|Posted by Once Upon A Fan on July 8, 2012 at 8:15 AM|
Anastasia: I’ve made it very clear that I’d love to. I’m still contracted as a series regular for the new show Copper on BBC America. But I’m around until the end of the year, so we’ll see. They’re just getting their ducks in a row and getting the writing done. I know that they’ve signed up a few people for series regular roles, and they’re figuring out who they’ve got and where they’re going.
But there was a beat that they didn’t add in the final episode when David was in the hospital where the schoolteacher, who plays Frederick in the Fairy Tale world, is at the hospital giving me flowers for his condolences.
Diane: [Squeals with glee] Ooooh! Okay!!!!
Anastasia: So they were trying to tie it up in that moment where you actually do get to see the love of my life turning up in Storybrooke and heading in that direction. But it got cut.
Diane: [Downcast sigh] Ouch. Okay . . .
Anastasia: But I wouldn’t be surprised—and I really hope—that we get to dive into that a little bit. (Hopefully these scenes will end up on the DVD)
Diane: Well thank you for that tidbit - that’s exciting!
Anastasia: Who knows, it might be a red herring, but it also might be one of the more interesting stories to tell. But theoretically, none of these characters in Storybrooke go away. No one can leave, so who knows what that big cloud of purple smoke really is? I’m reading it as another era of black magic. In which case, there’d be similar limitations about characters leaving, and who knows what that does to their memory? There’s certainly space to bring her and Frederick back, so we’ll see where that goes.
Diane: Can you tell me a little bit about how you got this role — was it something you auditioned for, or did the producers have you in mind?
Anastasia: Actually, I auditioned for the role of Emma originally, and I obviously didn’t get it because the wonderful Jennifer Morrison got it - and quite rightly so. But it was the one script that pilot season that I got excited about. I’d come off Trauma the year before, and I’d done a stint on Royal Pains. So I really just wanted to do something that was very positive and had a message that I believed in. And I think when you do a TV show on the networks, you’re really giving away ten months of your life and working incredibly long hours every day. You’re even moving cities, so you have to really believe in what you’re doing. This was the one script that I really had that connection with, and I was obviously heartbroken when I didn’t get it.
They then called me six months later when they’d started shooting and they offered me this role, which at the time they hadn’t developed. But they could tell me she was going to be in a love triangle with Snow White and Prince Charming, and would I be interested in doing it? Immediately, I was fascinated and had a chat with them about where the character might go. At that time they hadn’t decided it would be King Midas’ daughter —they knew it would be some sort of princess. So I was just really eager to be part of the show.
It’s an inspiring show and it has a very positive message. And it’s a family show! I have three nieces, and they can sit down with my brother and his wife and watch something together, and that was a big thing for me - to make something that was just old fashioned family television. So I jumped on board and at the time I knew I was doing three episodes, but I didn’t know where it would go after that. Sure enough, it went on to seven or nine, or something like that.
Once it started airing, I knew the show would be a huge hit. It was more of a surprise to them than me! They were all putting so much effort into it that they didn’t dare hope about what it might do, but for me I knew it was going to be the big show of the year. And it’s a real honor to be a part of it.
Diane: The cinematography, costumes and the quality of the actors is all pretty astounding. This is television, but each week you feel like you are watching a feature film.
Anastasia: The whole team is amazing—they are geniuses. From the design work and even the speed with which they have to put all of those costumes together. On the day before Thanksgiving, I had to fly out from Vancouver to Los Angeles and fly back. And they had to make all of the outfits for the Frederick episode within four days! So the speed they had in putting all that together is amazing. They created my first blue dress in 24 hours.
Diane: [Gasps] The one with the crystals and the feathers? Oh my goodness!!
Anastasia: Yes, they’re just a phenomenal team of people. So I get very close to them, and the cinematographer also looks after me very well, because during that Frederick episode I’d had a very difficult time. My dog died the week before, and I was grieving very hard when I had to do that episode. It all happened very suddenly - he was only four years old, and I was very traumatized by it. So the cinematographer came up to me and gave me a big hug and said, “Don’t worry; I’ll look after you.” I had these big bags under my eyes because I’d been crying, and I was a big mess. So he became a good friend of mine! Steve looks after me very well.
Diane: Well I have to say, the web is all abuzz about your gorgeous riding outfit with the gold brocade and burgundy - everyone covets that outfit! Yet when I look at it, I can’t help but wonder if you need a corset to wear something like that?
Anastasia: Oh no—I had a vest on underneath, actually. I nearly died of hypothermia that day. It was so cold! I’m always one to not wear too many thermals because I think it changes the shape of the outfit - and they put so much time into creating those costumes that I don’t want to bulk them out underneath. And I was sooo cold that day! But that outfit is without question my favorite.
Diane: It’s spectacular! And the details for only a few days’ sewing—amazing.
Anastasia: Yes, I think it was made out of curtain material!
Diane: [Laughs, seeing images of Scarlet O’Hara] Now your blue dress - I didn’t look to see if it had a zipper up the back, but I wondered how you even got IN that dress with all of the feathers and embellishments.
Anastasia: It had a zipper up the side! It wasn’t hard to get into, but you didn’t want to eat too much while you were in that dress! That material was so clingy that you had to be aware of such things, but it was very comfortable to wear. It was a lycra material that moves with you.
Diane: Everyone loves your fairy tale wardrobe. And back to the fairy tale aspect of the show—had you read many fairy tales in childhood, or had you studied them at all before auditioning?
Anastasia: Certainly Snow White. And the Disney version was the first film I ever saw in the cinema. I remember being traumatized by the Evil Queen. I love Disney movies, and I’ve got lots of nieces and nephews, and I love sitting down and watching The Lion King or Aladdin with them. My nieces were obsessed with princesses when they were really small, so I kind of lived and breathed it with them. But as a kid, I was never the one who wanted to be a princess. I wanted to be a rock star, I think! [Laughs]. So it wasn’t so much my childhood dream, but of course I grew up with all of those stories—Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty and Beauty and the Beast. But for me, I’m not entirely in love with the messages these stories tell little girls. Something I like about this show is that it’s reinventing that.
Diane: Oh definitely!!
Anastasia: This show is making it more feminist and more modern. Women are much stronger. A lot of these old-fashioned fairy tales can be very disempowering for women with the idea that as long as you’re beautiful, you will find a man. Or it’s okay to be the ugly one, but only if you’re the dude! Such as in Beauty and the Beast. So what I like about Once Upon A Time is that they’re turning that on its head and they’re creating these awesome, strong female characters. And they’re also giving the backstory to the evil characters like Regina. When you see the episode about her past, you all of a sudden understand where she’s coming from and you have empathy for her and her journey. I think that’s important, too—to see that people aren’t just good or bad. There’s a reason people end up behaving the way they do.
Diane: And Abigail as well! You could consider her as the dark person in that triangle, but they made her so much more human. Had you read the King Midas myth before the show at all?
Anastasia: I had, and I read it again before the show got going to refresh myself about King Midas’ daughter. There’s a couple of versions—one where he gets turned to gold and one where she does. For me, it was about modernizing all that. And I had a funny conversation with Adam and Eddie, the creators, about it, and we really placed her in that not-so-much a bitchy territory but in the overly privileged world of the Kim Kardashians or Paris Hiltons of the world. I didn’t want her to be a bitch - more like privileged and very out of touch with her true sense of self. I hope that comes across.
Diane: It really does! And that makes me interested in your own journey as an artist and your sense of self in all this. I saw in some biographical information about you that you actually have an art history degree, and your mother was an actress. So I’m wondering what this journey has been like for you because you obviously have your fingers in some very interesting pots — art history on the one hand and drama on the other.
Anastasia: Well I’m not so much a creative person—I’ve never been a musician or artist, but I’ve always had a huge respect for the people who are and I gravitate towards that. My mum trained as an actress, and she worked for a little bit, but she then gave it up to become a mother. I have six siblings—she raised my father’s four boys and then had my two brothers and I, so she had a lot on her hands. She had all her friends that she’d met during that time in her life, and we had actors and creative people around us.
My mum’s passion was the theater, and that’s what she loved talking about. My brother is also an actor, and she was very influential on both of us. My first role on the stage in school was the Artful Dodger in Oliver Twist. I went to an all-girls school, so we had to play the boys. I remember her helping me audition and coaching me through the singing. She loved that. She taught Children’s Theater for a bit when I was born in Paris — she was involved in an American Theater group there. So she was very influential on me throughout school, but I thought it was just a pipe dream—that no one really does this. And my mum hadn’t been successful at it. It seemed like a very irresponsible job, albeit very fun, and I think I put actors on a pedestal. I didn’t think I would ever be one of those amazing people who did this for a living. And then my brother went off and started working as a professional actor. But my brother is very good at everything he tries to do, and I didn’t want to be the less successful, less talented sibling. So I thought I would go into TV production.
I decided to do a degree because I thought that would be an important experience in my life—I wanted to have a back up with college. And I loved art history, and I loved learning about the social history that goes along with it more so than the art itself. I have a fascination with visual history and how the time in which people live gives birth to certain creativities, and how that is expressed and what it says about the society at the time. But while I was at college, I did a lot of TV production work for experience. On my holidays, I would go and work for London production companies as a runner and be a P.A. or office help at the BBC, etc.
When I left the university, that’s the direction I was going in. It wasn’t until I was doing my first full job on a show called Hearts and Bones 2, which was the second season of a hit show in the U.K. Amanda Holden, one of the actors in that show, took me aside one night when I was out with the cast. She told me that I was wasting myself, and that I was the highest status P. A. she’d ever worked with, and that I should be an actor and go to drama school. So it was really her who kicked me in the ass to go and do it! I gave myself one year, and I thought, if I don’t get into drama school, then that’s a sign that I’m not good enough.
I really believe that—you either have it or you don’t. You can’t teach this—it’s instinctual. You can go to class and hone your skill. And having good acting teachers and directors and other actors around always helps you improve and get better. But you have to be able to show emotion and have compassion for characters and understand psychology, where they’re coming from, and then be able to put that in action. And I didn’t know, honestly, if I was any good! Getting into drama school doesn’t really prove that. But at least for me, it was the first stage of proving that for myself. And I did! I got into LAMDA, which is a great school in London, and I did two years there and the rest is history—I was really on my way! I started working immediately—I was doing Damages in New York a few years later.
Diane: The story behind your work in Damages is really amazing—on a wing and a prayer, you had a last-minute audition, and you were cast!
Anastasia: Yeah! I’d only arrived in New York two or three weeks before that audition. They called me at about ten o’clock that morning—I guess someone had pulled out from the cast because it was all very last minute. And I just really resonated with that character immediately.
Diane: That’s extraordinary!
Anastasia: My main goal when I’d landed in the states was to play an American in an American TV show and have no one know I was British. I knew this was something I wanted very much.
Diane: When you were in drama school, did you anticipate that TV would be where you blossomed? Or had you thought really about it?
Anastasia: I was ready to do whatever came my way at that point. Obviously, I always loved theater and intended to go back it, but I ended up doing a TV show instead. But TV had always terrified me! We didn’t do any television or film in drama school. In the U.K. you just do theater—we’re theater-trained actors for sure. I had no experience with television, but I just knew I would be honored to even be paid to do this job!
Diane: [Laughs] Right!
Anastasia: So I really wasn’t putting any rules or regulations on it. I was just hoping something might come my way! But it really happened at a time when American television was blossoming. Mad Men, Damages, The Sopranos—these were the beginnings of TV as we know it. I just happened to come in at a time when television was becoming as good in quality as film work. And I think now that we shoot in HD, there really isn’t a difference. We’re doing mini-movies every week on Once Upon A Time, and I think the writing is just as good! It’s not something I originally planned, but it’s something I feel very comfortable in now—I love the process. You can really embed yourself in these characters for a long period of time. And it suits my personality to have a little continuity and stability. It’s nice to know where I’m going to be for a year.
Diane: Even though the hours are so demanding and long? Because in television, my god, every single week you’re putting in these incredible hours!
Anastasia: You are! But I think I’ve found a home on cable right now with Damages and Copper, and that suits me better. The kind of writing that goes on cable tends to be more gritty, which suits my style. But it’s also 13 episodes versus 26. So you end up being able to do other things. And that for me is a real god-given gift. I have time to engage in many other passions that I want to pursue and see people that I want to spend time with. So it’s the best of both worlds right now. But if you do end up on a show like Once Upon A Time, which is so special, it’s absolutely worth those hours! It’s a gift.
Diane: Have you already started filming Copper?
Anastasia: I’ve finished shooting the first season. We were shooting January through May. I just got back to L.A. from Toronto—we were shooting for five and a half months.
Diane: I can’t wait to see that! Copper sounds fascinating, and you’re one of the stars in that show, right?
Anastasia: Yeah, it’s an ensemble, so there’s eight of us who are series regulars. Three women: Myself, Franka Potente who was Lola in Run, Lola, Run and the Bourne movies, and then there’s Tessa Thompson who has been in movies and TV spots, one of which was For Colored Girls. And they’re just amazing women! I look around that cast, and I’m really proud of the company I’m keeping. They’re so strong, so creative, so real. I haven’t been involved in something that I was this excited about in a long time. Obviously Once Upon A Time was everything, but I wasn’t a series regular in it, so I didn’t have the same responsibilities. So this is something I’m really diving into right now. We’re about to launch in August. We’re going to start doing press next month [July].
Anastasia with Kyle Schmid in a scene from BBC America's forthcoming 'Copper', premiering August 18th
Diane: I hope it will catch on because it’s a very interesting period in American history.
Anastasia: It is, and as a Brit, I never really studied it. We knew about Lincoln and all, but not in great detail. I really see it as such a gift, and I’ve had to dive into the Ken Burns documentaries that go on with 12 hours of very intense, action-packed knowledge about that period of time. So I’m now an oracle! Tom Fontana, our show runner [originator] is very specific about history. Literally, to the day, he has it all happening in real time—he’s very specific about that. We’re not making a “period piece” per se, but of course that’s where it’s set, so we’re really trying to honor the history and be as truthful about that as possible.
Diane: I’ve heard you mention a few times about the psychological background of your characters. Is that something you do to prepare for a role—really think about who this person is on many levels? Because there are some actors who just hop in. They have more of a spontaneous style of simply stepping in, almost blank, and just letting it all flow. Theses are very instinctual artists. What is your process when you approach any role?
Anastasia: I think I instinctually go towards the psychological understanding of people. I’ve been studying psychology online where the initial foundation courses set me up for a degree. And in my life, that’s how I commune with people and read people. Very instinctively, when I meet someone, I recognize behavior, and I will immediately fill in blanks. I’m fascinated by what drives people to behave the way that they do—to say things and even breathe the way they do. We’re all so different. Our life experiences and choices make us who we are. So for me, it’s a no-brainer—that’s intuitively how I’ve approached character.
In television, it can be interesting because you don’t know from episode to episode that much about backstory. Especially in Damages, we didn’t know anything that was happening except for the day-to-day on that show! So you can’t really plan too much in these circumstances. But even when you’re looking at just an individual scene, for me it’s about understanding why this person is saying what they’re saying—what they’re trying to achieve from it and what past experience is driving them to say things. For me, it’s more about emotion. I see my job as weaving emotion and thought into these characters that someone else has created and written on a page. Emotion is inherently created by thought. And thought is created by experience.
As a chain reaction, it takes me back to having a very clear idea about where this person is coming from and where they’re going. Inevitably, that’s a psychological study. But I try not to get too academic about it. That’s the danger. You have to be able to walk on a set and drop all of that and know instinctively who your character is. And have the flexibility to say to yourself, “I didn’t think that’s what was going on, but okay, cool!” You have to be grounded in something. You can’t just be saying lines and be on camera—you have to have a process going on inside. So yes, psychology is a big part of my process and my life.
Diane: Do you get nervous when you’re about to enter a scene? Or do you just enter a zone where you ARE that person?
Anastasia: Well, I jump back into my British accent when I’m not in a scene—I’m not someone who protects my space too much. But if I’ve got a very emotional scene, I will. I’m not someone who can suddenly have a breakdown. There was one scene in Damages, for example, where I have to identify my father’s body. And that was harrowing!
On Trauma, I had to play someone who was very disillusioned, and that was difficult, too. Because I think I underestimate how much I DO take home with me. I have to be feeling it inside in order for it to be real in my eyes and for the camera to read it. The downside of that is that your body doesn’t know the difference between when you’re acting a feeling or actually feeling it. I’m a big believer in the body-mind connection, so your body holds on to emotion in little pockets, and I have to make sure none of it sticks! So I meditate—that’s how I deal with it. I have a meditation practice where I get to drop it all.
On set, I will keep myself in a zone if I have a very emotional or angry scene, or if I have to cry. And I ask the crew around me to understand that’s where I’m going, because it can be quite embarrassing to not be chatting with everyone or be a happy-go-lucky person who’s bouncing around the set. But that’s my job—I see it as really about being authentic and not “acting.” But the longer a show goes on, and the longer you play a character, the less you have to protect that “zone.” You can more easily jump in and out, I think. For me, anyway!
Anastasia as paramedic Nancy Carnahan in 'Trauma'
Diane: I often ask what a person’s “dream” project is or who they’d like to work with, but you’ve already had an extraordinary career so far—you’ve worked with Glenn Close! And certainly all of the people on Once Upon A Time. And now you’re starring in your own show on Copper.
Anastasia: I’m currently working with a team of people that I don’t want to change. Tom Fontana is the show runner of Copper, and I couldn’t say nicer things about him as a man and as a creator and as a creative. Christina Wayne, who created Mad Men and Breaking Bad is wonderful, too. Breaking Bad is my all time favorite TV show—in fact, both of those shows are! And Barry Levinson is our executive producer. Rain Man, for me and my family, is one of our favorite films. We quote it all day long, every day—we love that movie! So I’m working with the kinds of people I want to work with.
I always say it’s not really about any specific person, it’s about a creative experience and about collaboration. I really put it out there about a year ago that I wanted to be working in cable with people who wanted to collaborate and treat actors as equals and as part of the process. And that’s where I’ve ended up, so I’m incredibly grateful. Right now I’m as happy as Larry! I mean, I’d love to work with my brother and some friends of mine. And I’d love to work with Rose Byrne again. Larysa Kondracki is a director who just directed me in Copper and she has a film called Whistleblower, and I’d love to work with her. For me it’s about collaboration and about a creative family. Of course I’d love to play off Kate Winslet and watch what she does, or Cate Blanchett, and really take note of how these people work and learn from them. But I’m pretty happy with my lot! And if it can just carry on the way that it does, and I can keep learning from people, that’s fantastic. I think Meryl Streep would be my all-time idol. Martin Scorcese would be amazing! And there are lots of young filmmakers out there who are going to be the next Martin Scorceses, and I’d love to find them and collaborate with them.
I think the next stage for me, outside of television, is to do more independent movies. And maybe play a more character type of role. I get sent a lot of scripts for the beautiful blonde, and that’s not how I view myself. You know, the spy with piercing blue eyes, the beautiful bombshell. But that’s not really who I am or how I see myself—I’m more keen to go into true character stuff. And I think for women, that’s where longevity lies. That’s where I’m pushing my management to take me now. In television, there’s a real emphasis on appearance. Even the Plain Janes are stunning! I want to go somewhere GRITTY in independent films that would take me out of my comfort zones. Maybe comedy, too! Something that’s a bit outside of the box.
Diane: That’s fascinating to hear about the ways you’d like to stretch yourself — people might not automatically expect that from you!
Anastasia: Yeah! I know, so it’s where I want to go in the future.
Diane: Well I want to congratulate you on your amazing career so far. Really, you have such a rich body of work! Your role in Once Upon A Time has been terrific, and I can’t wait to see Copper—it sounds extraordinary.
Anastasia: Yeah, please! Please watch it—I hope the show gets the recognition that we think it deserves. This is BBC America’s very first original content show. So it’s really important that we get it out there. Anything you guys can do to push it would be great!
Diane: And Copper premieres in August, is that right?
Anastasia: Yes, August 19th on BBC America.
Diane: I’ll make sure the fans know! And thank you so much for taking this time out to spend with us. As fans, we really enjoy these interviews and especially the opportunity to gain insight into your artistic process and how you view what you do. We really appreciate it, Anastasia!
Anastasia: Thank you! It’s such an honor, and I’m so happy to help. If I can do anything in the future, let me know.
Diane: All right, we will—have a wonderful day!
Huge thanks to Anastasia for giving so much of her free time for this in-depth wonderful interview.
Be sure to check out Copper when it airs on BBC America on August 19th
Head to the BBC America Site now to watch the trailer and learn more: Copper