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The (non) FICTION of Emily Bergl

Sitting in Emily Bergl's dressing room at the Laura Pels Theater, I couldn't help but notice how sweet, calm and poised she was. A far cry from the personality one might expect having seen her film debut in Carrie 2: The Rage.

Emily Bergl was born in the UK/>, but moved to the Chicago/>/> area when she was 7. Although it wasn't a difficult transition for her, she does recall an interesting story upon her arrival in the states. "My teacher had tried to prepare the kids in my class for someone British because until then, they didn't have anyone from the UK/>/>. She told them that we use different words for different things so for some reason they thought I spoke an entirely different language. They kept coming up to me on the first day and they would say things like, 'how do you say apple in English' or how do you say this or that in English. I thought...well I just couldn't understand it..." Those wondering if Emily speaks with an accent, she doesn't, "except sometimes when I am talking to my parents, a slight one."

I asked Emily what her first theater experience was and she laughed, "well my first experience would have to be the live theater I created myself in the den. I don't remember going to a whole lot of shows growing up. What sparked my interest more was that my parents encouraged my imaginations. Growing up there were always hundreds if not thousands of books in the house.

When did she decide to become an actor? Emily says that it was always in her heart, but she never admitted it to herself until she was a senior in high school and was failing English. She had to pass to keep her role as Guinevere in the school musical. She pleaded her teacher to pass her (ironic to Emily, as she then majored in English in college.) It was that same teacher that point blank asked Emily if she wanted to be an actor. Until then, no one had really asked her that, and she answered, "Yes! I want to be an actor!"

Not every actor can claim what she can - she's also a national champion in Poetry Reading, an award she won in 1993. In high school Emily participated in  many competitive dramatic readings of plays, prose and poetry as part of the Forensics League. When she was invited to the Nationals, she wound up winning first place much to her surprise. And in the realm of chalk-this-up-to-coincidence, Julie White's (who co-stars in FICTION) husband was the first place for dramatic interpretation that same year.

FICTION deals with many subjects all stemming from the written word, so I had to ask Emily if aside from being an avid reader, if she also writes. "I dabble. I am hesitant to sometimes talk about writing. I enjoy acting and I have directed and acting is enough. Maybe I'll do other things, but I sometimes get irritated when actors in interviews say they act, but what they really want to do is if acting isn't enough. Acting is enough and the more I do it, the more I realize I know nothing (laughs) and how much more there is to learn."

Post college, Emily debuted on screen in Carrie 2: The Rage, a film that gained a lot of publicity because of the cult status of the first film. How did Emily handle stepping into a film with such expectations? "That was my very first time doing anything on camera at all. In some ways it was less intimidating then I thought it was going to be. But it was still terrifying because it was trial by fire - literally! And I did feel that the success of the movie depended a lot on my performance but I just tried to do each scene, each day. The whole process of film and theater isn't that different, there's just more of a focus on acting in the theater. Sometimes in TV and film all they care about is if it was 'good for camera'. But I think your process as an actor - you just try to nail each moment - that's really all you can do."

One might wonder if Emily watched the original before auditioning or even filming began. Surprisingly, the answer was no - and on purpose - until half way through filming, and then "it completely freaked me out! I watched it late at night in my trailer and got really scared. I am a true fan of the first film. It's just amazing how many (now well known) actors were in that movie - Betty Buckley, Nancy Allen, Amy Irving, John Travolta, Sissy Spacek, William Katt. Some of it is a little campy now, there's a couple of scenes that don't hold up, but it's amazing how many young kids know it and connect with it."

I asked Emily if she was into sci-fi. Quite determined, she said "Who ISN'T into sci-fi? I mean I enjoy it but I wouldn't describe myself as a rabid fan and I have been happy to do the projects I've done. I avoided taking on too many after Carrie 2 because I didn't want to get pegged as just one kind of actress - the sci-fi girl or the horror girl. I'd rather be the theater girl"

Emily did appear an episode of UPN's ENTERPRISE/>/> and most recently, TAKEN. She was very excited about her trek experience because "I always wanted to be on a star trek show. I think that's every actors dream. And I got my own trading card out of it, which in my mind is one step away from your own action figure." Laughing, she wanted to make sure everyone knew that she's "not in it just for the fan mail, trading cards and table at Joe Allen's."

Although she admits to enjoying all the mediums she's worked in, theater is what holds her heart. "There's a real spontaneity that can happen on stage." Speaking of spontaneity, Emily had an interesting run opposite Neil Patrick Harris in Romeo and Juliet which played in San Diego/>/>. She told me how one night in particular there was a concert going on in the park not too far from the outdoor theater the show was playing. "We were right next to the San Diego Zoo and there was some benefit going on..during the death scene. Songs like the Macarena were playing, YMCA." How did Emily handle the overt distraction? "You just have to do it. I mean I have had way worse things happen to me on stage. That's also the benefit of having experience IN the theater. Once that curtain goes up - the show goes on. No matter what kind of day you've had, who's coughing in the audience, something hideous going on next door - or even ants crawling all over your face (something which did happen during the run of R&J). It's good to have that concentration level - on stage, and then also for film and TV because it's helpful. You might have a big light box underneath you or the Grip will be doing something right at your eye line. You just have to do it - to ignore those things."

Emily is currently Abby in FICTION. And while not the largest role, certainly a pivotal one. What drove her to take on this role? "I liked the role because there's a lot more to her than meets the eye. When I first read the first few scenes I said to myself that I know what this is, I've done characters like this before, I know this scenario. As I read further into the play it turned out to be a lot more than I expected and that's what I liked both from my perspective and the audiences.

Without giving too much away (there are plot twists in FICTION) one of the major components to the plot is that the husband and wife decide to share their journals with each other. This of course has it's repercussions on their relationship and dynamic. I asked Emily if she kept a journal and if she would ever share it with anyone.

"I'm a long time journal keeper. I think I started around the age of 6. I've kept one on and off throughout the years although I probably haven't kept one in the past year and a half now. I have to say I really relate to the play because looking back on them I have found to be horrifying experience. I have a friend who as soon as she's finished with a journal, burns it and I understand that impulse. If there's one thing this play can teach us it is that don't write anything (in your journal) you don't want someone else to find out. If you're going to keep one and are going to keep secrets from your spouse or girlfriend, don't write it in there - because they're going to read it."

With the recent bombardment in the media of reality shows, FICTION it could be said, is an ultimate voyeuristic look inside the marriage of two people. Emily still has all her journals but would she let anyone read them?

"Luckily they are so far in the past now I think...well.. No.. I probably wouldn't let anyone read them." In FICTION, the question is raised, Why keep a journal if no one will ever read it and those words don't get to have a life of their own? "I am sure that while I was writing these words from the time I was 6 years old, I imagined some person in the future reading these pithy things that I had to say. Of course, reading them back you realize you weren't as brilliant as you thought."

In reading those journals back, Emily did learn things about herself. "I wasted a lot of time conjecturing on how silly the journal must sound. I went back and what I wanted to know was my frame of mind and what I was doing at the time and a lot of it was 'this journal is so stupid. I can't write a damn word. What's wrong with me? This must sound so awful.' and I thought wow , I wasted so much space and time talking about how bad the journal was when in reality I would have just liked to have read what I was doing at the time."

The character, Abby holds the key to one of the twists in the show. Emily in return has to convey each night knowing that information, but never revealing it to the audience. Without an abundant amount of stage time, I asked her if it was a difficult position to be in and how she handles portraying Abby, yet keeping the knowledge of that twist hidden in her performance.

"It took awhile for me to be comfortable with just knowing that I have the cards and that the audience wouldn't find out until much later. I just had to become comfortable with being a little mysterious and that was hard at first. Because the audience doesn't really understand why I do what I do until the very end of the play. I had to be trusting that at the end, the play serves my character and that was difficult. My character is so different from the other two that at first I felt like I was acting in a different play, or I wasn't setting the right tone like they were. They are both so fusive, lively and engaging and I thought I am just going to go on stage and sink this thing. But then I realized I had to have the courage to be different from them and that is why my character is IN the play - because she's a different kind of person and she's a different kind of character who sets the action in motion."

Having been on stage, screen and on TV, Emily has been mistaken for someone else from time to time. Once she was mistaken for Heather Donohue, right after the Blair Witch Project came out. Ironically, Emily then co-starred with Heather, who she is now good friends with, in TAKEN. She's also been mistaken for Shirley Manson (lead singer for Garbage) and most recently someone asked her to sign something from the movie MEAN GIRLS. She does have her own fan base. "I never thought I'd get fan mail..." (as she showed me a letter from Japan/>/> with pictures from TAKEN in it." I asked her if that was proof she had "arrived."

"I think I knew I arrived when I got a table at Joe Allen… next to Al Pacino. I went in there with a friend and at first they wouldn't give me a table even though the restaurant was empty, so we turned around to go leave. Now I know the Maitre'D, Angus McFadden (who of course owns Angus's).. and as we turned around to leave, he came from the back or somewhere and he said "Emily! Ya not leavin', are ya?" and I said "well, yeah because you don't have any tables" To which he replied "Ahh for you we've got a table" and he led me to this prime corner table and sitting next to us was Al Pacino. That's when I thought, "hmm you know, maybe I've gotten somewhere - I just got a table at Joe Allen."

After the run of FICTION, Emily does have some projects that she's not able to talk about just yet. Would she ever consider doing a musical? "I've done a couple of workshops of musicals and I've done a lot of singing in straight plays, but I am looking to do a musical. I love to sing but I've become more known as an actor in straight plays. It is a dream of mine - I'd love to do Camelot again...."

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