Pop-Culturalist Chats with Annika Marks
Annika Marks is hardworking and talented—a winning combination for Hollywood. Not only is she an actress, but she is also a writer and a producer. She creates her own original content and acts in things like the popular TV show The Fosters and the new show The Last Tycoon. Needless to say, we were excited to chat with Annika about all the work she’s done and what she hopes to do in the future.
P-C: Tell us about The Last Tycoon and how you got involved with the project.
Annika: The Last Tycoon is based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s final unfinished novel and takes place in 1936 Hollywood. The characters of Monroe Stahr, the golden boy executive, and Pat Brady, the studio head, are loosely based on Irving Thalberg and Louis B. Mayer. I’ve known Chris Keyser, who partnered with Billy Ray to run The Last Tycoon for over 10 years, and he initially brought me in to read for Kay Maloney, the sole female writer at Brady-American Pictures. I met Billy Ray at that session. They hired the brilliant team at Bialy/Thomas to cast this project and together they created the safest audition environment imaginable. I felt so nurtured, respected and loved in that room—and once I was on set I realized that every actor who read for Billy had the exact same experience. They cast the incomparable Kerry O’Malley for Kay and I was lucky to have them reconsider me for the role of Bernadette Davis, the wife of Dex Davis, another writer on the lot. Dex is also Minna Davis’s (Monroe’s deceased wife) brother, so the role came along with a complicated history, and I couldn’t have been more thrilled to get the call!
P-C: Were you familiar with the source material prior to your audition?
Annika: I was familiar with the material. I had a Fitzgerald obsessed phase when I was younger. But I revisited the novel during the pilot and was shocked at how little I remembered. It’s a really interesting read because it was unfinished, and you get this insight into Fitzgerald’s mind sifting through his notes. It’s an intimate read that way and makes for a beautiful, creative adaptation. I think Billy and Chris did a tremendous job of honoring the text while also imagining the world surrounding it and extending from it.
P-C: How do you get in the head shape of a character who experiences a huge personal tragedy with her husband? How does that affect your character throughout the series?
Annika: The pilot was tough, but tough for an actor is also exciting because being challenged is imperative to continuing to grow. There’s nothing that scares me more than artistic complacency. I had lost someone close to me a couple months before and, although it wasn’t my romantic partner, the finality of it was very present for me. I was able to tap into that without having to reach for it. I was more concerned with bringing all of Bernadette’s circumstances to set with me—her husband (who she knew was frustrated, but didn’t realize was suicidal) killed himself, she hasn’t slept and then she’s discovered he’d been abusing drugs and there was no way Monroe was unaware—the anger, the grief, the hysteria, the refusal to imagine that I could be part of it, and the need to blame someone. I was trying to hold all of that in my head and in my heart and the longer we shot that scene for, the more dehydrated and exhausted I was, the bigger headache I had. That all made the scene easier because that’s how she feels. I also had the honor of working with Matt Bomer—who I can’t say enough amazing things about. He is so generous and so present. And Billy Ray was directing, who is the most loving, passionate, inspiring leader imaginable. So, I was very lucky to be doing vulnerable work in a very safe and creatively full space.
Bernadette’s journey is about empowerment. I don’t want to give too much away, but she’s been hiding behind her husband and suddenly she has to stand on her own two feet. She needs to support herself, it’s the middle of the Depression and all of her plans for her life are upended. She misses Dex terribly, but in his absence she has an opportunity to come out of the shadows in a way. I was thrilled when I learned more about her story.
P-C: If you could pick one book to adapt for television, besides The Last Tycoon, what would it be and who would you play?
Annika: I just read “H is for Hawk,” and I think there’s an incredible adaptation of Helen MacDonald’s journey waiting to be made. I would love to play her. What an incredible story of grief and recovery in the hands of a bad-ass lady.
P-C: On The Fosters, your character, Monte, represents an often marginalized population. How has the fan reception been, and have you ever felt the pressure of playing her?
Annika: I couldn’t be more proud to be playing a bi-sexual woman on TV. It is still a terribly underrepresented population. Often the LGBTQ characters that exist on TV are one-dimensional and are defined by their sexual orientation. Monte is a dimensional, complicated woman—a smart business woman turned educator, a lady with some serious boundary issues who is trying to be better, a sincere person who’s sincerity sometimes works against her, and a woman who’s willing to reimagine her life in her 30s (which can be hard to do). I love playing her, and the fans have been incredible. Even though at first they hated me (that kiss…I know…I’ll never live it down!), they’ve embraced me completely. I love being part of The Fosters more than I can tell you. I am incredibly proud to be part of such progressive storytelling.
P-C: What is it like being a part of a series that has been on the air for so long?
Annika: It’s wonderful! I’m so lucky to be part of a long running show where the writers keep writing for me, and I’ve gotten to be part of a real TV family. It’s a dream come true.
P-C: What can you tease about your character this season?
Annika: Leave it to The Fosters writers to take on current events and write to keep up with the progressive messages we need. This season the education fight is real. There’s a threat to turn Anchor Beach (the charter school I’m the principal of), and we’re defending the rights of every student—no matter their socio-economic background—to get an excellent education. Again, I couldn’t be more proud!
P-C: You’ve also done work behind the screen by writing and producing your PSA web series. Is that something you’d like to explore more?
Annika: Yes absolutely! I wrote and co-directed a short film with my husband, Rich Newey, this past year called The Games We Play, and we’re on the film festival circuit with it right now. It’s been winning awards, and I’m so proud of it! We’re currently working on getting a feature made that I wrote called Killing Eleanor, using the same formula: Rich and I will co-direct, I’ll be in it, and Rich will edit. I love creating my own content. I’ve been writing for a long time and am finally empowering myself with opportunities to actually bring my ideas to life. It’s been incredibly rewarding!
Pop-Culturalist Speed Round
Guilty pleasure TV show or movie
Game of Thrones
I’m making a movie right now that’s an adaptation of The World Without You, and I’ve fallen in love with it. Ask me again in a month, and I’ll probably have a different answer, but, right now, definitely this one!
Favorite play or musical?
So hard to choose but I saw How I Learned to Drive at the Intiman Theatre in Seattle when I was a teenager, and it changed my life.
Go-to karaoke song?
I don’t do karaoke for everyone’s benefit!
Someone you’d like to meet someday?
So predictable, but Meryl Streep. Because of her work and her presence in this business. She inspires me in every way.
Photo Credit: Manfred Baumann