Annika marks @annika_marks | Photography by Maries Danila@maries.photography.la | Muah by Tammy Yi @tammyyi for Exclusive Artists using MAC Cosmetics” | Styled by Victoria Jackson @v.styl | Interview by Ashira Provost @_ashiraprovost
What was one of the most difficult roles you’ve taken on?
I played Mrs. Webb in the Deaf West production of “Our Town” at the Pasadena Playhouse last year, and I had to learn my role in sign language, and speak it simultaneously. Communicating in two languages at once is a huge challenge under any circumstances, but I found it especially nerve wracking because I didn’t know any ASL when I began the process, so the learning curve was extremely steep. In the end it was one of the most fulfilling and exciting creative adventures of my life. Had I known going into it how hard it would be, I probably would have wimped out, so I’m glad I went in a bit blind. I didn’t realize how steep and treacherous the mountain I was climbing was until I was already totally committed to the path, and I think that’s how we often get out of our comfort zone, which is the key to great art, in my opinion.
What do you do in your free time and how do you prepare for new roles?
In my free time I hike as much as possible. I spend as much time as I can with my husband and my family. I write and read, then write some more. I drink coffee and sip wine and cook a lot. I plan trips, and sometimes I even take them. I host a lot of dinner parties. Being an artist means having very little control over when you work and for how long, and that can be frustrating, but there is this beautiful silver lining to an artist’s life, which is that - if you can embrace the downtime and not live in fear of it, you have the gift of significant time to indulge in the stuff you dreamt about as a kid and planned for all year to do over your summer vacation. I try to hold on to that, and try not to foolishly attempt to control the roller coaster, but roll with it instead, and enjoy the valleys as much as the hills.
When I’m preparing for a new role I try to ask myself what the role requires of me first. I think it’s important - at least I know it’s important for me - to try not to approach everything the same way or with the same amount of work. There are roles that are alarmingly simple extensions of you. And that can be the hardest thing - to trust that you showing up and finding the truth is enough - living moment to moment - as if it’s happening in real time. But then there are roles that require you to learn sign language. I did a 1 woman show where I had to create 17 characters. I did a show a couple years ago where I played a morbidly obese schizophrenic woman and her 12 year old dead half sister and I was in and out of a fat suit 4 times over the course of the evening. Jobs like that require a different kind of work. But, for me - story is queen. Understanding the story, why your character is in it, and then becoming as specific as possible. I’m a work horse and I love doing the work. If anything, I err on the side of being an overly prepared actress, and in the moment I need to remember to let it all go and try to forget that it’s work. But, I always want to be able to think as the person I’m embodying, and that takes understanding your relationship to everything and everyone like the back of your hand. Specificity is the key to relaxation for me, and relaxation is the key to me accessing the best of what I have to give as an actress.
What was it like being a part of “The Fosters” and are you and your character similar in any way?
I was so proud to be part of that show! It’s the kind of TV I wish had been on when I was growing up. At every turn, the message of “The Fosters” was that - as long as you are true to yourself - what you are is right, is decent, is enough, deserves love, and should be validated. Being part of putting such inclusive, loving, progressive storylines into the world is something that meant a huge amount to me, and I will forever be grateful for it.
Monte and I have our similarities. She wanted everyone to like her, and that kept her from maintaining professional boundaries, which I understand to my core. It’s something I struggle with. I always want to connect to everyone I interact with in a profound, personal way, and that’s not always appropriate or called for. So, I work to keep things professional and not to go too deep too quick, but my nature is to get in as deep as possible as quickly as possible. Thank god I’m an actor and my job is to connect to other humans and tell our stories and feel things, because I don’t think I’d do very well with office politics. I just don’t keep things close enough to the vest. And Monte was the same way, only she was in a job where she needed to be much more buttoned up, and that was her weakness I think. But, also her strength - at least, in my opinion.
Can you please tell us about your role in “Waco”?
I played a real-life Branch Davidian, survivor of the Waco tragedy, named Kathy Schroeder. She was a devout follower of David Koresh’s and lived in the compound at Mount Carmel, along with her husband Mike and their 4 kids. Mike was killed the day of the raid - the day the stand-off began, and Kathy was forced to reconcile her faith with how to protect her children. She was a mama-bear and she did everything she could to keep her kids safe. I have tremendous respect for her, what she lost and sacrificed, and it was a privilege to portray her.
What was it like working with Billy Bob Thornton for your role on the newest season of Amazon’s “Goliath”?
He is one of my favorite actors, and getting to share space with him briefly was a true gift. It was a master class in acting, watching him up close. He brings nothing but the truth into every moment of his work. It’s astounding to have a scene partner like that, and it gives you something to aspire to. He’s also a genuine, wonderful guy who is so down to earth and easy to be around. I’ll cherish that experience forever.
You also recently appeared on “The Affair” – can you tell us more about that role?
I loved that experience as well! I’ve been a devoted fan of “The Affair” since the pilot. I just love the way they write for their actors, and the way they allow scenes to play out - longer than they would on most shows - so you really get to sit with the characters and watch them change. I love TV for that - it’s can be less plot driven and more character driven because you have the luxury of time.
I was so lucky to have the chance to take part in their storyline this season, and was especially lucky that the role I got to play was so rich and complicated. She was a version of Alison from the first season - and I loved watching Ruth Wilson’s work in season 1, so it was a real honor to get to shadow her in a way, and play in the same sandbox that she was in when the series began - as a woman desperately struggling to move on with her life after losing a child.
Do you see yourself doing any producing or directing in the future?
Absolutely! I’m in Illinois now, prepping for a feature film that I wrote called “Killing Eleanor”. I’m producing along with my husband, Rich Newey, who is also directing, and two additional producers, Angie Gaffney and Richard Kahan. It’s a real dream come true and I’m loving every moment of this experience.
I’ve been toying with writing and producing my own stuff for a long time, and have made some short-form content, but this is a whole new world for me. Watching all these talented people pick up this script, and start to bring these characters, and this world to life - that only existed in my head until I put it on paper, and then only existed on paper until I was brave enough to show Rich - and now to see it become this living creature, born out of the collective talents of this huge group of awesome, creative people, is the most humbling and the most empowering experience of my professional life so far.
What new projects are you working on?
“Killing Eleanor” is my main focus right now, since we start filming October 1st. It’s a dark comedy about a terminally ill old lady who wants to die on her own terms and the self-destructive addict who agrees to help kill her, in exchange for clean urine. Or, as we like to refer to it, a right-to-die “Thelma and Louise”.
We just announced that Jenny O’Hara and I are co-starring. Jenny and I have worked on countless theatre projects together, and about 10 years ago I told her about this event that happened in my early 20s, that I thought could be turned into a movie, and that I wanted to write it for the two of us. It took me a decade to do it, but...here we are!
The amazing Jane Kaczmarek, who I worked with in “Our Town” last year, is playing my mom and Betsy Brandt, whose work I love so much, is playing my sister. We have some more exciting cast announcements coming soon, so stay tuned...and wish us luck as we dive into production!