Kathleen Robertson is an actor and writer who plays Hildy Mulligan in Fox’s hit drama Murder in the First. She sat down with us to chat about her Hildy’s relationship with Taye Diggs’ character, Terry English, what that instantly infamous kiss was like to film and how the news and social media have impacted both her character’s life and her own.
*Spoilers for Episode 2 Season 3*
What can fans of the series expect from this season?
Everything in this season hinges on something thematically and feels very much of the moment. They (the writers) really wanted to explore the idea of social media in this series. What’s it like to investigate a crime when everyone has an iPhone and everybody has access to things that they never had access to before? How does that affect the person actually committing the crime and how does it affect the people investigating that crime? The use of that tool becomes a really big part of season three, in terms of exploring the specificities of a murder.
The media is a big part of this season too. How the media can become involved and can either help or interfere with an investigation in terms of revealing things that would be best left unrevealed. That’s the jumping off point for season three, but on a personal level, the show always centres around my and Taye Diggs’ characters; and season three comes back to the thing that we started with, which is the audience rooting for them to be together. It’s one of those relationships where they know that they would be a good couple, but they just can’t be. It really explores that dynamic of how do you work every day with a person who could be your soulmate, but you can’t be with for professional reasons. That really comes to a head this season. Will they? Won’t they? And if they are going to be together, how are they going to go about being together?
What is your relationship with social media and how has that impacted your life?
Like most of us do, I have a love/hate thing with it. Because I’m an actor, I get a lot of pressure to be on social media more, but I’m not super present on it. I have an Instagram account, but it’s locked because I have two kids and I don’t really feel comfortable having the world see my children. They didn’t ask to be seen, but if I’m working on a TV show or a movie, I’m expected to help promote it by posting pictures of it or of my life, but the latter is not something that I’m comfortable with. I do have a Twitter account and I like Twitter, especially when the shows are airing. It’s really fun to see what all the live tweets are about while fans talk about the episode and other people are watching it with them. If people are asking questions, it’s fun to be able to answer some of them while the show is on air, especially with other members of the cast. Being able to see their immediate responses is the positive side to it.
But, for a lot of us, it’s definitely all-consuming. It’s so tricky. It’s easy to waste an hour surfing or looking and picking out photos. I have a nine-year-old and I say to her it’s all about balance. A little bit is fine but you’ve got be careful because it’s a super slippery slope. It’s also just insane for teenagers in terms of the whole culture. If you post a photo and it doesn’t get enough likes, you take it down and you just keep trying all these different things to get more. It’s insane, but this is the life we live and this is the world that we’re living in.
What do your characters have going on in this series? Have they grown, changed, or digressed?
It’s interesting. I feel like, for Hildy, her internal obstacle and her internal journey throughout the series is, “Can I keep doing this? Can I be a mother to this little girl and can I show her the beauty in the world, when I’m constantly surrounded by such darkness?” It’s an unbelievably difficult life, and in season three, I think that comes to a head more. It becomes, “Can I continue to do this? Is this something that I can do for the next ten years?” In all the research that I did before we even shot the pilot, I talked to women who have this job and who have spent their entire lives doing this.
My brother-in-law is a cop and he’s just retired at age 50. It’s a really, really hard life that takes a really specific kind of person. It definitely takes a toll. It’s not a job where you can just switch off and forget about it. It’s a job that lives with you forever. I think the specificity of that darkness is something that Hildy really struggles with. That, for me, was why I originally wanted to do the show. That was what interested me the most about her as a character. We’ve seen the cop a million times who is like, “I love it; I live it; I breathe it; I sleep it!” but what’s the flipside to that? What’s the cost? That’s what Hildy’s faced with.
Murder in the First has a real ripped from the headlines feel that helps keep the series fresh. What else separates the series out from its competition?
I love the fact that in every season we kept a few core characters, but everyone else is brand new. That felt really different and exciting as an actor. Sometimes, when you do a job for a show like this and it goes on and on, you can be like, “Oh, it feels like I’m doing the same thing week in, week out,” but with this, each season felt like a brand-new show. You have no idea where it’s going to go. Of course, it’s sad to see certain people go whom you love; like, we’re not going to see Tom Felton anymore. He was a guy who, in the first season, we all fell in love with. We hated to see him leave, but he had to leave because that kind of thing is what gives the show such an energy.
Your characters get together in the second episode. How did you react when you read the script?
It’s definitely the weirdest part of my job. It never gets easier. It’s always weird. It’s always super uncomfortable. I’m always stressed out about having to do it. Even just kissing a stranger who isn’t my husband feels so weird and foreign. Everyone always says, “Oh, it’s just part of the job and it is what it is,” but it’s super weird, I’m not going to lie. In the scene where we kiss for the first time that season, I was pregnant which made it even weirder.
I was pregnant all through season three in real life, but by the time I read that scene I hadn’t told anybody yet because it was very early on and I didn’t want everyone knowing. So, when I read that scene, I was like, “Oh shit! I guess I’m going to have to tell everybody now,” because they’re going to be able to tell if I have my shirt off. They’re going to be able to see my stomach and go, “Wow, has she been eating too many doughnuts? What’s going on here?” It was very awkward but it was ok. I told the producer and the writers, so then it just became an issue of, “How do we cover her stomach and make sure people don’t see? How do we do this in a tasteful way that doesn’t make her uncomfortable?”
How did you learn how to walk, talk and act like cops?
Like I said, my brother-in-law was a huge help. I really delved into it with him. I’ve played a lot of roles where I’m out of my comfort zone and I had to go get fake nails and hair extensions, but for this, it was actually very comfortable because I’m not super girly-girly. I’m much more of a tomboy. I naturally have a very deep voice. It was great just to be able to talk in my natural register and keep biting my fingernails and not have to worry about any of that crap. It was really comfortable for me and, in a lot of ways, I liked the physicality of it; the way she moves and walks. It was a very natural fit for me. I’ve never played a cop before.
The show I was on before was a show called Boss with Kelsey Grammer where I played his chief of staff in Chicago. She was a very intellectual character; she’s a very smart, very educated, sophisticated, elegant, Armani-suited and immaculate woman; so, when I wanted Murder in the First, the producers were like, “I don’t know if she can do blue-collar. She’s so elevated,” because they all knew me from Boss. So, I went in and told them, “No guys, trust me. I’m from Hamilton, Ontario. I’m from a Steel City. This is way more me than that other role.” People definitely perceive you to be the last role you came out of, so getting them to give me this part took some convincing. I’m not Kitty O’Neill. I’m much more comfortable in Hildy’s skin.
If you could investigate anyone in the world, who would it be?
I’ve always had a real morbid fascination with serial killers. Serial killers past and present would be super interesting to me. I’ve always been drawn to that kind of stuff, from a character perspective.
Is there anything you’d like our readers to check out in the near future?
Actually, I’m a writer as well, so I’ve been writing a movie for Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air) called The Possibilities based on the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings. I’m also starring in a remake of Swimming with Sharks as a TV series with Kevin Spacey, and I’m also doing a show for Lifetime called Your Time is Up. So yeah, lots of stuff.
Murder In The First season 3 continues Tuesdays at 9pm on FOX