Stan (Brent Sexton) and Mitch Larsen (Michelle Forbes) prepare for their daughter's funeral in "The Killing." (AMC)
I thought of you when I read that "H.R. PufnStuf” was coming out on DVD.
I remember how you described The Mighty Boosh as "‘H.R. PufnStuf’ and glam rock on LSD and mushrooms.” So I thought of you. [Read "Michelle Forbes explores dark side in ‘Durham County’"]
I loved "H.R. Pufnstuf” as a kid! That’s probably what led me down sort
of my absurdist, surrealist aesthetic, as a matter of fact. You had the
big evil Witchiepoo. It didn’t scare kids; it was very funny. Yeah, it
was also very funny. I loved that show.
You in one of
those roles completely opposite of that right now. It’s funny because,
well, you’re fun. I’ve hung out with you; you’re fun. And we don’t see
that on the screen with you, ever. I guess Maryann had fun in her own
way, but nobody else thought that was fun.
Nobody else thought it was, boy yeah. [Laughs.] But I was having the time of my life.
It looked that way. I’ve seen some of "The Killing,” and wow. Gut-wrenching.
I haven’t seen any of it.
Well guess what? You’re really good in it.
[Laughs.] Well, if Curt says so.
How did you find it?
been looking for something completely antithetical to Maryann and when
this sort of found its way onto my lap one day, I just became obsessed
with Mitch and just felt that I had something to offer this woman in
inhabiting her and really looking—[laughs]. This sounds silly to say,
but hey, I guess there is a bit of a masochistic tendency in actors, I’m
discovering. ... It takes a very odd person, I suppose, to want to put
yourself in that position, to inhabit a soul who is in such deep grief
and bereavement and to sit in it for five months is, as I’m nearing the
end of it, I’m looking back and thinking, "This is a very odd way to
earn a living.”
And having been through it on "Durham County,” you’d think I would
have learned my lesson, but this was so different to Pen even, that I
really wanted to play someone who was an every woman. And how something
that is this brutal and heinous and random, how it affects not only her
in her grief, but her family. How the family fragments after this event.
How it affects each of them differently and how everyone grieves
Right. She seems such a force and confident and a no BS type of gal early on, then she completely shuts down. It’s shocking.
and I think that’s something that I was somewhat aware of and what I
wanted to do. But you still don’t know exactly what’s coming down the
pike. I think what’s been interesting for me playing Mitch is [that] we
all have these ideas of ourselves and how we will behave in certain
situations, [like] being, perhaps, a victim of random violence yourself,
or how you’ll be when you experience loss. And I think no one is more
surprised than Mitch at her inability to really continue functioning.
She’s someone who has always thought of herself as being capable and
is the matriarch of this family and has held this family together
against all odds. And I think in her own mind she’s rather formidable
and I think when this platelet shift happens in her life, she’s really
struggling for, not consciously, but she’s really struggling for her own
identity again because she’s become somebody she doesn’t recognize
herself. And it’s no more surprising to her than it is to anyone else,
which is an interesting thing.We talked about how in
"Durham County,” playing Pen, it was sort of the exploration of female
rage. Is this role sort of the exploration of grief?
think what’s interesting about Pen for me was that it was grief coupled
with the fracturing of her soul and her mind on top of it. I would
almost say that that role was more difficult because it was so, Laurie’s
writing, it was so tricky in what she was trying to convey. And to
carry that rage and that grief and that self-loathing was incredibly
hard. And I think in this, it is just very straightforward grief. And
that’s difficult in its own right, challenging in its own right.
are certainly cinematic similarities in the sense that it is very
broody, and I think the pace is slower. And I think that once you get
outside of America—because this is adapted from a Danish series—like a
lot of the BBC copper shows, the pace tends to be a lot slower. There’s a
Swedish show called "Wallander” which, again, is very cinematic and
it’s a much slower paced. And "Durham County” was the same. You can
really focus on telling a deeper, richer story when you’re telling a
story over say, 13 episodes or six episodes and you’re not having to
sort of fill in 22 hours.Right. I really want to ask you if she snaps out of it and comes back into her own, but I also don’t want to know that.
It’s a journey. I think like anyone experiencing bereavement, you’re in
and out of it. And what’s interesting for me, what I really was hoping
to explore and wanted to explore was the different ways in which we
grieve. And sometimes within a family or within two people, the rhythms
are different. That can cause conflict and confusion when everyone’s
sort of in shock. And there are still children to take care of and
businesses to run and you must deal with everyday life, and yet, who
functions and who doesn’t and does that change as time goes on. Everyone
has their own rhythm and their own grief. And that’s why, I mean, in
life I think, at every moment we’re constantly assessing and judging
each other to some degree.
But in the world of bereavement and
grief, I would never have an ounce of judgment in how anyone goes about
it because we’re all just such different animals.Is it cathartic, I guess, to be able to let that kind of stuff loose?
I mean, once you’ve done it, it’s good to get it out of your system.
Once you’ve sat there for X amount of months with these images in your
head and start imagining what this woman is going through to finally get
out onto the stage and sort of get it out of your system, release it,
is… that’s a relief, absolutely.And you do sort of live with that for a while before you do it? You think about it? You do a lot of prep in that way?
sure. Sure. I mean, you end up sleeping and breathing it. You just have
to make your imaginary world your first world. And make those images
and those spells real to you and by the time you get to set, you’re just
[laughs] you’re ready to expel it and get onto the next thing. And
that’s why I think "Durham County” took a toll on me physically as well,
but that was just three months. This has been five months. You just
don’t realize the toll that it takes on your body, carrying this grief. I
mean, not to sound like a sissy, but after a while when your shoulders
are up around your ears and your stomach is sort of in pain, yeah, after
about four months of that, you’re like, "Oh heavens. When’s the end of
the schedule? I want to go back to watching ‘HR Pufnstuff!’”It’s
tough to watch; I can’t imagine your end of it. So what is your way to
decompress? Do you go kick a tire? Do you find as much laughter as you
You know, for me, it’s always about laughter. "The
Mighty Boosh” got me through "Durham County,” and for this one I found
that I went high farce and I watched both seasons of "Fawlty Towers.”
And I’ve watched every season of "Strangers with Candy.”Oh, that’s great.
where I went. I think that’s what I need to just sort of pull myself
back into that sort of like that high, absurdist humor. And there’s
also, if you don’t know about this duo, you should: "Mitchell and Webb.”Oh yeah, yeah.
British comedy duo. Yeah, right? And "Peep Show,” I was watching some
of them. I was watching "Peep Show” on You Tube. I think the danger is
that you can flip too far into it [the character]. I’m not a method
actor, trust me. But it has a way of just seeping in and before you know
it, your shoulders are still up around your ears but it’s a beautiful
Saturday afternoon. [Laughs.] So yes, I lean toward farcical and
absurdist humor.You really like that British stuff, don’t you?
would say that I probably the only person who knows more about British
comedy history than me is Scott Adsit. [Laughs.] It’s impressive, how
much he knows.These days what role are you most recognized for?
would say these days, Maryann. I think ["True Blood”] just had such a
massive audience and it’s still on the air. I think it was such a
fantastical, over-the-top character as well. I would say these days,
that one.You haven’t really been series regular in a
long time. You’ve been on for a season, but not forever, so to speak. Do
you prefer not to be?
Yeah. I think I have a commitment
issue. [Laughs.] I really do have that gypsy heart and I’m always
anxious to get onto the next story.
It’s gotten better. I think
as television writing has gotten better and the stories have gotten
better, I’m less terrified of signing on for a seven-year contract, but
there’s something just terrifying about being attached to a show, to one
story, not to a show in particular, but to a story for seven years.
It’s a marriage.
I tend to be a bit restless by nature, so I
like to sort of go and explore all of these different worlds. I mean, to
play a psycho admiral in space ["Battlestar Galactica: Razor”] and a
frustrated housewife on "In Treatment,” and you know, a pagan sex
goddess who has claws. [Laughs.] Yes, I feel very fortunate to jump in
and out of all these different things and just keep switching it up.I mentioned on Twitter that I was talking to you and some of the responses I got were: "Don’t accept any of her pies.”
[Laughs.]"Don’t bring extra towels” and "her performances are always high quality” and "one of my top 10 favorite actresses.”
Oh, that’s so sweet.You do these one-season parts and have all these fans, which is great.
Well, I’ve just been really fortunate to land in all these really great shows, too.Thanks
again for talking and maybe I guess this isn’t the kind of show that
would be at Comic-Con, but who knows, maybe we’ll see each other again
[Laughs.] Yeah, probably not. Maybe at Murder-Con
or something. But I’ll tell you what, when we finish the season, I’m
going to be ordering that "H.R. Pufnstuf” DVD immediately.