Actress Elizabeth Marvel has landed herself another strong, political character in Showtime’s “Homeland.” The Orange County born, Pennsylvania raised Marvel is no stranger to this role. Recently, she played a presidential hopeful on Netflix’s “House of Cards,’ paving the way for “Homeland’s” President-Elect, Elizabeth Keane. Marvel hopes seeing these types of characters will help in the realization that having a female President is possible.
Making the move from the stage — of which she has many awards — to television was one of personal reasons and economics. Speaking with Marvel, it’s easy to see why she is the perfect choice for a Presidential character. She works with a veterans program that helps bring to light the psychological injuries war can cause. Mental health is a very important cause to the actress, being a part of multiple organizations helping with the topic.
Inspirer had the chance to speak with Marvel on her early years as a “spooky kid,” the moment she knew acting was what she wanted, “Homeland,” and much more.
How did you get into acting?
It’s kind of a funny story, because I didn’t really have any interest. I was attending a boarding school for the arts when I was 13 called The Interlochen and Arts Academy in northern Michigan. My interest and passion was in visual arts-studying metal work, sculpting, and fiber work while I was there. I did do one play while I was there, but I didn’t really like it. I thought all the theater people were very loud and obnoxious. By default I’m an introvert, so being in an art studio by myself is much more comfortable. I was kind of a crazy teenager and got expelled, which left me with an incomplete portfolio. My dream was always to go to school for visual arts, but I was kind of a fuck up and didn’t do what I needed to do to get there. I couldn’t get out of school fast enough and I knew I didn’t want to go back. I just bounced around and found myself in London, where I watched a lot of theater-mostly because it was cheap. There is where I saw a production of ‘A Touch of a Poet’ the Vanessa Redgrave was performing in and I think I sat fifth row center. I saw her do this thing where she had no lines but she ran her hand across her face. In that moment I saw history flash and imagine it was like what seeing Houdini perform felt like. I caught my breath, because I was so shocked by what I saw. I just had never seen anything like it and became fascinated by what that was. Suddenly I was obsessed with theater because that was different from what I thought I knew. So, my high school had been a theater school to Julliard, and I knew there weren’t academics involved-being the only conservatory in the country. I got in and I’ve been an actor ever since.
Was your family always supportive?
Yeah, I was always an unusual child and my family was always kind about it. It was a very loving family, but I was a spooky kid. I’d be hanging out in the cemetery when I was a very little girl. You know, talking to dead people and thinking about UFO’s. I definitely danced to the beat of my own music. Although my family may not have understood it, they were very loving. My father died when I was very young and my mother remarried-moving to Europe. So, when I was pretty young I was on my own figuring out my way.
You’ve won Obie Awards for four different stage works, how did these make you feel?
It’s always nice being told that people like what you have done, but I find all of that very odd. Film, television, theater-it’s all a collective. We are all just a cog in the machine, so the singling out of people has always seemed odd to me. The reason I love being an actor is because I am one of many working towards the same goal. It’s always nice for the ego, of course, to hear people think you’re special. But also awkward.
What made you move from stage to film?
Motherhood. The theater is a killer on family. You know, it’s also economic. When you have a child, you have to make a world for that child. I don’t mind skipping meals or stressing about rent, but I don’t want to impose that on my child. Also, the hours are impossible in theater. I do a lot of work in television and I love the medium of television. I’m fortunate to be working in television at this time, the long form narrative and the writers are just fantastic.
You currently play President-Elect on Showtime’s ‘Homeland.’
I do. I was on ‘House of Cards’ for three seasons as a strong, political woman. I played Attorney General, Heather Dunbar, who decided to run for president. So, for whatever reason in my 40’s, I’ve suddenly become this woman who plays very smart, powerful women. It’s what I’ve started being hired for, except for my character in Fargo. That was a very different type of character. But, this character is quite wonderful. She’s such a maverick and I don’t think there has been a character like her on TV. I’ve been having a great time doing it.
It’s so great that these types female of characters are finally coming to the forefront of entertainment, playing a presidential role.
I know, because even if we haven’t realized it and even though it hasn’t happened yet in our country, it’s important to be messaging that and showing it. It’s important to tell that narrative and normalizing that. I really have to weigh my words these days, living in such a volatile world. Of course, being a woman in this moment and playing the President-Elect has been very intense.
Tell me a little about the veterans program you help out with.
Sure, it’s called Theater of War-Outside the Wire, created by Bryan Doerries. He basically takes these texts from Sophocles’ Ajax and Philoctetes, and Sophocles himself was a general coming from a culture of war. At that time families would live on the battle fields with their soldiers. So these plays are basically dealing with psychological injury and post deployment. We were hired by the DOD (Department of Defense) and later, I think through the USO. But we were hired by the military and traveled all over. We would go to Fort Hood, I’ve been to Gitmo-and performed for the Navy Seals in San Diego. Pretty much every base. Bryan is still out there doing it, I haven’t been as involved because I can’t do it full time-due to other jobs. When I can, I jump in. When it started we did it full time, for a year. We would do the Ajax pieces and then have a community conversation with a panel of military psych workers, and family members. Basically to destigmatize psychological injuries post deployment. The plays open a dialog for the impact of war on individuals and families. It’s been a huge gift in my life. I was raised Quaker and non-violence is a big part of my philosophy and up bringing. So to have the opportunity to not only work with warriors and their families, but to forge these relationships with them has been life changing for me. To have what I do to of service to these people is everything to me. It’s a big part of my life and I appreciate you asking about it.
Of course, it’s important work.
It is, considering these wars continue and the soldiers are dealing with multiple deployments. We’ve never asked so much from so few. The fall out is so huge and we as a community need to create a net to support each other. Even though my philosophy is different than those who I get the opportunity to know is irrelevant. It’s just one human being holding another human being. That’s what we are here to do. Another organization near and dear to me is NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Health) and I support them any way I can. There was just a legislation passed for mental health, which is very exciting. We need to be very vigilant that it stays in place. Especially with the new administration moving in and dismantling what has been done.
Homeland returns to Showtime Jan. 15 at 9pm