'Deep State' actress Anastasia Griffith opens up about her current role and getting back to acting two years after becoming a mom
Anastasia Griffith talks everything 'Deep State,' what it was like returning to the sets, and why FX's 'Damages' was a 'life-changing experience.'
Fox's 'Deep State,' a British television thriller series, follows former MI6 agent Mark Strong as he's yanked out of his idyllic retreat with family in the countryside and back into the chaos of a world of espionage and betrayal. The show is the network's first-ever commissioned script outside the United States and premiered in the UK on April 5. However, it will only hit US shores later this month, on June 17 on Epix, and will look to enthrall audiences with its breathless action and drop-dead locations.
I caught up with Anastasia Griffith, who portrays CIA agent Amanda Jones on the show, to talk to her about her role, how she managed to get into the skin of her character, friendships made on the sets, as well as what makes the show different from those that have trodden a similar path before.
Of 'Deep State,' she said: "I could tell you a lot but it's a show that has multiple elements to it. First, it's a family tale about a father who gets thrown back to a previous lifetime of when he was acting as a spy of MI6. It starts with that and then we go back and start seeing a whole system and create a whole world around his story."
She also delved into her character of Amanda Jones: "Amanda is a CIA operative who is tied to his tale, and as the show progresses, the more we get into a sinister world that ties politics, major cooperations, and Intercontinental relations. It becomes quite dark and Amanda is at the heart of all of that."
A cursory look at the show's trailer indicates that it is not starved of action. Mark's Max Easton makes it a point to get his way, and most often, that way involves pulling out a lot of nails, a fair share of guns, and some spectacular explosions to boot. Curious, I asked Anastasia if the stunt-heavy nature of the show meant she had to undergo any extra training, but she said Amanda was involved in that aspect of the show.
"I think there may have been an element of training involved for those you often see in the field but Amanda was very much office-bound and conducting the business through the telephone," she said. "That was actually quite a struggle for me, cause on the days of the shooting of an emotional scene, you don't have the other person in the room with you," she confessed.
"I dug the material when I read it because it was something different," she said, revealing how she was instantly taken by the story and the script. However, it wasn't all smooth sailing. She also talked about how the role was a bit difficult for her to portray as she had been fresh off from caring for her newborn son.
"I was initially terrified of doing it because I had just had a baby and I was feeling very raw to the world with everything going on and with how the international community is feeling particularly unsettled," she said, referring to the blanket of political tension hanging heavily on numerous countries around the world. "It felt important to do something that tells a story of what might be happening behind closed doors. I also remember feeling very uncomfortable while reading the source material and thinking it was so original."
Because she had been away from the cameras for close to two years tending to her son, it was naturally going to be a difficult process acclimatizing to the hustle and bustle of television production. But Anastasia says she had a great time working on the show and that it was a learning experience.
She mentioned Alistair Petrie, who plays the role of the duplicitous MI6 boss George White on the show. "I really enjoyed working with him and learned quite a lot from him. Yes, I was coming back slightly older, but with fresh eyes and a new perspective," she said, adding: "He's played these high-status, desk-bound kind of characters before and was brilliant at it, while for me, it was a challenge to bring a personality to the role."
Anastasia also spoke highly of co-star and lead, Mark Strong. "I only did one scene with Mark but thoroughly enjoyed watching him work and process things. It was a wonderful experience working with him."
It also speaks of her character that she had nothing but praise for her fellow actresses on the show, despite not having any scenes with them. "The other ladies, I didn't get a chance to work with them but have met them since then. Karima [McAdams] and Lyne [Renee] are just lovely and very beautiful, elegant women. It was great to have such a diverse cast with so many women and such a strong core," she said.
'Deep State' certainly isn't new to the genre. In its review of the show, The Guardian pointed out how it follows in the footsteps of previous trendsetters such as 'Homeland,' '24,' 'The Night Manager,' and the Jason Bourne movies and carries a similar premise. I harbored similar doubts, so I asked Anastasia what made the show different from the rest and she suggested it was because 'Deep State' was an amalgam of so many different aspects.
"The explosions in the show are really just the means to an end and nothing more. It's the means to tell a story; not the story itself. At the end of the day, you go home with these characters. Whether it is my character or Alex's character, we go home with them and see how their decisions can have such a deep effect on their soul," she said.
She continued: "As far my character is concerned, I felt it was my responsibility to portray the toll these decisions took on me. I, personally, function on a 'need to know' basis, so I had to understand the role from her perspective and find what it's like to be responsible for so many people. No one goes into that line of work to be the bad guy. It's psychologically fascinating to consider how these decisions take a toll on her and while it's not 'sexy and polished,' the show is trying to tell you a story that you can imagine being real when you watch it."
It's the role she's most proud of, she disclosed. "Amanda Jones came at a point in my life where I had things in perspective a bit more. And having my son was like a beautiful wake-up call to what matters and it showed me the bigger perspective. I think having a child gave me greater clarity on the role and a sensitivity to the material that I would not have had before."
Anastasia also suggested that fans are in for a treat with 'Deep State.' "It starts differently from how it ends," she said. "Every box is checked and it's very exhilarating and exciting. It's got a lot of in-depth political commentary going on and you need attention because there are a lot of twists and exposés going on."
"I don't think any of it is too far from reality and what was so intriguing to me is that it addresses certain conspiracy theories that are very well-researched. But on top of that, there's also a family drama and what I found more terrifying than anything else was show the family gets ripped apart," she added.
The actress' journey into television and movies has by no means been straightforward, as evidenced by her bachelor's degree. Anastasia graduated from Bristol University with a degree in History of Art, and I was interested in finding out more about why she decided to take that particular path. However, unlike what I had expected, it had little to do with twists of fate or some divine intervention.
"I didn't do so well in my English studies and my English A-Level," she laughed, adding: "I originally wanted to do English and drama at Bristol but they weren't taking anyone who didn't have an A, so I had to reassess my choices pretty quickly."
"I guess I applied for that particular history of art degree because I did want to go to university and I wanted a degree and I didn't want to give up studying. In the end, I did enjoy the degree and it was great in Bristol," she said, but also admitted that given the chance now, she probably would not have done the course.
She also revealed how she initially wanted to get into production but how that goal later changed. "I thought at first that I wanted to produce and I had a lot of work experience before school, during school, and after school to pursue that career too. But I soon realized that I was more longing to be on set and to be a part of the creativity involved in front of the camera," she said.
Despite her acting aspirations and obvious talent on screen, Anastasia has tried her hand at production, as well as cinematography with 'We Are Fathers' and 'Watermelon Man' respectively. Each has a unique story behind them too, and Anastasia was kind enough to share them with me.
"'We are Fathers' was written by a friend of mine," she said. "Yeah, I did help her produce it as a web series and it won a couple of awards too. We pitched it around a little bit and didn't want to lose the family aspect of it because we didn't care if it went big or not. My friend was writing for the first time, I was producing for the first time and it was a great way to experience a different aspect of the industry," she continued.
'Watermelon Man,' she says, was the product of a course of cinematography she did at the New York film academy. "It was highly enjoyable for the summer but it wasn't anything professional. While I'd love to be a cinematographer and wish I'd done it when I'd done to university, I think it's too late for me now," she laughed. She admits it will not be something she tries her hand at later either because it takes 'so much experience and expertise' to get good at it.
Anastasia made her onscreen acting debut with made-for-television movie 'She's Gone' in 2004. Or so I thought. She initially agrees with me when I ask, but quickly retracts and says it was, in fact, in a movie called 'Nature Unleashed: Fire.'
"We shot it in Romania and I actually missed my graduation because, the day I was finished, I was on a plane to go there!" she said. "I spent six weeks on the movie and met my best friend there, who was the reason I ended up moving to Los Angeles," she added.
She says that the movie is something she will not be looking back on, but admits it was an opportunity to learn. "I had trained for the stage and I had no experience at all in TV. So, I cut my teeth about hitting the marks, how to use the camera, how big to go, how small to go, everything on its sets. I haven't watched it in over a decade but it was the first time I heard all the terminology that is now second nature to me," she reminisced.
It would be the match that lit the fire. She said: "I enjoyed it because I used to get bad stage fright and I still do when I do on-stage things but for me, the camera was not something intimate. I didn't start film the same way but that experience made me realize that that was something that I wanted to do."
After the release of 'Deep State' in the U.S, Amanda Jones is the role she will most likely get recognized for, but Anastasia still holds fond memories of FX legal drama 'Damages,' which was her first big break in America. "I worked with incredible people and made few of my closest friends on it. It was a life-changing experience."
I didn't want to keep her for much longer, so I asked her the one question that had been lingering in my mind since the start. What was it like growing up with not one, not two, not three, but SIX elder brothers? "It continues to be crazy," she laughs.
She says she feels a little bit validated now that her brother knows what that a semblance of that might have been like because her niece has two elder brothers. "My brother is getting to witness what it's like for her which I didn't spend too much time thinking while growing up. It was quite lonely having six older brothers and because the way our family worked, I was often left out while they played games cause I wanted to play horses."
"But it was a formative experience," she says. "It taught me how to approach the world and fit into it."