Jon Jon Briones on 'Ratched' and Bringing Filipino Visibility to Ryan Murphy's World (Exclusive)
By Stacy Lambe
Now streaming on Netflix, Ratched is Ryan Murphy’s latest, ambitious series, exploring the origins of one of film’s most iconic villains, Nurse Ratched of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Led by Sarah Paulson, the series fills out her backstory with a cast of eclectic characters played by the likes Cynthia Nixon, Sharon Stone, Sophie Okonedo and Jon Jon Briones, who opens up to ET about playing Dr. Richard Hanover, his bloody arc in season 1, and bringing Filipino visibility to Murphy’s ever-expanding world.
Born in the Philippines before becoming a U.S. citizen in 2010, the actor is largely known for his 25-year journey with the celebrated musical Miss Saigon, first starting as a member of the ensemble in the original 1989 London production before eventually taking over one of the lead roles, The Engineer, in the 2014 revival. That production eventually transferred to Broadway, where Murphy first saw him onstage.
“He came to my dressing room after,” Briones recalls of his initial meeting with the producer. “He asked me what I’m doing after Miss Saigon. I said, ‘I’m going to be looking for a job.’ And then I thought he made a joke. He said, ‘Well, I just may have to snatch you up.’” A few months later, the actor got a call from his agents with an offer to be in one of his shows.
Looking back on that moment, Briones says it’s a big deal, not only for any actor but especially an actor of color. “To be given that trust, it’s huge. Ryan took a chance on me,” he says, having grown up not seeing himself represented onscreen or in stories for so long. “It’s a beautiful thing to witness,” the actor says of working with someone like Murphy, who has become one of Hollywood’s biggest champions for diversity and inclusivity, bringing marginalized voices to the center and who has “promoted empathy and understanding.”
However, playing Dr. Hanover also came with a certain amount of pressure. “Not a lot of Filipinos get to have an opportunity to be one of the leads in a show. I didn’t want to mess it up for everyone else, you know what I mean?” Briones admits. “I was thinking I need to do this right because opportunities for other actors of color, especially Filipinos, depends on my success.”
On the series, however, Briones holds his own as Dr. Hanover, the head of the California psychiatric hospital where its patients are subjected to unprecedented treatments and questionable experiments, all in the name of solving what were considered mental disorders at the time. While Hanover is considered a brilliant mind, Briones says that his ego gets in the way. “There’s a God complex in his belief to help people.”
No sooner than Ratched arrives at the hospital does Hanover’s world begin to unravel, with his practices becoming more and more scrutinized and his own backstory, involving an experimental LSD treatment gone terrifyingly wrong, coming to light and subsequently destroying all his credibility. His “questionable” choices, Briones says, ultimately leads to his downfall.
“Every time I get a new script, it was a surprise,” Briones says. And nothing was more shocking than when audiences learn about what exactly happened between Hanover and Henry (Brandon Flynn), a former patient and the son of Lenore Osgood (Sharon Stone), whose arms and legs have been amputated.
Since it’s not something any actor normally prepares for, Briones says he relied heavily on the episode’s director to guide him through filming the bloody flashback. “I can only guess what he's going through,” he says of Hanover’s mental state after being drugged alongside his patient. Eventually, he just had to let go and let the moment take over and “trust that you are being truthful to it.”
While Henry’s mistreatment puts a target on Hanover’s head, it’s his efforts to treat Charlotte Wells (Okonedo), a patient with multiple personalities, that leads to his demise. “For me, he found something in himself” while attempting to cure her of her disorder, Briones says, explaining that Hanover saw “salvation in Charlotte, if he can help her.”
And that’s what makes Hanover’s final moments all that more tragic, when Charlotte’s personalities turn on the doctor and end up killing him as the two are stowed away in a hotel room after fleeing the hospital for Mexico. “It’s a deflating moment for him,” Briones says as Hanover is gasping for his final breaths. “All of this was for nothing. It’s the epitome of his failure to do something good.”
Even though Dr. Hanover doesn’t survive long enough to appear in any future episodes of Ratched, which initially received a two-season order, Briones himself has proven to be a reliable player in Murphy’s world, going from newcomer to a three-peat all in a few years.
For the actor, that brings a welcomed sense of relief, knowing that “there’s a possibility of someone hiring you,” he quips, before adding that acting on one of Murphy’s shows is like getting a stamp of approval in a way. “Ryan’s scripts are amazing. It’s a privilege to be saying those lines. And it’s an amazing thing to be a part of.”
Briones concludes by saying, “Hopefully the journey continues.”