Hanah Young sits down with the young actress and New York native you might recognise from Manchester by the Sea (2016) and Weiner Dog (2016).
Hanah Young: How’s filming Superior Donuts going?
Anna Baryshnikov: We’re about to do our 9th episode of 13. It’s going really well, just as I feel like I’m getting into the swing of things it’s going to be over soon
Hanah: So it’s a whole episode in a day but it’s all on one set right? How is that?
Anna: In a studio - which was so frightening when we first started because I’ve never - there are some stages in New York but it felt like a distinctly LA thing to walk inside a giant studio and there’s a full coffee shop that’s been built in there, a full donut shop. But now that I’m used to it, it just feels kind of like being inside a theatre.
Hanah: You’ve done one stage show off Broadway haven’t you?
Anna: I did a play right when I graduated but mostly it just happens to be that film and TV started working out. I grew up doing theatre and I’d want to return to it. At first I felt like I was completely like a fish out of water doing a sitcom but then I realised there are a lot of similarities with comedic theatre.
Hanah: I’m sure having an actually audience there as opposed to a bunch of tech-y guys standing behind screens is more comforting would you say?
Anna: Sometimes on set with a single cam - if you’re in a bad mood or if you’re tired sometimes that can show in your work but when you have a live audience you get that adrenaline, wanting to give people a good experience so it kind of helps land everything. I think that it takes the work out of a vain or egotistical place and you’re like ‘I just want to make these people laugh!’. The audience ends up sitting there for a long time so you also want to do your job well so that they have something to enjoy.
Hanah: Do you think you’ll try to go back into theatre if you can?
Anna: I definitely want to go back to theatre at some point.With film and TV I think sometimes concepts for shows and movies get kind of stuck in typical structures. I think [playwrights] have often really fresh and exciting idea and actually Superior Donuts is based on a play written by Tracey Letts. He wasn’t restricted by concerns about what’s going to work for TV. He just wrote a really great play and it has characters in a situation that also would work [for TV].
Hanah: I think one of the beauties of theatre is that each day is a new day and each performance and you can get so much form each individual performance, which you maybe don’t get from TV.
Anna: Theatre is like a living breathing evolving thing… but at the same time, part of what I love about film and TV as an actor is that you do your best and it’s out of your hands. Whereas theatre I think sometimes it can be really easy to torture yourself each night; “was tonight as good as last night?”, “I have to do something different tomorrow.”
Hanah: Are you missing New York?
Anna: I do miss it. I miss the people. You know all of my people are there but also like we were just talking about, there’s a lot of theatre I want to see and my family is there. That said I’ve been really loving LA.
Hanah: LA is great in a picture perfect Truman show but I guess New York is more inspiring
Anna: Totally, I’ve even felt like after living in LA for a while I’m like wow, are my shoulders just more relaxed, because you know in NY you’re like dodging people on the subway and all of that. So much of what excites me is in New York, maybe because I grew up there. There’s a community of cool young artists in LA that I’ve started to meet, I haven’t found that it’s the superficial idea that everyone has of LA. I feel like a lot of the people I’ve met have been so down to earth and really care about the work. But yeah… New York’s got my heart.
Hanah: What do you think about relocating for work because obviously you’re here for Superior Donuts but then Manchester by the Sea was filmed in Boston is that right?
Anna: We shot in the town in Manchester by the Sea which is outside of Boston and in a few neighbouring towns around there, but we would commute between NY and Boston. I would go shoot my scene and be there for a week and then be home for a few days then go back. I wasn’t there solidly throughout the entire time but we spent a really good amount of time in the area because I’m not a girl from a small town in Boston and I think it was really important to Kenny [Lonergan] for all of us to see what that community is like. So we did spend a good amount of time there. He actually had us rehearse up there so we would just go. We did one week of rehearsal in NY and another week just in Boston and we would go just to be around and hear the accents because it’s so different from here.
Hanah: Do you think the film embodied what the town is really like? Or was it was it more of an idea of a fictional town?
Anna: I may be biased because I was in it but I’ve spoken to some people who live around the area, or grew up around the area, who saw the movie who felt like a lot of it was really true to life. Obviously it’s fictional and it’s dramatised so who’s to say? But I think there was at least a really focused attempt and it was important to Kenny that he really tried to get it right. You know we shot in people’s houses in that area and spoke with them and I know that Lucas and Casey spent a lot of time out on the boat and kind of tried to immerse themselves as much as possible.
Hanah: I heard that you got to do script rehearsals with the whole cast and I was thinking about how interesting that must have been because it seemed everyone else’s character had this heavy weight to it and yours was this kind of ray of sunshine in the film. How was it to rehearse roles with that difference?
Anna: I think it was really important because the script with the flashbacks can seem so fragmented but when you heard it start to finish I kind of understood what my scenes were about like what was this adding to the story and I got a better sense on an intellectual level Lucas - Patrick - Lucas is his character (laughs).
So often when you’re cast in something you just go for one day and shoot your stuff and then you see it later in the context of the script whereas this was really cool, because I had a sense of where it was going to live in the movie. Also getting to see Michelle Williams ask questions about her accent or what’s going on in the scene was just the biggest gift for a young actor.
Hanah: I can imagine. To be surrounded by all of those incredible actors when youre so new to it in so many ways and there’s still so much to learn so to get to see those people first hand is pretty special.
Anna: Totally. There was one day on set I remember. There was truly at least a fifteen-minute conversation as to whether or not he was going to wear a jacket on the boat. Kenny was like “it’s this month”. The costume designer was like “well is it 60 degrees or is it 50 degrees?” The minutia, the attention to detail that was going into what jacket he was wearing and I was just thinking, “let’s just do the scene”. Then when you watch the movie and you realise all that stuff is important.
Hanah: It’s all of those small details that make this film so real and relatable.
Anna: Something I really appreciated, [was that] it was important to Kenny that the girls felt like real teenage girls and he really valued our input. Down to small things. Right before we shot one of the bedroom scenes he said “Wait, Anna, take a look around the room and anything that doesn’t feel like…you’re a teenage girl, I’m not. If anything in this room doesn’t feel right feel free to take it down.” It was so important to him that it felt realistic. He spoke to us about something he wanted to touch on; “when you actually get along with someone you often are giving each other shit constantly”.She’s so rough with him in a lot of ways then I thought about the relationships and friendships that have meant a lot to me and realised that you’re actually not so conscientious and intensely respectful often.
Hanah: Those are the moments I found myself smirking in the movie when you feel like that’s the human level of things. The connection between you both felt so real and almost enviable.
Anna: Thank you. It was easy because I really loved Lucas [Hedges]. He’s such an amazing actor and just a really kind, great person so it all felt very natural to do it with him.
Hanah: Was it also one of his first major films?
Anna: He was so humble and genuine that I thought “he’s never worked a day in his life” and then I started realising after talking to him and doing some research that he has been in Wes Anderson films before. His father’s a screenwriter so he grew up in and around it but this was his first major role for sure.
Hanah: What’s next after all of this? Do you have any other films lined up?
Anna: I really love writing and I’m working on a play I wrote. But also really trying to focus on fine-tuning some of the comedy stuff that I’m learning in this sitcom because it’s so technically different from anything I’ve done before.
Hanah: Do you think comedy is something you would like to carry on exploring? Because it’s very hard, it’s not something to go into lightly.
Anna: There is some kind of skills that you have to learn because it’s so much about a physical response or timing that you can kind of drill. The show has really made me realise that I love making people laugh and a lot of the actresses I look up to are very funny. And with everything that’s going on in the world there’s a really specific catharsis in comedy and it’s sometimes the most exciting commentary on what’s going on.
Hanah: To have a sense of humour about what’s going on is a great way to deal with it or understand it.
Anna: Yeah, Colbert said something in his election coverage that I’ve been thinking about in terms of comedy. He said “you can’t fear something and laugh at it at the same time”.
Hanah: As a woman there’s this idea that women can’t be funny and aren’t allowed to be funny. Have you noticed that or do you see that ever in the industry?
Anna: I think because I grew up watching a lot of movies and consuming a lot of stuff I always remember seeing really funny women performing but I totally relate to the confines. It sometimes feels like women are allowed to be funny but only in specific ways and only with specific archetypes. I just feel like I’m lucky enough to start working at a moment where I feel like the tables are turning and that more women are getting behind the camera and on the production side of things. People use comedy as a coping mechanism and as a way to survive and women especially have been put through a lot. I think if anything these times are going to create opportunities in which women’s voices are more important than ever.
Hanah: I think it’s an exciting time for women and I feel like there’s an opening for us that we’re all trying to utilise. Young women are realising that this is our time to shine.
Anna: Right, I think find that I get a lot of motivation from being underestimated. So it someone thinks I’m only one thing it makes me work harder to be more than that. It sounds silly but one of my favourite movies growing up was Legally Blonde.
Hanah: Yes, Elle Woods!
Anna: Yeah! It really felt like how you can respond to being underestimated in a way that changes your life and makes you feel good about yourself and proves people wrong. There’s nothing more fun than bursting a stereotype. I think if you can turn “no” and rejection into motivation it weirdly can be a gift.
Hanah: The biggest motivator you could get really.
Anna: There is so much rejection you just have to think “how can I use this as fuel?”
Hanah: Do you ever feel like there’s a pressure on young stars to make themselves a known face in the industry with the era or social media? You know people kind of brand themselves - do you ever feel a pressure to do that or are you letting acting happen organically?
Anna: I don’t feel that pressure because there are so many examples of people doing it differently I just think more than anything I try to stay really truthful to what feels good for me.
Hanah: Who would you say your biggest role model is? Not even as an actor just someone who you have met or know and find the most inspiring?
Anna: Ugh it’s cliché but I have to say my mom is really up there. I am a lot of who I am because of watching her and I just feel like she’s taken on a lot of life’s challenges with a lot of gusto, she’s really independent and she’s ever evolving. After I went to college she went to journalism school and is now having a second wave of life in which she’s just started her own production company. She’s funny and modest and really smart and I just look up to her a lot.
Hanah: That’s amazing. I think every young girl should have a mum they look up to like that. It’s funny because everyone in interviews with you always talks about your dad and to me, probably because of my age, your dad is Alexander Petrovsky [on Sex and the City]. Was that something you had to deal with in school, people asking you about that or mostly his ballet career?
Anna: Ballet is obviously a really niche community so there were obviously people who knew him from ballet, but when [SATC] started airing in sixth grade I definitely had a new experience of people, including my teachers, seeing him every week. I think it is true that people, when asking about my parents, are sometimes more interested and focused on my dad but my mum is really the main event. I think.
Words and images by Hanah Young
Stylist: Annina Mislin @ Walter Schupfer Management
Hair: Nikki Providence @ Forward Artists
Makeup: Sage Maitri @ The Wall Group