Many changes have come to the seedy seaside town of Neptune, California, in Hulu’s Veronica Mars revival, but if there’s one thing that’s constant, it’s the bond between Veronica and her grumpy-yet-loving PI father Keith Mars. Their circumstances are different — Keith uses a cane due to a hip injury he sustained during the Veronica Mars movie, and they’re scraping along with odd jobs to pay the bills as wealth inequality expands around them — but their noir-lite exchanges, a favorite of creator Rob Thomas, are as quick and delightful as ever.
But as the revival throws Veronica and Keith on the trail of a new case, it also forces them to reflect on their relationship, and realize that they might depend on each other a little differently as they both get older. This is especially hard for Keith, who’s never been one to ask for help in the first place. Vulture caught up with Enrico Colantoni, who plays Keith Mars, to discuss what’s changed in Neptune, why he thinks Veronica and Keith’s relationship is valuable, and what it was like to watch the show with his own daughter.
Keith and Veronica’s relationship as father and daughter is so crucial to the show. What was it like to get back with Kristen and find your way back into the groove again?
In the beginning, I was wondering if Kristen had changed at all. I’d seen her since the film, and everything seemed great during the film, but her life gets exponentially bigger every time I see her. But you know what? Nothing changed. You look at her and you say those words and you’re just brought back to that first day we actually started working together, when there was nothing distracting anybody, it was just about the show. We have the benefit of the same creator staying with the show, so the vision, the words, the integrity of the show is still intact. It’s easy for an actor to come back into a role time and time again.
Rob jokingly said once, about the Keith and Veronica scenes, “I can’t help but write 15 pages each time I sit down and write with these guys.” That’s just a reminder of how much fun it is to play, because it was so much fun for him to write, and for all those writers to write for those characters.
I love the bit where they say “cuss” to each other instead of swearing because they’ve made a bet not to swear.
You know where that comes from? Rob mentioned this at the Austin Television Festival, how he was so excited that Veronica Mars was gonna be on streaming, so he could make the show even a little darker, and his first draft of the script had 14 fucks, and then Hulu said, “No, we still want it to be PG-13.” Poor guy, it was like a punch in the stomach to him. So it was his way of just saying, “I can’t say fuck on this show.”
Coming back to playing Keith now, was there anything you specifically wanted to explore with the character?
My immediate concern was how old was he and how much their relationship has changed. I was really pleased that Rob’s only phone call in the summer was, “We’re thinking of giving Keith a cane because of the accident from the film.” It plays well into the whole wealth inequality of Neptune, and how Keith just can’t afford good health care. For me, it was a relief because I had pulled a groin muscle. [Laughs.] I go, A cane will stop me from having to chase anybody; a cane will stop me from having to run up a set of stairs. Unfortunately, I used that cane too much as a crutch, and I developed my own sort of hip problem. By the end, you know that Keith needed a hip replacement, and as soon as we stopped production, I went into surgery and got my hip replaced as well. I’m such a bad actor that I needed to create a real bad hip in my life.
The new season really emphasizes how much Veronica and Keith rely on each other, even if Keith is the one who needs help more often now.
I think they’ll always need each other, and it’ll become more and more beautiful the older they get, I believe. Rewatching the series [before this new season comes out], I’d forgotten how present Keith was to Veronica, even when she’s in school, how very present that character is for her. That was probably the biggest realization, because so much was going on in her life outside of the office or home, but her dad was always present in her mind. How overprotective he was — he wouldn’t even allow himself to be in a good relationship with the Paula Marshall character. They fought, they butted heads, as much as they loved each other. I’m glad I was reminded of that.
In this season, Keith has to learn to give up some control, too, while Veronica also has to learn to get out of her old habits.
He can’t be so pigheaded. Isn’t it ironic that it’s the Logan character that leads that march? I love that. I’m sorry. Just getting a little weepy.
In this new season, Keith meets J.K. Simmons’s character, Clyde Prickett, a potentially shady ex-con, who’s both someone Keith is trying to investigate and someone he could potentially be pals with, which creates this interesting, tense relationship.
Yeah, he and Keith develop a real brotherhood, even though the agenda is there. Again, Keith is sacrificing his own happiness for some kind of — I mean, is it still integrity? Are they still the morals that he had or cared about 20 years earlier? What’s the harm of having a friend like that?
In the original series, we don’t see Keith having pretty much any adult friends, and it’s interesting that the thing that tempts him the most is just someone he could relate to.
I think that’s why it was so special to work with J.K. and having those scenes together, because it was brotherhood. It wasn’t the romantic kind of thing that we all think will satisfy or fill that hole in our hearts. But no, sometimes it’s just, “I need somebody to talk to, and who gets me.”
Had you worked with J.K. in other projects before? I feel like you’re both guys who’ve done roles in a lot of things.
Never ever, ever, ever. Of course, in the beginning, we were both very respectful of each other, but boy, oh boy, was I just so happy to get to know him, because he mirrored me. God I love working with actors who just make it about connecting and being real, you know? Just old-time guys who just want to do good work.
Was there anyone else from the original cast who was great to see again?
The most notable difference was the Keith and Logan relationship had evolved so much, and it was just a relief to be able to express appreciation for the Logan character on camera because that’s how I feel about Jason [Dohring], so to be able to bring that and not have to deny that on screen was lovely.
I was reading an interview you did a while back where you mentioned that you didn’t think you were initially right to play Keith Mars, and Rob had to convince you. After having played him kind of on and off for 15 years, how do you feel about being Keith Mars now?
Watching it with distance and that kind of perspective, I go, Yeah, that makes sense. He really is an outcast. He’s not a traditional-looking hero guy, so that gave me relief. I don’t want to get too meta about the answer
I mean, it’s fine if you want to get conceptual.
It’s the awkwardness of that character, because he is awkward. He’s offbeat. And I’m awkward, and I’m offbeat, and I don’t know what comes first. Maybe at that time, maybe 15 years ago I couldn’t embrace the fact that I was an awkward guy, and even as an actor, I was always offbeat. Rob saw something that I couldn’t see. Fifteen years later, you go, “Oh yeah. That’s exactly who I am, and that’s exactly who I brought, and Rob saw it years before I did.”
I guess on a TV show, the writing will also merge with who the actor is.
Look, all I know about that character is that he loves his daughter. That’s it. And that’s how I played it. I didn’t research what a PI does, I didn’t spend any time — I just invested in that relationship, and more of me came out than anything I could’ve made up. So yeah, that was kind of a meta sort of answer anyway.
Does your daughter watch the show?
We were in Italy one summer a few years back with no cable, but we had the first three seasons of Veronica Mars. She was 14, maybe. I’ll never forget her watching. A triangle developed between me and her and this relationship onscreen, and she became very aware of me as her dad playing the dad to someone else, and you could see her brain just sort of make sense out of it. I don’t know if what she was thinking was, I wish my dad were more like Keith, or not. [Laughs.] But it was wonderful to watch, and watch her watching me watching them.
It also reminded me of how valuable the relationship of Keith and Veronica is to other father-and-daughter relationships in the world. I always loved hearing from dads, “I watch the show with my daughter.” You can’t help but be aware of what a person’s individual perspective is of those relationships, those characters on the show, but I have to believe, after 15 years, that it’s doing a lot of good.
As complex as their relationship is, it is still deeply loving.
It’s real, man. It’s presence. They’re fucking present for each other, and I think — my kids are 22 and 19 now, and I haven’t been the most physically present guy, just because my business doesn’t allow it. But am I present in my heart? Is that what they really need? I go, “Yeah, that’s what they need.” It’s quality time; it’s not quantity. So it always broke my heart to meet these young girls who would say, “I wish my dad were like Keith Mars,” and I go, “Oh my God.”
If the story does continue on, is Keith Mars a character you’d like to keep checking in on?
Yeah, as long as Rob and Kristen are leading the charge, absolutely. I would hate to think that there’s a spinoff of Keith Mars, and Rob has nothing to do with it. Like, “Ahh, really? Can we call on somebody else then?” I’ll play a PI, but it can’t be Keith without Rob or Kristen.