BWW Interviews: NICE FISH's Emily Swallow: Over the Moon, Coast to Coast and on the Ice in Minneapolis

The lovely Emily Swallow plays Flo in new work, NICE FISH, by Mark Rylance & Louis Jenkins, at Minneapolis' Guthrie Theater through May 18. She took a moment off the stage to tell in Minneapolis about her current role, her experiences coast to coast and spending time ice fishing, tour guiding and working hard in Minneapolis and beyond.

First, tell me a little about NICE FISH and how you got involved in the show.

When the Guthrie announced their season last year and I saw that Mark Rylance would be working on a new show, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. I didn't know if there would be a part for me, but they announced auditions last fall and, lucky for me, there's one dame in the group of guys, so I put myself on tape in LA and then flew to New York for a call back in between days of shooting for Monday Mornings. The audition was just before Hurricane Sandy hit, so I didn't hear anything for awhile! When I found out I got it, I was over the moon.

In a sentence or two, describe what NICE FISH is about, from your point of view.

Louis (Jenkins) said he overheard a couple in the lobby early in the run who described the show this way: She: "That play was either very, very silly or very deep." He: "I think it was both." That sums it up. It is about the deep, complex search for meaning in life, and it is about enjoying the simplicity of each and every moment. Two guys go ice fishing and want to catch something big...they get more than they bargained for!

What do you love about Flo? I try every day to be more like Flo!

It is a joy to play her. She is entirely in the moment, always ready for more fun and happiness than the last moment held. She sees everything and everyone with an open heart and an open mind. She is fascinated by the world and people around her and wants to learn as much as she possibly can. She doesn't hold on to regrets or grudges, and is able to forgive just about anything. She inspires me to live life fully and simply. And she's the life of the party!

What has surprised you about the show or working with Mark Rylance and the other cast members?

I'd heard from many people that Mark enjoys a very playful rehearsal process, but I didn't quite know what to expect. I am surprised and delighted at how much he, Claire and Louis welcomed our input and how much we created from playing games and improvising. We started with a full script that Mark and Louis had written, but the six of us in the show created something from all of our ideas, some of which was just a result of happy accidents that happened while we were mucking about and when we actually went out ice fishing! Every night, there are certain elements of the show that are improvised, and even though we're open we're still talking about ways to improve and tighten the scenes--we try new blocking or reword things. I am inspired every night by the openheartedness and willingness to play that my cast mates bring on stage with them.

What is your favorite thing about the Guthrie Theater?

Every time I come to work here, I feel welcomed and supported in a wonderful way. The community that creates theatre here is astonishing to me, and the enthusiasm from those that support the work is wonderful. I've gotten to work with a few of the same actors in different shows now, and it's so much fun to encounter each other in different roles! What is it like to work here in Minneapolis again after time away? And, are the audiences here different or similar to those in New York, LA or other cities you've worked in? I was thrilled to come back to Minneapolis. I am so proud of the work I've done here, and so grateful that I have been welcomed back. The pride that Guthrie audiences have for the work produced at the theater is incredible. It's a smaller performance community than New York or LA, so it feels more intimate. I love, too, that I wind up at the theater with people I've worked with in New York and LA!

What is your favorite place to spend your days off in Minneapolis? Are there any attractions or spots you enjoy particularly?

I've spent many cold weather months here, so I love to go to the Como Park Conservatory to get some warm air and luscious greenery (I grew up in Florida, so I'm a wimp in the cold). I've run miles and miles along the Mississippi and love to take off on the bike trails. In the warmer months, I dig the Mill City Farmer's Market. I love going to the Walker (Molly Fox, a dresser at the Guthrie, is a volunteer docent there!). For food and drink, I'm hooked on 112 Eatery and Marvel Bar. This trip, I've discovered some pretty incredible thrift stores thanks to my cast mate Jim!

What do you do in your free time to unwind after a long week of shows?

I usually try to get outside as much as possible. I sit in the park or run along the Mississippi. I've had lots of friends in town on days off, so I've played tour guide a bit.

Tell me a little about your other work, I know you're in the TNT series "Monday Mornings" - Who is Dr. Robidaux? What has that experience been like?

Shooting the first season of "Monday Mornings" was phenomenal. I got to work with actors I've admired for a long time, and everyone was generous and playful. It was an incredibly positive environment; a lot of our crew had been working together for awhile on various Kelley shows, and they all take great joy in their work. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who co-created and wrote for the series, was generous with his time and expertise, and it was just damn fun to hear his stories and learn how to be a surgeon. It was the first time I played a doctor, and it was incredibly humbling to talk to actual neurosurgeons and observe surgeries so that I could go play dress up and _pretend_ to do what they do for hours and hours every day. Dr. Robidaux is the only one of the main cast who is still a resident, so she's still finding her place in the pecking order. It was fun to be the kid of the bunch. I loved what the writers gave me to do--I had plenty of episodes in which I was bumbling a bit and fairly intimidated by the other, more experienced doctors, but I also got my chance to shine and hold my own.

What is the character on stage and on TV or film that has been the most significant to you, and why?

What a tough question to answer! I've been blessed to work with some phenomenal people and to create some fantastic characters. It's hard to top NICE FISH, but early in my career, working on David Grimm's MEASURE FOR PLEASURE at The Public Theatre stands out because it was my first time playing a major role at the Public, and it came to be in such a special way--I'd auditioned for the workshop of the play at the Sundance Theatre Lab and, based on my work in that, they asked me to continue when the show went to the Public. I absolutely loved Hermione, the character David was inspired to write. We had the best time creating the play in Utah, where it felt like a riotous summer camp, and continued to have that playfulness and joy when we did it in New York. I am happiest when I am birthing something new with a group of actors. There are plenty of phenomenal roles I've played--Maggie the Cat, Kate in SHREW, Goneril in LEAR, but when it's something you are involved with from the beginning, it's even more thrilling. I feel that way about Flo and working with Mark and Claire and the actors in NICE FISH. I pinch myself every day!

What's next for you?

Well, immediately after we close I fly to see my family in Florida to welcome a new nephew! My sister-in-law is due on the 20th. After that, things are slightly up in the air; we don't yet know if we have another season of "Monday Mornings." I do know that I'll be performing at Joe's Pub in New York on August 5th. Last summer, my brilliant and funny friend Jaclyn Huberman and I created a cabaret called Jac N' Swallow, and we did a few performances at the Laurie Beechman. We've been working on remounting it for awhile, but I made things difficult by running off to LA and Minneapolis! We're thrilled to be doing another show, especially at Joe's Pub!

Photo by Richard Termine: Emily Swallow (Flo) in the Guthrie Theater's production of Nice Fish, by Mark Rylance and Louis Jenkins. Directed by Mark Rylance with Claire van Kampen, set design by Todd Rosenthal, costume design by Ilona Somogyi and lighting design by Mimi Jordan Sherin. April 6 - May 18, 2013, on the McGuire Proscenium Stage at the Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis.

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From This Author Kristen Hirsch Montag