Nine months ago, Ronald Gladden was working a construction job in San Diego as word began to spread about a new genre-bending TV comedy that he didn’t even know he was starring in as it was being filmed. Last week, all glowed up in powder blue tuxedo jacket, he was posing for photos with “The Last of Us” star Pedro Pascal at the Golden Globes and wishing his run-in with “Oppenheimer’s” Cillian Murphy had slightly more thrilling.
“I was walking in the bathroom, he was leaving. I didn’t want to strike up a conversation as he’s trying to leave the restroom,” Gladden says sheepishly.
Gladden hasn’t grown any more used to these kind of experiences, he admits. As the accidental breakout star of Freevee’s “Jury Duty,” he had the internet charmed last spring as the juror with a heart of gold — and an endearing lack of awareness at the television ruse happening around him. The surprise hit revolves around Gladden, who thinks he’s signed up to be in a documentary about jury duty. The catch? The trial is fake and everyone except him is an actor, including the most recognizable of the bunch: James Marsden, who plays an exaggerated, egomaniacal version of himself.
In the time since, Gladden has fielded countless selfie requests with fans, filmed a commercial with Ryan Reynolds, hung out at events alongside Jennifer Lawrence and Kendall Jenner, and signed an overall deal with Amazon to produce and star in more projects. Gladden even moved to Los Angeles in October to take advantage of this moment of opportunity.
“We’re working on a couple of things, but it’s too early in the process to really give any kind of concrete ideas of what those may be,” he says of his deal with Amazon. “I want to put out content that’s going to be light-hearted, that feels good. I think people responded to ‘Jury Duty’ because they picked up on the humanity in it. And I would love to continue to make stuff like that.
“Quitting my job wasn’t really like this big leap of faith that this was going to work out. I can always go back to being a contractor,” he continues. “I was having so many opportunities brought to me that it just seemed foolish to not explore them.”
The whirlwind of his unique rise to stardom continues Monday as he attends the 75th Emmy Awards in Los Angeles. “Jury Duty” received four nods: for comedy series, supporting actor in a comedy series for Marsden, casting and writing.
“‘Surreal’ is the best word I can use to describe all this,” says Gladden. “I feel like I keep overusing that word, but that’s how all these experiences are.”
Gladden invited The Times along exclusively as he experienced his first Emmys. Follow our live-updating diary throughout the day to ride along:
11:14 a.m.: How does a former normie turned breakout TV star get ready for an event like the Emmys? After spending the morning snacking on a breakfast burrito from Chick-fil-A, Gladden made his way from his new pad in Santa Monica to the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, where he would spend the morning getting photo-ready. When I arrived to his room, he was brushing his teeth to “Splashin’” by Rich the Kid. (He swears there are no surprises in the toilet, though. “James isn’t around, so I think we’re good.”) “Normally, I’d be getting ready for the day dancing around with Meatball,” his corgi, he says. “So you’re missing out.”
11:48 a.m.: Groomer Desirae Cherman arrives to get started on Gladden. After giving her a peek at his Paul Smith tux jacket, a suede peacock teal color, he says: “I’m pretty low maintenance. It takes me maybe 15 minutes, at most, to get ready on a typical day. Got dressed at my place for the Globes. It took me 10 minutes. My hair — 30 seconds.” He marvels at the lip scrub she has him apply: “Wow, my lips were really dry.”
12:24 p.m.: Stylist Warren Alfie Baker gets Gladden’s Paul Smith ensemble ready for showtime. “I think this is the most expensive thing I’m wearing,” Gladden says of the Omega watch he’s strapped on his wrist. As he changes into his outfit, Baker reveals he can keep the tuxedo: “Are you f— serious?” he replies. “This makes me so happy. No f— way. I know it’s hard to make my day on Emmy day, but you just made my day.”
12:41 p.m.: As Gladden prepares to make his way out, he’s trying to get his snack game assembled. “Do you think I should bring these [mixed Cajun nuts] in the bag? Or is it just bulky?” Gladden asks an Amazon rep. She relays that another rep will have beef jerky on hand. “Sweet, perfect.” (When he arrived at the hotel earlier in the morning, he dined on filet mignon — after the morning’s Chick Fil-A burrito — because he heard it’d be a while before he’d eat again.)
12:58 p.m.: “I should probably call my mom right now,” Gladden says. When they connect, and after she relays how proud she is of him, Gladden guides her through the process of how she can watch the Emmys on TV. “Your mom knows none of this stuff,” she says.