Michelle Forbes Makes a 'Killing' as a Character Actor
By Jenelle Riley
May 30, 2011
Photo by AMC
In her varied career, Michelle Forbes has played her share of
authority figures. From a tough medical examiner ("Homicide: Life
on the Street") to a presidential aide ("24") to a space admiral
("Battlestar Galactica"), steely determination comes easy to the
Austin, Texas, native. But on AMC's mystery procedural "The
Killing," Forbes plays Mitch Larsen, the grieving working-class
mother to a murdered teenage girl. It's the type of role that has
evaded Forbes until this point. Asked why she's never cast in such
parts, Forbes says with a laugh, "I think it's the eyebrows."
Indeed, her exotic beauty has made her a natural for roles as
wide-ranging as a Bajoran alien in "Star Trek: The Next Generation"
and, most recently, on "True Blood" as a magical creature that
seduces the entire town. "I'm tall and I have a deep voice," Forbes
continues. "So I get cast as a lot of authoritative, upper-class
people. This was a welcome change."
Other facts about the versatile actor:
1. Mitch wasn't the only role she was considered for.
Casting directors Libby Goldstein and Junie Lowry-Johnson
originally told Forbes to look at two roles; in addition to Mitch,
they wanted her to consider Sarah, the female cop heading the
investigation. Though Sarah was the lead role, Forbes responded to
Mitch. "I could not get Mitch out of my head," she says. "I'd been
looking, maybe even on a subconscious level, to play a
working-class mother, for some time. I don't often get cast in
those roles. Also, I was coming off of 'True Blood,' where I played
a sex-mad seductress, and I always like my next job to be
different. And this story fell into my lap."
2. She embraces the nomadic lifestyle of an actor.
Because "The Killing" focuses on one crime for the season, the odds
are good that Mitch won't return for a second season, unless the
case isn't solved by the finale. But Forbes has a habit of joining
shows for shorter runs: She played a patient on the freshman season
of "In Treatment" and knew when she signed on to "True Blood" it
would only be for a limited time. In addition, she turned down the
opportunity to reprise her "Star Trek" character in the spinoff
"Deep Space Nine." Says Forbes, "I'm usually quite happy to move on
to the next project, even when it's an extraordinary group of
people. I just enjoy my freedom so much, and I'm always excited to
move on to the next project. I've always wanted the career of a
character actor and the freedom to play as many different
characters as possible."
3. She landed her first agent at age 16.
As a teenager, Forbes attended a performing arts high school in
Houston. But her big break came while she was visiting her elder
sister in New York. "Honestly, it was so long ago, I can't even
remember how it all happened," she says. "I was talking to somebody
at a party, and they introduced me to another person, and it went
on and on, and before I knew it, I wound up in the office of a guy
named Leo Bookman at William Morris, and he was talking about me
moving to New York." A few weeks later, Forbes made the move to the
city, but work didn't come immediately. She spent a few years
"living on couches and floors and staying in crazy lofts on the
Lower East Side" and waitressing before she landed the dual roles
of Solita Carrera and Sonni Carrera Lewis on "Guiding Light" at 22.
4. In her first film role, she starred opposite Brad
Forbes played a photographer involved with David Duchovny in the
1993 thriller "Kalifornia," in which the pair find themselves on
the road trip from hell with a strange couple, played by Brad Pitt
and Juliette Lewis. Forbes says it was evident to everyone on the
film that Pitt had a bright future. "There was just something
extremely special about him," she recalls. "And I think what I
always really admired about him is that he was being really pushed
into being that pretty-boy, leading-man guy, but he was all about
the work. He was an incredibly hard worker. He didn't care about
anything else. He didn't care about the fame; he didn't care about
all that nonsense. It really irritated him, as far as I recall. And
I really admired and respected that about him."
5. She's still learning new things about acting.
One of the reasons Forbes loves acting is that she's always making
new discoveries. "That's the most gorgeous thing about what we do,
is that it's bottomless," she says. "There's always something you
can learn about working with the camera, and how you fit into that
frame, and how you're fitting into that cinemagraphic language."
She adds that she particularly enjoys working with children and
nonactors. "Then, you really learn something. On 'Homicide,' they
used a lot of nonactors, and it was amazing to watch them do it for
the first time and not bring any of that intellect to it—to just
play pretend. And they're actually more open and less cynical than
a lot of actors who've been around for a long time."
– Other films include "Swimming With Sharks," "Escape From L.A.,"
– Received a Daytime Emmy Award nomination for her work on "Guiding
Light" in 1990
– Cites casting directors Libby Goldstein and Junie Lowry-Johnson
(who cast her in "The Killing") as longtime supporters through her
career. Among the shows they've cast her on: "Star Trek," "In
Treatment," and "True Blood."
Michelle Forbes on Her Most Difficult Roles
"They're all difficult in different ways. The format of 'In
Treatment' was stressful; we didn't know if it would work. Two
people sitting in a room and having to learn 26 pages of dialogue
with no rehearsal, all in close-up—that was terrifying. 'The
Killing' has been difficult because of the relentlessness of the
grief involved. And 'True Blood' was extraordinarily difficult in
the sense that when someone tells you you're going to seduce an
entire town and be completely blissful with no attachments to
violence and death—well, that was probably the most terrifying.
It's easy, as humans, to tap into grief and suffering and loss—we
understand that. If you ask anybody if they really want to be
happy, they'll tell you they will. But if you offer it to them,
they wouldn't know what to do with it."