BY ERIN WALSH
PHOTO CHRISTIAN HOGSTEDT
MEET Mireille Enos, actor extraordinaire. Get to know about her ‘wild and wooly’ past few years juggling the priorities that count, dealing with loss, traveling the world and staying still and the lessons that come with it, including an insatiable pursuit of potential. Read on below…
Erin Walsh Mireille, thank you so much for taking the time to collaborate with us! And joining our SBJCT collective. I would love to start at the beginning- can you fill us in your upbringing, how you grew up and what eventually got you into acting?
Mireille Enos I grew up in Sugar Land TX, the fourth of five children born to Jon and Monique Giorgi Enos. My father was a native Texan, although well travelled, who was great with his hands and my mother was a French Italian intellectual. Both were educators with curious minds and a brave sense of adventure. And our home was a blend of their two personalities, a whirlwind of thoughts and sounds, ideas and projects and celebration. My mother, having promised herself she would facilitate our ambitions found herself with five artists for children and spent our adolescence working on monologues, reading essays, shuttling us to rehearsals and dance classes and rock concerts. Of these five children I was one of the quietest. Watching my older siblings in the theatre I fell in love with the fairy dust magic of storytelling, that sacred space, and the permission given to actors to explore human connection, what it means to stand in someone else’s shoes, to be larger than yourself and your trepidations.
EW I know you are former New Yorker. I would love to talk a bit about your time on Broadway and the West End, particularly with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf… What does the life of a person in a Broadway show look like? I honestly don’t know how you do it, it seems so physically and emotionally demanding, not to mention the complete devotion of time. What was it like for you?
ME Broadway is Magic. No doubt it is exhausting. Eight shows a week, week in and week out, but there is no experience quite like the thrill of standing in front of a full 1,000 seat house and feeling them there with you. Life happening in real time and it’ll never be exactly the same two nights in a row. Working on Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf remains one of the pinnacles of my creative life. The four of us, Kathleen Turner, Bill Irwin, David Harbour and I, created a quartet. And we had Edward Albee there with us through rehearsals. He knew literally every syllable of his play including the punctuation. And every joke. And he was committed to it being a raucous comedy. The higher you take the audience in Act 1 the further they have to fall when the heartbreak comes. And he, along with our amazing director Anthony Hall, let us be brave and muscular and funny and bold. It was a thing of beauty.
EW You are a working actor who is married to an actor. What is the balancing act there? I think it’s a whole other level of negotiation, navigating time and child care and schedules with the demands of travel and working in exotic locations. How does this work for you? Give us a snapshot of your last year, traveling and working in the time before Corona.
ME Oh Goodness! Our last few years have been wild and wooly with my husband Alan Ruck working on Succession in New York, Ireland and Croatia and me working on Hanna in Budapest, England and Spain. Plus a little stint in South Africa for Good Omens. That paints a picture right? While also raising our two amazing kids, Vesper 10 and Larkin 6. I don’t even know where to begin. Mostly we feel that to be a family we have to be together as much as possible. So the kids have travelled the world. And school has happened in so many different settings. And Alan has flown over oceans to be with us for 48 hours. It’s a constant puzzle to solve but it’s going ok.
It all helps inform the next bit of story you get to tell.
EW What has lockdown life been like for you?
ME Both my parents passed away this last year. My Mother very suddenly in August while I was shooting Hanna in the UK. And then my Father in February after his health gave up with my mother gone. Those months between were very hard. Grieving, filming, flying, caretaking, organizing. Trying to stay ahead of what was coming for our original family while still attending to our own families. It was monumental. And then moments after burying our father, Covid was upon us and we were forced by quarantine to be still. I don’t dare say it was a blessing because I know the devastation this disease has wreaked on so many thousands of people. But, because we were fortunate enough to all stay healthy, to have a safe and comfortable home and enough to eat, I was able to find the silver lining. Stillness can be very healing. Forced relinquishing of obligations. Long stretches with permission to accomplish nothing. It helped me. As did seeing my children’s faces every day. I mean, there were definitely ups and downs! Days where I was annoying and restless and crabby. Where teaching Kindergarten seemed REALLY HARD AND BORING! Days where my daughter missed her friends and her life. But mostly, we did really well. Family, food, books, movies, piano, puppy, nowhere to go…..
EW How do you stay creatively fulfilled and inspired when you aren’t acting?
ME I took up piano this year! That’s a totally new hobby! It’s so crazy to try and learn something new as an adult. Makes my brain buzz. Both humbling and exhilarating. And also, we live in an old 1926 Spanish house. It’s a definite fixer. So between every job I pick a room and have it ripped up. And I make sketches and paint squares of color on the wall and turn it into something beautiful. It’s so nice after the words and feelings of my acting jobs to do something that’s about measuring and building and results that you can touch.
EW Is there a part of you that gets itchy when you aren’t performing? That is, as an actor, do you feel something is missing when you aren’t working on a character?
ME No I’m not itchy between jobs. I’m glad for the breaks to recharge. Plus, as an actor, everything in life is creative fuel and inspiration. A new book read or a new skill learned or just any normal life stuff. It all helps inform the next bit of story you get to tell.
EW I am curious- are you the kind of actor who leaves the intensity and the character at work? You have inhabited some pretty haunted people. Do you leave it behind?
ME I absolutely leave character at work. This doesn’t mean I don’t think about story. Or given circumstance. Or point of view. I still need to learn lines and do my homework for the next day or days coming up. But the feelings, the psychology, the demons… for heavens sake those aren’t mine and I don’t want them in my house. Compartmentalizing and learning to have flexibility and facility I think is key to balancing this kind of work and a happy personal life and family life.
EW What is your process of finding characters? Does it vary from role to role?
ME Finding character starts with the words on the page, the world they reveal. Usually as I read, if it’s a role I’m going to end up doing, I start to hear my voice inside of the piece. And then my curiosity is peaked. And that curiosity leads me to ask a million questions. About my place of origin and whether that’s the same or different from where I am now, my status, my goals and fears, the thing I want and what’s standing in my way, where I hold tension in my body and why, how the clothes I put on affect how I move and feel, what secrets am I keeping, what aspects of myself am I proud of, and on and on and on. People are made up of millions of details.
EW Tell us about Hanna. What can our readers expect?
ME For those who haven’t seen any of it, Hanna is a Bourne type thriller except that our Jason is a remarkable 15 year old girl. And I’m the CIA bad guy trying to make sure she doesn’t live to see another day. At least at the beginning of season one! Hanna is also a story about family and family mythology. And archetypes. Fathers, Mothers, biological or chosen. And belonging. And Identity. And what we do with second chances. Plus we get to do lots of cool fighting and stunts. I love this series. ☺
EW I know you traveled extensively in filming it. Do you enjoy that bit? Getting far and away?
ME I love to travel. I love a destination and the sense of purpose it gives you getting there. I love feeling different cultures, the flavors and smells, the quality of the light. And I love the exercise of reducing the clutter of our life down to a few suitcases. And seeing that we can be ok without all our stuff. It’s good for me. It’s so good for my kids. It helps remind us be adaptable and unspoiled and curious.
EW How was finding Marissa different than other characters? What was the physical and mental preparation like for this one?
ME I don’t know that finding Marissa was different than other roles. It’s a process of unfolding every time. I was most curious about her private inner life. What it feels like to be a very capable assassin, a consummate liar, and a chatty conversationalist with her handsome lover. Hiding from her past without allowing her pulse to quicken. That takes an amazing strength of will.
EW What physically is keeping you sane now?
ME Taekwondo! Of course during lockdown I couldn’t train with my Master so I had to cobble it together. Stretching, walking, kicking in my living room. Whatever I could do to stay moving. It’s so helpful to move my body.
EW What helps you unwind?
ME Late night bowls of cereal, talking with my daughter about what it’s like to be 10, talking with my husband after the kids go to sleep, petting my dog…. The Great British Baking Show ☺
EW Any films we must see?
ME We’ve spent Covid introducing our kids to all the old great movies we grew up on. Raiders of the Lost Ark, Back to the Future, Star Wars, Parent Trap, Tootsie….. They’re the Best.
There is hope that our citizens of color can live without fear as actual equals in the eyes of the nation.
EW Any books you would like to point us to that you have found to be comforting or instrumental in these strange times we are living in?
ME I recently read The Dutch House by Ann Patchett. I love her. Commonwealth is another of her novels that’s a favorite of mine. What I find remarkable about her books is they cover such long expanses of time. Many modern novels focus on an isolated story, rise to its climax and conclude. Ann Patchett allows her novels to cover generations. You see the weighty effects of parents’ choices on their children and grandchildren. But also, in this long form, you get to see that nothing is permanent. Cycles are inevitable. That we have the option to be masters of our own fate, we don’t have to forever live in response to the events of the past. And also that time heals the heat of injury, that perspective is a balm and that forgiveness is possible. I need these reminders in the world we’re living in. That there is hope this chapter will fall away and a more promising one take its place. There is hope that our gangster administration full of liars and opportunists will be unseated. There is hope that the hemorrhaging of our nation will be assuaged. There is hope that our citizens of color can live without fear as actual equals in the eyes of the nation. That because life is long and ebbs like the tide, there is hope the US can regain its dignity, educate its children, attend to its sick and elderly. I look at my children and hope we will get there for them.
EW Mireille, what’s your SBJCT? What really moves and drives you?
ME Hmmmmm…… This made me squirm around a little. What a funny exercise in self knowledge to look inside and ask, What’s the gas in my motor? And the answer that keeps trying to push to the surface is pursuit of potential. That insatiable drive to not waste the gifts I was given or the time I have to use them. And not just my potential. That I wish for everyone the same. That the path be laid for everyone to figure out this puzzle. The negative side is that I’m a perfectionist and can have mean self talk and don’t know when to stop. I remember when I was living in NYC with my wonderful sister Veronique. She said to me one night, “Mireille, it’s Friday night at 8pm. Can you stop being productive? Could you sit and watch something?” Another friend said to me once that I see what is real and I know what would be ideal and that I try to fill up the gap with my Will. So….Yes, there’s definitely a compulsive negative side. But in its ideal, as a piece of poetry, pursuit of potential is such a beautiful idea. That all of our brains and bodies and hearts have huge potential. That we are all giants in our own way. And to become acquainted with that version of ourselves we need the right kind of love and support, we need self knowledge, we need motivation and strength and bravery, we need opportunities to feel the satisfaction of work done well, we need access to others who inspire us, and friends that believe in us. We need enough food and sleep and safe shelter. Imagine the world if everyone had enough.