Kristoffer Polaha on 'Ringer' (Michael Desmond/The CW)
On the new CW thriller "Ringer," Kristoffer Polaha has the enviable job of playing Sarah Michelle Gellar's lover ... kind of. The juicy drama revolves around a desperate woman named Bridget who assumes the identity of her twin sister Siobhan in order to escape from trouble, only to discover a whole new set of problems. One of those problems is named Henry — who has been having an affair with Siobhan, despite being her best friend's husband. (Got all that?)
Polaha, a former star of "Life Unexpected," dropped by Yahoo! Studios for an episode of "omg! Now," and we ambushed him on his way out to ask him whether Henry really is the dirtbag he appears to be (and to reminisce about 2008's gone-too-soon sitcom "Miss Guided").
You're on "Ringer," and your former "Life Unexpected" co-star Britt Robertson is on "The Secret Circle." Is it a coincidence you're both still with The CW?
The show was originally slated for CBS, but Mark Pedowitz, the president of The CW, looked at this show and said, "I think it's a much better fit for our audience," which is a smart move because it's a serialized show. So while CBS does great with procedurals, this you have to watch and you have to keep watching — you kind of have to know what came before. The CW audience is really good about that. Like "Life Unexpected" — that story was unfolding week after week, developing characters, so you got pulled back. But, yeah, Brittany is on "Secret Circle" and I'm on "Ringer," so it's like the show goes on.
With serialized shows — especially one with a plot as complex as this one — a big concern is always the question of how long you can keep telling your story and still have a satisfying ending. How many seasons can "Ringer" run?
It depends on how the writers approach the material, but it's ripe for storytelling because you're tracking Bridget and you're tracking Siobhan. So while the focus right now is all on Bridget, we keep checking in with Siobhan. You've got a whole other character that you can jump into and basically tell the reverse side of the story.
So while the initial rocket fuel is propelling the story forward, you've got two sides of that secret to tell. That in itself is like two seasons right there. [Laughs] I'm like breaking it down into seasons: "That's easily two seasons right there." And then it depends, too, on how they want to broaden the world of the characters surrounding Bridget and Siobhan — like my character, Henry, or Ioan Gruffudd's character, Andrew, or Nestor Carbonell's character, Machado.
I mean, my theory is that long-arc storytelling should have a really clear beginning, middle, and an end, because otherwise it becomes redundant, you know? You want to keep telling interesting stories. So, you know, five years? I give it five years.
Check out Polaha on "omg! Now":
What's it like going from playing a fairly likable character on "Life Unexpected" to playing a guy like Henry, who's sleeping with his wife's best friend?
He's a total douche bag. You know what? This is the first time I'm gonna answer this way, because it's the first time the question's been phrased to me that makes me think this way. Baze, if you think about what Baze did, he got a girl pregnant in high school and he just totally disappeared — which is a pretty low-down thing to do.
But wasn't he in the dark about being a dad?
Remember, she came to him and she told him she was pregnant. And he was like, "You peed on a stick." So he knew that she got pregnant and he just didn't deal with it. So we as an audience kind of tuned in to this guy's life and he was not succeeding, you know? And then all of a sudden this girl knocks on his door and he's like, "I gotta do something." So you're watching this redemption story take place.
But with Henry it's different because you're catching this guy in the middle of a loathsome act. I mean, my personal opinion is if you're married and you're not happy, you don't cheat. Get out of the marriage and then start fresh or whatever, but don't cheat. That shuts down the woman that you're married to and you're robbing that other relationship that you want to start.
And what we're seeing, I think, in this show is that the relationship between Henry and Siobhan is shut down because Bridget's taken over. So I'm hoping that we'll find some redeemable qualities in Henry. Otherwise he's a one-note character, and that's not fun for anybody.
[Photos: Meet the Cast of 'Ringer']
What can you tell us about what's in store for him?
Henry's journey gets deeply complicated. You'll see flashbacks to Henry and Siobhan's relationship, and you'll see why he's so torn up about her and why he's so in love with her. And you'll see his marriage with Gemma start to deteriorate, and he'll try to pick it back up. And then it gets crazy.
It's not crazy already?
[Laughs] For Henry, personally, it gets nuts. In, like, Episodes 4 and 5, you're just like, "Whaaat?!?" But it's good. It's good TV. ... There are just so many moments in each show where you're like, "Arrgh!" You know? It raises all these questions that you're curious about as a viewer, and then it answers them, but in doing so all of a sudden you're like, "OK, that's fine, but what about this now?"
What's it been like working with Sarah Michelle Gellar? There was quite a lot of hype about her return to TV.
It's been pretty thrilling. I knew she was a big star, but I didn't know how big until I started working with her. I have a neighbor who's probably in her '80s and she always asks me, "What are you working on these days?" One day I told her, "I'm working on a show that stars this girl Sarah Michelle Geller." And she's like, "Oh, Buffy?" Even my dad knows who she is. Everybody knows who she is. So that's a real joy to sort of witness that, you know? And then also working with her — she really is amazing. She's a professional. She's been doing this for 30 years. So it's quick, it's easy, and our days are short because there's no drama. It's cool.
Were you a "Buffy" fan?
To be really honest, I have never seen "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," but I auditioned for Joss Whedon and Sarah Michelle Gellar when I was still in college. ... I did not get the part. It was for Riley, the FBI agent. I remember that being such a huge moment in my early career. And then literally my first job in Los Angeles was on "Angel."
One last thing: Do you think "Miss Guided" will ever come out on DVD?
Oh gosh, I would love that! Did you know that [former ABC president] Steve McPherson literally apologized to ["Miss Guided" executive producer] Karey Burke a year after he canceled it. He was like, "I'm really sorry about that. That was a mistake." ... That was a really cool show. Judy Greer was phenomenal. Chris Parnell was incredible. Of course Brooke Burns, too. That was a fun job.
"Ringer" airs Tuesdays at 9pm ET on The CW
- Sarah Michelle Gellar