Kate Beckinsale, Mandy Moore, Sandra Oh and 7 Drama Actresses on How They Shape Their Characters

11:47 AM 6/7/2019

by Tara Bitran

Connie Britton, Julianna Marguiles and Laura Linney are also among the stars who discuss the moments their characters became a "total badass" onscreen: "I didn't know that I had that in me."

From left: Kate Beckinsale, Mandy Moore, Sandra Oh
From left: Kate Beckinsale, Mandy Moore, Sandra Oh
Coco Van Oppens/Two Brothers Pictures; Ron Batzdorff/NBC; Gareth Gatrell/BBCAmerica

  • Kate Beckinsale

    Georgia Wells, 'The Widow' (Amazon)

    Courtesy of Coco Van Oppens/Two Brothers Pictures

    Three years after her husband, Will (Matthew Le Nevez), died in a plane crash, "widowed" Georgia lives as a recluse in the Welsh countryside. When she sees a man on the news wearing an eerily familiar orange cap in the Congo, Georgia embarks on a quest to discover whether Will in fact faked his own death.

    WHEN WAS A TIME YOU THOUGHT YOUR CHARACTER WAS A BADASS?

    When she confronts Pieter Bello (Bart Fouche) finally after looking for him for a long time and then shoots him in the leg and kicks the table over. That was really fun. We had quite a lot of fun kicking the table like that.

    WHAT DID YOU BRING TO YOUR CHARACTER THAT WASN'T IN THE ORIGINAL SCRIPT?

    The part where I had the most input was once it starts to resolve the story between her and her husband. It was really important that she didn't have a completely generic response to that. But I was the only female — we had two male writer-producers and two male directors. They were very open: "We really want to have your perspective as an actual woman." For example, there's a scene where she decides to self-destructively get drunk in a bar and becomes a real mess — that was something I asked for because I felt like you needed to see her get very self-destructive and low.

  • Caitriona Balfe

    Claire Fraser, 'Outlander' (Starz)

    Courtesy of Starz

    Claire and Jamie (Sam Heughan) found themselves stranded after a tumultuous storm at the end of season three. As they build a new home together in North Carolina in season four, Claire’s worlds collide when their daughter, Brianna (Sophie Skelton), travels through time to save her parents.

    WHEN WAS A TIME YOU THOUGHT YOUR CHARACTER WAS A BADASS?

    When I get moments to have Claire on the fly be her surgeon self and do something quite fantastic, those always feel quite gratifying — those kind of personal heroic moments in her fight against injustice and things like that.

    IS THERE ANYTHING ABOUT YOUR CHARACTER YOU’RE STILL CURIOUS ABOUT?

    The beauty about being on season five of a show is that you get to evolve. The character gets to evolve. That’s wonderful because it would feel terrible to play the same thing over and over again. I’m interested in, how does time and maturity and getting older, how does that affect how you react to things? I think the Claire of season one was so much more reactionary and hotheaded than the Claire of now, even though that instinct to sort of act and fight — it just manifests itself in slightly different ways, and she’s not quite as hotheaded, I suppose.

  • Connie Britton

    Debra Newell, 'Dirty John' (Bravo)

    Jordin Althaus/Bravo

    In the TV adaptation of the hit true-crime podcast, interior designer Debra Newell sees charismatic anesthesiologist John Meehan (Eric Bana) as her chance at true love after four marriages that didn’t pan out. She falls fast and hard, but as the dangerous truths behind "Dirty John" surface, Debra must finagle a way out of her happily ever after.

    WHAT DID YOU BRING TO YOUR CHARACTER THAT WASN’T IN THE ORIGINAL SCRIPT?

    What I have discovered more than anything is that there were a lot of her qualities that felt actually very familiar to me personally. Even though we’re obviously very different people. Like sometimes valuing yourself less than the people around you, feeling like your value is somehow connected and linked to how well you’re taking care of everybody else around you. These are very fundamental women’s issues.

    IS THERE ANYTHING ABOUT YOUR CHARACTER YOU’RE STILL CURIOUS ABOUT?

    There probably are things about Debra that I’ll never really know the truth about. Because she probably doesn’t even know those things. I definitely became aware that there was a level of denial at play for her, certainly in regard to becoming so entrenched in that relationship. There are certain places where denial has probably kicked in in self-protection.

  • Charlotte Hope

    Catherine of Aragon, 'The Spanish Princess' (Starz)

    Courtesy of Starz

    Catherine of Aragon has traditionally been portrayed as King Henry VIII’s first aged-up and dismissed wife, but in fact, their loving marriage lasted 24 years. As the third princess in Starz’s series retelling British history from the female perspective, young Catherine arrives in the Tudor court ready to seal England and Spain’s alliance.

    WHEN WAS A TIME YOU THOUGHT YOUR CHARACTER WAS A BADASS?

    There’s a fight scene in episode three. When you get to manifest her power with an activity, it makes it so much more visceral. I really loved it because I got to be physically really fierce. We did hours and hours of rehearsal.

    WHAT DID YOU BRING TO YOUR CHARACTER THAT WASN’T IN THE ORIGINAL SCRIPT?

    I read all these obscure history books and I found out that she was really into sweets, and I have an incredible sweet tooth. I tried to include Catherine eating sugared treats as much as I could. It ended up being a lot of dates. That’s not really my jam, if I’m honest. I’m more into real candy.

  • Laura Linney

    Wendy Byrde, 'Ozark' (Netflix)

    Courtesy of Netflix

    The things we do for love? After her money-laundering husband, Marty (Jason Bateman), upended their family’s life and moved them to the Ozarks in season one, Wendy emerges in season two as her own force to be reckoned with, ultimately ordering a hit on the joint "problem" that she and the cartel’s rep Helen Pierce (Janet McTeer) share.

    WHEN WAS A TIME YOU THOUGHT YOUR CHARACTER WAS A BADASS?

    Throwing the opossum up on top of the trailer. (Laughs.) It was pretty good. It was smelly, I can tell you that. It was really smelly, and I was impressed with my own opossum-twirling skills. I didn’t know that I had that in me. And it was heavy!

    WHAT DID YOU BRING TO YOUR CHARACTER THAT WASN’T IN THE ORIGINAL SCRIPT?

    The role has grown considerably thanks to Chris Mundy and his writing team. Characters develop and unfurl as you work on it. I’m sure there’s an awful lot that’s there that wasn’t there from the beginning. There’s certainly some secrets that I hold close that I won’t share with you. I’ll just have to live in a shroud of coyness there.

  • Julianna Margulies

    Dr. Nancy Jaax, 'The Hot Zone' (Nat Geo)

    Amanda Matlovich/National Geographic

    In 1989, Dr. Nancy Jaax is the only woman at the top of her field surrounded by men on an Army base. When Ebola makes its way to the U.S. via infected primates in her lab, the veteran puts herself at the front lines to halt the spread of the deadly virus before it reaches the outside world. The miniseries is based on the 1994 nonfiction book of the same name.

    WHEN WAS A TIME YOU THOUGHT YOUR CHARACTER WAS A BADASS?

    She’s quite a powerful woman to play, but I think the moment when her husband has collapsed in the Reston Monkey House and she has a choice to go with him to the hospital or take over and do what she does best. When she shuts the truck door and says, “Take care of him,” and goes in and takes over and starts telling everyone what to do — I feel like that was what a guy would do, not a woman. A woman would be like, “My husband!” And she said, “No. I have something bigger here. I’ll be fine.”

    WHAT DID YOU BRING TO YOUR CHARACTER THAT WASN’T IN THE ORIGINAL SCRIPT?

    I think maybe a little humor. There were a couple of moments where I felt like it just needed a lighter touch. Otherwise it was all too gloom and doom. When she gets to have exchanges with Topher Grace’s character Jahrling and say, “I just don’t know how to react to you.” Those moments I tried to give it, you know, a little bit of humor.

  • Mandy Moore

    Rebecca Pearson, 'This Is Us' (NBC)

    Courtesy of NBC

    Season two ended with Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Toby’s (Chris Sullivan) wedding, while season three continues to jump around in time. Key to it all is matriarch Rebecca providing a stabilizing force for the “Big Three,” mourning the loss of Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) in the past, comforting Kate through her pregnancy in the present and teeing up her own distant future.

    IS THERE ANYTHING ABOUT YOUR CHARACTER YOU’RE STILL CURIOUS ABOUT?

    I don’t know all of the ins and outs of Miguel [Jon Huertas] and Rebecca reconnecting. But also I’m kind of waiting. We know broad stroke ideas for pretty much every question that we could have about the series, and [creator] Dan [Fogelman] obviously knows everything and tells us whatever we want to know. But a lot of times the gaps are filled in just episode by episode, and you’re like, “Oh, OK. Wow. I didn’t see that coming."

    WHEN WAS A TIME YOU THOUGHT YOUR CHARACTER WAS A BADASS?

    In episode two, there’s a monologue that she gives to Jack about his drinking — she reads him the riot act. They wrote that particular monologue for the auditions. So I had to do it during the audition, and I remember thinking, "Whoa, she is a total badass."

  • Sandra Oh

    Eve Polastri, 'Killing Eve' (BBC America)

    Gareth Gatrell/BBCAmerica

    After season one ended with a dire cliffhanger for Villanelle (Jodie Comer), Eve wrestles with her guilt over stabbing her obsession in the cat-and-mouse game that the two know they shouldn’t be playing but have no desire to stop. In season two, Eve can’t help herself from falling deeper down the well into Villanelle’s extremes.

    WHEN WAS A TIME YOU THOUGHT YOUR CHARACTER WAS A BADASS?

    That’s tricky because I kind of feel like Eve doesn’t see herself as a badass. But I’d say the confrontation scenes with Villanelle, every single confrontation scene with Villanelle, going back to the first season. Eve was a badass in that season one when she first meets her because, even though Eve is petrified, she won’t be intimidated. She’s a very normal person and as she gets deeper and deeper into her relationship and enters a dance with Villanelle, she becomes more extreme.

    WHAT DID YOU BRING TO YOUR CHARACTER THAT WASN’T IN THE ORIGINAL SCRIPT?

    That’s a very tricky question because it’s like, "What does the actor bring to the words?" I just think that’s too difficult to answer because I bring my life to it, it’s too difficult to see, and honestly too personal. You just bring whatever’s going on in your life and your day as well as the background work that you do. You bring so much of yourself to it, you know? All your feelings and all your rage. It’s great to be able to act it out and not hurt people. I mean, in a creative context.

  • Elizabeth Olsen

    Leigh Shaw, 'Sorry for Your Loss' (Facebook Watch)

    Courtesy of Big Beach

    Leigh’s "backpack of trauma got a lot heavier," says Olsen, after the death of her husband (Mamoudou Athie). She moves in with her mother (Janet McTeer) and sister (Kelly Marie Tran) and takes a job at the family fitness studio. She doesn’t "move on,” but she tries to take each day step by step.

    WHAT DID YOU BRING TO YOUR CHARACTER THAT WASN’T IN THE ORIGINAL SCRIPT?

    The funny thing is that when I read this script, I felt like it was written for a version of me. The version of me that’s like very Type A and a little too straightforward at times. What I could say that I brought to the show is that I’ve never produced before and I was more hands-on than I expected. I tried to be a part of every step of the way, even if it was just from first draft to on-set changes to kind of being like a liaison to the crew and then being involved in postproduction and editing. It was really the craziest experience.

  • Mj Rodriguez

    Blanca Rodriguez-Evangelista, 'Pose' (FX)

    Courtesy of JoJo Whilden/FX

    Blanca begins season one as a member of Elektra’s (Dominique Jackson) House of Abundance. But when she finds out she’s HIV-positive, Blanca forms a new house and becomes a mother to children all her own.

    WHEN WAS A TIME YOU THOUGHT YOUR CHARACTER WAS A BADASS?

    There was a bar that a lot of gay individuals would go to — and she walked into that bar, and she really stood her ground and solidified her identity. She got kicked out of the bar. I felt like that was the moment where she truly felt like she was a badass, and like she knew who she was, what she stood for, and that she had to keep doing it in order for something to change. It took a lot of time and work to really dig into that moment to really make sure it was conveyed the right way, so that people know what we went through back in 1987 and what we still go through now. It was rewarding because I felt like — not only was Blanca doing something, but I felt like Mj herself was actually standing up to the people that are outside now in 2019 who are doing the same exact things that happened in 1987.

    This story first appeared in a June stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.