Actor Mireille Enos on her new TV series 'Lucky Hank'
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
How did Shakespeare's King Henry the IV put it? Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown. Well, new TV show puts an academic twist on that notion. William Henry "Hank" Devereaux's kingdom is the English department at a pretty average Pennsylvania college. He's written one novel which isn't even stocked in the campus bookshop. And he's not especially happy in his work or life.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LUCKY HANK")
BOB ODENKIRK: (As William Henry Devereaux) Who isn't miserable, huh? Being an adult is 80% misery.
MIREILLE ENOS: (As Lily Devereaux) No, I think you're at 80. The rest of us hover around 30 to 40.
ODENKIRK: (As William Henry Devereaux) Thirty. Nobody is at 30.
ENOS: (As Lily Devereaux) I'm at 30.
ODENKIRK: (As William Henry Devereaux) Really, 30? Well, then you're unusually happy.
ENOS: (As Lily Devereaux) I don't think that's true.
SIMON: "Lucky Hank" is the new AMC series starring Bob Odenkirk as the academic. And co-starring as Lily Devereaux, his wife, a high school vice principal, is Mireille Enos. She's the acclaimed actress, perhaps best known from the series "The Killing," and joins us from Los Angeles. Thanks so much for being with us.
ENOS: It's my pleasure.
SIMON: The series is based on Richard Russo's 1997 novel, "Straight Man." I recognize a lot of great actors just read the script they're shooting because they say that's what they have to bring alive. But I wonder, did you read the book, too?
ENOS: Of course I read the book - I mean, any chance to read Richard Russo. His writing is so rich. And kind of the soul of our script really comes from that novel. You know, the story goes different places than the novel does, but it's still, like, really firmly rooted in that writing.
SIMON: Lily's made some sacrifices, professionally and otherwise, to be married to Hank, hasn't she?
ENOS: Yes, I think that's true. But, you know, often lives go differently than we anticipate. And I think up until the point at which we meet these characters, she has been happily engaged in her life, you know? She's like, well, whatever. We ended up in this little town, which I didn't expect, but actually, there's a sweetness about it. We have a lovely home. I think the fact that her daughter is now out of the house, married, on her way, there's a lot of hours in the day, you know? And that house is just filled with she and Hank.
And she sees her husband being more and more and more dissatisfied, more kind of, like, blocked and unhappy. And it opens a door for her to ask herself, well, what about me? You know, I've been engaged in making sure my husband is happy and my daughter is happy and the children at school are happy. But maybe I haven't been asking myself.
SIMON: You came out of the theater program at Brigham Young University in Utah?
ENOS: That's right. yeah.
SIMON: Does shooting the series make you reflect on any especially important teachers you've had at moments in your life?
ENOS: Of course. I had wonderful teachers at Brigham Young. You know, I was restless in college, I'll be honest. I was, you know, at a school in Utah, and I had imagined myself going off to a conservatory in New York. And I actually left Brigham Young early. Once I got to New York, I realized that, actually, the training there had been spectacular. But I think the teacher that really changed things the most for me was a teacher that I found in New York City once I had moved there at 21 years old - teacher named Joan Rosenfels. She really became the foundation of what is my career now.
SIMON: What did she unlock? What did she set on fire? What was her gift?
ENOS: Joan's gift is to have, like, a treasure trove of ways in. And she looks at each individual student and gives them what they need. And what the voice that I needed at the moment that I found her was - 'cause I was like a redheaded, too-skinny, freckled, white-skinned kind of oddball, you know? And I had spent a few months in Los Angeles and thought, oh, heavens, no. I do not fit. I do not belong. And I ran away to New York City.
And what she said to me was, who you are is infinitely more interesting than anyone that you could attempt to be in someone else's idea of what belonging looks like or being part of this career looks like. You, right now, who you are in your awkwardness, in your feeling of being alien is exactly perfectly who you're supposed to be. And instilling that belief in me and trusting that absolutely is what set me into the path that I have been on and the strangely diverse work that I've gotten to do.
SIMON: It sounds like a lesson for life, not just theater.
ENOS: It is. It's a lesson for everyone. Yeah.
SIMON: Yeah. I first became aware of you when you were on Broadway a number of years ago as Honey in "Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?"
ENOS: That was a special moment in my life.
SIMON: What are the different energies or talents that you have to draw on, between doing the same lines on stage every night and keeping it fresh over and over and doing a series with different lines every day, but having to keep the same character visible?
ENOS: When you're doing TV and film, obviously, every day is different. And, you know, in a play, you're telling two hours of story. And in a day of shooting a television show, you're telling minutes' worth, you know? You're doing four to seven pages, maybe, of work. And so it's the opposite in a way. It's just like looking for all of the tiny, tiny treasures on any given day and then letting it go and trusting that it was enough and that tomorrow there'll be new treasures to discover.
SIMON: How do you make a series like "Lucky Hank" interesting for people from a variety of backgrounds that may not include academia.
ENOS: The reason I chose it was because I think it's so human and relatable. I've had the incredible opportunity to play these really, like, powerful women. And, you know, I was at a moment where I just wanted to tell a story about what people in the middle of their life think about, worry about, are scared of - something human and relatable. And then "Lucky Hank" arrived, and I was in love with it from page one.
You know, and people have asked a lot, like, how do you combine comedy and drama into one episode? And I keep thinking, but isn't that life, you know? You're at a funeral of someone you loved, and you find yourself reminiscing and laughing harder than you have in a long time. It feels like in life, the absurdity, the humor and the heartache are all tangled up. And that's what "Lucky Hank" is trying to do.
SIMON: Mireille Enos, one of the stars of "Lucky Hank" - new series on AMC. Thank you so much for being with us.
ENOS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.