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Anna Chlumsky: A Spectacular Second Act

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photo credit: HBO/Bill Gray

Watching actress Anna Chlumsky deliver delicious and decisive lines as Amy Brookheimer, chief of staff to Vice President Selina Meyer on the HBO hit Veep, you see an actress adept at sophisticated comedy. There are no traces of Vada Sultenfuss, the oddball character in My Girl that made 10-year-old Chlumsky famous two decades ago. By stepping away from the industry completely—graduating from college and moving to New York to work in publishing—Chlumsky discovered a fresh passion for acting. Thankfully, producers and directors appreciate the grown-up, making her one of very few child stars to achieve even greater success as an adult. While on break from Veep, which has been renewed for a season two, Chlumsky, 31, is at home in New York appearing in the off-Broadway play 3C, a wry comedy written by David Adjmi set in disco era 1978.

DivineCaroline: Your character on Veep, Amy Brookheimer, is representative of so many women—fiercely ambitious but perhaps a touch insecure.
Anna Chlumsky: She’s definitely been one of those kind wunderkind-ish, ambitious women on [Capitol] Hill. I feel she’s one of these people who perhaps even grew up around this stuff and always had her eye on power and knows that’s what it’s all about for her. She’s young for the chief of staff position, so I think she finds herself scrutinized by maybe the same people that were her cohorts once upon a time. Now she has to focus completely on everything she’s doing, do a marvelous job; maybe even more so than if she had 20 years more experience. That’s where we feel maybe the smatterings of insecurity. There’s a lot of overcompensation having to go on to make up for being in the position a little bit earlier than she would have expected.
DC: So much of the dynamic between the characters are these asides and subtle, under the breath things. Sometimes Amy’s a little flustered, but she doesn’t let the others see it.
AC: She doesn’t suffer fools very well. That’s one of her weaknesses. That said, now she’s a boss, so she has to do her utmost—and sometimes she fails at this—but she has to do her utmost to cover her frustrations and maybe curb her anger, especially in front of Selina.
DC: While the characters in Veep all seem so real. What research did you do for your role?
AC: The cast and writers all got this really glamorous tour of Washington, DC when we were filming the pilot. We got to go into the Senate Chamber and see a bunch of things you don’t normally see. All of us were put in touch with different people who had similar positions to ours. Then trying to understand those dynamics in the office. Chiefs of staff can’t really go out for beers with people they may have gone out for beers with before. They are now the boss and they have to put on that hat and do it well.
DC: Was it a tough audition process?
AC: I did not audition for this. [Series creators] Armando Iannucci, Simon Blackwell and Tony Roche, we had all worked together on a film that came out in 2009 called In the Loop. I don’t really know when they thought of me and what sparked it, but the origin matters not. I’m lucky enough to have been called up and involved from a very early stage.
DC: You’ve done something so few child stars can accomplish; you have created a really substantial, successful career as a grown up. What gave you the courage to step away and then return to the industry?
AC: Stepping away was a natural progression. I never moved to Los Angeles. I stayed in Chicago and I stayed in my school. Once I got around college, I felt I really enjoyed all these things that I was learning about in school and I had to focus on those things instead of on show business. I thought show business was good as a kid, but not now.
Two years out of college I was in New York and I was working at a very fun 9 to 5 job, but I was unhappy in my core. Then that’s when I really had to ask myself, “What would you do if you could do anything?” The answer always was I would pursue acting again. That definitely had to take courage, but at the same time for me it would have been more fool hardy not to take the risk and get back in the business whole hog.
DC: Now you’re doing off-Broadway theater. Please share some thoughts about the play 3C. Is it very much related to the 70s or is it timeless?
AC: David Adjmi has his own style. It can be very metaphysical at times, so that is certainly timeless. However, with this play he really does tackle that 1978 was a time period where people couldn’t deal with their pain easily. There’s a collective coping. That’s one of the things that the play explores, but it explores it really humorously. We have period wigs and period outfits. The themes are definitely not necessarily very specific to 1978. Setting it in that time is a great jump start for a lot of the questions that David wants to ask as a playwright and would love the audience to ask as well. It’s more like a springboard.
DC: How does theater fuel your creative juices?
AC: Sometimes you’re doing a great play or there’s terrific content in it, but it won’t be for one audience member or everybody is cracking up at places that you thought were serious. There are always surprises. I personally feel like acting itself is the art of surprise. You can try to plan stuff, you can rehearse, you can have the same lines, there are a lot of things you can have as landmarks, but really the moment is always a surprise. Theater is for me is kind of like going to the gym for that skill. Eight shows a week, you’re still doing it for the first time that day and it will be different.
Actually, I find Veep to be very theatrical. We don’t have set marks. We have blocking. We use the entire set as if it were a stage. Sometimes it’s surprising how my theatrical experience can bleed into my television experience and my film experience. They all feed each other.

photo credit: HBO/Bill Gray


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