Inspirer is celebrating inspirational and influential women in film with in-depth interviews. This project will share the stories behind the trailblazers and pioneers who paved the way for females in the arts.
Elisabeth Rohm is known for many things; playing strong women on hit shows and advocating for heart health with the American Heart Association are just a few. For three and a half seasons, Rohm played strong-willed Assistant District Attorney Serena Southerlyn on NBC’s “Law & Order.” Now she’s playing Allison Shaw, chief of staff to the President in a post-apocalyptic America, on “The Last Ship.” When she’s not portraying kickass women on TV, she’s advocating for heart health with the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American Red Cross. Recently, Rohm helped the AHA open a “hands-only CPR certification kiosk” in the Dallas airport. With a history of heart disease in her family, Rohm believes everyone should be trained in CPR.
We talked “The Last Ship,” her “Law & Order” departure, blogging about motherhood and infertility, and why working with the AHA is so important to her.
Tell us a little about how you came to be an actress.
I was going to school for writing but decided to audition for a play because a lot of my friends were actors. I was so self-conscience and in my head that, even though I auditioned and got the part, I was really kind of terrible. So, they cut my character. The director pulled me aside and asked, “What’s your hang up?” I just said I had a lot of judgement towards the character and didn’t feel free to express how the character was. She said that’s why storytelling is so great. Whether it’s writing, theater, or TV, we are expressing the human experience. I realized acting was just the other side of the coin from writing. You’re just being active instead of sitting at a desk.
So acting became another creative outlet for you?
Yeah, I continued to write while I was drawn to acting. Acting allowed me to pursue what I was trying to do with writing. Exploring the human experience. Why we love, why we hurt people and how we navigate through all of it.
What is it like for you doing films over a TV series?
I feel like it’s a privilege when you work on a movie. You get to go to different locations and there’s a constant change.When you’re on a TV series, you have all this time to hone in and make more specific the character over time. For instance, my best year on “Law & Order” was probably my last year playing Serena Southerlyn. I love the speed of television, though. It broke me in.
Serena Southerlyn was a strong-willed character who always fought for what she believed in, even if it meant going against what was expected of her. But your character had one of the most talked about send-offs, asking if she was being fired for being gay.
After five years of playing Serena Southerlyn, I felt like I completed her. Dick Wolf came to me and asked if I wanted a typical “Law & Order” send off or a flashy one. I told him to write it however he felt and it certainly has been one of the most talked about exits. He wanted to give me a “watercooler” moment. I think it was all done tongue-in-cheek, though. In the world of “Law & Order,” we don’t really get to know much about the characters’ personal lives. You don’t know who they go home to at night. You get hints along the way, but it’s not a character-driven drama. So, to add in at the last moment of a five year run was to create an iconic moment. Clearly, it worked, because people still ask about it after 12 years.
Do you think it was to link the show with the issue of gay marriage at the time?
Sure, the issue surrounded the equal rights and gay rights of the time. This was before gay marriage was legalized. We did a lot of episodes on the subject and they were some of my favorites. And they are issues that I fight for in my everyday life. Maybe that’s why it was my exit!
What inspired you to start writing the motherhood blog for People Magazine?
The blog was a happy accident for me. It was never really my intention on sharing my personal experiences with people I didn’t know. I originally was asked to write because I was a new mom. But they booed me away because I came from a place of “if you want to be as good a mom as I am.” It wasn’t real or personable, and I could tell by the third blog entry that instead of saying what we should do, I was asking “How do I handle this? What should I do?” We can all learn from each other. It changed the tone of the blog entirely. For three years, it became a place where I shared my questions and opened things up for discussion. It was more like a forum, which made it very powerful.
It also helped open a dialogue about infertility.
It did. It helped me open up about my struggle with infertility and not be ashamed of it. I wasn’t ashamed, but I was. I wasn’t keeping it a secret, but I also wasn’t talking about it. I just approached it like, “I don’t know how many of you experience this, but we need to talk about it and not feel embarrassed.” There’s no reason to not feel comfortable talking about it and getting help. It was mind-blowing how many people were out there struggling with this issue. It gave me the push to write my book on my struggle. The blog was definitely a fun journey.
Along with motherhood, you are also passionate about working with the American Heart Association. Was there an event in your life that sparked this in you?
I started working with AHA because my mom passed away six years ago from heart disease, with her sister then dying two years later. I wanted to help other people through their loss. The statistics of people collapsing in their homes of heart failure are high and I just want people to get educated on becoming CPR certified. A lot of the time, we don’t know how to respond in a crisis. But, if we learn, the chances of the person living are much higher. Both of my loved ones, my mom and aunt, the people around them couldn’t respond because they weren’t CPR certified. I love working with the AHA. They are currently helping get a law passed making it a requirement for students graduating high school to get CPR certified. So far, it has passed in 27 states. Also, with the release of these kiosks in airports, people can get certified during layovers. I just hope it gives people the courage and knowledge to respond. I feel like it makes my loss and turns it into something positive.
The new season of “The Last Ship” is about to air; how did you become a part of this show?
I was a really big fan of “The Last Ship.” I love the production value and I love apocalyptic stories of how we reinvent. This show does a great job of that and they wanted to create a new character on the political spectrum. Which is, of course, all we can think about right now. My character is an important part of this re-emerging government. And it was fun to be in a White House” because I’ve only ever seen the outside of our White House. The show is just brilliantly written.
So, you’re playing another strong woman?
For sure, Allison Shaw is an important part of this post-apocalyptic America. The nation is rebuilding the government and I play chief of staff to the President. It’s interesting to see how that world ticks.
Catch Elisabeth Rohm on the new season of “The Last Ship,” Sundays 9/8ct on TNT.