…embrace the you in you. Super cheese balls, I know, but…seriously NO ONE NOTICES THOSE FIVE POUNDS BUT YOU. And your ‘unique’ features are what make you NOT look like the other 100 people in the waiting room. And guess what, when people feel things, their faces move! I’m still embracing that one. But all of this…it would be super lovely to have embraced it all at 21.
As part of our series about rising stars, I had the pleasure to interview Seana Kofoed. Born and raised in the Chicago area, Seana Kofoed got her start as an actor in Chicago Theatre before moving to New York. In New York, Kofoed was best known for productions on and off-Broadway. Her Broadway credits include “Proof” with Jennifer Jason Leigh and “Night Must Fall” with Matthew Broderick. Off-Broadway credits include several productions with the Atlantic Theatre Company, MCC, and Manhattan Theatre Club, where she received a Drama Desk nomination for her work in “An Experiment with an Air Pump”. Once relocating to Los Angeles, she began shooting the fan-favorite series, MEN IN TREES. She has spent the last few years guest starring on shows such as FLAKED, GONE, NCIS, RAISING HOPE, SUBURGATORY, and RULES OF ENGAGEMENT among many others. As a writer, Kofoed created the web series DONNA’S REVENGE, and went on to co-write the web comedy BORDERLINE TALENT, in both of which she also starred. On film, Kofoed most recently appeared in Justine Bateman’s directorial debut, 5 MINUTES, which had its premiere at TIFF. You can catch her as a series regular on the Jenji Kohan/Jamie Denbo Lifetime series, AMERICAN PRINCESS, and in the feature film 30 MILES FROM NOWHERE, which Kofoed also wrote and produced. Kofoed attended Northwestern University and The Royal National Theatre, London, and currently lives in Los Angeles with her family.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Seana! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up in a little suburb outside of Chicago, a very John Hughes-esque setting. Three brothers, two dogs, always some kind of hamster trying to thrive in a bedroom somewhere. My mom’s an artist, and my dad’s a sort of mad-scientist version of an attorney, so there were sculptures and paintings scattered next to stacks of legal briefs, musical instruments and amps, a piano. The setting was a messy but supportive one!
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of living other people’s lives. And if you think back to grade school, kids sort of expect you to be the same 10-year-old you were the day before, it’s not like you can just shake it up with an entirely new persona, 4th grade isn’t exactly forgiving in that way. So theatre gave me the freedom to dabble in other people’s life experiences in a way that the real world wouldn’t.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I was about to open on Broadway in the 2nd cast of PROOF, with Jennifer Jason Leigh and Josh Hamilton, and September 11th happened. We went dark for a day or two and then we opened, as shows do indeed ‘go on’, even with the rest of the world turned upside down. Each night I would read The New York Times, soak in the day’s unfolding coverage, all the pain and love and everything New Yorkers were feeling, but then I’d get this two-hour escape of playing a woman whose reality didn’t include that tragedy. There was also this feeling of theatre go-er and theatre actor being ‘in it together’ at that time, which really highlighted the ability of entertainment to bring us together.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Oh my goodness SO many of them! Um…usually along the lines of auditioning for musicals when really…I mean…there are people very well trained for that. I’m definitely an actor who sings…somewhat, and moves…moderately well. And when I first got to New York City, I was like ‘well, I’m here, if I’m not up at 4:30 in the morning standing in a line outside Actors Equity in the freezing cold, then I’m not a dedicated actor!’ And, I mean, this was for auditions for, say…The Sunny Shack Playhouse in rural Wisconsin (doesn’t exist) and the like, this was NOT for Les Miz on Broadway. (Tho I did also audition for that, natch. Much to their dismay, I’m sure :))
And I learned…well, nothing actually. I think I’m still the same. Relentlessly optimistic in the face of ridiculous odds.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
This past year, working on AMERICAN PRINCESS has been such a joy. It was an amazing example of how a well-led family is a happy one. Jamie Denbo, the show’s creator, and of course Jenji Kohan and producers Tara Hermann and Mark Burley…they create this wonderfully kind, balanced, diverse, easeful set. And I am now forever spoiled!
Doing CLAWS this season was great too — oh my goodness they have so much fun over there, Janine Sherman-Barrois runs the show, and Dale Stern runs the set, and again, gender-balanced, diverse — I’m telling you, it’s the way all sets should be run! Happier people/happier show.
And as we await word on a second season of American Princess, I’m working on a script we hope to produce under the Film Camp Productions banner, as well as material to take elsewhere. And of course I’ll always take any fun roles that come my way!
I’m very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
Oooooh let me just drag my soapbox over, ha! It’s an issue near and dear to my heart. Last year, Film Camp Productions produced a thriller I wrote, 30 MILES FROM NOWHERE, which received the ReFrame stamp for gender balance in the industry. We had a diverse and 50% female cast and crew. That was our goal from the outset and we were able to make it happen, because we had no execs to answer to but ourselves. I think it’s essential to represent the world in which we live in our storytelling. Women, people of color, people of all abilities, people of different shapes, sizes, faces, ages…they, too, need to see themselves reflected on film, to be told their stories matter. It is no longer useful (never was) or interesting (rarely is) to watch a story told by and featuring a dozen people who look exactly alike. That is not what we see in our world, and I’m not interested in watching it on screen. Onwards and upwards to bolder, more engaging, inclusive content!
From your personal experience, can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do help address some of the diversity issues in the entertainment business?
I sure can!
1) Aim for a 50% female-identifying cast and crew. Come as darn close as you can. Make people dig deeper for those lists they hand you of ‘hire-able’ folks — and that’s for both crew lists (DPs, Directors, Writers, Composers) and cast lists. Flip those genders! Shake things up!
2) Ask yourself if you are reflecting diversity of all kinds. Racial diversity, yes absolutely. And ALSO gender balance, diversity of shapes, of perceived beauty…of age…of ‘abilities’. Look around you at the CVS or the grocery store…and then look around your set. The sizes, shapes, colors you see on your set should reflect the world in which you live. They’re out there, they have the talent, the recommendations, people just need to make the effort to hire them.
3) For the viewer: watch shows beyond the ones with which Netflix targets you. Go on Film Twitter and follow diverse critics. Note the films they’re recommending, and go watch them. See WHEN THEY SEE US, even though you’re afraid of how it’ll make you feel. Watch shows that feature people who don’t look like you. Watch film and TV that expands your world. Do your part in allowing entertainment to move you, to change your mind, to make you less fearful of your neighbor. I’m giving myself that same challenge, and I invite you to join me.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1) Be Patient. Especially as a character actor. It ebbs and flows, and not all of us are ‘easy sells’. Hopefully that’s changing as the executive ranks change and we embrace the value of diversity and humanity in our storytelling, but…hang in there.
2) Be Bolder than you think you can be. As women/girls, we’re really taught to not ask for too much, to not overstep, to not expect extraordinary things, to stay in our lane. F that. You don’t have to be a dick about it, but be bolder than people would expect you to be.
3) To not ‘Stay in Your Lane’. I wish I’d started writing earlier, and embracing being both an actor and a writer. I wish I’d truly accepted that adding one did not equate failure in the other.
4) To drink more water. It’s not too late for this one! Seana, DRINK MORE WATER. There. I’ve told myself.
5) To embrace the you in you. Super cheese balls, I know, but…seriously NO ONE NOTICES THOSE FIVE POUNDS BUT YOU. And your ‘unique’ features are what make you NOT look like the other 100 people in the waiting room. And guess what, when people feel things, their faces move! I’m still embracing that one. But all of this…it would be super lovely to have embraced it all at 21.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Surround yourselves with good people. Definitely don’t have ONLY industry friends, have a blend. I have political friends, college friends, actor friends, mom friends…it gets you out of your own sh*t a little to talk about 2nd grade teachers, or the state of the world…anything but how so-and-so tested for this and that pilot, and you haven’t had an audition in weeks! Blargh.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
To lead with kindness. I feel like that’s something so many people pay lip service to, but don’t actually do. For example, if we led with kindness, we wouldn’t have the crisis at the border that we do, we wouldn’t have gun violence in schools, because we wouldn’t have assault weapons on the street, because quite frankly, KIND people do not need assault weapons. They just don’t. Get another hobby, hunt whatever clay pigeon you need to with a hunting rifle, you don’t need a machine gun. More kindness leads to better programs for people in need which leads to less crime. More kindness leads to storytelling that’s diverse, both in front of and behind the camera, which in turn lifts up audiences at home, telling them their life experiences have value.
Sometimes the sheer number of things to improve in our world can make us feel powerless. But there’s so much that just approaching an issue with a kinder heart will take care of. It takes all the dick moves off the table, and then you can get down to the more peaceful business of making everyone’s lives a little better.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I would say the very funny & unique New York theatre director, John Tillinger, who gave me both my first great Off-Broadway role (The Memory of Water, at Manhattan Theatre Club) and my first Broadway role (Night Must Fall). Getting that first big job is really the hardest, since you’re an unknown quantity until you’re not, so I will always be immensely grateful to him for taking that leap of faith!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote comes from the amazing playwright, John Patrick Shanley:
“All the really exciting things possible during the course of a lifetime require a little more courage than we currently have. A deep breath and a leap.”
And it’s relevant on a daily basis for me!
There is so much that requires a little more courage than we currently have. From sending back bad wine to taking a political stand. All of it takes “a deep breath and a leap.”
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Ava Duvernay. She’s out there telling amazing stories that need to be told, and hustling to move our business forward on the storytelling front. As a writer/producer, I’m all for embracing initiatives that help to shake up the ways we’ve been examining the human experience. It’s essential to bring the formerly-marginalized into the storytelling arena. That exposure to the stories of others, of people with whom we wouldn’t normally identify, is the most effective way to make us better human beings.
And Julia Davis, because she’s flipping brilliant. She’s ridiculously funny both as an actor and a writer, and I’m hoping, if the lunch is long enough, some of her skills will rub off on me.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
@Seanakofoed on Instagram and Twitter!