Photos by Courtney Beckett
At SXSW this year, Paste editors met Jamie Anne Allman of AMC’s The Killing and her husband Marshall Allman of True Blood and Justified (and this week’s film Blue Like Jazz). We’re big fans of both of their work, and soon found out they loved Paste too. We interviewed Marshall about Blue Like Jazz (you’ll be able to see that interview in this week’s mPlayer feature), and set a date for an interview with Jamie about the second season of The Killing (which continues tonight). Scheduling proved difficult, but the couple were kind enough to take our call the morning of Jamie’s birthday as they lounged in bed, telling war stories about Jamie’s career. Here are some highlights from the conversation:
Let’s start back in Kansas. Tell me about where you grew up and what that was like.
Jamie Anne Allman: I grew up on a farm. It was on the border of Oklahoma and Kansas.
Did you act growing up?
Jamie: No, I didn’t really act in plays or anything like that. I think I did one but people in Kansas never really left to go pursue acting. So it wasn’t really a reality. Now I did perform — I was the jokester class clown. But I didn’t take classes or anything like that.
Did you want that?
Jamie: No, it wasn’t like a dream of mine. Although I’ve talked about it with some people from my childhood and they’re like, “You talked about it! And now you’re doing it!” And I’m like, “I did?” (laughs)
So when did you discover acting?
Jamie: I came out to California to live with my mom in Orange County for a while, and then I came up to Hollywood. I had just turned nineteen. I took an acting class at Playhouse West and decided, “Wow, I think I can do this!” I studied really hard for three years before I got an agent. It took me about a year before I booked a job, and then after that I was off to the races.
What was your first role?
Jamie: I think my first guest star role was on a show called The Beast that got canceled. Then it was The Fugitivee It was so weird because I was twenty-two and I had to play a Parkinson’s patient.
Jamie: I’ve always played way older than my age. It’s the experience behind my eyes, or something. Actually it was originally an MS patient, and then when I got to Seattle to shoot it they were like, “Oh you’re going to be our Parkinson’s patient!” I’d been meeting with multiple sclerosis patients, talking to them and interviewing them and reading books. But what’s crazy is, when I was auditioning and I was researching all this stuff, I called my Mom and said, “Mom, all these problems that you say you’re having are exactly this, what I’m researching right now for my part.” So she went to the doctor and was diagnosed with MS. It’s in remission now, but it was crazy.
Paste: Who says that art doesn’t accomplish any good in real life, right?
Jamie: Exactly! I did a lot of guest jobs on different things. And then there was The Shield. An amazing opportunity.
One of the great shows of all time, and you were so memorable in it. How did you snag the part?
Jamie: I’m so glad asked me how I got it. Sometimes it’s kind of hard to audition for things because you go in as the character, and I auditioned like that for The Shield. I went in as Connie, a crack-addicted ho off the street. I looked like Connie, I acted like Connie — I acted as if I didn’t even know how to audition. My hair was disgusting and all wet and nasty. I had red under my eyes and I had to make dark circles under my eyes even more. I made it look like red around my nose so it looked like I was doing drugs. I looked horrible. I had these Candies’ shoes on, I had my boobs knocked up to my nose, and it completely looked like I was just off the street. I was getting stares. People were looking at me like I was a ho in there trying to audition. (laughs) And I just went in and acted as if I didn’t know what was going on. They were like, “Uhhhh…just stand over….there. And uhh, over there you know and audition.” And I did.
Was it really intense playing that part? It seems like it would be.
Jamie: Yeah, as soon as I walked on set, I was in the zone, and preparing for Connie. In a way I didn’t get to meet a lot of people because I was in that zone. I didn’t become friends with people and stuff as much, because I was totally in Connie zone.
Marshall Allman: You Daniel-Day Lewis’d it.
You’re much prettier than Daniel-Day Lewis, Jamie.
Jamie: (laughs) It was crazy though, because originally I was just going to be in the pilot. Just one little guest star role for the pilot, that’s it. And then they were like “Oh, you’re back again.” I was like, “Oh ok.” and then they were like, “Oh, you’re back again.” And I was like, “Whaaat? I guess I’m going back on this show a lot.” Then they were like, “You’re giving away your baby. You’re getting raped. And your neck is getting sliced. And now you’re on heroin. And now you’re on crack.” And I’m like, “What the hell?” It’s almost like the part makes you step up. to a higher level. Like okay, I’ll do this.
So in the interim between The Shield and The Killing, you did a lot of parts, but maybe none of them as big as The Notebook.
Jamie: Yep, I went in and auditioned for this project and they put it on tape. I think they told me that I booked it three months later or something like that. And most times I don’t dwell on projects that I audition for, I just move onto the next one. So when I booked that I was like “Oh, The Notebook. Whatever, okay. I don’t know what this is.” So I looked at the script and I went to South Carolina. And everything seemed much bigger there I pretty much had no idea what I was a part of the whole time. I think this was Ryan Gosling’s break, and he was great to work with the whole time. Super cool. Down-to-earth. Great sense of humor. We had a great time hanging out and laughing a lot.
But you eventually realized this was a big deal, right?
Jamie: I didn’t really realize until the premiere. I was on the red carpet and everyone was flashing pictures and saying my name and I’m like, “What the hell?! What is going on?” I thought that this was just a little independent movie, because I hardly got paid for it. Everyone was like, “Jamie! Jamie! Jamie! Jamie Brown! Jamie Brown!” I didn’t even know how to stand in a dress. So all my pictures are my legs are just weird-looking. And I smiled the whole time. I never changed my facial expression. I thought that was what I had to do, because they wouldn’t stop taking pictures. And so, Marshall’s like, “Hey!” and I’m like “Shh! They’re taking pictures! Shh!” And I just kept that smile on and walked sideways, with my legs completely straight, the whole way down the carpet. (laughs) That’s a Kansas girl at heart right there. I did not know what was going on. And so I got in and watched the movie it was beautifully shot and I was like, “Whoa! This is an amazing movie!” And the director wanted me to stand up and said, “ Hollywood, this is Jamie Brown, if you don’t know her yet you’ll know her.” I loved playing Martha Shaw. It’s been a huge blessing because although I think had maybe three scenes in that movie, everyone remembers that part. I think everyone related to Martha; they felt for her. It was almost like I was the voice of the audience.
And then by contrast, I would assume that when you booked a primary part in a then-new AMC series called The Killing, I assume you knew this was going to be a big deal?
Jamie: Yes. This was my first series regular role. I’ve been doing guest stars and different parts in movies for a long time. I try to just be happy with what’s right in front with me at the moment. Sometimes it’s just the audition, even if I don’t book it, I know I’m building fans in the room. And it’s my role, for at least five minutes. I still didn’t know exactly what would happen with The Killing.. Because you still never know, even though it was AMC. But I found out later that AMC doesn’t take anything on if they’re not going to fully support it. They’re not going to get behind it no matter what. Which is pretty comforting.
Tell me about the writing on the show; I love how spare it is. I love how much it seems that the writers trust the actors. I think that if you took those same scripts and gave them to actors that weren’t very talented then the series wouldn’t work. It’s a series that really rests on the ability of remarkable actors to take often very spare dialogue and make it work. Make the empty space work. Is that intimidating as an actor?
Marshall: (talking to Jamie in background)
Jamie: Marshall’s the mediator here. He’s helping me understand.
He’s our translator!
Marshall: Yeah, kind of like the other day there was a line there where you had to make it work and make it full.
Jamie: Yeah, yeah, of course. You have to make it full and make it work. And work things out. And that’s what the director helps you with, and the other actors. I love working with Brent Sexton and Michelle Forbes. I feel like they’re both very open.
Marshall: Michael, she just naturally does what you’re talking about
Jamie: I do have to work on how I do it, and I have to prepare about how I feel about things and make them personal to me. What I want, if I have secrets, if I have jokes, how I feel about this person. There’s a lot for me to work with and strap on as far as how I feel and do all this preparation. The lines are there but there’s all this other stuff that’s beyond just that.
And is it harder knowing that there are things about this character that you don’t know yet? Like, you could be the killer for all you know.
Jamie: Yeah, I don’t know if it’s….it doesn’t make it hard, I guess. Because they have tracks synched pretty well. Like I didn’t know that I was an escort. But as time went along they have told me some things, and I have been able to ask questions about certain things. But there have been times when they have wanted me to go in a certain direction, like in that one scene, I’ll be like mmm I don’t know about this, I don’t know why this is happening, you’re going to have to tell me about this. And they really couldn’t. So I’ve just had to trust, and I did it two different ways. I was like okay, you know what, I’m doing it this way because it feels good to me. And then I did it another way. I have to do things that are honest and true about what I know. And then if it’s something else, I’m open to doing it their way but I have to make sure I’m also doing it my way.
That scene that we were just talking about, I’m glad that you brought that up, because that to me in a season of very chilling revelations, the way you played that scene was one of the most chilling moments of the whole first season. You played it so almost matter-of-factly. It was like “Yeah, it was for me to meet guys that bought me nice things and whatever.” The off-handedness with which you talked about it was really effective for me.
Jamie: Mhm. Yeah. You know, this is the middle of grief and despair for this family, and I try to steer away from being melodramatic. It’s like the story is there and it’s not like I have to freak out all of the time. I have to remember that this is a day-to-day-to-day show, you know what I mean? Episode one is day one, episode two is day two. So I have to be careful to stay with what’s realistic even though it’s been such a long time for the audience.
Speaking of not crying, I know that you and Marshall and I talked a little bit in Austin about how your great hidden talent was your comedic streak, and you get to have a little bit of wiseass humor in the show with the kids.
Jamie: Yeah I definitely was excited and I think I alluded even more to the writers that I wanted them to keep writing that. In a way I think Terry has kind of used her humor to cover up her vulnerability a bit more. And to, so instead of being hilarious, she’s just…I think she just does the wisecracking with the kids more than anybody else because I think the kids bring out that side of her that no one else does. She uses her humor to not have to deal with things, I think.
Yeah it’s almost like a safety mechanism, by using that humor she sort of retreats into the kids’ world rather than having to stay in the adults’ world and be responsible.
Jamie: Yeah it’s true. I feel like she relates more with being with kids and that whole world, she likes it there and wants to be there and wants that kind of life…like playing house more than anything else. And she doesn’t want to have to deal with all the other shit that’s going on.
Yeah, yeah, that makes sense.
Jamie: She has the shit with her sister being gone, she has Michael Ames who has completely broken her heart, and I feel like she loves very deeply. She is very open with how she feels and how she loves someone. Not with her family, of course, but with him, and she’s willing to go after him and not let go of him. And she has the family, now she’s stepping in as a mother, particularly. That’s all she’s ever wanted — kids, a husband — and now she’s getting that opportunity to do it. But we’re slowly finding out things as to whether or not she can even handle it, even though she’s given the opportunity.
It certainly seems from just the first two episodes that played on Sunday that your role is going to be expanding in Season Two. I don’t know how much of that you’re allowed to talk about. But are you looking forward to, I assume, being a bigger part of the story?
Jamie: I’m definitely a bigger part of the story. Mitch has left and I’m basically helping Stan run the house. Which of course makes my role bigger. And they dig into the relationship with Michael Ames, who is Jasper’s dad. Jasper has links with Rosie and everything. Then, we also get into some of the secrets that she has kept about Beau Soleil. And some more things are going to get revealed. She’s going to face repercussions for keeping Beau Soleil a secret. And there’s other things but I can’t elaborate on them.
Well, we’ll just have to keep watching to see.
Jamie: You’ll just have to keep tuning in!
Going back to the humor for just a second, do you want to go public with your stand-up plans?
Jamie: Go for it! I’m fleshing some stuff out but it’s really great. I’m really excited. I don’t care where I have to start; you’ll see me at a local open mike somewhere. Start there and see how it goes.
And you feel like because you play so many sort of intense, serious characters, maybe this is a side of you people haven’t seen as much.
Jamie: That’s the thing, when people know me as a person, this is how I am all the time. Even the people on set. The people on set are like, “You need to do stand-up. You are hilarious. Oh my god.” Or if you hang out with me. And when I first moved out here my friends and my family were like, “Oh that was really good. You did that drama. On that show. Yeah, when are you doing comedy??” Now years have gone by and they’re still like “Why are you doing drama?” I’m like, at this point, since I am good at drama people are skeptical that I can do comedy. So I traded myself for this place. Now I’m just going to have to bust on out of it is all.
Marshall, what else should I have asked Jamie? Are there areas I should have hit or did we cover everything?
Marshall: I mean, that was pretty good! Yeah, to be around here and hear all the stories she’s told… there are some pretty great ones I like to hear, but I don’t know if they can be printed in a magazine.
Well remember, the ones involving you I’m saving for the Valentine’s Day article next year.
Marshall: Well you know, she’s like an actor’s actor. So many actors come up to her and are just so enamored with her. Anyone who watches her performance just knows that she has something really spectacular. She does things instinctually that most people don’t even know. She’s just hardcore, man. She’s hardcore.