Clare Danes, Emma D’Arcy, Jennifer Garner and Melanie Lynskey also join the discussion about giving notes, the roles they’re not offered and the problem of a public life: “The loss of just being able to smile at someone on the street and say ‘hello’ as yourself is a real intense thing.”
Before cameras rolled at THR’s Drama Actress Emmy Roundtable, Jennifer Garner turned to Jennifer Coolidge and asked whether she’d be returning for The White Lotus season three. It was an innocent question and an instant giveaway that the Last Thing He Told Me star had yet to see the season two finale, in which (spoiler!) Coolidge’s character takes a header off a boat and drowns. There was a moment of awkward silence, and then Coolidge filled her in. “Nooo!” Garner shrieked in response. But before she could pepper Coolidge with follow-ups, the more formal discussion between the two and their fellow performers — Dominique Fishback (Swarm), Melanie Lynskey (Yellowjackets, The Last of Us), Emma D’Arcy (House of the Dragon) and Claire Danes (Fleishman Is in Trouble) — began. Over the course of an hour, the sextet got candid about navigating the Hollywood system, paparazzi cameras and gender norms.
If a fan approaches you on the street, what do you typically hear?
EMMA D’ARCY I get asked if I’m me because I look quite different in real life, which actually presents a possible out because there’s a temptation to say, “No, but I get that all the time.”
Emma, I was sure you were going to say something about a Negroni [after their drink of choice became a meme]. How often do you have people buying you one, and have you reached the point where you’d just prefer a beer?
D’ARCY I got sent a lot and you know, it makes a lovely gift. (Laughter.) But there was a period where I was desperate for a lager.
Emma, you were signing on to one of TV’s biggest franchises — did that give you any pause?
D’ARCY I wrote a pros and cons list during the auditions process. The big one on the cons list was loss of anonymity, but probably that was a way of writing self-hate or something. Then I auditioned [via self-tape] for three months during the pandemic after losing a year of work, so in some ways, I think my hands were tied. Halfway through the process, the then-showrunner, Miguel Sapochnik, called to ask me if I owned a wig. A proper person would’ve asked someone who does hair for advice.
Oh no, what did you do?
D’ARCY I had a bag of hair in my color from another job, and me and my partner, we literally stuck it to my head, which took about two hours every time I self-taped.
FISHBACK Oh, gosh.
D’ARCY At the end of that, I did a four-hour in-person audition, and then I didn’t hear anything.
COOLIDGE How does a four-hour audition go? I’ve never had an audition more than five minutes.
D’ARCY I feel like, by the end of three months, I had taped every scene in the show. Because they took a punt on me, I guess, in that I couldn’t bring an audience. I just remember that it was good for a while and then it was awful. And then after a few hours, they said, “Great, you can go home and get drunk, we’ll be in touch.” Then Miguel came up behind me and put his hands on my shoulders and said, “Can we do one more?”
D’ARCY It was the virtuosic performance of my life. And they got me to tape [as the character] across the series, even though I’d only play the older character.
LYNSKEY What was that about?
D’ARCY Maybe I just come across really old and they wanted to know whether or not that you could believe this person was ever young? I don’t know …
DANES Oh, I’ve been a grandma forever.
Emma, did you get any advice from Game of Thrones actors on how to navigate the world you’ve entered?
D’ARCY I spoke to Emilia Clarke before I started shooting, and she was beautiful and so generous.
What did she tell you?
D’ARCY Loads of stuff, which honestly, I’m going to keep for myself. I’m also very lucky. That wig is a blessing; people don’t recognize me, so my day-to-day is broadly unchanged, which I feel very grateful for, not least because, and maybe this is also a question, I feel that the ability to observe others and not be the observed is so fundamentally important to our job. I guess I’ve just really worried about that.
Melanie, you engage online with a lot of people who have wonderful things to say, but also the trolls who don’t. Does doing so ever feel masochistic?
LYNSKEY Yes! (Laughter.) But I’ve been relatively anonymous for 30 years of my career, so it’s been very hard to get used to people paying attention to anything I say. I was in group therapy for five years. I’m a person who … I don’t know how to make small talk. I only know how to connect. And I have a lot of respect for writers and journalists, so when I’m sitting down with somebody, I want to connect. I’m finding it very hard to get the balance right of not being too forthcoming because you’re not in control of how things get spun off. And there are headlines where you’re like, “Well, that’s not actually the thing that I said. That’s so far removed from the point I was trying to make.” And I desperately wanted to recontrol it, and you just can’t, I’m learning now. I also was bullied as a child. We moved a lot, and I was very, very shy and very weird, if I’m being honest. So, I have a hard time now with bullies. And there are a lot of bullies on the internet, and I don’t want to talk about it specifically, but it’s hard for me sometimes to not just say, “I actually have a voice now.”
D’ARCY It’s interesting you’re saying that because as soon as the show came out, I felt like I was back in the playground. I had this bizarre hyper-visibility, paranoia and this type of sociability that I found very difficult to reckon.
FISHBACK Because you knew that it was going to happen, did you find ways to prepare before? This is small, but last summer I was in Brooklyn, where I’m from, and I decided to ride the train all summer just because I didn’t know, like, what I might miss if this were to change.
D’ARCY For me, the new reality arrives before I have the tools for it every time. And every time, I’m just proved really naive and I go, “No, this was predictable.”
Emma, you’ve said you felt pressure to “present as a woman in order to find success in this industry. It wasn’t sustainable. And I stopped pretending.” And at that point, you started to find real success. What was the feedback before and how has it changed?
D’ARCY I was very lucky because I’m aware that it could have gone the other way. I got an agent, which is what I thought I was supposed to have done, and then I panicked that I duped him because I’d grown my hair to look more like a girl so I could be an actor. And then as soon as I had an agent, I thought, “I don’t know how to live like this. Am I going to do this forever? Can I even get a job if I don’t look like this?” After about a year, I just thought, “You know what, I’ll just cut my hair and I’ll feel better.” I was running a theater company, so I was busy, just not paid. But then I got this stage job where I was paid, like, $480 a week, and it was just amazing. And it was straight after and I’d never told my agent that I now looked radically different.
What was the agent’s response?
D’ARCY By that point, it was fine because I had a job. And I think he only found out when photos of the cast came out.
D’ARCY But I’m very lucky. He’s a beautiful person and he gets it. I guess I just realized that it was fundamental to be able to live in the gaps. I, too, was bullied to pieces — I just didn’t exist well, so I was a good target. And I spent a lot of time wondering how other people were managing it, and then I did a play at school and discovered that there was incredible freedom in being somebody else. But there’s loads of other time [when you’re not acting], and, yeah, I probably felt more comfortable [when I stopped presenting as someone I wasn’t] and so I probably was better at my job and better in auditions and better at the interstices of the role of an actor, which mostly aren’t being onstage and doing the thing.
Written by Lacey Rose
Published June 22, 2023