A Fine Frenzy DIGS Into a New Art Form
by Jay S. Jacobs
Does young actress Alison Sudol – who is playing one of the central pieces in the globe-trotting puzzle box known as the eagerly-awaited USA Network series DIG – look familiar, but you can’t quite place in which show you have previously seen her?
Perhaps you may know Alison Sudol better by her musical stage name. The striking 30-year-old redhead has been performing as a singer/songwriter under the ethereal moniker A Fine Frenzy for almost a decade now. Under this pseudonym she has released the acclaimed CDs One Cell in the Sea, Bomb in the Birdcage and Pines, which spawned the alternative hits “Electric Twist,” “Now is the Start” and “Happier.”
Now Alison Sudol is about to change how she is known. Not that she is giving up her musical career, she loves it and is still fully committed to it. However, in recent years she has dipped her toe into the waters of acting and has found a whole new world opening up for her.
Actually, it’s not even totally a new thing for her. Even before she became known as a singer, she had small roles on a few TV shows under yet another stage name, as Alison Munro. She also did a few bit parts while touring and recording, the biggest of which was a guest gig on CSI: NY.
However, since she dropped her 2012 album Pines, Sudol has gotten more and more involved. Suddenly, her acting career is starting to compete with her music. Last year she appeared in the indie film Other People’s Children and also had a recurring role in the acclaimed new Jeffrey Tambor series Transparent.
Her latest role is her most exciting yet. She plays a pivotal role in DIG, the new action mystery miniseries made by Homeland creator Gideon Raff and Heroes creator Tim Kring and co-starring Jason Isaacs, Anne Heche and Lauren Ambrose. A wide-ranging spiritual mystery which takes place in Jerusalem, Norway and New Mexico which takes up such huge questions as faith and the Apocalypse, DIG mixes history, religion and violent action in an intelligent adventure reminiscent of The DaVinci Code.
While Sudol’s character slips from view (temporarily?) fairly early on in the series, a huge part of storyline revolves around her life and her secrets. Her character of Emma Watson suffuses the central mystery of DIG – which is why it is her fiery locks and a tattoo on her unclad back which adorns the show’s official promotional poster.
A few weeks before DIG had its series premiere, we were one of a few media outlets who had the opportunity to speak with Sudol about her career change and her new series.
Hi, Alison, nice to speak with you again. I met you several years ago when you played at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia with Citizen Cope.
Alison Sudol: (remembering) Oh, hi! How’s it going?
Hi, good, good. Have you always sort of known that you wanted to balance acting and your music? Or how has your career segued from the music into more of acting? Though I know you are still involved in your music as well.
Alison Sudol: Yes, I am definitely. It was more of a development. I’ve always loved the storytelling element of films and of great television. You are essentially doing what I love most about music. You are tapping into human emotion and telling a tale. Making people feel something. I found that there was a point where I was really interested in telling other people’s stories. Not just telling my own story. I needed that creatively. Needed to grow more as a human being and experience other… lives, essentially… which is what you get to do as an actor. You get to live somebody else’s life for a little while. I find that that really enriches me creatively and helps musically. Just helps in life. It’s great. It is about finding that balance. I think I’ve gotten to a pretty good footing with that as well.
Your character of Emma seems to have a lot of secrets and mysteries in her background. When you were first reading the script did she change significantly in your mind as you went on or did you sort of have a clear idea of how you wanted to play her from the very beginning?
Alison Sudol: I had an idea of the core that I wanted to play. Which is just, there’s this incredible life force within her. That just seemed like something that really mattered in how I portrayed her. But I think it was when I went to Israel and I walked through it. We were in just some absolutely spectacular locations and it really sunk in, the story and the greater significance of where we are within it. The history that I think that she developed as a character quite a bit when I saw her life’s work…
I was reading that eventually you guys had to shift away from Jerusalem because of some military unrest. Did you guys feel that while you were making the show? Did that add sort of a sense of danger to the whole filmmaking aspect?
Alison Sudol: To be honest I really didn’t feel it. It was only towards the end when things started to shift a bit. But I never felt unsafe and frankly would go back there in a second. I loved being there so much. [I] felt like I had a lot more to explore than I got to, but I did not feel unsafe, no. I felt very protected.
Emma seems to have a lot of information and knowledge that Peter Connelly doesn’t. There’s an official 12-part prequel to DIG available online. Were you given more detailed backstory, or overview of your character? Did it come from the first script that you shot or were you given more besides?
Alison Sudol: That’s a very good question. (laughs) The answer is that there is a lot of mystery to this character. There were a lot of things that I have learned in the process of playing the character. I had a certain amount of information, but the mystery is key.
Emma spends a lot of time, specifically with Jason’s character Peter. How did you find the experience of working with Jason?
Alison Sudol: It was a gift really. It’s been an incredible experience working with Jason. He’s a very gracious person. Just as a human being, he’s lovely to be around. He has wonderful energy. He’s incredibly positive. He really thinks about every aspect of the character and of the story line. I have been learning a lot from him. He has always done everything in his power to make me feel welcome and comfortable. He’s been incredible.
What was it about the show’s premise in general and about your character in particular that made you want to be part of this?
Alison Sudol: That’s a wonderful question. The adventure of it on so many levels. The adventure of the story, the storyline; the adventure of actually going to Israel and filming this show was incredibly exciting to me. Emma is such a layered character. I found her really intriguing. Also, her love for history, for Jerusalem, for archeology, and for life was really powerful. I wanted to play somebody like that. I wanted to explore that.
When you go halfway across the world to film a show is it almost like a cool working vacation or is it a pain in the ass commute to work?
Alison Sudol: (laughs) You have jetlag and things like that obviously. We’re all human. But I think to go somewhere like Israel, or now Croatia…. [To] be able to work with the caliber of people that are involved in the series. On your days off, to be able to experience life in a place where generally you’ve gotten to spend like a decent amount of time, so you’ve gotten to sort of get really embedded in it. I mean what an amazing thing to do in life. It’s incredible. I’m constantly just pinching myself. Even when I’m tired and it’s cold, or it’s hot, or whatever it is, it’s amazing.
Your character says that every rock, every piece of territory means something there. You have probably have found yourself saying that in real life, not just as a character.
Alison Sudol: (laughs) I did. I did. It’s beautiful to meet people that live in these places with such a rich, deep, layered history. [People] that are so aware of their history. So proud and invested in keeping their history alive. It’s been such a great learning experience for me. Really inspiring. It’s not hard to be fascinated by that. It’s not hard to say those things truthfully. I did say that exact thing (laughs again) actually walking through the markets in Jerusalem. I mean everything means something.
I wanted to ask a little bit more about Emma’s relationship with Professor Margrove. How was it to work with Richard E. Grant?
Alison Sudol: I just saw Richard, in fact. The relationship that plays out through the series is something that you sort of see. (laughs) I could say as a person, I’m a massive fan of his. Massive. To the point where I still can’t believe it. I made an idiot out of myself the first few times that I saw him. (laughs again) I was trying to be cool and I just kept blurting out how much I loved him. But, yes, the relationship is complex for sure. There’s a lot of admiration there coming from Emma. I mean he’s a very renowned archeologist, a pioneer.
It does seem like this is a dream job for Emma…
Alison Sudol: Yes, it is.
I just love that she’s so excited about the job, and excited to be on this dig in Jerusalem. Can you talk a little bit, or even tease a little bit, about what we’re going to see in that first episode?
Alison Sudol: Yes, of course, yes. One of the most interesting things, to me at least, about reading the script and seeing the pilot is you have these different, seemingly very disconnected, storylines. They take place in completely different countries. It starts in Norway, and there’s a whole storyline in New Mexico, and there’s Jerusalem. You have all of these very different, very strong, interesting characters. These different situations. They’re all weaving their way through and yet there seems to be something that draws them all together. You don’t know what that is. You see very different climates, very different people. Yet there’s this shared heightened sense of…. What’s the word? I don’t know…. It’s anticipation. There’s something happening, something’s afoot, with everybody. Within the show, there’s very different color palettes for the different places and the different storylines. It’s really intriguing. You just don’t get all of the answers, which I love. I love mystery. I love questions. I love trying to figure things out. I think that’s what the show has. It’s very intelligent and it’s very deep, but it’s also fun to watch.
Without giving away any of the big spoilers what was the most fun scene that you got to play as Emma and what was the hardest scene for you as an actress to play?
Alison Sudol: Fun was (laughs)… we filmed in these tunnels. These 3,000 year old tunnels, under Jerusalem. I’ve always considered myself slightly just not always so great on my feet. I trip a lot and not always the most surefooted person. (laughs again) We had to run down these tunnels at full speed. We couldn’t do anything to make them any less slippery or anything. I mean the fact that we got to film in there alone was amazing. We were running and there came a point where I just clocked it in my head that even though I wasn’t surefooted that Emma was surefooted. I was running like Emma and I wasn’t afraid and I didn’t fall once. It was really quite liberating to experience that. I don’t know it was just a tiny moment, but personally brilliant. We were in these caves. They were so beautiful and just walking through them was so jaw dropping. (laughs again) There were so many moments that were so fun.
She’s a very layered character and it’s not easy. This is my first major acting role. I was in Transparent, which was also a huge learning experience and amazing, but this is all new to me. Sort of every day is terrifying. (laughs) Even if I’m just barely doing anything every day is terrifying. (laughs harder) So there’s something about getting through the day that is really wonderful. I feel like from when I started in Jerusalem to now that it’s really helped me become much more courageous in my personal life. Feel stronger and more brave, I guess. I’m very grateful for this.
Jason is such a great actor. Did it make it easier to connect, just to know that he’s a guy who’s been doing this for a while and just play along with him as an actress, since this is your first real big role?
Alison Sudol: Of course. I mean he’s been so generous with me. So supportive, and patient. He’s really given me a lot of confidence and allowed me to have my learning curve. Never gets annoyed with me. Is always cheerful, and fun, and funny, and charming. He’s just really a great human being. I don’t know what I would have done [without him], frankly. When you have somebody around you that is that big as a human being then it allows you space to grow and really flourish. He’s given me such a gift in that respect. I just am very grateful to him.
Now I know that DIG is planned as a limited series. Is there a chance if it does really well that it might be brought back, as a sequel, or maybe even as a totally different story, like an American Horror Story, or Fargo, type of thing?
Alison Sudol: I can only speak for myself. As a viewer I don’t know. With the brain power that you have behind this series with Gideon and Tim, I hope so. (laughs) I hope so because they’re so smart, and clever, and interesting. So, regardless of my involvement, I would love to see this go for many seasons, because I just love the way that they think.
You also just mentioned Transparent. What was that experience like and how exciting is it to see how well that’s doing and how much acclaim it’s getting?
Alison Sudol: It’s really marvelous. It’s been really surreal and wonderful and to know how much heart was put into that show. Jeffrey’s performance is just incredible. Just breathtaking. As a baby actress watching this feat, I was like: I can’t believe that I’m getting to do these things. I feel incredibly lucky. I’m just trying to work as hard as I can so I can do everybody proud, because I’m working with world class people, you know?
Jason has mentioned that being in DIG sparked a real life interest in him to research the actual conspiracy theories of groups that believe in the apocalyptical prophecies the show is about. did DIG have a similar effect on you?
Alison Sudol: Yes, of course. (laughs) It’s made me much more aware of lots of things that just weren’t on my radar. We talked about things on set and it’s really interesting. On the flipside, too, I think it’s really interesting to show Jerusalem on camera in a way that people haven’t really seen it before. That’s also really interesting. To myself see Israel, and Jerusalem in particular, in a new light – actually being there – the whole show has changed my perception in quite a few ways. It really opened my eyes.
Do you think the adventure that you experienced in being there will specifically influence or inspire your songwriting in the future?
Alison Sudol: Yes, absolutely. You can’t have an experience like this as a human being and not being affected by it. It’s affected me tremendously. People have been commenting on it lately because we started filming quite a bit ago and it’s had a transformative effect on me. I’ve just found a lot of strength, and an increased awareness. Awareness of the world around me, and also a willingness to look at things that I might have been afraid or intimidated to look at before. As a songwriter I can see it in the songs that I am writing now, just a very different viewpoint, a much stronger, more grounded viewpoint. I love it. It’s so cool to have one art form influence the next. It’s really inspiring.
You mentioned how glad you were that you didn’t fall, but Jason Issacs mentioned that he sustained a few minor injuries while making DIG due to the action scenes he was in. Did you come out of the production totally unscathed or were you banged up or injured at all while shooting?
Alison Sudol: Oh, for sure I’ve gotten banged up. (laughs) I’ve hit my head a few times. I’ve sprained my ankle. The bumps and scrapes, and this and that. Most of the time not during filming, but just being onset and looking around. Looking at some amazing site and then walking into a wall. (laughs again) Not usually when I’m playing Emma. She’s way better on her feet than I am, somehow. (laughs harder) Even though we’re like coming from the same person somehow she is not klutzy and I am.
Copyright ©2015 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: March 4, 2015.
Photos ©2015. Courtesy of USA Network. All rights reserved.