HBO’s new half-hour dark comedy series, The Brink focuses on a political crisis and its effect on three men: The US Secretary of State (Tim Robbins); a low-level Foreign Service Officer (Jack Black); and a Navy fighter pilot (Pablo Schreiber). These three extremely flawed characters must wade through the chaos around them to save the planet from World War III.
Actor Eric Ladin plays Glenn “Jammer” Taylor, the country-fried co-pilot of Zeke “Z-Pak” Tilson (Schreiber). “I love how much he looks up to, respects and idolizes Z-Pak. They’re peers,” says Ladin, “but he really looks up to Z-Pak because he’s the fighter pilot. He and Z-Pak are a great little Yin and Yang.” The Texas-native revealed that his character wasn’t originally written as a Southern boy, but “but when I read him, I immediately identified with some people that I know, and people that I grew up with in Texas. So I just made that choice and went with it and [director] Jay Roach and [co-creator, writer and executive producer] Roberto Benabib — who were in the room — totally loved it.”
Check out the NSFW trailer for The Brink below.
I asked Ladin if he felt that the show’s darkly funny tone matched that of Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, and he offered a few other close connections saying, “That’s definitely where the mindset was when they were creating the show. I thought of MASH when I read it; kind of a modern-day MASH or Catch 22 — the old film, Catch 22. But it’s very Dr. Strangelove and MASH.”
Ladin reveals that he shares most of his scenes with Screiber and the twosome quickly became as close as members of a real squadron. “Working with Pablo is fantastic! Once we drove to San Diego for the day and went to Miramar and got into some F-18 Simulators and then we drove back. So we spent the day together, and that really helped build our relationship and chemistry.” Ladin also reveals, “we share a similar work ethic and the same process towards approaching the work, so that made it easier on set. We both admire each other’s sense of humor. It was a perfect match, so I am fortunate and he’s obviously extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to work with me.” (laughs)
Ladin told me that one of the coolest part of playing part of a flight crew is working inside of a cockpit. “We have a F-18 Super Hornet in the studio in front of a green screen and we’d get in there. From the moment you get in this tiny cockpit, it helps so much. When they lower the ceiling on you, the top comes down and it becomes very claustrophobic.”
The actor revealed that another challenge of shooting in a simulated cockpit was that he was often playing to the back of Schreiber’s head. “We’re used to looking at actors and being able to take cues from their faces and their eyes and you can’t do that here; so you’re strictly working from audio and hearing each other and that’s very much who these characters are, how they live their day-to-day life. It was a challenge as an actor, but it was very cool. They actually have a plane cut in half — where the front end is gone and it’s just my seat — so in those shots I could actually look at Pablo, but we actually found it more helpful to not look at one another because it just makes it more realistic.”
And of course, I couldn’t resist asking Ladin if his scenes with Schreiber include any nods to Top Gun and he laughed. “We have a shirtless sand volleyball scene that happens in Episode 7 … no, just joking! Other than Pablo and I look equally as good in our flight suits as Val Kilmer and Tom Cruise, that’s the only homage. It’s really an homage for the ladies …”
Ladin formerly starred in HBO’s The Killing, and made memorable guest-starring appearances in Boardwalk Empire, Big Love, Generation Kill and as January Jones’ brother on Mad Men. He took a few minutes from making me laugh from imagining the sand volleyball scene, to answer our 7 Questions…
1. What three foods do you have to have in your fridge or pantry at all times?
That’s a good one! I have to have eggs. I’ve tried over and over not to start my day without eggs, but it never works out, so I have to have eggs. I’m a sucker for chips — barbecue chips, jalapeno chips, potato chips — as bad as they are for me, I always have chips. And Hummus, lots of hummus. That’s a favorite snack of mine. I’m married with kids, but I know I’ve just described a bachelor’s fridge. (CG: Hummus is really big right now) Hummus is the new black.
This is ridiculous, but I have a hummus guy. There’s a hummus guy at my farmer’s market, so every Sunday, I go see Anish, who’s my hummus guy, he hooks me up. I love my hummus.
2. If your TV carried just three series or networks, what would they be?
I have to go networks, because picking three shows is just too limiting. I would have to have ESPN because I’m a sports junkie, I would have to have HBO, because over the past several years, they’ve paid my mortgage. And then I’d have to have Netflix because they’re producing great original content, but I’d also have an opportunity to watch news, and television and movies.
3. You said you’re a sports junkie and you grew up in sports-crazed Texas, what is your favorite sports team?
It depends on what sport. I’m a football fan foremost, and USC Trojans are my college team, that’s where I went. And the Houston Texans are my NFL team, because that’s where I’m from. And baseball, I love the Houston Astros and Basketball, I’ve made the switch to the Los Angeles Lakers. I’ve been here for 18 years so I’ve become a Laker’s fan.
4. Can you tell us about a time when you were starstruck?
I don’t often get starstruck, when I was a kid, I met Earl Campbell who was at the time, and will always be one of the greatest running backs of all-time. I was a die-hard Houston Oilers fan and I was about 12 or 13, and I was just … I think I was up for like three days because I was so excited about meeting number 34.
5. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A football player for the Houston Oilers. (Love ’ya blue.) And when they moved to Tennessee and because the Titans, I went into a period of mourning. When I was a young kid I wanted to be a football player. But when I realized that wasn’t going to be an option for me, due to my size and athletic ability, I wanted to be an attorney.
6. When did you know that you wanted to be an actor?
When I realized that the only part of being a lawyer that I really liked was the performance part of being an attorney. I started doing theater in middle school and it wasn’t until college when I realized that I could realistically make a career out of it, but I knew it was something I’d always wanted to do.
7. What has been your strangest fan encounter?
I’ve got a good one…I was in New York when The Killing was ending. This is a huge spoiler alert, so you can hashtag this #SpoilerAlert, but I was there right after the finale of Season 2. I was walking down the street, minding my own business and this woman started yelling at me, “You killed her! I can’t believe you killed her! You killed that girl!!” While she’s yelling this at me — completely out of context — I’ve got people stopping in the streets of New York with looks on their faces like, “Oh my gosh!” So, I was accused of being a murderer on 5th Ave. by some lady who was obviously a big fan of the show. Which brings me to the night I spent a night in jail in New York. (peals of laughter) Not really.
The Brink > HBO > Sundays at 10:30 ET/PT, beginning June 21