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Hope Springs Eternal: Televisionary Talks With Mireille Enos of HBO's "Big Love"

It was the neck snap heard round the world.

Fans of HBO's provocative and gripping Big Love suffered a gut-wrenching shock in recent weeks when showrunners Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer killed off much-beloved character Kathy Marquart in a stunning plot twist that saw Kathy fleeing a forcible sealing to sociopath Hollis Greene (Luke Askew) at the hands of vindictive Roman Grant (Harry Dean Stanton).

But for Mireille Enos, who played the "eternally hopeful" Kathy for two seasons, it was just yet another curve in the road in her ongoing journey on Big Love, for the Tony-nominated actress who also plays Kathy's twin sister Jodean on the HBO drama.

I had the opportunity earlier this week to speak with Enos about her involvement in Big Love, Kathy's life and death, Jodean's creation, and what we can expect to see now that Kathy has picked her last flower.

Televisionary: How did you first become involved with Big Love?

Mireille Enos: I auditioned for a completely different part that was going to have two episodes and it wasn’t the right fit for me. Then, a few weeks later they called and offered me the part of Kathy and that was during the second season. At that time they thought Kathy was going to have three episodes. So I was thrilled and said sure… and then three episodes turned into six and then, when it came to the third season, they asked me to be a series regular. And that time I thought it was just Kathy and then about two weeks before we started shooting they called and said that they wanted to add this other character, Jodean.

Q: What was your reaction when Mark [Olsen] and Will [Scheffer] approached you about also playing Jodean?

Enos: Oh, I was terrified and thrilled. I was totally stunned. I didn’t know what to say for a couple of minutes and then I started asking questions about who this new girl was and how she was different from Kathy and they didn’t know, they hadn’t mapped it out completely. Which was actually really exciting because they said we’ll be looking to you a lot to bring in ideas and we kind of figured it out together. It became a process and it was an amazing time because it was right at the time as the raid on the Texas compound was happening, so there were all kinds of interviews happening on YouTube and TV. I was able to sit and watch these women and look at images from the Warren Jeffs trial and try to figure out what point of view would be an opposite one to Kathy’s without it feeling anything stereotypical like an evil twin or anything like that, but just have a different world view. Then Jodean started to take shape.

Q: What sort of character traits within Kathy did you really want to show some kind of reflection to?

Enos: What’s really true about Kathy from the very beginning is, in spite of the sadness around here, she is eternally hopeful and childlike and faithful. I wanted Kathy… Obviously, the compound situation is insane. I wanted her to be an example of the potential goodness of being a believer. She just remains kind of childlike, even though her life has been complicated. And so when I approached Jodean, I thought, if Kathy is eternally hopeful, what happens when you remove hope from a person? If Kathy wants to think the best of people—that’s her first impulse, what if Jodean protects herself first and trusts later, if she holds her cards much closer to her chest. It’s hard to know what she thinks about things, where her loyalties lie.

Q: Did you have any initial reservations about the polygamist subject matter when you first joined the cast?

Enos: Nope. It was a non-issue. Because it’s sort of such a strange world and totally removed from my own personal experiences, I approached it the same way I would playing someone who was Amish or Hasidic or has some other strong religious belief that is something that I’ve never experienced personally.

Q: Did you ever think Kathy would become such a pivotal character in the series?

Enos: No, I didn’t. I hoped that she’d stick around and the first episode that I was in was when Melora Walters, who plays Wanda, had been taken to the psych hospital and Kathy shows up to take care of the baby and she and Joey have this scene at the car where there’s a potential for a connection. And I thought I’ve got maybe three episodes but I have to make myself invaluable. So I wanted to make a moment with that scene between her and Joey and of course I hoped that she would turn into a regular character but it has exceeded my expectations completely.

Q: On that same note, were you surprised then by what an impact Kathy’s death had on the audience?

Enos: Actually, by the time we got to her death, it made sense that it would have that kind of impact because everyone else on the show—like most people in life—have both sides, have goodness and massive faults. And Kathy is the only character on the show where we haven’t really seen what her faults might be. She’s kind of perfect and so she’s the only one who, if killed, that it would be just a complete senseless tragedy.

Q: When did Mark and Will tell you that they were going to kill off Kathy?

Enos: (Laughs.) They didn’t tell me! They sent me the script without telling me! And so I was [sing-song], new script, and I sat and read it. I read that last scene and it was late, maybe ten at night, and I was alone in the house and I just sat, paralyzed. I kept reading the last page over and over, thinking, because the writing and the language was slightly ambiguous, about whether she is fully dead or not. Maybe she’ll come back; maybe she’s not actually dead; maybe it will just be a cliffhanger. And then the next day, Mark and Will called together and they said, “Hi, honey.” And then I knew. And actually they said, we’ve known for a really long time that this is what needed to happen but we didn’t want to let you know beforehand. Obviously, it would have colored what I did in the rest of the season.

Q; Was that Kathy’s death behind their desire to create Jodean then?

Enos: Yes, it was. I’m very grateful for that because they knew before the season started that Kathy needed to die, so they made a way for me to stick around.

Q: Are you ever going to wear your hair in a braid again after what happened to Kathy?

Enos: (Laughs). Probably not. (Laughs.)

Q: How do you approach playing a dual role like Kathy and Jodean? What are the challenges involved with that?

Enos: The hardest part was at the beginning because I had time to figure out who Kathy was but with Jodean I was just kind of thrown it into it. I wanted them to be distinct but of course the trap is to make them different in just kind of an arbitrary way that isn’t actually true to who this new person is as a whole person. It needed to be shown up but also specific enough and I feel like—I mean, I am going to be more critical of my work than anybody but I feel watching it like it took me a couple of episodes to actually fall into her. By episode four, I feel like Jodean actually took shape but the first episode I was like, “Ahhh! Where does her voice sit?” Also the first few episodes, I always felt like I was playing Jodean in reference to Kathy, instead of having them be two separate people. By the end it started to be really fun because my body and my voice and everything, I knew where it was supposed to sit for each one of them. So by then it was just fun but at the beginning it was tricky.

Q: Are there any similarities between Kathy and Jodean that we’ll get to see explored in the next few episodes?

Enos: I think that they are both fighters. I think that that wasn’t immediately obvious about Kathy in the early episodes but clearly it is when she runs [in “Fight or Flight”], she was definitely a fighter and I think Jodean is a fighter in her own way. They’re both fiercely loyal to the people they love although Jodean had to make a hard choice between her son and her sister [in “On Trial”] and she chose her son. It’s going to be interesting to see where Jodean’s storyline goes. I have no idea what they are going to do with her next season. But that’s really the main thing: they are fighters and they are loyal.

Q: Speaking of “Fight or Flight,” what went through your head when you were filming that climactic scene where Kathy does decide she’s going to run? Was it a really challenging scene to do in that it was your last scene as Kathy?

Enos: Luckily, I knew that there was going to be a pickup scene from an earlier episode that was a really happy scene so it wasn’t the last scene that I got to shoot as Kathy. And I was really grateful for that, that she got to be alive for the last time that I played her and happy. It was a challenging day but it was a good day. We were shooting in that barn, which was just gorgeous and everybody in that scene with me was just these amazing actors. It was exhilarating getting into the emotion and getting to have her be so full-strength and getting to drive the truck and all of that. It was long and grueling but it was really fun; watching the stunt of the car crash was really intense. I’ve never gotten to watch that kind of stuff. We actually got to smash the truck and there’s eight cameras rolling and it was an awesome movie moment to be a part of.

Q: You mentioned before the choice that Jodean makes during Roman Grant’s trial in “On Trial.” Do you believe that Kathy died believing that Jodean had betrayed her?

Enos: Well, because it isn’t written, at some point Mark and Will might decide to write what is true. What I decided was true was that as soon they were back on the compound Jodean took the opportunity to say, “I had no choice, it was my son.” Even if Kathy knew what had happened, it doesn’t change the end result: that Roman went free. Kathy would understand, of course, but it is still a painful, painful experience between them and for Jodean--in last week’s episode [“Rough Edges”] Jodean doesn’t speak, but I think that there’s a world going on [inside her] and I think that Jodean has to blame herself on some level for her sister’s death.

Q: Many of your scenes as Kathy were shot with Melora Walter’s Wanda and Shawn Doyle’s Joey Henrickson. What was it like an actor in Season Two coming into that intense relationship?

Enos: Both Melora and Shawn are the most wonderful actors I’ve ever worked with. So generous, so kind, and just the best people; you just want to have those people in your life and they made it an awesome, wonderful experience. They are so embracing and they’re just pros; they want to tell good stories and so they just threw the doors wide open. It was just such a wonderful, happy experience working with both of them.

Q: Are you set to return for Season Four of Big Love?

Enos: Yes, I am.

Q: And will you be a series regular?

Enos: Yes.

Q: To step away from Big Love for a second, you are a Tony-nominated actress [for 2005’s Broadway production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?]; what’s more interesting to you about working in television or on stage?

Enos: They are completely different. I started in theater. I loved theater; I deeply love working in theater and some of my richest performances have happened on the stage. Working on Virginia Woolf was a complete dream. I grew leaps and bounds. And then because I’d been in Europe for ten years and basically doing only stagework and Woolf ran for seven months in New York and four months in London. At the end of that experience I just knew that I was ready for a change and moved out to Los Angeles and was lucky enough that within a year I was working on Big Love, which was just amazing writing and wonderful actors. Now, because it’s all still relatively new, it’s the most exciting thing right now because I’m learning how my work is different in front of a camera. It’s a whole new technique so really I’d say both. But right now, this is where I want to be but, ultimately, I still will always want to go back to New York and do plays.

Q: Is there a particular actor whose career you’d like to emulate or someone who has inspired you in some way?

Enos: Oh, it’s so kind of [predictable] to say but Meryl Streep, the kind of range that she has played all through her career and she does stage and film and everything. I like character actors too like Marcia Gay Harden, who I think is just awesome.

Q: Are there any actors within Big Love that you’d love to shoot a juicy scene with that you haven’t gotten to yet?

Enos: I would love to have a scene with the actor that plays Alby, Matt Ross. I got to work with Harry Dean [Stanton]; I had just one little moment with Mary Kay Place but I would love to have an actual scene with her. I think she’s fantastic. So probably those two would be my top picks.

Q: If Mark and Will could do anything with Jodean, no matter how crazy, where would you like to see them take her as a character?

Enos: Mary Kay Place [who plays Adaleen Grant] is a woman fighter on the compound but she is a fighter for the cause of the compound and I would love for them to have a strong woman fighting against the evils of the compound. And Kathy tried but she was so meek she wasn’t able to make any ground. So I would love for Jodean to become this powerful woman figure. That would be awesome. I think she has the balls to go head to head with some of the guys.

Q: Lastly, can you give us any hints about what the audience can expect to see with Jodean in the last two episodes of Season Four?

Enos: No, you just have to wait and see! (Laughs.) But both Joey and Jodean want to find out what happened to Kathy and so they are both going to be ambitiously trying to find out answers.

Given the luminous quality Mireille Enos has brought to her portrayal of both Kathy and Jodean so far, let's hope those answers continue to put this talented actress front and center on this complex and fascinating drama.

Big Love wraps its third season on Sunday, March 22nd at 9 pm ET/PT on HBO.


Anonymous said…
Great interview, Jace, and a fantastic portrait of an actress who is likely to be a major star. Didn't know that she was in Who's Afraid but I wish I could have seen that. She is amazing as Kathy/Jodean and glad she is going to be back for season 4.
Anonymous said…
Thanks for this fantastic interview! Mireille is such an accomplished actress. It's incredible to think that most of her work has been on the stage as her performance on Big Love is so beautifully subtle (and brilliantly so).

I'm thrilled to hear that Jodean will be a regular next season and can't wait to learn more about her character!
S Broggie said…
Excellent interview Jace! One of the best one-on-one's I've read in a while. This is continuing proof that you are the gold standard of TV bloggers.
Anonymous said…
I think it's really cool that the Big Love creators came up with the character of Jodean so that Mireille could continue on the show. (Although I can't believe they didn't tell her about Kathy's death until she read the script!!)

Mireille is definitely one of my favorite actors on the show and I loved this interview with her. She is both articulate and passionate about her acting and I can't wait to see more of her next season!
Anonymous said…
I agree with S Broggie. Great interview! Not only did we learn more about this fantastic actress but also more about the show. I can't believe this season is almost over!
That was a great interview. BIG LOVE has become a favorite of mine, and was really saddened by the death of Kathy- she was really childlike, and that kind of compounded the always seemed to be rooting for her.

Yes, the dustup bewtween the LDS Church and HBO has sparked a little more I'm VERY curious now to see this ritual that non-members are forbidden from seeing.
Mazza said…
Finally sat down and read this. Great interview Jace but I never expect anything less than perfection from you!! Once again you've gotten someone involved with a show to open up about the process, their character and reveal some interesting details about a world most of us will never get to experience. Mireille Enos is a huge reason why BIG LOVE has become so successful and I was crushed when they killed Kathy. I am very happy Enos will be back for 4th season.

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