Michelle Forbes stars as Mitch Larsen, the grieving mother of murder victim Rosie Larsen. In an exclusive interview with AMCtv.com, Michelle discusses what attracted her to the part of Mitch, her love of absurdest comedy, and why she likes working with young actors.
Q: What made you want to work on The Killing?
A: I try to keep things as varied as possible in my career, and after playing something as fun and over the top as Maryann on True Blood, I wanted to find something antithetical to that. I don’t often get to play working class people and had been looking for something along that vein. Mitch — when I put the script down, she just really stayed with me. I felt really drawn to her and couldn’t stop thinking about her. As I’ve said before, it’s not so much me choosing the characters as it’s the characters choosing me. Sometimes it’s something you can’t get away from. They start haunting you, and before you know it, you have no choice but to inhabit them.
Q: Did you feel even more powerless as Mitch having just played Maryann, who seems able to do anything?
A: The major difference between the two characters is our relationship to violence and to death. Maryann lives in a different construct than the rest of us. She has no sorrow when it comes to death. She sees it as liberation. She doesn’t understand why human beings are so terrified of it and are in such avoidance of it, or violence. It’s just part of that Greek mythos. But for us mere mortals, [laughs] it’s quite a different story. As I was playing Maryann, I was having the time of my life, because you do on some level, once you start living in that 16 hours a day — I had a bit more freedom and fearlessness in my life during that time. Playing Mitch, having to be immersed in this grief on a mortal level, has been devastating… She’s really just a mom. She’s a mom who’s gathering her groceries, trying to get the bills met and trying to get through the day.
Q: What do you do to shake off that devastation at the end of the day?
A: Some days it’s about coming home and going over the next day’s work and there is no break, [laughs] and that’s just a part of the job and you have to buckle up and cope with it. There are long stretches where there really is no relief but, strange as it sounds — it happened while I was doing Durham County as well — I watch a lot of farcical, absurdest comedy to pull me out of it. At one point, I was reading this book about the Sudan and I was about a third of the way into it, and I thought, am I out of my mind? I can’t take any more suffering right now. So, I put that book to the side and started watching old episodes of Fawlty Towers and Strangers with Candy to shake it out of my head and just have a laugh for a moment.
Q: What have you enjoyed the most about the boys playing your sons?
A: I just light up every time they’re on set. I adore them to pieces. It’s a wonderful thing working with young actors. I know a lot of people don’t like working with children. I actually adore it, because you watch their imagination open up and you watch them start to learn this job that I’ve been doing for so long. They come with such a lack of cynicism. Every time I see that I’m about to work with them I get very excited, even though they’re really sad scenes.
Q: Are you able to have some fun with them between takes?
A: Yes. They’re very good at what they do. It’s also, they’re children. So we play some games. Jamie came up with this wonderful game of singing, just having a conversation but doing it in musical comedy, and the boys just lit up. They were in stitches. We were splitting with laughter. To have sat with these poor children, glum and in grief — it wouldn’t have worked. When it came time and we had a five minute warning, we gathered ourselves and we all did our job. They were absolute professionals. It wasn’t like we were just completely goofing off. It was a necessary light moment. And I explained to them that this was the true meaning of gallows humor.
Q: Do you look back on things you did at Rosie’s age and wonder how you didn’t get into more trouble?
A: I think every parent has an extraordinary sense of fear for their children, especially in this modern age we live in, and I left home at a very early age and moved to New York. I was still very close with my mother but I had an opportunity and I was 16. She did everything she could to make sure that I would be safe, but still, she was letting her child go to a big city on her own. It’s only as an adult that I understand the stress and the fear that she experienced. Yeah, I look back now — Manhattan, at that time, was no picnic. It was crime-infested. You had to know which drug dealers to stare down and which ones to not make eye contact with. It was the Lower East Side, it was a dangerous place, and she had many sleepless nights. And I remember thinking at the time, but I’m fine. I’m fine. There’s a feeling of immortality you have in youth. You just don’t see the dangers around you, or, if you do, maybe you’re even excited by them. I think Rosie has quite a bit of those elements.