For Ofrom the third annual TV Portfolio, we asked 21 wanted names from TV to pay homage to their favorite small-screen characters by stepping into their shoes.
In the acclaimed Netflix series Housemaid, Margaret Qualley plays Alex, a young single mother who leaves her abusive boyfriend in hopes of building a better life for her 2-year-old daughter, Maddy (Rylea Nevaeh Whittet). With a small child to support, Alex takes on a series of odd jobs (including cleaning ransacked houses filled with blood, human excrement, etc.) while battling homelessness and countless indignities. Meanwhile, his own mother – played by Qualley’s real-life mother, Andie MacDowell – is a fickle presence in his life, causing him even more stress.
Speaking from a taxi in Paris, just weeks after the Supreme Court was overturned Roe vs. WadeQualley sees the parallels between Housemaidand the very real implications for low-income young mothers. “It’s incredibly upsetting,” she says, “and impossible not to think about.” But the actress, who works in France on The substance-director Coralie Fargeat’s closely guarded film, in which Qualley stars alongside Demi Moore, has reason to be optimistic. This summer, she received an Emmy Award nomination for her performance in Housemaid and got engaged to her boyfriend, Jack Antonoff, the six-time Grammy-winning musician, songwriter and producer. Here, the 27-year-old explains how to get into character physically and emotionally, and why she yearns to be more like Dorothy Zbornak from The golden girls.
There are so many layers to your role in Housemaid. How did you prepare for the role?
I really spent my time hanging out with Rylea, who played my daughter, as much as possible. I was trying to make sure we had a relationship that you could feel, that she really felt comfortable with me. It was also just a question of logistics: she had to feel really safe in my arms, because otherwise we wouldn’t be able to spend the day.
How do you gain a 4 year old’s trust?
You just hang around and pay attention to them: watch them dance, listen to them talk, do what they like to do. I just dragged her everywhere I went, and we got really close. I think attention is love, really.
Do you find that certain roles are more conducive to intellectual research than to emotional research?
It really depends on the project. With Housemaid, everything was just hanging out with Rylea. But I made this movie, The stars at noon, where I speak Spanish. So learning Spanish was the priority there. what i do now [for The Substance] is really physical.
How? I imagine you doing stunts.
I don’t do a lot of stunts. I basically want my character to feel like they’ve never felt pain, so I do a lot of yoga to try to get my alignment really good, trying to make me feel like a baby would feel. That’s what I worked on. [Laughs] I mean, it’s pretty good for me. I have never worked like that in my life. I’m like a Herculean. Not really, but the real test is that I’ve never been able to do backtracking very well, and now I can backtrack anyone with the lift ’em and squeeze ’em tactic.
What is one thing about your mother’s acting style or process that people might be surprised to learn?
The last time I saw her was in Los Angeles, and she was having my sister and her boyfriend and me and my fiancé, Jack, over for dinner. She was about to start working on this film, and she was giving us a monologue. She was really excited about it. And I guess that’s something that I find really special – having done a job for X years and still having this fresh and excited vision. And still have that feeling of a little kid who wants to play for the part.
I speak for both of us when I say we’re so lucky to be able to do this job, because it’s not often people do something in life that brings them so much joy. I feel like the big goal in life is to look at the world like a kid as much as possible – that’s one of my big goals is to try to play like a kid. Because I can be hard on myself. I can live in my head, and I can lose sight of what really makes me happy.
Your fiancé, Jack Antonoff, recently spoke with Lynn Hirschberg for her five things podcast and mentioned how he found his person in you. I wonder how you would define your person?
My best friend. [Laughs] The person I most look forward to talking to and being with me all the time.
Have you given much thought to the details of your wedding?
I have a general idea, but no detailed plans.
So you’re not the kind of person who’s been planning his wedding since childhood?
Right. I vaguely remember being a kid and having wild ideas about what I wanted when I was older. For example, I wanted a house with monkey bars built into the ceilings. I don’t think everything I wanted when I was a kid, I really want now. And it’s heartbreaking because people have told me that in real time. I was like, no! I want ceiling monkey bars forever!
Incorporating ceiling monkey bars into your wedding seems like a great idea.
Let’s talk about The golden girls. Do you remember the first time you watched it?
I grew up with it. In North Carolina, my babysitter Julie and I were watching The Daddy’s Girls together all the time after school. It’s just that heartwarming, cozy, homey feeling of a bygone era. It takes me back to being a little kid and sitting on the couch with Julie, who is a real angel.
Do you find that you identify with Dorothy Zbornak as a character?
The truth is, I think Dorothy is actually smarter than me. I feel like she’s the smartest person in the room. So maybe it’s less of an identification with her and more of an aspiration. She doesn’t seek attention. All she does is understand what’s going on, assess the situation, and say what we all think as audience members, but in a very articulate and fun way.
It is like the chorus of Greek tragedies.
Yes, I couldn’t agree more. Dorothy is the hero. She is the epitome of cool. And she is very well dressed. She’s not getting the love she deserves and I’m willing to give it to her.