Freevee’s newest comedy, Jury Duty, is taking fans by storm. With its titular concept, fit-inducing bits, quick-thinking actors, and kind-hearted protagonist that you can’t help but root for, the show continues to reel audiences in episode after episode mere weeks after its release. We had the chance to sit down with the show’s unwitting protagonist and only non-actor, Ronald Gladden, and one of his fellow cast members, Mekki Leeper (The Sex Lives of College Girls) to discuss the ins and outs of the show and what was going on behind the scenes. Read on to see our conversation with these two!
Note: This interview has been edited for clarity.
Nerds & Beyond: Hi there. How are y’all doing today?
Mekki Leeper: Good!
Ronald Gladden: Doing fantastic. Happy to be here.
Nerds & Beyond: Good to hear! Alright, so I’ll jump right in. This first one’s for Ronald. So obviously, you didn’t know that the whole case was a farce when you agreed to participate in the documentary, but throughout the proceedings, what, if anywhere, were your biggest tip-off that things weren’t exactly right? At one point I think you’ve literally said “this is like reality TV” and it went dead silent around you [laughs].
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Ronald Gladden: Well, first of all, that was the second or third time I said that. I said that multiple times they caught on camera. Actually, on the third day when we were getting sequestered and we all had to bring our luggage in, you know? We were getting checked through the metal detector and they had to check everything, one of the security guards was being fired for letting the paparazzi come in. So, security held them up and they’re having this big photo shoot and were like, ” Hey, can you take these photos with us?” I turned to James and I was like, “Dude, I’m literally on reality TV.” So, there were so many moments that I felt like “something is not right here.” But to talk about the credibility of the show, as soon as I would say that, they were getting this real-time feedback. So they would just pull back on everything. As soon as I would start to get suspicious, they would just say, “Nope, we’re not doing anything else today. Next five hours, we’re doing nothing.”
Nerds & Beyond: This next one’s for Mekki. So obviously comedy has been a common thread throughout your career in the entertainment industry with your work on The Sex Lives of College Girls, your stand up special with Comedy Central, etc. So how was working in the docucomedy style different from other work that you’ve done in the past? And what were some challenges associated with it, besides just trying to catch on to everything that was going on?
Mekki Leeper: That’s a good question. Yeah, I did a little tiny bit of this work before. I did a documentary for Comedy Central where we worked with people in focus groups, and I was a writer for Crank Yankers for a little bit. So I have done a little bit of this open-ended writing prompt where you see what’s going to happen sort of. I guess I would just say that it’s more or differently stressful than traditional sitcoms. I think the pressure from traditional sitcoms is you have multiple takes and multiple chances to get it right. So then it’s like, you’ve got to be really funny. So that’s a different pressure. But this is like, if I say the wrong thing, I might cost the Amazon company millions of dollars. So that’s [laughs] I think scarier maybe? I don’t know. It’s all scary. But yeah, something I like about it is you spent a lot of time making smaller jokes, you know? I think some of people’s favorite things about Jury Duty are these tiny little moments, not the big picture like bits that we wrote a year in advance, like the soaking thing, or just big silly stuff. I think it’s these little chance moments in between people, and it’s because it’s real, people find it funny. So I think that’s really rewarding, you know?
Nerds & Beyond: This one’s for both of you guys. Is there anything particularly memorable that happened that didn’t end up making the final cut into the show that you wished had been shown?
Ronald Gladden: I mean, I don’t know about you, Mekki, but personally, I wish they would have shown – because I mean, obviously I didn’t know we had a hidden camera that was in the game room – I wish they would have shown a little bit more of that footage. Because honestly, that experience, not only with Mekki and his character Noah, but with everybody else there too, I feel like that was really heartwarming. It felt good, like I was connecting to these people. We’re watching movies, we’re playing video games, we’re just hanging out, you know?
Mekki Leeper: Yeah, I agree that there was so much funny stuff that happened in there and also it was hours and hours of work every day where you’re like, okay, don’t say any references to stuff that my really conservative religious character would not be aware of. And Ronald, all he wants to talk about is PG-13 to R-rated media from the last 15 years, so I have to pretend I don’t know anything that he’s saying, you know? But all I want to do is talk about it, that’s my favorite stuff too. So I think that and… I love James Marsden, who’s so funny, but I do think it’s really funny that he had to sit in court for six hours a day [laughs]. That’s funny! James is tremendously successful. He can kind of do whatever project he wants. I think it’s really funny that he chose to sit in court [laughs]. You can’t even pretend that it’s interesting because it has no stakes at all; you know that it’s fake. So I don’t know, I think that if there could be maybe just like… a live feed or that they upload all the raw footage of James bored, that’s pretty funny.
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Nerds & Beyond: Brother Brother-esque cam moment.
Mekki Leeper: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Yeah.
Nerds & Beyond: Both of your answers kind of lead me into my next question for Ronald. Even though your fellow jurors were playing a role, the camaraderie that you guys all formed was still very real, as we saw on the reveal episode. So how’s it been getting to know everyone outside of their character, and who has surprised you the most and just how different they are from their character in real life?
Ronald Gladden: So I mean, I’ll say just in general, connecting with these people has been an amazing experience. That’s the one thing that I’m taking away from this. Even if this show wouldn’t have been successful, even if they wouldn’t have paid me, the fact that I got to make the friendships that I made made this all work, because these people are amazing. They’re funny and just great people all around. So that’s my biggest takeaway from this hands down.
Nerds & Beyond: For Mekki, what aspects of Jury Duty drew you in when you heard about the opportunity? The script? The production team? Tell us a little bit more about that.
Mekki Leeper: It was just what we were going to do. The premise was so interesting. I forget if Bad Trip was already out, but obviously I’m a huge fan of work like this. And yeah, the idea of really doing it as a narrative and really trying to make a sitcom around a person felt different. Even different than Joe Schmo, even different than other stuff like this where set piece to set piece it’s a different subject. I thought it was really interesting to try to do a play for one guy and see if he notice. That’s very funny to me.
Nerds & Beyond: Another one for both of you guys. So, I don’t know how much you guys have gone back through and rewatched the show now that it’s done, but with the episodes that you have seen in bits and pieces, how was rewatching with that new perspective – especially for Ronald – changed your view of any events that transpired
Ronald Gladden: Well yeah, I’m honestly interested in how Mekki answers this one as well. But for me, it’s been totally different each time. The first time I watched it, it was almost embarrassing because I was like, “Oh man, how did I not see this coming? How did I not catch on to this, you know?” But anytime I start to think about things like that, I realize the level of professionalism that went to this. These are the people who filmed the Borat movies, these are the writers of The Office, these are the directors and the producers ofThe White Lotus. This is what they do for a living. So when I would start to watch it and feel embarrassed, I would think about things like that. These are people who have mastered their craft. Mekki has been doing this for years and years. He’s great at comedy – obviously, I know that now [laughs]. But yeah, anytime I would feel embarrassed, I’d think about that. So it’s just been these stepping stones for me. Every time I watch it, it’s a totally different feeling.
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Mekki Leeper: Yeah, I think for me, it’s just the work of the editing team. The Jake Szymanski, Andrew Weinberg, [Nicholas] Hatton, and Cody Heller especially because they were there from the very beginning of the creative that I was a part of through so much of the edit and all that stuff. I don’t know, man…just the fact that I was there. That was hundreds of hours, 35 cameras. I was watching it, and I couldn’t believe it was coherent. Because it’s just too big of a task you would think to pull together a story that’s very funny beat for beat. Do you know what I mean? I don’t know, I think I was just really impressed with all my castmates and how smart the editors were. I don’t know, it’s weird. Again, like… I was there. It really happened. But kicking back and watching it, it does feel a little bit like a sitcom. So, I didn’t expect that. I don’t know. It’s just surprising that you can make such a traditional feeling show in this wild, unplanned sort of way, this improvised sort of way.
Nerds & Beyond: Yeah, I mean, especially when they were revealing all the cameras and everything. I know I was like, “This is so many moving parts. I have no clue how they pulled any of this off.” So kudos to the production team – obviously.
Well, back to Ronald for another one. So when the judge chose you as foreperson, I could just see your face drop. And although there were obviously outside factors at play that you didn’t know about, how do you think that that decision changed the trajectory of the proceedings and everything behind the scenes? I know they talked a little bit about that with the reveal episode at the end.
Ronald Gladden: Well I mean, obviously it was structured from the beginning that I was going to be chosen as the foreperson. I thought I would have some say in the matter going into it because I was under the impression it would be a vote. I didn’t know the judge would select. But truthfully, when I was selected as foreperson, I thought that it was just a classic case of just mixing people up. When Tim fell and hurt himself, Ross was the first one there. He’s this teacher, he’s got the CPR experience, he knows what’s going on. All I was doing was assisting Ross. Ross, Ronald, the names kind of sound alike. We’re both larger individuals. I thought that he literally just got us confused and kind of appointed me as the foreperson. So it’s like, well, I mean, I guess I’m here now [laughs]. But again, that was obviously not knowing that it was pre-selected. But that’s how I was approaching the situation. I was like, “Well, this is just a classic case of mixing people up.”
Nerds & Beyond: Alright, back to Mekki. We talked a little bit about this, but the unique thing about this role is that all the actors had to stay in character for these really long periods of time while also adapting to dynamic situations and it was a really immersive experience. Have you done any work in theater or anything like that that prepared you to kind of take on this challenge? What did your preparation look like going into this role – outside of the hours of rehearsal that you guys had to put in as shown in the last episode [laughs]?
Mekki Leeper: I think the biggest thing that helped was that I wrote on the show, so I always had a decent sense of, “Oh, this is where we are in the story. This is why we’re here.” And also, “These are all the things that we were gonna do and have decided that we’ll cut.” And if it sort of seemed like any of that stuff was organically coming back, I could be there in the moment with an earpiece in my ear to be like, “Hey, maybe we try that.” You know what I mean? I think the first day, me asking, “How do I get out of this?” trying to get Ronald to [laughing] to suggest that I say that I’m racist, it’s included in episode eight, but that was a bit that was cut. We thought that was too risky to do and that it would really blow our cover. But I don’t know, it just… we were sitting there for so long and I was like, “Why don’t I just kind of let this one rip and see what happens.” So I think being a writer helped me keep my bearings. But no, I’ve never done theater or improv at all. I just did stand up before this. And as far as prep, I just got really, really anxious and scared. So that’s how I focused [laughs].
Nerds & Beyond: Well, you did a great job.
Ronald Gladden: I didn’t know you’ve never done improv. So congratulations, man. That’s amazing.
Mekki Leeper: Aw, thanks [laughs].
Nerds & Beyond: All right, I’ve got another one for both of you guys. So I’m sure they’re two very different perspectives on this concerning your respective roles and knowledge levels while filming the show. But what was it like working with James Marsden on this project and particularly for Ronald, how do you feel like your relationship has evolved post-reveal?
Ronald Gladden: Okay, so obviously during filming, I had a rollercoaster of emotions regarding James. It was ups and downs, everything in between. The whole point of his character – and Mekki, you can correct me if I’m wrong –, but the whole point of his character was that he was supposed to just be this arrogant, self-involved guy, but he couldn’t push me too far away because he still had to have all these scenes with me. So, one day I would just be like, “Man, this guy’s annoying. I don’t want to be around him”, and then the next day in court, he would just pull back and he wouldn’t be so bad. So I was like, “Well, this guy’s not so bad.” It was literally just this up and down roller coaster for me until the very end when he broke my heart and I was like, “Ugh, unfortunately, this guy just sucks apparently.” After the fact though, it definitely was such a sigh of relief when I was like, “Thank God this is not who this man really is.”
Mekki Leeper: Yeah, I mean of course I know James’ work. You know, he’s a star. You see him everywhere. But I’ve got to be really honest, I feel like comedy can be a little bit… like people are kind of particular about saying, “Oh, this person is funny” or “This person is a good comedian” or whatever. There’s all this nonsense about it in comedy, but James is such a real comedian. Like James is such a real ass comedian dude. As much as any comedic actor that you’re like, “They’re so funny. They’re so good at improv. They’re such a good writer,” James is a comedian. There’s so much stuff in the show where it’s like… damn, this guy’s unbelievably funny and he’s making choices on the fly that are just pitch perfect. And there’s so much that’s not in the show that I was just there on the day [to see]. You have to respect James Marsden as a comedian. It is undeniable. It’s crazy. And obviously, he’s tremendously handsome and famous and rich. So it’s like… certainly he can’t be funny. But boy, he’s ridiculously funny.
Ronald Gladden: I do have to add to that. Like honestly, I’m upset that more people do not know James Marsden for his comedy because he really is so so funny. So funny.
Mekki Leeper: It’s crazy.
Nerds & Beyond: He’s such a versatile actor too, and I think that really showed in this role with… everything that was going on [laughs].
Mekki Leeper: And he can like… sing???
Ronald Gladden: [Laughs]
Mekki Leeper: This is, okay… I’m actually mad. I’m actually pissed now. I just remembered that. That’s one too many [laughs].
Ronald Gladden: He’s not even a triple threat, he’s quadruple [laughs].
Mekki Leeper: Yeah… that’s crazy.
Nerds & Beyond: All right. Well, we’re running a little short on time. So my last question, which is for both you guys: here at Nerds & Beyond, we’re all about letting your nerd flag fly no matter the subject. So we love to end our interviews by asking, what is one thing that you consider yourself to be nerdy or passionate about?
Ronald Gladden: Oh, you want to go first on this one?
Mekki Leeper: Oh, man. Yeah. Just right now, the recent obsession has been I got an old CRT TV – like a bubble TV – and I have a PS2. And right here I have all these PlayStation 2 games that I’ve been buying. I like the Need for Speed: Underground 2, I got SSX. I’ve been nerding out on PlayStation 2 games.
Ronald Gladden: You need to get The Legend of Dragoon.
Mekki Leeper: There you go. I need to get that, I need to get some Ratchet & Clank games. I’m freaking out.
Ronald Gladden: Mine are corgis. Hands down. That’ll never change.
Nerds & Beyond: I like it. Alright, well, thank you guys both so much for taking the time out of your day to talk to me. It’s a delight to speak to both of you.
Mekki Leeper: Thanks for talking to us. I appreciate it.
Ronald Gladden: Yeah, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks for having us.
Thank you again to Ronald Gladden and Mekki Leeper for sitting down with us to speak about Jury Duty. The fantastic new comedy from Amazon Freevee is now fully streaming on Prime Video.