Whether she’s playing a senator in a dystopian future where all crime is legal for 24 hours, or saving Christmas as Mrs. Claus, Elizabeth Mitchell has proven time, and again her immense versatility.
Known for her roles in Lost, Once Upon a Time, and most recently Outer Banks, this diversity extends well beyond the characters she so masterfully portrays in film and on television. A mother, baker, reader, and hiker, Ms. Mitchell is authentic, down to earth and isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty.
I had the utmost pleasure chatting with Ms. Mitchell recently where we discussed her projects over the years, her favorite holiday, and what it was like working with Angelina Jolie.
Check out the interview below.
Gabrielle Bisaccia: I’m going to start off with my most important question. How do you keep groundhogs and other rodents out of your garden?!
Elizabeth Mitchell: That’s such a good question! I usually just have bunnies, and they are easily deterred. But I do chicken wire and for everything that I really love, I’ll do a net as well. I find that it really does help!
GB: I checked out your social media and read that you enjoy reading novels under your Christmas tree. You’ve also starred in The Santa Clause 2 and The Santa Clause 3: the Escape Clause. Is it safe to say that Christmas is your favorite holiday?
EM: I really do love Christmas! I would put it up there. I think one of the things that I really like about it is that no matter where we are, my family, which I adore, and we’re kind of all over the place, are always together on Christmas. I love those humans so much that part of me just loves the chaos of the family; the sisters, the nieces, and mom and dad. All the coming together is my favorite thing. I suppose any favorite holiday is one where I know that we’re all going to be together because that’s the joy for me. Presents are also lovely, I love to give them, they make me really happy!
GB: In The Santa Clause 2, your character, Carol Newman, tells Tim Allen’s Santa Claus about one of the last gifts she received from Santa and he makes it appear at the faculty Christmas party shortly thereafter. Did you have a favorite toy that you received for Christmas as a child?
EM: I always wanted a snow cone maker and an Easy Bake Oven. I think I eventually got both of those and they made me really happy. I remember the joy of those gifts very distinctly.
GB: You began your career starring in mainly television series and then in 1998, you landed a role in Gia. Do you prefer one medium over the other?
EM: I started in theater when I was really little. In the late 90s I did a little bit of television, but I was still doing theater. I booked a little pilot and then I booked Gia. So, it all sort of happened at the same time. I don’t think that I ever thought television and film were a possibility because no one I knew did them and it just seemed so far out of reach. I think the only reason I was in television to begin with was that I toured with a theater show as an understudy. Then when I got to LA and met with my agents, I went on a few auditions and actually booked film. I think that it was a shock to me! I don’t think I have a preference to what I do. I love movies because you get a little bit more time for each scene and time to develop and study your character, and I love television for the exact opposite reason that it’s very much about improv, which is one of the first things that I learned to do on stage. I love the idea that with television it’s quick; you have to make a decision and you have to stick with it and get in there fully prepared and just rocket through your stuff. There’s a real joy to being able to juggle all of that and still do what we love!
GB: Had you played a character who fell in love with a woman prior to Gia? How did you prepare for this role?
EM: It was my first one and it wasn’t hard. I went to meet Angelina [Jolie] in the audition and she was such an enticing presence. She was kind and interested and creative and curious, and the idea of falling in love with her was not difficult for me. I found that there was a real joy in that. Of course, at the time, people were telling me not to do it and that just made me want to do it more. I suppose I’ve just always wanted people to be able to love whoever the hell they love. I was happy and it was a fun thing to do!
GB: Gia told a real story so raw and poignantly, yet still managed to subtlety incorporate that Gia had a relationship with a woman. Rather than making this the focal point of the film, it was seamlessly revealed as merely another piece of her identity. At the time, did you realize how the film would impact the LGBTQ+ community and resonate with the audience?
EM: I don’t know if I knew, but I did have some really unfortunate and horrifying situations in high school where friends of mine had come out and then had been taunted and ridiculed for it. I would walk around with them in the halls and just try to be a protector because it just made me so angry at a very early age. I just didn’t understand why it should even be an issue and I felt like it was so ugly to have that hatred against people who just want to love each other. I think that in taking the role, I had an understanding that I was helping support a community that I truly love and am an advocate for. But I don’t know that I understood that it was going to have the impact that it did. A year after it came out, having girls come up to me and hug me and cry and tell me their stories was incredibly affirmative and really helped me understand all of that. It was a real gift to me as a person and as a performer.
GB: The Purge: Election Year was my favorite in the series. You brilliantly portrayed the strong-willed, takes no BS, Senator Charlie Ronan. The film felt eerily accurate to the current political climate. If called for, how would you go about surviving a purge?
EM: I have to say as someone who has a strict “do no harm” policy, I would probably find a place to hunker down and protect as many people as possible. I know that’s not a very exciting answer, but that would probably be where my skillset lies. If I had to fight to protect the innocent, of course I would; that’s always something that you know you’ll do to protect the vulnerable people that you love who can’t fight for themselves. But given that I genuinely have no desire to cause other people harm, I think that I would probably try to find a safe place!
GB: Let’s talk about Outer Banks. Your character, Carla Limbrey, makes quite a splash in Season 2. She’s a complex villain, equal parts ruthless and calculating. This character is so vastly different to the sweet and caring Carol Newman/Mrs. Clause in The Santa Clause 2. Do you enjoy playing the villain or hero more?
EM: I like both! My ego is always happy with the hero because who doesn’t want to be considered the good guy? But I like my bad guys; I find them to be scary and challenging and I think it probably helps me in life to play people that are not meant to be liked because I think there is a certain amount of people pleasing in my nature. I want people to be OK around me and I want them to feel comfortable and happy. Those are the things I work hard for with all the people in my life. So, to play these characters who really don’t care about that is really fun and always a challenge because it’s so not rooted in who I am as a person. With most of my hardcore antagonist characters, I have to come up with a different skillset and toolbox. I really do like my villains!
GB: Witch Hunt comes out October 1st and the trailer is both incredible and intense in the best way. I love the modern-day take on the Salem Witch Trials. What drew you to this project?
EM: A lot! First of all, it was very friendly to my causes. About five years ago I realized I haven’t been directed by women very often and I didn’t want that to be the truth for my life. I really felt like it was time. So, I said to my agent and my manager, “let’s find as many female directors as we can.” And we did. We found Elle [Callahan] and we fell in love with her work, and I just think she’s so remarkable. Then Gideon [Adlon], I’m a huge fan of. To be able to play her mother and to work with what I consider to be one of the more exciting young talents of her generation was too good to pass up. I also really liked the script and I loved the character; I think of her as a big time “quiet” hero and I enjoyed playing her for that reason. That idea of always being afraid but still doing the right thing is my definition of a hero.
GB: First Kill was a short story adapted into a Netflix series about vampires and vampire hunters. What can you tell us about the series and your character, Margot?
EM: It’s a little bit Romeo and Juliet, but with hunters and vampires! I can say that I play a vampire and that one of the hunters and one of the vampires start something that both of their families disagree with. Our showrunner Felicia [Henderson] is extraordinary and the two girls playing the leads are so good! The entire show has so many women and everyone is accepted. The story is told from this point of view where so many of the things that are points of contention for us are not even an issue. It’s a very cool world that Felicia created that is inclusive and exciting. Aubin Wise, who plays the hunter counterpart to my Margot, is just this extraordinary actress doing Hamilton on Broadway right now and I don’t think that I could have had a better cast! My husband is played by Will Swenson and he’s also a Broadway actor. I was just surrounded by so much talent and I had the best time!
GB: Are there any projects that you’re working on currently that you’d like to share with our readers?
EM: I did a really lovely movie called When Time Got Louder, and it’s about a family living with autism. I did it in Canada and I’m hopeful that it’ll come out soon. It is a very raw and emotionally naked movie that I would love for people to see!