‘IN THE BELLY OF THE BEAST’: ACTRESS LARA JEAN CHOROSTECKI TALKS ABOUT HER NEW ROLE IN NBC’S HANNIBAL
by Nigel Hamid
April 3, 2013
She describes herself on Twitter as ‘that actress with the big long last name.’ Brampton-born, Lara Jean Chorostecki has made a name for herself on the Stratford stage and several television series, including The Border and Dan for Mayor. International audiences have adored her as Bridget in CBC’s ambitious mini-series Camelot and this Spring, audiences will love to hate her as Freddie Lounds in NBC’s much-anticipated series Hannibal.
Recently, I sat down with Lara Jean to talk about her success and what it’s like to take on Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter.
TorontoVerve: I've read that you got the acting bug when you were 8-years old after seeing a performance ofLes Mis at the Royal Alexandra Theatre. You even drew storyboards of the production. How did your parents first react when you told them that you wanted to pursue acting?
Lara Jean: They were surprisingly and incredibly supportive. I don’t think once in my life they’ve questioned what I’ve done. When I got older, my dad revealed that they did worry about the stability aspect of things. He’s a banker and she’s a French teacher so they have very very stable jobs. But I think they saw the amount of passion that I had for the stage and acting so they didn’t question it. In fact, they were so wonderful in their supportiveness to give me every opportunity possible to learn and grow to pursue it.
TV: When did a career in acting first appear to be a reality for you?
LJ: Well, to be honest, when I saw Les Mis there was no other question -- so it was always going to be a career. I don’t think I ever had another career choice. I remember I briefly considered being a psychotherapist and then dropped that quickly. I guess when I went to Stratford that would be when it suddenly became apparent that it was an absolutely realistic career choice.
TV: So acting never appeared to be something that was unattainable for you?
LJ: No, it always felt right. Of course, there were struggles; after getting my Masters in England four and a half years ago, I sat down with my agent to plan a career in film and television and I remember feeling a lot of nerves about this whole new territory. Will I be successful? And I hate to say it, I asked, ‘do I have a face for television?’ But knowing that this is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life and trusting that the pay cheques will cover the basic living stuff or maybe more -- it’s never been a concern. Maybe I’m blindly pursuing this and something bad will happen eventually (laughs), but it’s been really good so far and I’ve been really fortunate.
TV: Before working in film and television, you performed at the Stratford Festival for many years. What was your most memorable moment on stage in front of a live audience?
LJ: Oh, that’s a good question. When I was doing a show called Quiet in the Land at the Tom Patterson Theatre, I was playing Katie Brubacher, who was an Amish girl. All the men had beards and I was doing a scene with one of the older actors, Stephen Russell, who went off-stage for what was supposed to be a few seconds. I waited for him to return while I was paring beans alone in front of the audience, but he didn’t come back. I waited and he still didn’t come back. I think he was gone for a total of two and half minutes. What had happened was he had gone for a quick change and his beard came off. So he was desperately trying to come back, but couldn’t. I remember I was so close to picking up the Bible and reading a verse to the audience so they didn’t have to see me pare beans much longer.
TV: You're a classically trained Shakespearian actor and appeared in period shows like Camelot and BBC'sCopper. Which gives you the most satisfaction: acting in period productions or contemporary ones?
LJ: I think that they’re just so different. I really love period pieces. I love putting on costumes of any era that is not now. It’s just so much fun exploring a different psyche when you add in the realities of what life was like during that time. The set designers of Camelot were so incredible. When you arrived on set, it would smell old and different -- like it would in that time. I loved immersing myself in those kinds of worlds. So I guess in that sense, yeah, I really do love period stuff, but the modern world is really fun to explore too.
TV: So how did you first get involved in Hannibal?
LJ: I auditioned for Hannibal back in August with director David Slade (Hard Candy, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse) who put me through the ringer a few times. They were shooting up here in Toronto and I was lucky to audition. David pushed me to see how far I can stretch myself because Freddie is a bit of a chameleon at times when interacting with various characters.
TV: You play tabloid blogger Freddie Lounds on the show. Your Freddie is quite different from the "Red Dragon" novel and film adaptations (Manhunter & Red Dragon), isn't it?
LJ: Yes, because Freddie was a ‘he’ in the novels and movies, and now Freddie is a ‘she’ so that is already a huge difference. And ‘he’ was previously played by Stephen Lang (Manhunter) and Philip Seymour Hoffman (Red Dragon). Before shooting Hannibal, I watched Red Dragon. First of all, Philip Seymour Hoffman is incredible in it, but second, he’s so schlubby and so wonderfully sleazy. I would say that female Freddie is also wonderfully sleazy, but in a more sophisticated way. She wears high fashion and she’s very good at what she does, but she absolutely has no moral compass whatsoever. Nothing yet has fazed or scared this girl, but fans of the book and movies know that something will eventually very much terrify her.TV: Does the gender-switch add extra pressure on you to win over devoted fans of the material?
LJ: I don’t know -- I think it actually gives more freedom because at the end of the day, if I were a ‘he’ playing a male Freddy Lounds, I would be very easily compared to the fantastic work of the previous two actors. But here, they can’t really compare me because it’s very different. So in that sense, I think it’s less restrictive and less worrying about winning over fans. I hope that people will love to hate her because I love to hate her.
TV: Show producer Bryan Fuller (Pushing Daisies, Dead Like Me) asked you to draw inspiration from News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks who was charged with the phone hacking conspiracy. What did you draw from her?
LJ: There was a Vanity Fair article written last year by Suzanna Andrews called "Untangling Rebekah Brooks"and that gave me a ton of insight because it outlined so nicely what her rise to fame was and maybe some devious things that happened. Time will tell in her trial what she’s guilty or not guilty of. So what I drew from her was the idea of someone who is unapologetic and pretty fierce in pursuing an ultimate success for herself. The way Bryan described her is even though she’s under suspicion and being investigated for some not-so great things right now, she’s still the type of woman who can find her way around anything. And even though she may get you fired, the next day you might just send her ‘thank you’ flowers because she managed to find you a better job. So that drive that I sense in her is definitely what inspired me.
TV: In "Red Dragon", Freddy's unscrupulous tactics result in much friction between him and FBI agent Will Graham. How does your Freddie mix things up with Graham and Lecter in the series?
LJ: Actually Freddie and Will Graham have quite the antagonistic relationship. I don’t think he’s too fond of me. I think when you watch the series, you’ll probably get a sense of that. I also had a lot of fun with Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale, Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky) who plays Hannibal. He’s incredible and such a good actor. He’s so inspiring to work with. Freddie’s interaction with Hannibal in particular gets interesting at times. I think he finds her pretty fascinating. There’s a lot of thematic stuff throughout our first season with identifying parts of yourself in other people. When Hannibal first meets Will, he identifies a part of himself in Will, and everybody is identifying a psychopathic quality in each other. I gotta say that the most fun I had was when Freddie interacts with Jack Crawford, who’s played by Lawrence Fishburne (The Matrix, CSI). When I get to sit down with Jack, he’s just so intimidating and I have to be absolutely unafraid of him. Freddie doesn’t appear in the pilot. She appears in Episode 2 for the first time and when Jack says my name, you sense there’s already a history between us where I’ve gotten under his skin a number of times.
TV: I think it’s great for your character because Freddy Lounds doesn’t have much to do in the novel, but now it really looks like they’re going to flesh out the character and introduce her to people whom ‘he’ originally never met.
LJ: Absolutely, yeah, she appears in 6 of the 13 episodes so strongly. I interact with almost everyone and it’s been a real blessing to be that type of character. I think that Bryan has brilliantly utilized this character to be able to fill things in when needed and come in and stir up trouble. Also, Bryan has plans for a good long run and it’ll be really exciting to see what he does with Freddie until maybe something happens to her -- I don’t know, we’ll find out.
TV: I think the gender-switch is a good idea because author Thomas Harris’ female characters aren’t very strong -- with the exception of Clarice Starling ("Silence of the Lambs") of course.
LJ: Yes, there are not a lot of female characters in Harris' books. In the series, Caroline Dhavernas is playing Dr. Alana Bloom, who in the novel is Dr. Alan Bloom, which again is a smaller character that has been massively fleshed out for the show. I think that audiences will really enjoy Bryan’s vision.
TV: Many network shows over the past few decades like The Profiler, CSI and Criminal Minds have borrowed a lot from the Lecter films. In fact, FOX currently has a series called The Following with Kevin Bacon as an FBI agent who goes toe-to-toe with a Hannibal-like character. How do you think Hannibal will stand out from these similar-themed shows?
LJ: Well, I watched the first two episodes of The Following, which I’ll go on record and say that I really enjoyed. James Purefoy (John Carter, Solomon Kane) plays the villain in The Following and I previously worked with him on Camelot so I was really excited to see it. But in terms of how Hannibal compares -- it’s just nothing like The Following. The Following is great in its own zone like Hannibal is great in its own zone. Hannibal is filmic -- there are a lot of surreal elements in it. It’s very psychologically-based. Hannibal’s tone is so different than anything I’m seeing on network television right now. Quite frankly, I don’t think that there’s anything on network TV that can compare with Hannibal and I think that’s really exciting. It’s very smart of NBC to be picking up a show that has so much of a cable feel to it. Hannibal is very film-like with high production values and great actors. The Following is a great show, but I just don’t think it’s in the same territory.
TV: Interesting that you mentioned that because I was very surprised when NBC announced that it would be picking up such a dark show.
LJ: If the networks really want to keep audiences, that’s what they’re going to have to cater to in a good way because it’s good TV. We need more Breaking Bads, Mad Men, Walking Deads and Homelands on NBC, ABC, CBS and FOX.
TV: What was it like working with such an impressive cast like Lawrence Fishburne, Mads Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy (Our Idiot Brother, The Jane Austen Book Club)?
LJ: I like to think that it’s elevated my work. Every time you work with someone who has such a breadth of work behind them, it improves you. It’s great to be on set with those guys. They’re such pros. Mads brings with him a European sensibility that is so refreshing. He’s so subtle in his work and it’s such a lesson to watch his subtlety and yet see that he projects every single emotion so clearly. The confidence with which Lawrence approaches everything is inspiring at all times, and I think a lot of people will be impressed with Hugh Dancy as Will Graham. His work is touching and ferocious and really exciting. He’s the type of character that you really want to care for -- yet he’s playing someone who’s so anti-social. The ability for an actor to make you want to care for him so deeply when he’s playing someone very disconnected is a testament to his work.
TV: You once said that you like to ask a lot of questions when working on a set. From whom did you learn the most on Hannibal and what did they tell you?
LJ: I learned from everyone, but the best conversations were probably with Lawrence. In our first scene together, he was so generous to sit down and talk through it with me because I was a little confused about the tone. I wasn’t in the pilot so I was trying to figure out the tone that everyone had already set, as I hadn’t seen any footage. It was really essential to have those conversations. He taught me to own my own character. "You know who she is. Own her. And everything else will fall into place from there."
TV: If you had the chance to play another popular male character in film, television or theatre as a woman, who would it be and why?
LJ: That’s too easy: Hamlet. I think male or female -- who wouldn’t want to take on that character? He’s so complex. Although, another character I think that’s pretty fantastic that was played in Stratford recently by a woman is Richard III. Also, Jaques from "As You Like It." I can name you a ton of male bard characters like Ariel from "The Tempest", which has often been played by a female as well. But definitely without hesitation, Hamlet. A friend of mine once directed "Hamlet" with Graham Abbey as the lead, but Graham was busy shooting The Border and couldn’t read for auditions, so I had the pleasure of reading Hamlet opposite all the Laertes and Gertrudes that came in. I gotta say it was the most fun that I had in a day.
TV: Let’s close with word association if you don’t mind.
LJ: Yeah, let’s do it.
LJ: My first thought is biking because I grew up biking a lot there.
LJ: David. That's my partner.