Abigail Spencer Says We Need The Mothers Behind The Camera
Photographed by Danielle Kosann
Abigail Spencer – star of Hulu’s upcoming Reprisal – talks Funny Girl, getting behind the camera, and her dream dinner guests…
*Photographed at The Jane Hotel
From start to finish what would be your ideal food day?
I have A LOT of ideal food days. Today in LA I’m feeling: Joan’s On Third scrambled eggs and toast, with crispy bacon for breakfast and a Go Get’ Em New Jersey on wheels. After a long hike, Gracias Madre chips and guacamole, brussels sprouts and purista margaritas. Then after more moving, for dinner, Crispy Rice with Spicy Tuna and baked crab rolls from Katsuya, with Mcconnell’s Cookies and Cream/Peanut Butter Crunch ice cream and chocolate chip cookies for dessert.
In NYC: I love a green Juice Generation juice, catching The Class, getting a croissant and a blue bottle iced almond milk latte and then running around the city. Then ending up at Morandi for an early dinner of rosé, grilled artichoke and their spaghetti a limone. Magnifique.
How do you practice beauty from the inside out?
I’ve always considered beauty to be a way. A way of being. A way within the way. In the kindness of a gesture. Something that you happen upon when no one is watching. I’m constantly asking for help from above for gratitude, humor and a gentle spirit. Meditating. Listening. Singing. Dancing. Laughing maybe the most.
What are your morning and nightly beauty routines?
Morning: I have an eleven-year-old son and after I pry myself from bed and stumble out the door to get him to school on time, I usually engage in a little blue bottle iced almond milk latte/celery juice/journaling time. Then I try and get myself to Pilates first thing. I’m a morning worker-outer. It’s very difficult for me to work out past a certain time of day. I find it connects me to my breath and body right away. If I’m shooting, I try and do the same thing before I go to set, but I’ll incorporate a skin routine of Joanna Vargas, Vitamin C and LED light pre-shoot ritual. If I’m in NYC for press, I try and get to Joanna Vargas for a tune up: facial, light bed and a higher dose, plus an array of Nexus Pilates, CRF or Forward Space in the morning and do the same get ready situation: coffee/juice/work out/wash up before the day begins.
At night, washing my face and brushing my teeth is a huge win for me. I’m so bad at the nightly routine! Also, ending the day talking or watching movies or singing and playing guitar and being with my beau is the best beauty routine there is…
What were you always insecure about growing up, and how did you overcome it?
How much hair I had on my legs and arms. My mother wouldn’t let me shave my legs until middle school. I had dark, coarse hair. I felt like Bigfoot or Chewbacca. So friendly, but misunderstood, y’,know? Then I shaved my legs and all was well again. But then…when I got my first acting job on All My Children and saw myself on camera for the first time when I was 17, my arms looked three times bigger than in person. It was like a hairy halo everywhere my arms would go. So then I started shaving my arms. And they looked normal again. I think I’m finally over it. I think.
What movie had the biggest effect on you and why?
Funny Girl. I’ll never forget my mother showing me the triple crown performance. A woman who was funny. Sang her head off. Vulnerable. It’s a perfect movie. And made me want to be an actor. Made it seem possible.
The Wizard of Oz. Somewhere Over The Rainbow was the first song I learned. The kiddos used to gather round on the black top in kindergarten to hear me sing it.
Three Amigos. My brothers and I watched this movie no less than 47 times. It’s a perfect comedy. I think everything I think about comedy came from this film.
What made you want to start producing and creating your own film and tv projects?
I started my acting career at 17 and moved to NYC for my first professional job. And the first ten years, I worked, but it was tough. And erratic. I never felt fully right for the roles that were called for my age. I was often cast much older than I actually was. I found people wanted me to be ingenue. The way I looked and felt wasn’t matching up to the roles they were casting. In fact, I had an acting teacher AND a casting director say I wouldn’t really start to work until my late 20’s… and they were right. But I grew tired of waiting by the phone. That’s never been my jam. So I started writing. I co-wrote a pilot I sold with my friend Lauren Miller. I wrote a feature I still intend to make. And I had my son at 27… and simultaneously had this creative surge. Then, oddly enough, the phone started ringing. I was cast in Mad Men and people started to see my work. Here I am, this new mother and much more tethered to him and less concerned with my career, and I was getting opportunities to expand in projects that I had longed for. It felt like my insides and outsides were matching up a bit more. I had also been through a lot. My father died. A divorce. All before 30. I had more to say, give and feel. I was looking for quality over quantity. And just saying yes to what moved me. And lucky to catch the wave in television because that’s where the juicy female parts are. When I had time off, I’d get my friends together and say “let’s make something!”. I think because I didn’t end up getting to go to film or theatre school as I had originally intended, I longed to be a part of the group and to understand this art of storytelling from every angle. I have a lot more stories to tell inside me than my exterior can provide. I produced two shorts “Here and Now” and “Winter Light” that ended up being on the Oscar short list while I was acting on Rectify. And now I’m producing my first feature with my longtime friend Duke Johnson through our production company Innerlight Films. I love supporting artists. As I get to continue to act, I’m feeling more and more pulled behind the scenes. I just love it. And we need the mothers behind the camera.
Who would you like to collaborate with that you haven’t yet?
Julia Roberts. Amal Har’el. Diane Keaton. Meryl. Clint Eastwood. Paul Thomas Anderson. Sia. Ryan Heffington. Ashley Longshore. Kristen Wiig. Kate McKinnon. The entirety of SNL. Tony Kushner. Spielberg. Taffy Brodesser-Akner. Soderbergh. Yorgos Lanthimos. Roger Deakins. My boyfriend. So many artists!
What’s the worst advice you’ve ever received? The best?
Worst: When I was 24 and the lead of my first show that was on the air, I got some really bad advice from a producer I was working with. He said an actress and star should only be seen as lovely and never cause any trouble. Every single thing in my body said this was wrong and oppressive. Basically, he said my job was to be seen and not heard. I have not listened to it.
The best advice: my mother telling me not to let anyone touch my eyebrows.
Is there an issue right now you’re most passionate about? What is it and why?
DV Leap. They are at the forefront of changing the laws and the systemic issues of violence against women in DC. If we can’t change our laws, we can’t truly change the system of oppression of which we live under. In awe of their work!
If you could host a dinner party with any five people living or dead, who would be there and why?
Katherine Hepburn. Audrey Hepburn. Barbra Streisand. Judy Garland. Meryl Streep. The greats. I think it would be a HOOT. And I want THE SCOOP!
If you could put a quote on a tee shirt to sum up your current mood and mode, what would it be?
I look better in person.