This year’s Always Woodstock has a simple message, and although it’s one we’ve heard before, it never gets old: follow your dreams. In spite of all the movies and songs that put this idea out there, despite the countless Oscar acceptance speeches telling us the same, we all struggle with the pursuit of passion—but once we’re on that path, it feels pretty damn good. Anna Anissimova plays Ryan in Rita Merson’s Always Woodstock, a supportive best friend to a struggling, budding songstress. In her own life, Anissimova is ready to take the reigns and push forward—onward in the pursuit of passion. Paste caught up with the actor to talk Always Woodstock, working with the great Katey Sagal, and the wonderful world of television.
Paste Magazine: You went from professional modeling, to studying at Stella Adler and some other studios. How did you you make the decision to leave a career where you were flourishing, so that you could try something new?
Anna Anissimova: There was actually quite a bit of a gap between my modeling career and my acting. I left modeling, because it was time to. It forced me to grow up a little too fast, and I felt like I needed to slow down a little bit, and concentrate on a passion of mine—which was acting. So I studied under Stella Adler while I went to NYU. I was just taking time off from everything, and concentrating on educating myself, and figuring out if I really wanted to pursue acting. It was three or four years before I finally moved to L.A. to really pursue it.
Paste: And now you’re in a different position because, along with acting, you’re also teaching improv, right?
Anissimova: I did, yes. At a program called HOLA—Hearts of Los Angeles. It was definitely a very different position to be in. But it was so much fun just to see the kids go from being nervous to perform in front of their classmates, to transforming within weeks. It was amazing.
Paste: Always Woodstock is a really sweet movie, with some especially strong messages for artists. I know you’re old friends with the director, Rita Merson. What was it like, shooting this with her?
Anissimova: It was a lot of fun working with her. We’d lost touch after high school, and when I moved to L.A., I found out that she was writing. She asked if I wanted to read a script she wrote, and I fell in love with the story in Always Woodstock. When we met up she told me that she’d actually written Ryan based on me in high school. So, she said, naturally, I should play the part (laughs). It was a really good experience working with a friend to bring this to life.
Paste: One of my personal favorite lines in the movie is when Catherine tells you, an expecting mother, that she hates your baby. She takes it back later, which was nice, but I thought it was so funny. You two have an interesting friendship in the film—it’s flawed, and I like that. Can you talk about working alongside Allison Miller?
Anissimova: From day one—from the table read—working with Allison was great. Rita did all of these different exercises with us before we actually started filming the movie to sort of establish that friendship. Allison and I really had to open up to each other to help make the relationship believable.
The whole cast was incredible. Katey Sagal—I didn’t actually have any scenes with her—but we did get to hang out on set, and she was just so great to be around.
Paste: That had to be big for you, because I know you’re a Sons of Anarchy fan.
Anissimova: Oh my God, are you kidding me? I’m obsessed with Sons of Anarchy. It’s so dark, so dark! So, it was amazing just to see her playing this sweet, singer-songwriter legend.
Jason Ritter was also so funny and amazing. Brittany Snow was really fun to work with. We had that one scene where she’s dancing around me with glow sticks, and she would get in my face, and it was just so hard not to crack up. She kept saying “Just be serious, just be serious.” And I couldn’t! I could not stop laughing.
Paste: Now, you’ve said before that you’re actually drawn to the darker characters out there.
Anissimova: It’s an oxymoron. I love playing dramatic, dark characters because I find them to be a lot of fun, and layered. But when it comes to watching stuff, I definitely like easy-going, romantic comedies [like Always Woodstock]. And Ryan’s not perfect. She definitely has her Daddy issues, and she has this one-night stand. So it was fun to create this backstory for her.
Paste: I read in another interview that you have an idea for a film based on your grandmother’s experiences in a labor camp under Stalin. I thought it sounded really interesting. Any new developments in that area?
Anissimova: It’s still definitely a passion of mine, so I’m still very interested in working on it. I’ve been swallowed by mommyhood recently.
Paste: I understand (laughs).
Anissimova: So, there haven’t been any new developments, but I’m looking forward to getting back on that horse. My grandmother is 92, and she’s very dear to me. She loves that I’m so passionate about her life story, and she wants me to tell it.
Paste: Always Woodstock is out now, and I know your movie, Stan, will be released at the end of this year. Are there any other projects you have in the works?
Anissimova: Yes, I’m attached to another film that starts shooting in January—another psychological thriller. And I’m excited for pilot season, because I really want to get into television.
Paste: Well, I’m the Assistant TV Editor, so I have to know what you’re watching right now, besides Sons of Anarchy.
Anissimova: I love Game of Thrones and Modern Family. Believe it or not, I still watch Grey’s Anatomy, which I’ve been watching since Season One (laughs). I also just started watching Penny Dreadful, and Fargo is amazing, and of course there’s House of Cards.
Paste: All good shows, but at some point when you get a little break from baby you have to watch Transparent on Amazon. I think you’d like it.
Anissimova: Yes, I think I heard about that! I will totally check it out.
Paste: Thanks so much for this! I’m looking forward to seeing more of your work.
Anissimova: Thank you!
Shannon M. Houston is Assistant TV Editor at Paste, and a New York-based freelance writer with probably more babies than you. You can follow her on Twitter.