It was great to interview like minded-music fan Ann Mahoney about her choices and memories. She tells me about about her acting technique and about being part of The Walking Dead cast, Bad Moms, also the other work and projects with which she is involved.
PC: You were born in New York but were raised in New Orleans, for those of us who are not familiar with the area can you tell me about growing up as a typical kid there?
AM: I moved to New Orleans when I was two, because my Dad got a position as a Professor of Jazz at Loyola University in New Orleans. He is an amazing composer, musician (plays trombone & piano), and is an exceptional teacher. So, my experience growing up in New Orleans is rooted in the Jazz scene. In fact, all of our lives here as kids are rooted in music – there are tons of festivals each year, and families participate. Great food, music, a blend of people – very beautiful culture.
And of course, there is Mardi Gras – as kids we all look forward to it – Mardi Gras isn’t just one day. Parades start two weeks plus BEFORE Mardi Gras day. So the weekends before, Friday nights, Saturday afternoons and nights, we all head down to the parade route with other families and catch beads, doubloons, stuffed animals. It is a magical time.
Our school system is very respectful of tradition too – we had king cake every Friday during carnival season. We all dress in black and gold on Fridays to support the Saints during football season. You will even see straight-laced lawyers in their jerseys on Fridays! The people down here, they have a way of constantly celebrating life, and a deep appreciation for the gift of living.
PC: Was it always your dream to become an actor?
AM: Somewhat. I started as a dancer at age 4. But I quickly fell in love with theatre. My first play was FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, and I saw Hamlet when I was 10 – and that was a defining moment. In middle and high school, I had the great fortune of meeting an extraordinarily dedicated teacher named Morris Block. He instantly recognized that I had ability, and drive, and gave me as many opportunities as possible to get on stage, to compete in Speech & Debate, and to push myself as an actor.
PC: Where did that want or need come from?
AM: I have always loved people. And I love story telling. Where some people remember dates, and events, I tend to remember faces, the way someone spoke, their specific accent, how someone reacted to finding out a bit of good or bad news. I think all people are endlessly fascinating. And at the end of the day, all of us actors are story tellers… reminding the world about what is important, how to feel, and how much we are all alike.
PC: What path did your training take to become the actor you wanted to be?
AM: I went to undergraduate school at the small private college Greensboro College –which only had a B.A. program – no MFA program, so we got onstage a ton. I got to play a lot of roles out of my age range, and type – like Gertrude in HAMLET, Kristinein A DOLL’S HOUSE, a great role in a play entitled A PIECE OF MY HEART.
I primarily began training in Western based acting techniques in undergraduate school – Stanislavski, Meisner, Strasberg. Then in graduate school, I went to University of Connecticut – Storrs, and studied the Suzuki Method of Actor Training under Eric Hill – who founded StageWest, and studied with Suzuki in Toga.
PC: You studied Tadashi Suzuki’s, Suzuki Method of Actor Training what did that course offer that is perhaps different to other courses?
AM: It is actually more than a course, it is a specific training method. My entire 3 years at UCONN centered around that method. It is physically demanding vocal and physical training, where the lower body is working very hard, and the upper body remains held but relaxed. This causes the center to be engaged to negotiate those two halves. The goal of this training is to make the actor more physically aware and focused – all around – I find it grounds me, and allows me to be unafraid to connect deeply, stripdown emotionally.
PC: You spent some time in New York City appearing off- Broadway in the Obie-winning The Romance of Magno Rubio, how did it feel to be part of that experience?
AM: It was extraordinary. My beloved teacher Morris Block actually passed away right before opening night – and although I missed the funeral, I knew he would have wanted me onstage. I worked with the extraordinary Loy Arcenas, and a team of rigorously committed actors. I remember taking the train to 14th street, getting off, walking to the theatre, and feeling like I was in the middle of a dream come true.
PC: After a short time you left NYC and returned to New Orleans how do those two places differ in terms of the opportunities they offer in acting?
AM: NYC has a lot of film, theatre, and television. New Orleans has the same. The difference is, I have so many connections in New Orleans, people have known me my whole life, and have known my family – so they know my work ethic (taught to me by my parents!), and they know my dedication. It was easier to get a foot in the door in New Orleans.
PC: Roles in film and television followed including Big Momma’s House 2, Frankenstein and more, are you just as comfortable being cast in a comedic role as you are a more serious offering?
AM: Yes – I love the variety. And, interestingly enough, I don’t think they are all that different. They both require a commitment to the moment, and a fearlessness. Drama requires a fearlessness about letting your fellow actors and the audience into the darker parts of you. Comedy requires that you be fearless about embarrassing yourself for the sake of the joke. Every great comedian has a deep sense of the dramatic, and the best dramatic actors I know have a sense of the comedic. In life, we are rarely 100% everything – emotions are complex and specific.
PC: I read you have the ability to be able to make an audience wonder if you are an actor appearing in a performance or in fact a regular person in some of your roles, because you seem to project your own being so much so, it’s as if you’re not acting at all. Is this a technique you have been taught or is it just part of your make up?
AM: it’s part of my belief about acting. I don’t view “getting into character” as stepping into a costume and zipping myself up. I view it as a process of stripping away, enhancing some traits, and discovering within myself all the depth of the person I am portraying. All of this must be specific to what the writer gives me, the time period, the style, and the constraints of that person’s life.
PC: You play the role of Mousey Mom in the movie Bad Moms, tell us about that?
AM: I love Mousey Mom! She is afraid of losing everything, so afraid that she hasn’t lived her life much. When she meets up with the other three Moms, to try and stop Carla (Hahn’s character) from screwing her husband, she finds a bit of camaraderie. That allows her to have a little fun, and then a LOT of fun – and maybe she ultimately becomes less afraid.
PC: Quite a cast of leading ladies, Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn was it fun to film? Were there girls nights out type moments, off set? Or maybe an actual, girls night out?
AM: We were on a pretty intense shooting schedule, so not much downtime. But the time on set never felt like WORK! It was as fun as what you are seeing in the movie!
PC: You were cast as Olivia in The Walking Dead; I’m always interested to know the whole process from sending in your tape to the minute you walk on set to do your scene. I know it’s often the case that you don’t know the part your reading for when doing an audition, were you familiar with her character beforehand?
AM: I got an email from my agent asking me to tape a role for The Walking Dead. The character would be recurring, but they wouldn’t tell us the real character’s name, and the script I used for the audition was not from The Walking Dead at all. So, I taped the scene, it was actually rather funny – so I tried to be sure the humor was balanced with a certain amount of post-apocalyptic angst (LOL!) – and I sent it in.
A few weeks later, I was at the symphony with my Mom, and I got a call from my agent – odd at 9pm. I checked the voicemail at intermission, and found out that they wanted to hire me! That was a Friday. I drove to Atlanta for the first time that Sunday, and went to my costume fitting, where I found out my character’s name, and then to a meeting with Greg Nicotero and Scott Gimple. That was also when I met John Sanders, the prop guy for TWD, he took my personal glasses – which Gimple loved – and they became OLIVIA’S glasses! They got me a new pair, and then I settled in for the night – rabidly attacking my character homework, and researching comic book Olivia.
So that was it – then I went to my first day on set. There were lots of fans lining the street where we enter Alexandria – with cameras! I was so shocked. The cast was warm, inviting, inclusive, and embraced me immediately. It was like coming home.
PC: Were you a fan of The Walking Dead already?
AM: I was a comic book fan, but didn’t watch the show until I got the audition. Then I binged!
PC: Has Olivia wholly embraced the association with Rick and his gang now or does she still have some hesitant moments about what they are trying to achieve?
AM: I think after the big scene where all the Alexandrians and Rick’s people fight the zombie horde inside the walls of Alexandria, I think that seals the deal for Olivia. She sees a man willing to give everything, after losing his love, to help save that community.
PC: I’ve interviewed a few cast members of the series and they all say the same thing that it’s a really tight group, that everyone wants each other to do well in their scenes and all are very welcoming, do you agree with that?
PC: Who do you hang around with between takes and who is the one person you have befriended that you can text at 1am if you need to?
AM: Austin Nichols and I crack each other up on a regular basis. Melissa McBride is a dear friend for life.
PC: There have been some great TV series being created in the last five years, are there any in particular you have enjoyed?
AM:I love Better Call Saul, Breaking Bad, currently I am being slayed by BLOODLINE. I am also a huge Game of Thrones junkie!
PC: Are you still to be found teaching acting lessons?
AM: Yes, I teach at Loyola University in New Orleans. They are gracious enough to let me go when I need to work. I love teaching… it reinforces and challenges my own technique, and I learn more from the students than they learn from me!
PC: Does it force you to examine and re-evaluate your own techniques?
AM: Yes. I also love share the moment-to-moment real life of a professional actor with them. I tell them about every audition, and about every role I DON’T book, along with the ones I do. I tell them about days on set when I feel like I have done terribly, and days on set where it feels like I took everyone to church.
PC: What is the most valuable and usable single piece of advice you have been given which you can pass on to others?
AM: Be tenacious, love yourself as you are, and do not be afraid.
I know like me you are very keen on listening to music more than the average person probably does…
PC: Was music an important part of your life growing up or just noise?
AM: Very important. My father is a jazz musician, my mother is a classical musician, and both my brothers are now musicians. So, there was always music in my house. I fell in love with Stravinsky, Ralph Von Williams, and Saint-Saens as well as TheloniousMonk, Bill Evans, and Sarah Vaughn as a child. We had speakers in our bedroom, and would choose a record (and actual, vinyl record – occasionally a reel to reel !) to listen to while we went to sleep.
I married a recording engineer and record producer who is the most talented man I know. He has worked on Iggy Pop’s RAW POWER, The Avett Brothers EMOTIONALISM, Band of Horses INFINITE ARMS, and a bunch of Chris Whitley’sstuff – but his discography lists over 250 records. Intense.
PC: What was the first song that you really felt? Which is not necessarily the same as the first record you actually bought?
AM: You are going to laugh. It was Ralph Von Williams The Lark Ascending. I remember it made me cry. There was such longing, and tension, and beauty to it. The first rock and roll song I fell in love with was Crosby, Stills, and Nash ALMOST CUT MY HAIR.:-) My parents were also hippies.
The first record I BOUGHT was WHITNEY HOUSTON’s in 1985. It was also a REAL RECORD.
PC: Picture the scene, you’re on a road trip alone, windows are down, sun glinting off the bumper on the car ahead of you, what does your playlist look like?
AM: Heavy on the Jane’s Addiction, Band of Horses, Deathcab for Cutie, Lenny Kravitz, The Sundays, Guns and Roses, Concrete Blonde, Hey Violet, Heavy on The Cure, Depeche Mode, Avett Brothers, U2 (older U2), Radiohead, Jimi Hendrix, My Morning Jacket, Stevie Wonder, Digable Planets, Beastie Boys, Madonna. 🙂
PC: Do you enjoy a good hook or are you more of a meaningful lyrics type?
AM: I like both – great lyrics speak to my heart, move me tremendously – like Deathcab for Cutie’s I WILL FOLLOW YOU, or Indigo Girls GHOST. But Beastie Boys, Hey F@#k You, or Digable Planet’s DOG IT… make me shake my ass.
PC: If you enjoy live music, whose was the best concert you have ever been to? And who did you see last?
AM: I last saw Ray LaMontagne the Ouroboros tour – the My Morning Jacket band is his band on that record. It was LIFE CHANGING. No joke. If you love Pink Floyd, andRay LaMontagne’s voice – the record is the first I can play on shuffle over and over and over again.
The best concert I ever went to was My Morning Jacket in Austin, TX – a close second would be the Avett Brothers on NYE in Asheville, NC. The jacket concertwas shortly after Katrina. Our house got 7′ of water for 2.5 months, we lost everything, we were on the road, trying to figure out where to go – and we landed inAustin when they were there. My husband is still dear friends with the guys, so we got great tickets. I remember I watched them with tears rolling down my face. It felt like aloe on my soul.
PC: I have been taking piano lessons this year, do you play? If you do not which instrument would you like to learn?
AM: I play piano – barely. But I sing. Have been singing since I was very small – inchurch. And then studied voice all through high school, college, and grad school.
PC: Can you share three songs that take you back to a special place or time in your life?
AM: SUMMERTIME ROLLS – Jane’s Addiction – me and my crew from the Riverdale High School Speech and Debate team, lying on a blanket, in the middle of a field –between competition rounds, blasting that song. It instantly makes me feel 16 again.
HOW SOON IS NOW – Morrissey – turning into the ramp on Earhart at STUPIDMPH with my best friend (who is still my best friend) driving, headed to the French Quarter for a night of ghosts, debauchery, maybe some cemetery haunting – feeling young and immortal as that guitar rings out.
PLEASE STOP TIME – Tyler Ramsey – my husband finished that record right when we had our first child. He brought it home to play for me, I was holding my son – he was not even a month old. That song came on, and I just looked at my son and wished I could make time stop. To keep him that little. To hold this peaceful moment where all was right in the world, where my heart was calm.
PC: I love to dance and I know you do too; do you stay on your dancing feet all night or just for certain songs?
AM: All night long… all night, all night…. All night long!
PC: There’s always the next generation of musicians that come to the fore, has any of the new music of the last few years excited you?
AM: I am super excited by Ibeyi, Hey Violet, Band of Horses, Hosier, Mayer Hawthorne,(who Steven Yeun introduced me to, incidentally), Alicia Keys (who continues to astound me) – oh gosh, lots of stuff.
PC: Can you learn a script with music playing or do you require silence?
AM: Depends. Sometimes I use music as a distraction as I repeat lines to be sure they are embedded DEEPLY.
PC: Do you have a favourite movie soundtrack you never tire of?
AM: YES – Pulp Fiction soundtrack.
PC: Whose music is your guilty pleasure?
AM: Beyonce. Or any poppy girl group from the 90s.
PC: Which singer or group would you describe yourself as a super fan of?
AM: Definitely Diana Krall… and My Morning Jacket.
Final three questions I’m asking everyone.
PC: What is your favourite word?
PC: How would you describe your perfect day?
AM: Wake up next to someone I love, huge breakfast, work on a painting, head to set,work hard all day, dance all night.
PC: I cannot possibly live without…?
AM: My faith.
PC: Thank you Ann.
You can find Ann Mahoney on Twitter
This interview has been edited for clarity and length. Any opinions or views expressed within the interview are the subject’s own and publication does not imply endorsement of any such opinions or views by Absolute Music Chat or its personnel.