ALISON WRIGHT came to the United States to pursue a career in acting, and made her Mum proud.
ALEXANDRA ARNOLD: Was your dream to be an actor?
ALISON WRIGHT: In the 1980s, in the northeast of England, people struggled to get jobs. I wasn’t exposed to the idea of “living your dream,” but I loved Gene Kelly, Julie Andrews, Carol Burnett and Dick Van Dyke. Musicals were my first love and I imagined myself performing, but I never thought I’d be able to.
I have my Mum to thank for sending me to a tap dancing class. She loved dressing up and going to the ballet and musicals; I can’t tell you how many times we watched A Chorus Line in our house. I thank my lucky stars she felt that way; there were no creative or artsy people in our family.
AA: What prompted your move to New York in your early twenties?
AW: I was taking a course in musical theater at Newcastle College and learned about Constantin Stanislavski, The Method and Lee Strasberg and heard there was a school in New York. I vacationed there with a friend for a few days and auditioned, and then had to figure out how to get there. My parents took out a second mortgage. It was no small thing. I wouldn’t be where I am today if not for my Mum putting me first.
AA: What jobs did you have while trying to act in this competitive city? What drove you?
AW: I busted my ass in the restaurant business for over a decade. I should have worked smarter, not harder. In terms of acting, nothing paid and some projects were abysmal! But you have to learn and you need experience, so you say “yes” to everything. I’ve never felt driven or ambitious. I just never found anything else I wanted to do.
AA: What are your top things to do in New York?
AW: Riding a bike up the West Side Highway bike path. Early mornings with my dog off-leash in Central Park. Hot summer nights at outdoor cafes. Going to the theater.
AA: What’s the craziest dream you’ve had?
AW: I have recurring dreams, none of them good: teeth falling out, being chased or hunted. But I do have periods of flying dreams. Sometimes I’m soaring, sometimes I run out of gas and sputter to a halt and can’t get off the ground again.
AA: How has your role as Martha Hanson in the FX drama The Americans changed your career?
AW: I sometimes wonder if I was luckier that I didn’t get a break for such a long time and that when I did, it was a dream role. The Americans opened a lot of doors. I’m offered roles now, which is surreal.
I’m working on something exciting called Feud, a Ryan Murphy FX series starring Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon; it’s about the notorious altercation between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. I also wrapped Sneaky Pete for Amazon, with Giovanni Ribisi, Bryan Cranston and Margo Martindale from The Americans!
AA: How do you prepare for a role?
AW: My process is secret. You don’t need to see behind the curtain. When I’m working on a play, a routine is locked in and every day is a countdown of hours until it’s time to go to the theater. Otherwise, actors’ lives are unpredictable.
AA: What can’t you live without?
AW: A nice strong latte as soon as I wake up. I’ve abused Chapstick so much my lips don’t work properly anymore on their own. Hot yoga and lots of sleep.
AA: Dream date? Role? Co-star? Director?
AW: Co-star has to be Daniel Day-Lewis. Directors Mike Leigh, Christopher Guest and Tim Burton. Role is Martha in Virginia Woolf. I can’t remember the last date I went on; I guess you can’t have it all.
AA: What’s your relationship with fashion?
AW: Lots of vintage pattern-on-pattern. I see the outfit like a painting that has to be balanced. I’m influenced by my dance background and love 1940s/’50s fashions from the movie musicals I loved as a child. Where I grew up people made fun of anyone vaguely eccentric. It took a long time to realize what makes you different is a strength.
AA: What are your hobbies outside acting?
AW: I’m a big reader and love browsing vintage furniture.
AA: How do you deal with rejection?
AW: I’m rejected more than I know about. I was raised in a very Catholic home and school, so my default reaction is “everything is my fault.” I work to undo that every day.
AA: How do you feel when you get a role?
AW: Immense elation for twenty minutes. There’s usually screaming and roaring and me and my dog racing around the apartment. He has no idea what the fuck is going on, but dogs are always up for random excitement outbursts!
AA: Describe the moment you felt you’d made it.
AW: The bar always moves, but the fact that I don’t have to work some random day job is a huge privilege that I appreciate every day. It might not last forever, but I have it right now!
AA: What items are on your bucket list?
AW: Fulfilling one right now: living and working in LA.
AA: What are your favorite albums to listen to on repeat?
AW: The Way I See It by Raphael Saadiq; Get Lifted by John Legend.