Abigail Spencer

Detective Work 

Words: Holger Potye
Photography: Getty Images 

True detective star Abigail Spencer talks about how acting can heal wounds, and some of her “darkest” weaknesses

Abigail Spencer is quite busy at the moment, playing Colin Farrell’s ex-wife Alicia in the second season of the hit series True Detective, and Amantha Holden in the low-fi drama Rectify. We caught up with her at the TV Festival in Monte Carlo to talk about the difficulties of being an actress and a single mum, the healing aspects of her job and her biggest weakness. 

Watch the new season of True Detective on HBO 

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THE RED BULLETIN: You’ve been very busy recently.

ABIGAIL SPENCER: Yes, I have been working a lot. I did True Detective, Rectify and then I shot a movie back to back. I just wrapped a couple of weeks ago.

It must have been challenging to tackle all of these projects together.

Yeah, I am looking forward to seeing how people respond. I’m interested to know whether I have been able to make these characters stand out from each other. You always wonder about that, because you are kind of creating different souls with each persona and you want them to feel very different.

How do you prepare for so many different roles? 

I knew I was going to have a big marathon ahead of me, so I didn’t work at all last autumn. I said no to three different movies: one in Morocco, one in New Orleans and one in Canada. I just said no to everything. I have a six-year-old son, so I just stayed at home. I also worked with my acting teacher. I knew I had these roles coming and we worked on delineating each character’s personality.

How is Colin Farrell to work with?

He is great. God, he is such a great actor to work with. It is just the right time for me to be playing this role. He is such a great, giving, wonderful, professional actor. I learned so much from him. 

And how is Vince Vaughn compared to Colin?

Ha, Vince! I have known him for years because I did a movie with Jon Favreau – the director of Cowboys and Aliens - and I met Vince through Jon. Vince is kind of like the leader. He has so much positive energy, he was like: “Isn’t this great? Look how amazing our lives are!“ I always love spending time with him. 

Abigail Spencer

Abigail Spencer at the 55th Monte Carlo TV Festival

So how do you choose your roles?

Mad Men was the first job I got after I had my son, and it was the first job that came along that I felt was worth spending time away from my son for. That is really my deciding factor. It has to be something that I could say to my son: “Mummy has to do something and it is really important to the world.“ If I am not able to see him for prolonged periods of time, it has to be something I believe in. The roles I have taken recently, like Suits, True Detective and Rectify are very healing for me personally. I guess part of being an actor is just wanting to find healing and wanting to understand myself in others. Basically my job is to be empathic to people that I would never understand or maybe never even cross paths with. I look at it as a great honour.

In what way does acting heal you?

I just finished this movie The Sweet Life and I was going through some personal things, and the movie ended up being very healing. It is about two people that meet on a bridge in Chicago, find out they had the same therapist and then decide to go on a road trip across the country to throw themselves off the Golden Gate bridge together. It’s a dark comedy. It’s kind of a suicidal Sideways, but with less drinking. The characters are in a dark place in their lives and they heal each other through the process. For me that movie, playing Lolita – the main female character – just healed a lot of things that I was going through, that I needed to deal with. You can’t play someone who has to deal with all that stuff and then not deal with it in your own life. But that’s just me – everything is very personal. When I took on Rectify my family was really deteriorating at the time, and I was really looking for family. Rectify became my family, you know Aden [Young] and Ray [McKinnon] and the whole group. It was like: “That’s my family!” So there was a lot of healing because my family was very broken at that time.  

“Part of being an actor is just wanting to find healing and wanting to understand myself in others.”
Abigail Spencer

Is it easy for you to balance being an actor and being a mother?
No, it is a very difficult balancing act.

How do you handle it?

I don’t know. I just do it. Everyone is like: “Are you ready?” And I say no, but we are here anyway. I guess we have to just keep on going, you know?

Does your son understand the celebrity aspect of his mother’s life?

He came home from school one day and said, “Mummy, are you a movie star?” And I was like, “no, I am an actor. I am a working actor.“ So I think sometimes other people say that to him, but he and I don’t have that. I don’t think he sees that in my life, he comes to set and sees the reality. He has a gift for acting himself; he did Sound of Music this year. He loves taking on characters and when he is on stage he knows everybody else’s lines. And he knows when they are missing their mark and he is like: “Get in your mark!“ He is six!

“I love acting, I love what I do.”
Abigail Spencer

Would you like your son to become an actor?

It is interesting, because there is a part in me that goes: “No! Years and years of heartache and rejection.” But I love acting, I love what I do and so if that were something that we could share, that would also be really lovely, too. I just want him to find the thing that he loves.

I read, that you have a certain weakness for dark chocolate.

(Smiles.) Yes, do you have some?

Ah, sorry! No. Next time I’ll be prepared. Tell us a bit about some of your other weaknesses besides dark chocolate?

Oh God, so many! I am just weak. I like Rosé, I love Champagne. I love to travel. I love all the pleasures of life. I try and stay in moderation, but I think that’s what makes us human. 

Which TV shows are your favourites at the moment?

I really like The Knick and I like the show Togetherness on HBO. They are two of my favourite shows from this year. But I also watch Girls and I like Mad Men. Don’t tell me how Mad Men ended. I haven’t seen the finale yet!

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