In the ensemble comedy happythankyoumoreplease, actress Malin Akerman plays Annie, a woman in her 20’s who has had an unhealthy pattern of dating the wrong men. Because of an auto-immune disorder called alopecia universalis, which has resulted in her being entirely hairless, Annie has an amazing spirit and has learned to face life with full force.
During the press day for the film, Malin Akerman did this exclusive interview with Collider where she talked about her connection to this character and how she misses playing her, shaving her own eyebrows for the role, and working with How I Met Your Mother star Josh Radnor on his directorial debut. She also talked about her role in the upcoming comedy Wanderlust, opposite Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd, and her next project, Inferno: A Linda Lovelace Story, which she expects to start shooting in April. Check out what she had to say after the jump:
MALIN AKERMAN: I was sent the script from Josh [Radnor] and was actually offered a different role in the film. I read the script and fell in love with Annie, and then found out that Annie had already been cast. I just felt like the other role that I was offered was something that I had already done in other films, and I loved Annie way too much to be involved with a film where I’d be sitting and pining after this other role. I gracefully declined and said, “Thank you so much.”
I love the way he writes. I think he writes really, really beautiful characters. And luckily for me, the girl who was originally supposed to do Annie couldn’t do it anymore, so the role was up for grabs. So, I flew up to New York and spent four hours with Josh in his apartment and we went through the script. We went through pretty much every single scene. And then, he called me a few days later and said, “All right, you can do it. It’s yours.”
Did you do any research to understand what it’s like for someone to live with alopecia?
AKERMAN: Yeah, I did. My only experience with alopecia before this was a guy friend of mine who had a different type of alopecia, where you just lose little splotches of hair, but it grows back. And so, Josh was telling me about this friend of his who he based this character on, who has alopecia universalis, which is a small percentage of the women who get it. I went online and researched it and watched YouTube videos of girls with it.
Funnily enough, after we had shot the movie, I met quite a few women who have alopecia or who knew someone, but Josh was very informative as well. He had a lot to say about his friend, who he spends a lot of time with. He told me about who she was, character wise, and we went talked about what it would be like to grow up without hair and go through school without hair. As a woman, that’s something that we focus on a lot – long hair, short hair, hairstyles, dark hair, blonde hair, make-up and all those kinds of things. To not have that, and also be so different from everyone else, what would that be like? How would that shape you, as a character? What would that do to your personality?
That can go so many ways, but in Annie’s case, she is a master at deflecting and creating something really beautiful. She has such an amazing spirit and she just faces it front on. She just goes full force into it and says, “Yeah, I’m bald! Look at me, I’m pretty hot because of it.” I love that about her. I think she’s so awesome. But, it’s a bit of an emotional roller coaster for her.
AKERMAN: I did. I actually suggested to Josh that we shave off my eyebrows because I didn’t want it to be distracting in the scene. We didn’t have a big budget, so there was no way we could do it in post and erase the eyebrows. I said, “Let’s just shave them off,” so we did. We shaved off the eyebrows and did the bald cap for the days that we saw her bald, but most of the time, we just wrapped my head up in these scarves and beautiful head wraps.
What was it like the first time you saw yourself like that?
AKERMAN: It was really cool to see myself. It’s a great beauty tip, if you ever want to look five years younger, to shave off your eyebrows. It’s amazing what it does. It really shaves off the years. My husband kept looking at me and going, “Wow, baby, you look like an angel.” There’s something really innocent and beautiful about her, in such a different way than Hollywood glam. It’s an inner beauty that outshines everything. You don’t have to get through the layers of make-up, hair and clothes. She wears her personality. It’s just out there, for grabs. The first thing you meet is her personality. It was really cool. I miss her a lot.
How was Josh Radnor, as a first-time director? Did he seem to take to it very easily?
AKERMAN: Yes. He is a brilliant director. I think we’re going to see a lot coming from that man. I think he’s brilliant. It was weird, at first, because you could be in a scene talking to him or doing the scene and you wouldn’t know when he would shift from actor to director. We’d be in a scene and he’d be acting with me and then, all of a sudden, he’d go, “Okay, keep going, but this time just do it a little bit like this.” It was a little shift to get used to having a director/actor that you’re acting with, but all in all, him being an actor is a big advantage because he understands the process and that everyone is different, and he learned to work with everyone in whatever way that they needed. He’s a very good director.
AKERMAN: I’m so excited! I think it’s just a really sweet film. I really think that people are going to enjoy it. If it’s anything like the response we got at Sundance, it will be really nice. Winning an audience award is really the most flattering thing ever to happen to us because who you ultimately make it for is the audience. Hopefully, they’ll like it. Fingers crossed.
HappyThankYouMorePlease and The Giant Mechanical Man are both very unusual, unique romances. When you’re looking at projects, is it intentional, on your part, to find things that are different in that way?
AKERMAN: Lately, yeah. It’s definitely been a conscious decision to seek out roles that are different, in any way, from anything that I’ve done, just to prove to myself that I can do it and to challenge myself. If I can, then great, it will open up those doors and just prove to other directors and peers that I am, in fact, available for things other than comedy. It’s been a lot of fun. I did a film about the end of apartheid in South Africa (The Bang Bang Club) that was serious content based on a true story. I did a movie with Bruce Willis and Forest Whitaker (Catch .44), where I played a drug runner who’s a really tough girl. That was really different. So, I’m just testing the waters a little bit, both for myself and, if it works out well, to convince others to open up the door for me, for something that’s not comedy.
Was it challenging to get people to see you in those different lights?
AKERMAN: Yes and no. Some people just really saw it and believed in it. The excitement about independent filmmaking is that they’re a little more open to taking chances. The studios are a little more careful, as far as who they choose for their film and what they’re known for and staying in the genre because they know what works. I love seeing when actors go from one genre to the next because I feel like most of them can pull it off.
What was the appeal of doing Inferno and playing Linda Lovelace? Won’t you have to get yourself in a dark place for that?
AKERMAN: A very dark place, yeah. At this point, it’s my Mt. Everest. It’s like, “Wow, that seems like a long way up,” but I want to try it. I want to try everything. The script is so great. It’s a really well written script. I was so excited because it’s really intricate. It’s so much about the relationship of her and her husband, and how she became Linda Lovelace because of his heavy hand. The research has been more about battered women and their mentality, how they get into that situation and why they can’t get out. It’s a really interesting journey. Yeah, it’s definitely scary, but I’m excited to be nervous and scared. It’s a big challenge. Luckily, something that we get to do in this business is have the possibility to challenge yourself, at all times, and to grow. I’d like to pull it off. I hope it works out great. I’m going to do my best, and we’ll see what happens.
AKERMAN: Just the tortures that she went through with her husband. What a pain threshold that woman had. Her want to survive was incredible. People are so strong. When you actually read her book, you can’t believe what she went through and you can’t believe that she survived. A lot of those scenes are not going to be in the film because they’re just too crazy. You can’t. No one would want to watch it. I highly recommend reading the book because it will blow your mind. To me, it was surprising that it went as far as it did – what her husband actually made her do and what horrible scenarios he put her in – and that she got through it is incredible.
Is that the next film you’re going to do?
When do you go into production?
AKERMAN: As of right now, it’s in April, but it could always shift.
Are you hoping to switch things up and do a comedy after that?
AKERMAN: That would be nice, yeah. Unfortunately, if it doesn’t happen that way and there are two great jobs that are both really heavy, you do them because they’re great. But, that would be the ultimate. A perfect schedule is to be able to do something dark and then go into something lighter to ease up a little bit.
Do you have anything else lined up yet?
AKERMAN: Yeah, there are a few other things that I can’t talk about yet. There are a few other projects that we’re in talks about right now, but nothing is set in stone.
AKERMAN: It was awesome. It’s an amazing ensemble cast. There are so many great comedians in there. There are a lot of people from the TV show The State. Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd are really amazing, lovely people and really great comedic actors. It was a great cast and we had a blast. That was a really light, fun role. It all takes place in a commune and we get to be these crazy, quirky characters, which I always love doing.
What initially attracted you to acting, and do you still have that same passion for the craft that you did when you started, or do you have moments when you need to recharge?
AKERMAN: I think recharging is important, absolutely. Every now and then, you need maybe a couple of weeks to just chill out and let your emotions balance themselves out a little bit. But, it just gets more and more exciting. The nature of the business is that, once you start proving yourself and the more roles you get, the more exciting the roles that you’re able to go out and do auditions for, or that you’re being offered, get. You have more choices. I don’t think I’ll ever lose the passion for it. You get that adrenalin rush. You get to go to work and be a little bit nervous, and it keeps you on your toes and it challenges you on a day-to-day basis, and I love that. I feel really lucky that I love my job. I really do.