Part of our ongoing series of Book-It interviews conducted by TeenTix writers.
Rachel Lam, Book-It TeenTix Writing Project Contributor, interviewed actor Emily Grogan back in September, as she was preparing to begin the rehearsal process for Anna.
What started you in acting?
I started acting when I was seven years old. My family had just moved to Arizona and I had no friends yet, as it was during the summer. My mother took me to see The Sound of Music at a local community theater company. There were lots of kids in the cast and I remember thinking, “That’s what I want to do.” I started taking classes with the group and took them twice a week for seven years. I eventually went to Cornish where I really learned the craft of acting.
What about the play, Anna Karenina, interests/interested you?
Anna Karenina is interesting to me for many reasons—as a great work of fiction, as a glimpse into Russia and Russian society at that time, as a real look at the plight of women in that society. And also as a great human story—how we struggle to fit in and play by the rules versus our own passions, interests, and desires.
You will be playing the title role in the play, correct? Tell me about her.
Anna is a woman born into high society. She has all of the expectations of women at that time—to be obedient, to marry well, to raise children and to represent their husbands well. She has a soul (like we all have) that is tugging at her and causing her to feel pulled to a deeper life filled with real love, poetry, and truth. Her husband is kind but he doesn’t see her for who she is. She struggles with depression and anger at the life she is obliged to lead. She has an eight year old son whom she adores—he’s her real passion. But, she has no control over how her son is raised, how much time she can spend with him and indeed even if she can tell him a story not from the Bible. She is described in the book as “complex and full of poetry” so a dull, contained life is actually painful to her. But, she wants to be “good”—she despairs that she has these feelings and desperately wishes that she could be happy in the life she is expected to live.
Are you excited to play Anna Karenina? Why?
I’m very excited to play Anna because she is in such a state of internal struggle and I feel such complete compassion for what she is going through. As an actress to get to play all of those big, bold colors—all of the conflict and desire and joy and pain—is very satisfying and challenging, which is very exciting for me to take on.
You’ve acted in many plays before (Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, The Cider House Rules, and Sense and Sensibility, to name a few) how do you think Anna Karenina will measure up to them?
Every play has its own world and its own challenges, some I like more than others. I’m hugely excited to get to explore Russia, and this huge, beautiful story. I like period plays especially—anything that sends me back in time, I love. Playing Anna will be a big physical challenge as I will be onstage almost the whole time. So, I think this play will go down as one of my absolute favorites—I think I can say that even before we have begun.
Will any of your previous roles (Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, Roxanne in Cyrano de Bergerac, Jane in Sense and Sensibility, and any others I haven’t named) assist in playing Anna Karenina? Is there one character that can relate better with Anna than any other, or you?
Probably every role I’ve played will serve me in some way in playing Anna. Candy in Cider House leaps to mind because of the love triangle in that story. The challenge with Candy was to accurately track her emotional decision making process in a way that the audience could understand her choices even if they wished she hadn’t made them. That was a big challenge—some people still judged Candy and I had to accept that and keep playing her with all of the compassion I felt for her. I think Anna may challenge the audience in the same way; she chooses passion and truth over her duty to her husband. She leaves him for Count Vronsky and, hardest of all to accept, she leaves her eight year old son! It destroys her, and I believe that its people’s judgment that kills her. So getting the audience to identify with her and to feel for her is the great challenge of the part.
What challenges in Anna’s life are similar to ones you’ve had to overcome?
I identify with Anna’s need to live truthfully. I identify with her intense love for her child (I have a nine year old son and a five year old son). I understand her need to express herself and some of the guilt that comes with needing to be fulfilled as a human being and that coming in conflict with duty to family.
Are there similarities between your two personalities?
I think Anna struggles with guilt for being the passionate person that she is. I have always been passionate about acting and I sometimes put it above other things and I struggle with that guilt. I identify with Anna’s feeling of duty being in conflict with her own desires (but nowhere near on the level that she does!)
What are the differences between Anna and you?
Well, thankfully, I don’t live in the times she lived in. She has nothing, everything is owned by her husband, and she is treated like a child. She has no freedom to pursue a career or even read the books she would like to read. I have choices, lots and lots of choices!
Are there any challenges you perceive could occur as you begin to study the role and novel?
As I said before, I think the biggest challenge is laying out for the audiences the tragic conflict that lies in Anna’s heart, her deep, deep pain at losing her son, and what a victim she is to the times she lives in and her gender.
Is there anything else you wish to say about yourself, your character, or Anna Karenina?
These were great questions—I feel like answering them was an important part of my process of researching and rehearsing the role—thank you!
Emily has acted in more than 10 shows with Book-It Repertory Theatre. She is a graduate of Cornish College of the Arts. Up next, she will play the title role in Anna Karenina, opening at Book-It February 5th.