Yesterday, we learned Good Girls Revolt would officially be a one season show and all of us fans are crushed. After the shocking news that Amazon would not renew the hit–yes, hit–series for more episodes, #SaveGoodGirlsRevolt quickly started to trend. For the last few weeks, creator Dana Calvo shopped the show around to different networks, but alas, the show is done. The day before Amazon announced the cancellation, I interview the star, Genevieve Angelson, who at the time did not know the fate of the show either. What she said about her character Patti only seems to resonate more with the loss of the show. What Patti stood for and the way she lived her life is a true lesson in not only fighting for what you want, but also fighting for justice. For this reason and more, Good Girls Revolt will be remembered with the likes of Freaks and Geeks, My So-Called Life, and other one season shows regarded as television treasures ahead of their time. As for Genevieve, her passion, drive, talent, and smarts only means great things to come. In this interview, Genevieve talks about college, creativity, and pursuing your career with confidence.
When did you catch the acting bug?
I was born with it. My sisters and I used to do plays when we were little. I mean, the thing is, I came from a family where there they [encouraged] a pretty traditional education. They wanted us to get college degrees, the wanted to set us up to be as successful as possible. The idea of pursuing a career in acting—not that they didn’t believe in me—I just think they thought if I were specialized that much it would close a lot of doors for me if I were to change my mind. In that regard my parents didn’t particularly encourage this. Now, they are my biggest champions. They are completely supportive of me. I really had to go through all the motions of preparing to be a normal person with a normal job before I could say that, “I still want this and I’ve tried everything I can not to do this. I know I won’t be happy until I do it.” It wasn’t until the summer after my junior year at Wesleyan that I was like, “There’s nothing else I can do. If I don’t try this I’ll always wonder.”
I’m about to declare the Film major at Wes and I know you graduated with honors from the department. It’s a notoriously difficult major, so I need to know, how did you do it?
For whatever reason, that was just a calling. Even before I’m an actor, I’m just someone who loves watching movies. Let me tell you, there are a lot of things I’m not good at. I’m just saying this to you because you’re one of the few people left in the world who will actually understand this: I crushed. I was a TA as a sophomore. I got all A’s in that major. I crushed it.
Oh my gosh!
I know! I didn’t grow up watching movies. It was kind of like this childlike mind that I came to it with—totally teachable and open. When we first saw the train approaching the station [Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat] in Scott Higgins’ intro course to me it was like the train was going to come at my face. That’s how new in some respects movies were to me. I honestly gave it everything. I didn’t try to do anything else but try to be an amazing film student. It meant the world to me. I ran the Film Board for the Film Series. That was like my favorite thing I did in college was run that thing, to be in a room with other passionate film students and get out your brass knuckles to fight to the death for the movies that should [be shown]. I mean, I was in heaven…I loved the film department. I was a complete and total devotee. I don’t know how I could have given it any less effort because you’re right it was super challenging. It demanded everything of me. I didn’t try to be someone who could do anything else [Genevieve laughs]. In that regard, I should probably mention that I didn’t take a math class. I think I took one English class. I was not a well-rounded student [Genevieve laughs]! I took some science I think, but that’s it.
How else did Wesleyan help fuel your creativity?
I think, for me, Wesleyan was just so much more right for me than my high school. It was this sort of warrior process of becoming the person I really am. I don’t know about you or if this is true for everyone, but I felt like there was a lot of undoing I had to do. In order to get back to the true, authentic experience of myself, I had to really work backwards. I’m a smart, intuitive, sensitive person. I got really good at people pleasing and seeming like I was good at stuff. I had a 4.0. I was really good at doing it right, if that makes sense. I was really good at doing all that stuff like getting into college, getting good SAT scores—I was such a good student of how to behave. There’s this thing at Wesleyan—I feel like it just fostered this wildness in me, this kind of passionate weirdo who could be confidently, ferociously messy. I feel like that’s something that didn’t stop at Wesleyan and maybe it started before Wesleyan. But Wesleyan is sort of where I was happiest being a wild spirit and learning so much about the arts. I mean, not just from my classes. I chose Wesleyan of all the schools that I looked at…because that was the student body that I wanted to be in. I mean I did love the Film department, but it wasn’t for the campus, it wasn’t really for anything academic. It was because I went there and visited and I was like, “This is the group of people I want to spend four years with.” Because of that, I was learning about amazing bands, listening to great music, seeing great movies, being turned on to incredible artists just from my peers. That was the three-dimensional arts education that I got at Wesleyan. It gave me the sense of taste that I have today, which I think is really important. Wesleyan’s where I learned what I like and who I am. It’s funny because I think we have this reputation of being this certain kind of school, but I think that any type of person could be happy there.
That sort of passion and creativity that exists within Wesleyan students seems very in keeping with your Good Girls Revolt character, Patti.
Yeah, to be honest I thought about Wesleyan a lot when I played her. I don’t know if it was me or Wesleyan or some combination of the two but this thing that Patti has is this incredible sense of permission. In her being this representation of the counterculture, in her being this flower child, she is totally this fucking hipster cool girl. She’s going to San Francisco, she knows all of the coolest bands, she knows all the coolest drugs, she knows how to play the politics—she knows. She’s in the know. That was a Wesleyan thing for me. We were hip…We were cool. We thought we were cool. We thought we were ahead of our time…
Something interesting that you’ve talked about is the idea of how Patti couldn’t be a “feminist” because feminism didn’t exist yet—the late ’60s when the show takes place. I feel like it must have been frustrating as an actor who knows about feminism to have to show up and play a character without that context or language.
These situations would come up that there wasn’t vocabulary for. So I couldn’t say, “That’s sexual harassment” because that wasn’t a term we had coined. There was an incredible amount of anger I encountered when I played [Patti] that was made even almost worse because I didn’t have the release of expressing it. I [as Patti] didn’t know what to call it. All I knew was, “I’m not satisfied, this doesn’t feel good, I want something I can’t have.” I think with Cindy [played by Erin Darke] and Jane [played by Anna Camp], they kind of explode. They start from a more sheltered, traditional place and then blow up. I think with Patti, kind of the opposite happens. She’s running off to San Francisco, getting stories, wearing tiny skirts, and staying out all-night and partying. Then she kind of implodes I think because, like so many women, her anger goes inwards. She’s like, “Am I weird for wanting what I want? Is it bad for wanting something Doug [played by Hunter Parrish] doesn’t understand? Is it wrong that I want this thing that could get my editor, who I’m kind of in love with, in trouble?”
You know, when my little sister [says she’s] getting married in the second episode—I say I like it’s me because I feel so close to Patti [Genevieve laughs]—I say something like, “It would be so much easier.” If I could only align what I wanted with what was acceptable in society, it would have been easier. In a way it’s angering…because you think that something’s happening to you that you don’t deserve. I think that’s a question that’s still waiting to be answered: “Do I deserve the thing that I want or am I just weird for wanting it?”
That question sounds very similar to what you grappled with before deciding to make acting your career. When you knew you “deserved” to go after it, what made you choose to get an MFA at NYU and how did that training help set you up for success?
So, when I graduated from Wesleyan, I got an agent and I got a couple little roles in TV. I was like, “You know what? I want to be working as an actor when I’m 60. I want to be a career artist. I want to be good enough to get roles at Lincoln Center. I know based on what I know about acting today, I can’t do that stuff. I don’t have the chops, so I need to go back to school.”
The thing that NYU gave me is this sense of confidence that there’s no part that I get an audition for or that I have to play where I’m totally stuck. It gave me maps. It gave me ways to unstick myself when I’m stuck and don’t know what to do. It gave me this outrageous sense of confidence that like, “I have been training at the top level of craft for this job and if I can’t do it, no one can. No one has more training than I do at my level.” Surely, people who have been doing this for their whole lives and are amazing masters are better than I am obviously. But nobody at my level—my age—has more practice than I do. So if something is hard for me, it’s hard for everyone. In a lot of ways it’s that mindset that keeps me brave and keeps me in a place of confidence, which is absolutely the key to being a successful actor. You have to be able to just say, “I can do it.” It’s just a complete creation killer to feel insecure. Or not necessarily insecure, but to feel self-loathing, or self-doubt, or low self-esteem, it’s a creation killer. So whatever you have to do to jazz up your confidence, that’s really necessary.
Well clearly it paid off considering one of your first jobs out of grad school was a Lincoln Center production: Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. That show’s one of my favorites. What did you learn from that experience?
Oh yeah, I originated that role [of Nina]. I think it doesn’t matter what the text is—if it’s larger than life or if it’s the most naturalistic thing in the world—my job as an actor is always the same: to tell the truth and be honest. It didn’t make it funnier to play at it. It was only ever funny when it was honest, when it was true, and when it was simple. To adorn it with this extra layer of absurdity because it’s Christopher Durang just doesn’t work. I got a big lesson out of that. You know, I was playing opposite of David Hyde Pierce, who’s just a master of that: breathing in and breathing out, telling the truth, and letting the line be funny and not making himself funny.
That’s so interesting because when I interviewed him, the piece of advice that he gave was, “If they’re not laughing, do less,” so it’s cool you observed him doing that in practice. I’ll ask you the same thing: what’s your advice for aspiring actors?
I think, get training. I think you want to get training because it’s the one thing you can control. There’s so little about this that you can control, but the one thing you can is how well equipped you are to do the job if you actually get it. The other thing is to just assume your brilliance. If you’re going to fuck up, you’re going to fuck up more brilliantly than anyone has ever fucked up. Whatever it is that you need to do to walk into a room and feel like, “Hey guys, you’re welcome. I just solved your casting problem because I’m it.” Whatever you need to do to pump yourself up to that level, do it. That’s the kind of person people want to work with. Nobody wants to convince you to convince them that you’re a great actor. They just want to feel like you’re having a great time. Whatever you need to do to make yourself laugh and to make you think that you’re really special and have something special to give, you’ve got to figure out what that is and you’ve got to give it to yourself. ♦