NOS4A2, which brings Joe Hill’s book to life on the small screen, started on AMC last weekend and here’s one of its stars Ashleigh Cummings who plays Vic McQueen talking about bringing the character to life and working with Zachary Quinto in the show on the amc website…
Q: What drew you to the series and the role of Vic?
A: With auditions, you never get a full script; you usually just get a couple of pages and a small logline and a small character description. So, I went straight to the book to take a look at what they were adapting, and I found that Joe Hill’s depiction of this young woman had such complexity and three-dimensionality to it. His insight into her psychology was just so accurate — and the psychology of all his characters — but I just loved Vic and the contradictions that existed within her. I loved her spirit alongside all her flaws. So that was one aspect, and then as soon as I spoke to Jami [O’Brien] about her vision and we propelled these aspects of Vic in the storyline, I was really invested. And knowing the genre elements were really cleverly constructed to shed light and meaning and metaphor on the deeper issues at play. The skeleton was in the plot but there was a rich flesh in the psychology of the characters and the themes that surround them.
Q: How did you prepare for your role? Did you already know how to ride a dirtbike before you came on?
A: Sort of. [Laughs] Actually, I got my motorbike license before I got my car license. I was in a film and I was sixteen and then I never used it again. But my dad is an avid motorbike rider so it’s been in my life since I was a little one. I used to fall asleep to the sound of the bikes. I could never sleep as a child, so my dad would watch the bikes at night and I would lie behind him on the couch. So it’s a very familiar world to me. But the bike stuff, I wasn’t even allowed to turn it on. There were so many insurance aspects to it, but I had an incredible stunt double, Kelsey Abbott who just made me look actually cool. [Laughs]
Q: How did you and the creative team craft Vic’s character and look to bring the book to life in a new way?
A: The hair, I worked with real-life superwoman Cheryl Daniels, who I adore. She and I worked to create a kind of lioness vibe with the hair, and I came into it really liking the idea of this stillness and intensity within her face and her eyes, but her hair kind of rolling around in the wind. I think it kind of speaks to the wilderness within Vic. Clothing wise… it was all about a simplicity — a timeless, classic look, but also drawing inspiration from Vic’s father, who she elevates onto perhaps an unworthy pedestal to begin with. We also worked on the jacket to make it feel like an armor. She’s this young girl with an intensity of emotion and creativity, and those typically feminine qualities were somewhat dangerous qualities in the world that she grew up in. They led to her not fitting in, they weren’t necessarily celebrated — and they were unpredictable, they were unknown. So we wanted to illustrate this kind of masculine shield we had in place over those kinds of attributes, in fear of them. So that was the jacket. And then the accent, we originally looked at doing a Massachusetts accent, but while doing the research of the modern day behavior, we realized a lot of the easterners actually dropped it in the face of social media and the internet, and we talked to a lot of people who said they actively tried to shed the accent, and we thought that made sense for Vic, who’s trying to escape this environment.
Q: Vic is such a down-to-earth teenager. Are there any similarities that you two share? What are your notable differences?
A: I think both of us have a creativity and an overwhelm of emotion in us — that feeling of bursting out of your skin, especially during adolescence. I definitely felt like an outsider during much of my life, and I didn’t know where to channel this creative energy until I found acting, and the film/television/theater world. In terms of our differences, she’s much tougher than I am externally. [Laughs] She’s much cooler than I am on all levels, but I think I had a lot of access to therapy and modern ways of approaching life and emotions, so I’ve been really fortunate in that sense, learning how to process everything. Or at least I think I know how to process things. [Laughs] I was also really lucky that I had a supportive familial environment with much more opportunity and privilege, and it’s been really wonderful to explore that aspect of America and the greater world as well, and becoming very grateful for the environment I grew up in and appreciating how hard it can be for some people, and having so much respect for the journey people go on in order to realize their dreams.
Q:Vic and Charlie Manx are on a collision course this season. What was it like working with Zachary Quinto?
A: I adore Zach. He is one of the most kind and intelligent men I know. It’s been incredible to just see his presence on set, and not only learn how to expand my own acting skills, but how to conduct yourself and how to approach different scenes with other humans. I think both personally and professionally, I’ve grown a lot by our work together. He has such a clarity around him, but also a willingness to collaborate, and he has acute insight for character and story. … Alongside his immense acting talent, he’s just such a down-to-earth, kind human being who respects everyone around him. We had a lot of fun — he’s a very calming presence as well. He just has a great head on his shoulders. I couldn’t have been more fortunate. It’s quite hard to hate someone you like so much, but fortunately the prosthetics helped. [Laughs]
Q: Was it startling to see him in that makeup?
A: It’s surreal. Sometimes you’ll see him in hair and makeup and he hasn’t got his outfit on, so he’s still in his Nike tracksuit sort of thing with his Air Pods in, driving his Audi, and it’s a little discordant. But as soon as they call “action” he just completely transforms. It’s quite magnificent. His access to his voice and his body, he’s really taken on a creature, in a way. It’s astonishing to watch.
Q: In the Series Premiere, viewers get a lot of insight into Vic’s family. How do you think she reconciles love for her parents (especially her father) with the growing realization that they might not be who she thought they were?
A: I think she’s in denial for the most part. It takes most of the first season for her to really confront the realities that surround her. She’s attached herself to the idea of who her father is and who her family is. She derives great meaning and security from that construct. I think that’s the case a lot of the time with denial. I think you hold on a lot of the time to ideals that aren’t necessarily true, in order to feel secure in what you think you know. But that shifts, as the facts keep hitting her, as the intersection with the supernatural continues to inform her family situation and open her eyes to allow the truth…. Vic swings in and around that realm of trying to reconcile these realities around her with her ideas of her life and who she is.
Q: Vic discovers that she has the gift to find lost things by using the Shorter Way Bridge, but it seems to come at a terrible physical and mental cost. What drives her to keep using it, and what consequences might she bear going forward?
A: I think initially, she is bursting at the seams, and the bridge is a way of releasing the intensity of emotion that exists within her. I think partly it’s just all the anger and rage and sorrow that just has to have an out, and that’s how the bridge emerges to begin with. I actually think there might be a trace of self-harm or self sabotage that comes from one side of it, but then as the series progresses, she really can’t deny this call to action. She really believes in something that’s greater than herself, and it becomes a personal mission, as well as one for the greater good. She can identify the demons that exist in her life, and this is a way to fight them, literally and metaphorically. But I think it’s that classical thing of a reluctant hero, but knowing there’s something in front of her that she cannot look away from any longer. That’s a huge part of her arc this season — that she has to face realities that she would rather not look at.
Q: If you personally could find anything that’s gone missing through the Shorter Way Bridge, what would you search for?
A: This is so hard. There’s so many actual answers I could give you that would be so much more meaningful. Can I metaphorically find the cure for cancer and world hunger and such? I don’t know. But if I were to physically find something that’s gone missing… I had this little bear. I was raised by a nanny since I was 12, and she gave me this bear when I was little and it had a little “I love you” heart, and when we left Saudi unexpectedly, we didn’t get to take any of that stuff with us. So all of my belongings kind of dispersed themselves throughout the Middle East and Iman, I think it was. I would like to find that bear, because I used to take that bear with me wherever we traveled, so she’s been around the world, but I have no idea where she is in the world right now — probably in a landfill somewhere.
Actually, I know what I would find: the Loch Ness monster. Really want to find that thing.