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Jury Duty's Smallest Moments Almost Gave It All Away

Ronald Gladden reflects on the details that didn’t add up while he was serving on a fake jury.
  • Ronald Gladden in Jury Duty (Photo: Amazon Freevee)
    Ronald Gladden in Jury Duty (Photo: Amazon Freevee)

    Ronald Gladden is a likable guy who goes with the flow — it’s part of what made him a perfect candidate to be the “hero” of the Amazon Freevee show Jury Duty. The elaborate hidden-camera reality series was ultimately a test of kindness, one that required its central character to overlook a lot of oddities on display during a southern California court case involving an incompetent lawyer, a jury full of larger-than-life characters (including actor James Marsden as a heightened version of himself), and multiple acts of defecation.

    It took a lot to pull off. Gladden was told he would be serving on a jury as part of a documentary following a specific case to give an inside look at the judicial system. What Gladden didn’t know is that the case was fake and everyone around him, from his fellow jurors to the judge to patrons at a local Margaritaville, was an actor. That left a lot of room for human error to blow everyone’s cover in even the smallest moments, let alone the most outrageous scenes, like one that takes place in a dark, mannequin-filled room in an empty factory.

    But Gladden managed to keep his cool through it all, acting with empathy and friendliness, seemingly unaware of just how strange some of the things happening around him were. Now, a year after the series finished filming, Gladden looks back on the entire experience with that same attitude — and things haven’t changed much for him since. “I don’t even feel like I got pranked,” Gladden tells Primetimer. In an interview, he discusses his relationship with the cast members today and the small details that almost derailed the whole experiment.

    What’s been your biggest fear about how people will react to the show?

    My biggest fear is that people don’t think it’s funny. I think it’s hilarious. Obviously I have a biased opinion because I was involved in it, but even removing myself from that, I was trying to watch it through an unobjective lens and I still thought it was hilarious. Even if I wasn’t the main person I would still watch it and laugh.

    How much of that humor did you find in the moment when you thought this was real?

    At the time, a very minimal amount of it was funny. Kudos to editing because they went through three weeks of a lot of just boring nothing, and that was done intentionally too because they had to make it seem like this was a real court case, this couldn’t just be fun and hilarious. So they did a great job of making it seem real. But the moments that you see where I’m laughing, those were, I don’t want to say few and far between, but a majority of the time I was serious, I was professional, and I was just thinking, “What are these people doing?”

    A lot of the cast members seem pretty closely aligned to the characters they’re playing but were there any people who surprised you by how different they were when they finally broke character?

    Oh yeah. It should go without saying, Ken [Ron Song], Noah [Mekki Leeper], and Todd [David Brown]. Their characters are unlike anything like they are in real life. Funnily enough, I think that’s the reason I’m so drawn to them too, because for three weeks I knew them as this individual, that was my first impression, and then it was like “Oh, just kidding, this is who I really am” and I was like, “Oh my god, I like you guys even more as your real selves.”

    What kinds of things do you all do when you get together now that they’re able to just be themselves?

    I went to So Cal Corgi Beach Day with Ron and his kids and their dog. I’ve gone to see Kirk [Fox] and Mekki perform. I want to go see some of David’s shows, I’d love to get out to New York and see Edy [Modica] perform, that would be amazing. We went to Maria [Russell]’s birthday party last year.

    You can tell through watching the show that you really are fond of these people and that it’s not an act you’re putting on.

    It definitely helped too that because they were doing this for so long they didn’t want to get caught up in little lies that would blow the whole thing, so when we would have down time, they would be improving the whole time, but anytime we would share stories, talk to each other about something, it was real about their lives. They were sharing real things.

    Looking back now, are there any moments that stand out where anyone may have dropped character too much or given you a hint as to what was going on?

    Oh yeah, absolutely. It was Ken who spilled something on the table, and his real name is Ron, and Noah messed up and said, “Oh, Ron spilled something.” So I was like, “What are you talking about? I wasn’t even over there.” Looking back, he was obviously talking about Ken. There were definitely moments too where they would try too hard or it would be too obvious that what was going on wasn’t right, and I would just think, oh my god I’m on reality TV.

    You do say that several times on the show. Were you ever really suspicious of that?

    Going into it I knew I was going to be filmed, because the whole idea was that we were filming this documentary, so I knew that cameras were there, but I saw a very small amount of cameras. Also, these were all strangers to me, they could be putting on just a little bit extra for the camera because this would be their one time on camera. I had no idea.

    The moments in the courtroom seemed likely to give the whole thing away, like the mess-ups from the defense attorney and the general details of the case. Did any of that make you question whether or not the case was real?

    Not necessarily, but I will say toward the end, they did mess up and they misquoted a number. It didn’t seem like it was that big of a deal, but it was the amount the person was being sued for. That raised a red flag because that’s a pretty important number you shouldn’t mess up on. But overall it was a pretty airtight performance on the courtroom side.

    We were in an actual courthouse, apparently it’s no longer being used, but it was a real courthouse. And of course they did little touch-ups and renovations to make it seem like it was still operational, but even down to the fact that we were going into a real building that was used for court, it was very realistic.

    The factory visit seemed like one of the hardest scenes for the actors and crew to get away with. What was that experience like of really putting on your detective hat and going along with all the bizarre moments there?

    I have to credit Ishmel [Sahid], who played Lonnie, with that one, because I wasn’t going to go up there, I saw no reason to, I wasn’t going to get my detective on. But it was coaxing me up there, and I don’t remember who came downstairs, but it took two other jurors going upstairs and me seeing that to be like, “I guess we can go check it out, other people have already been up there.” I really had no intention of even going up there.

    When you walked into a dark room of mannequins where Todd jumped out at you, it became a real haunted house moment.

    Oh yeah, and looking back on it, Lonnie was never supposed to give me the flashlight. And I even asked for it at one point, like “oh, give me that flashlight,” but obviously that was going to ruin it. The setup, the way he was like, “oh no, I’m just checking these things out,” it added to the realism as well. But it also made it that much more funny too. I just thought Todd was trying to scare us.

    What was going through your mind in the moment that this was all revealed to be fake?

    The best way that I can describe this is that it was a sensory overload. There was way too much being thrown at me in order to process all of it let alone even a portion of it. When I finally accepted what they were telling me at face value without digging into all the details and questioning everything, as soon as I accepted my reality for what it was, I basically was just in the moment trying to not think too much about it. It took for an entire weekend afterwards for everything to settle in. In the moment, it was basically I could hear what they were saying, it was in one ear, out the other, and I was more just like along for the ride.

    Are you looking forward to another chance to serve on jury duty knowing this one didn’t count?

    No. I would actually be disappointed because the experience I had was just outrageous the entire time. A real-life thing would be nothing like that I think. This has spoiled jury duty for me.

    This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

    All eight episodes of Jury Duty are now streaming on Amazon Freevee. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Brianna Wellen is a TV Reporter at Primetimer who became obsessed with television when her parents let her stay up late to watch E.R. 

    TOPICS: Jury Duty, Amazon Freevee, Ronald Gladden