Ann Dowd had a secret to share. It occurred close to the top of 2019, in Solar Valley, Idaho, at a second of sudden private confession. She’d joined writer-director Fran Kranz and costars Martha Plimpton, Reed Birney, and Jason Isaacs for rehearsals on their movie Mass, which follows two units of fogeys gathering years after a faculty capturing irrevocably modified their lives. Kranz wished to convey the group collectively by having everybody share tales—reveal their most bare, weak selves. “With out me having to do something, Ann began opening as much as us and broke the ice, and shared herself so totally,” Kranz says now. “It modified us, the 5 of us. She simply modified us.”
There are two issues, I’ve realized, that Ann Dowd does extremely effectively. The primary is speak; the second, as is extra hardly ever the case, is hear. She makes this clear as we ease into our dialog, tucked contained in the foyer of a Downtown L.A. lodge on the eve of the Emmys. One query in, the 65-year-old Dowd holds again tears, reflecting not simply on the making of Mass, however on emotions of parenthood and loss and guilt and concern in her personal life. She exhibits her coronary heart. Then she tells me a secret—one I received’t print on this story—that will get on the core of how deep Mass and her character, Linda, lived within her, and on a bigger scale, of what performing in the end means to her. It’s all a operate of Dowd’s singular capability for empathy—for opening herself up earlier than taking within the phrases and experiences of others, whether or not a costar, a director, a fictional grieving mom, or in at the moment’s case, a journalist.
“She is a really open, empathetic particular person, and that’s her tremendous energy,” says Craig Zobel, who directed Dowd to important acclaim within the 2012 indie Compliance. “Mass is the kind of movie that means that you can see certainly one of my favourite elements of her performing, which is how good she is at listening—how giving a scene accomplice she is.”
You can additionally say that Mass is the kind of movie that Dowd has lengthy deserved. Not as a result of she’s lacked for nice roles of late—since her mid-career breakout in Compliance, she’s been an Emmy-winning pressure on The Handmaid’s Story and a scene-stealer in every part from The Leftovers to Hereditary—however as a result of it’s a real cinematic showcase of her presents, arriving at a time when sufficient of us are lastly conscious of them. The marketing campaign for Dowd’s first Oscar nomination is revving up for a film that finds her merely sitting, going forwards and backwards between speaking and listening, for just about all the working time. She has phrases and he or she has silences to inform her story, and little else. Simply as she’d prefer it. No marvel this may be the one.
For a lady nearing 4 many years within the enterprise, Dowd solely not too long ago realized the sort of actor she wished to be. Initially on the pre-med observe, she left it as a younger pupil for what she actually liked, and went into performing with the studious dedication of a health care provider. “You didn’t go dwelling on trip; you stayed and studied and studied,” she says of her pre-med life. “I approached [acting] the identical method: ‘Know this character, learn the textual content, then I’ll know her. If it takes struggling, you then wager I’ll, and I’m going to review and research and I’m going to know these traces.’ It was all push. That’s distress.” When she received her first series-regular position in 1997’s short-lived Nothing Sacred, and after she gave delivery to the second of her three youngsters, Emily, Dowd was residing in Los Angeles and misplaced “a ton” of weight: “I used to be skinny as a rail, and I couldn’t get a job to avoid wasting my life.”
She realized, over time, to let a few of that stress go—to not carry her characters’ ache, however quite allow them to in organically. “For the character, you need to watch out the place you decide from,” she says. “I don’t imagine you need to endure.” Every position exhibits her one thing new about being an individual on this planet: “An actor involves know a personality…. It’s that dialog: Inform me about you and I’ll let you know about me and we’ll go slowly. I’ve been doing it lengthy sufficient to know when I’m pushing or attempting to take management.”
For a lot of her display screen profession within the ’90s and 2000s, she’d discovered regular work in meaty tasks—as Tom Hanks’s sister in Philadelphia, Busy Philipps’s mom in Freaks and Geeks—however needed to grind, as most character actors do, with out a lot notoriety (or cash). Then got here a tiny film referred to as Compliance. Working with a finances simply over $250,000, Zobel forged Dowd as a fast-food restaurant supervisor named Sandra within the audition room, proper after she learn for the half. She was paid $100 per day over a 16-day shoot, for a difficult position on the heart of a queasy story, through which a person posing as a police officer accuses certainly one of Sandra’s staff of stealing. He convinces Sandra to carry the worker for questioning, violate her rights, and progressively descend deeper into ethical darkness. It’s a personality burning with a quiet, imposing depth, the sort that Dowd has come to say as a signature—developed out of years of engaged on her craft, however one which few outdoors of some theater circles had been conscious of.
“We might typically shoot these huge lengthy speeches eight to 12 occasions…as a result of she was so open to route,” says Zobel, Emmy-nominated for helming this yr’s Mare of Easttown. “Numerous the efficiency within the movie was constructed from a mixture of her totally different, versatile takes on the state of affairs.”
Raves for Dowd erupted out of a Sundance premiere; critics referred to as for an Oscar nomination to comply with. However this was a small film with out the money for a marketing campaign; distributor Magnolia Pictures declined to even send screeners to guilds or the Academy. Dowd and her husband, Lawrence Arancio, spent $13,000—financed between bank cards and loans from associates—to get the movie into voters’ fingers themselves: a real DIY marketing campaign. Dowd wound up successful the Nationwide Board of Evaluate’s best-supporting-actress prize, a key precursor, and was nominated for an Impartial Spirit Award.
“The considered doing that marketing campaign at first felt silly—I imply, not smug, you recognize, however hey, I used to be raised Catholic,” Dowd says now. However she believed within the work and knew awards consideration could be important for her profession. “I used to be so happy with her for doing that,” Zobel says. “There was so clearly a sense that she deserved it.”
Dowd remembers exhibiting up on the 2013 Nationwide Board of Evaluate Awards, getting ready to make a speech at an intimate affair and as an alternative discovering herself being feted at certainly one of Oscars season’s greatest, glitziest kickoff occasions. “This received’t work,” she’d flatly instructed her director and publicist on the occasion. They satisfied her to remain, that she belonged. “I had no attachment to successful, as a result of I didn’t assume I ever would,” Dowd says. “It was like a celebration. It was going to Disneyland.”
Dowd didn’t obtain an Oscar nomination, however her trajectory in Hollywood clearly modified following Compliance, even when the movie didn’t crack $1 million on the field workplace. Says Zobel, “She walked away from that with everybody realizing she was a pressure to reckon with.”
Compliance’s Sandra was solely the beginning of Dowd’s brilliantly antiheroic creations. She performs them with a menace bone-deep in its realism, and grounded in a peculiar, off-kilter humanity. For her most notorious villain, The Handmaid’s Story’s Aunt Lydia, folks repeatedly ask Dowd how she will get into such a nasty headspace. Years of labor on precisely that form of apply clarify her talent there. “At first, I wouldn’t need to inform the reality about it, which is, ‘I can’t get there quick sufficient,’” she says with a gleeful smile. “We don’t carry the results dwelling.”
When she received the 2017 Emmy for drama-supporting-actress, Dowd observed a sort of shift. It’d been just a few years since Compliance and issues had been, for lack of a greater phrase, occurring. The Leftovers introduced her a brand new stage of important consideration; Handmaid’s received her onto the most important stage in TV. “I began to get hooked up to the successful,” she says. “I spotted, wait a minute, hon. Let’s return a bit bit right here. Let’s maintain the concentrate on the work. Don’t do it.” She confronted effervescent emotions of envy. And she or he nonetheless fights them. (The Emmys had been the subsequent day, bear in mind?) “Let go of the attachment,” she reminds herself mid-conversation. “Pleasure is within the work.”
https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2021/09/awards-insider-ann-dowd-mass-profile | Ann Dowd on Her Oscar-Contending ‘Mass’ Efficiency