■ The Walking Dead and Americans star, 48, talks about death curses, Mel Gibson and the Broadway show that made her cry
We’ve just seen you in thriller Pyewacket, in which you play a mother whose teenage daughter puts a death curse on her. Why did you fancy doing that?
I liked the whole idea that one has to be careful what one wishes for. I loved that the film was inspired by the Grimms’ Fairy Tales, which are universal and timeless. Whether it’s a story that took place hundreds of years ago or modern-day, people can really relate to feelings of isolation and loneliness. The film has a profound and relevant message: that we human beings have a great power to manifest energy and shape our destiny by the nature of how we shape our thoughts. It’s the whole concept of if you put something negative out in the world and it comes back, the consequences of that can be terribly frightening. I loved that.
Even though you had a death curse on you, was the shoot fun?
The whole experience was seamless and wonderful. I really responded to the mother-daughter relationship because I thought it was so authentically written. And it was a dream to work with Nicole Muños, who plays my daughter — she’s such an open and vulnerable actress.
How does this compare to playing Andrea in The Walking Dead?
I love playing characters that evoke emotion in other people. A lot of people are embracing Pyewacket in a way that they did The Walking Dead. It’s not about zombies or witchcraft — though that’s part of it — but I think people relate to the human element. We all have pain, we all have strife, we all have our struggles.
What made you want to become an actor?
I come from a long line of thespians and writers, and my stepfather, who raised me [in Canada], was a Brit, Michael Anderson — he directed The Dam Busters. I think it’s a bit of a mix of nature and nurture. Being raised in the arts, it seemed like the right path for me to pursue. I love telling stories. I love being part of that process and I love playing characters that spark a reaction in others.
What’s the best compliment you’ve had about your work?
I think when people have come up to me and said that watching a performance changed their life or helped them through an exceptionally difficult time.
What are you passionate about apart from acting?
I’m passionate about saving children from being subjected to sex trafficking. Recently I got involved with Operation Underground Railroad, an extraordinary organisation made up of former CIA and military personnel. They invited me to go on a covert mission in Colombia to help rescue 55 enslaved children. It was the best thing I’ve ever done.
What last made you cry?
I just watched Angels In America on Broadway [starring Andrew Garfield and Nathan Lane] and I wept like a baby. Storytelling is what connects us as human beings. But I also feel that way about art, like when I see a great sculpture or look at a beautiful painting. I love feeling connected to other people in the world through art, whether participating or viewing.
Which on-screen character of yours would you swap lives with if you had to?
Renee in The Americans. First of all, I’m a huge fan of the show and I love being part of it, and while I can’t give anything away with that character [she’s a sport-mad possible KGB spy], I found her to be tremendously interesting: I think she must have had a very full life.
What’s coming up next?
Dragged Across Concrete. It’s a cop drama starring Vince Vaughn and Mel Gibson about two cops who get suspended from the police force and, through a series of unfortunate events, end up delving into the criminal underworld to get their just due.
Who do you play?
I play Mel Gibson’s wife. She’s a rich, wonderful character who suffers from MS and is deeply troubled because her daughter’s been assaulted. They’ve lost all their money. Her relationship with Mel’s character is quite honest and drives the narrative.
How was it acting opposite Mel Gibson?
It was really quite dreamy, to be honest. He was so real and lovely and a gentleman, and our scenes were effortless. It was a highlight in my career.
Do you enjoy keeping busy?
I’m happiest busy and I have a lot of interests but, you know, my family is number one. I have the same friends I’ve had since I was a little girl and I definitely carve out time for them. I try to come back to London at least every year. I love the culture there, the art, the history. I love the Brits — the cheekiness, the fun, the humour, the literature, the manners… I love England.
Pyewacket is available on DVD and to download now