Actress Penny Johnson Jerald has spent the last three years playing NYPD Captain Victoria Gates on ABC’s CASTLE, Mondays at 10 PM. Gates is the mostly no-nonsense boss of homicide detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) and, although the captain isn’t technically the boss of Beckett’s fiancé Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion), the top cop has no trouble telling him what to do, either.
As CASTLE fans will recall, Gates came in after the murder of her well-loved predecessor, Captain Roy Montgomery, played by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, which was a major plot point.
Jerald is used to series with big story twists – she played the devious, dangerous Sherry Palmer, wife of President David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert), on the first three seasons of 24. The actress also counts being a regular on THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW and a major recurring role on STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE among her many credits.
At a party thrown by ABC for the Television Critics Association, Jerald is hanging out with her real-life husband and with CASTLE cast mate Susan Sullivan, who plays Castle’s actress mother Martha. She’s happy to talk about playing tough.
ASSIGNMENT X: Had you watched CASTLE at all when Captain Gates came up for you as a role?
PENNY JOHNSON JERALD: Prior to that? No, I hadn’t. I had some friends who just kept telling me about this show. And then, four months later, I get this call about this show, and I called [the friends] immediately and I said, “Tell me everything about this show.” I actually asked the show to send me every episode of the show, for three seasons. My husband and I went to our farm, and we watched every episode. So the answer to that is, no and yes. No, I did not know anything prior to it, but yes, I knew everything about it before I started work, because I watched every episode. I was just hooked.
AX: You must have known who Ruben Santiago-Hudson was before you were cast …
JERALD: I knew who Ruben was, yes, but I didn’t even know that Ruben was on the show and I didn’t know how I was going to be a captain when he was a captain, too, until I watched all the episodes and the third season and I saw what happened, that he met his demise there. But I also never look at it as though I’m replacing Ruben. I’ve said this before and it bears repeating – you can’t replace Ruben Santiago-Hudson. You just can’t. It’s just that it’s another character and I just happen to have that same title, captain.
AX: Sherry Palmer on 24 is one of your best-known roles. She was very duplicitous. Is Captain Gates on CASTLE the most straightforward person you’ve played so far?
JERALD: I think she is. I think she’s so by the book, I’m rooting for something to mess her up. I want to see her get dirty, just a little bit [laughs]. I want to see what her love life is like, I want to see something else, but I do admire her. I admire her having a position as captain, being a female, and that she’s able to succeed in that she is by the book, but she has to also have these people like her in some way, because they need to respect her, because they’re under her command. So I think that’s what’s fascinating about the captain.
AX: Well, they have given Gates some strange little surprising traits, like when we found out she collected those doll-like figurines …
JERALD: Let me tell you something – that may have been strange for them, but it was in no way strange to Penny, because Penny collects dolls [laughs]. It was actually one of the easier episodes for me, because I knew how precious I hold my doll collection. And so when [Castle] breaks the doll in that scene, I didn’t have to act, I just had to react.
AX: Did the writers know this about you – that you collect dolls – and write it in?
JERALD: No, absolutely not. Everything that they’ve written so far has been from their own wonderful imaginations. It’s only after the fact that I say, “Do you know what? I actually …” And they go, “Oh, well, didn’t know.”
AX: We know that Gates is married, though we haven’t met her husband. Do you have any ideas as to who might be fun to play her husband? Is your real-life husband an actor?
JERALD: No, but he wouldn’t be a good Gates, because he is Captain Gates [laughs]. He is pretty stern – he’s Captain Gates. I would love to see someone to bring out her humor – [to her husband, who is listening to the interview] not that you don’t, sweetheart, because we laugh an awful lot – but I would love to see someone who’s able to bring out the humor, so that we can see that she’s actually balanced, at home, there’s something else going on, and that she just has this role that she’s playing. This position that she’s in is actually a role that she has to play.
AX: Gates was initially very hostile toward Castle. Do you feel that the story warmed her up toward Castle at approximately the right rate, or would you have liked to see that go a little faster or a little slower?
JERALD: Actually, I would have liked it to have gone on a little longer, but not to the extent that it was going on. In other words, there are degrees of letting someone in instead of just letting someone in and going, “Okay, the cat’s out of the bag, this is where we are.” I think part of the fun is the unfolding, the unveiling, to see what’s happening. I’m very interested in the duration of CASTLE, what that other thing is going to be. I know it has to be another thing to keep it interesting, so I would say slower, to answer your question.
AX: And do you have a favorite episode or story arc so far?
JERALD: Oh, my gosh. You know, I did until I saw “Under Fire” [the January 6 episode in which Detectives Ryan and Esposito, played respectively by Seamus Dever and Jon Huertas, were trapped in a burning building]. Oh, my gosh, I can’t really answer that, because I think that some episode is like, “Oh, this is my favorite, with the dolls,” and then something else happens. So I think that gives credit to the writers, that they’re coming up with something new and fresh that’s exciting. Because it’s important to do something exciting, because why else do this? I think that it would have to be up to date “Under Fire.”
AX: You and Susan Sullivan have finally had some scenes together in the police station, when Castle was arrested …
JERALD: Yes, and we were just talking about that, and it’s just not enough. Susan and I, when we finally meet in the precinct, I say, “Oh, I get it, this is why he is the way he is, because he came from this,” and I’ll just never forget the line that Susan says to me – “Oh, you’re just not a good actress” [laughs]. I just loved that line.
AX: Can you see a scenario where Gates might ever go to Martha’s acting classes?
JERALD: Yes. Susan and I were talking about this. We were talking about the fact that perhaps Gates would have to go undercover and it’s a bit uneasy for her and she needs some coaching and then she would actually go to Martha for coaching and we’d both get involved and end up maybe being the victims of something not so great and having Castle and Beckett come and rescue us and therefore tightening the bond.
AX: As Gates, have you had anything to do that was particularly challenging?
JERALD: I don’t find this particular character difficult in the playing. Each character that I do play, I must tell you that I’m able to grab that person from some experience in my life. And I think Gates is more like the teacher that Penny is, and I’ve been a teacher of the arts and I’ve been given the nickname of “Drill Sergeant” and I think that is as close to Gates as Penny is. So when you say “challenging,” in terms of playing the character, if that’s what the question is, I haven’t had that challenge. I look forward to that challenge, but I haven’t really had that challenge yet.
AX: Has this been an easier three years for you just in terms of emotion than the three years you were on 24 as Sherry Palmer?
JERALD: They’re very different, because of – and I’m admitting to it in the aftermath – the evil quality of Sherry Palmer, that was very testing and very trying, because that’s so not who Penny is, and so I think that was far more challenging than what I’m doing now, so this is more like riding the wave. At this point in my life, it’s kind of easy, actually.
AB: And do you have to pull on any particular different acting muscles when you’re playing somebody who’s in charge of everybody around her?
JERALD: No, because I’ve just been in charge of a lot of people for a long time [laughs] and I guess in my house, as a mother, there are certain things that my husband holds me responsible for. I think not.
AX: Anything physically difficult in playing the role?
JERALD: No. As a matter of fact, I’m looking forward to something far more challenging physically, because I actually am very physical. I’m a fighter.
AX: What kind of fighting?
JERALD: Boxing. I’m a very good boxer. And I’m very good in the Suzuki method of movement, so I’m really a strong person, as far as physical fitness, so I’ve never had to borrow from any of those talents. Which I’d like to, before I get too old and the bones aren’t going to work for me.
AX: Do you have any other projects that we should know about?
JERALD: Well, I am very happy that I’m involved in an animation project. I [cannot yet] discuss what the project is, but I’m very well pleased as to the character. It’s one of my dream roles.
AX: Is there anything else you’d like to say about CASTLE right now?
JERALD: Well, I would be remiss if I just didn’t end it with just thanking the fans that we have. They are the most incredible human beings that you would want in your corner and we’ve got them. And I’m just so excited about them.
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Article: Exclusive Interview: Penny Johnson Jerald talks CASTLE Season 6