as a character and being mean to my [onscreen] wife,” Norris said. “I was just constantly in this kind of pissed-off mood. That whole Season 4 for me was not pleasant.” Still, Norris’ dedication to his craft on the show did lead to one of the mineral-related clips of the show, so at least it didn’t go to waste.

 

Donal Logue in Terriers

Not all TV roles that mess with an actor’s head are grim and gritty; some just involve an actor getting too emotionally invested. Donal Logue found himself in that situation while portraying washed up former police detective Hank Dolworth in Terriers. Logue’s been a fantastic character actor for years, but the dense writing and close cast relationships in Terriers helped the actor put a lot of himself into the character; his onscreen sister was even played by Logue’s real sister, Karina Logue.

Unfortunately, while the show was much loved by its fans, it was canceled after only one season and Logue was left to consider a future in acting that didn’t involve Hank Dolworth. Logue even considered quitting Hollywood for good, saying, “I couldn’t really afford to do it, but I just felt like quitting. Because I’d gotten so super emotionally attached to that show.” Logue actually went through on his decision to quit, and wound up becoming a licensed truck driver before returning to Hollywood.

 

Aya Cash in You’re The Worst


Arguably the best show with “worst” in the title, You’re The Worst follows four characters of dubious moral character as they enjoy the hipster pleasures of upscale Los Angeles and deal with various romantic hijinx. While the show often skews more towards comedy, an arc in season 2 featured protagonist Gretchen dealing with clinical depression. Actress Aya Cash confessed that although she didn’t experience many dark days while filming her character’s onscreen struggles, she did experience some dark days while watching the show.

“I didn’t feel particularly brought down by the shooting of it, but I did actually have a very hard time, to be honest, when it aired; feeling sort of similar to how Gretchen was feeling,” Cash said. “I had sort of a delayed reaction to it all and then felt I had to be sort of up for it when I actually myself felt down.”

 

Katey Sagal in Sons of Anarchy

Very few actors have had the opportunity to explore the character range shown by Katey Sagal. From lazy housewife Peggy Bundy in Married… With Children to purple-haired mutant Leela in Futurama, Sagal’s been a mainstay on television for years. As Gemma Teller, the matriarch of a biker gang in Sons of Anarchy, she was given the chance to flex her acting chops in a more dramatic fashion than past roles. In season 2 of the biker drama, Gemma is attacked by a rival gang in a viscerally unpleasant sequence that affects the character for the rest of the season.

In an interview, Sagal admitted that “it required me to visit some pretty dark places but just seemed to hang around with me after I left work… Before you know it, you’re kind of visiting these places over and over again on a regular basis. Yeah, that was definitely kind of hard to shake.”

 

Laverne Cox in Orange Is the New Black

While Orange Is the New Black is frequently more lighthearted and funny than one might expect given the show’s prison setting, it’s also never shied away from the deeply unpleasant realities of imprisonment and sexism. Following a group of women imprisoned in a women’s correctional facility, the show features the various intersections between race, class, gender, and sexuality. In season 3, a feud finds Sophia, a trans woman, sent to solitary confinement ostensibly for her own protection after a violent attack.

Actress Laverne Cox, herself transgender, admitted that although the storyline was important to showcase, it was deeply upsetting to film. “When I read this episode, I was just in tears,” she recalled. “I bawled reading it because it was deeply triggering for me… As trans people of color, there’s so many different layers of that. So the trauma of that was just very real and raw for me.”

 

Jack Gleeson in Game of Thrones

There are plenty of loathsome villains in the history of television, but very few have been quite as young and quite as twisted as King Joffrey on Game of Thrones. Even among a cast full of violent monsters, the young king stood out as a repugnant character. Actor Jack Gleeson seems to be as kind-hearted as his character is not, since he’s gone on record as feeling very conflicted over the violent acts committed in the show.

As Gleeson said in an interview with Rolling Stone, “You tend to abstract yourself from the creepiness of it when you’re playing it, but when you see it on television, it sends shivers down my spine… I would like to try and defend him, but I would have a pretty hard job doing it.” Gleeson even retired from acting after his time on the show ended, which was probably for the best, considering the kind of retirement his character faced.

 

Krysten Ritter in Jessica Jones

While Krysten Ritter’s got a bit of a knack for playing self-destructive characters like Chloe on Don’t Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23 or Jane in Breaking Bad, Marvel’s Jessica Jones is arguably one of her best. The show follows the titular superpowered private detective as she struggles with trauma in a world of unbreakable men and manipulative monsters. Playing a character that deals with such dark experiences required Ritter to really invest herself in Jessica Jones’ loneliness, which involved a difficult transition.

“It definitely takes a toll because I’m more bubbly and alive and zestful and I like to have a good time. So after a while, you’re like, ‘Oh my God, I’m getting really depressed,'” Ritter said. “And I just had to move across the country, so I’m in an apartment that doesn’t have my furniture. I’m not around my friends. I spent a lot of time walking around doing the scenes by myself in my apartment.”

 

 

 

 

 

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