It’s been a memorable 2017 for Ann Dowd. The powerhouse actress took home one Emmy for her imposing turn as Aunt Lydia in Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale and was nominated for another for her joyous return in the third and final season of HBO’s The Leftovers — a welcome surprise given that her character, Guilty Remnant leader Patti Levin, died in season 1.
Like Patti, who went on to haunt Justin Theroux’s Kevin Garvey, or Lydia, who looms over Offred’s (Elisabeth Moss) life despite only appearing in flashbacks in Margaret Atwood’s novel, it seems Dowd’s roles have a way of sticking. They linger for the actress (of Patti, she says, “Sometimes I can’t even talk about her. I just break down”) just as they endure on screen. TNT’s Good Behavior is the latest series made better by this phenomenon: After two appearances in the first season, Dowd is back for a bulked-up role in season 2, stealing more scenes than ever as unconventional FBI Agent Rhonda Lashever. Sunday’s episode — SPOILER WARNING — found Lashever finally collaring assassin Javier (Juan Diego Botto) and con artist Letty (Michelle Dockery), only to cut a deal with them off the record and let them go.
How will Lashever fare at criminal life? EW spoke to Dowd, who’s as gracious as her characters are brash, about Emmy recognition, playing intense roles, and what’s next for the FBI agent with expensive taste.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The internet really enjoyed your shout-out to Hulu in your Emmy acceptance speech.
ANN DOWD: Someone told me that! I didn’t know what they meant at first. I was like, “What do you mean? Didn’t I say the name right?” It made me laugh when I heard it. I don’t get it still, quite, but hey, it’s sweet. Whatever the comments were, I thought, oh, that’s lovely.
What did that win mean to you?
It meant the world, quite honestly. You train yourself to say, “Let’s just keep the focus on the work, how fortunate we are to have the work,” which is the correct outlook to have. But boy, to find out I’m included in this conversation, there’s just nothing quite like it. And when my name was called, in addition to the deep shock, which was legit, it was also, and I’m glad I remembered exactly what this feeling was — I don’t know how one could ever forget — tremendous gratitude. Because so many work so hard all their lives.
You’re filming season 2 of The Handmaid’s Tale now. What’s it been like coming back to work after so much recognition for the show?
Everyone’s excited. We love the work and the material and the people we work with. I wish I had a more original way of saying it, but everybody is full on. They’re good at their jobs, man… Going back to work right after the Emmys was a very good thing, putting our feet back on the ground where they belong. It was a tremendous way to begin season 2.
How did you find out you’d be returning for The Leftovers’ final season?
Damon [Lindelof, the co-creator] sent a cast email about season 3 and I was included. And he’s conscientious. So I thought, “Okay, so what does this mean now?” Because you love the show, and when you’re on it you just feel so grateful that you are, and you don’t even want to hope — so I wrote, “Just wondering, was that intentional, keeping my name on the list?” And he just said, “Yes, it’ll be at the end, probably one episode, probably Australia.” I don’t ask questions beyond that. I was thrilled.
She died in season 1, but Patti turned out to have real staying power.
The things I’ve learned from that show. When I found out she was going to die, I cried for three days… And then I finally said to myself, “Well, honey, you’re going to have to play that episode, so I think it’s time to stop weeping and have a look at the episode and see what we can do here.” And then it dawned on me: What Patti was going through mirrored what I was going through in a way. Sit with the disappointment and then let go. You don’t want this show to end. It’s ending for you. Appreciate it and then let go. Let go of attachment, which was one of Patti’s huge things. It just turned into one of those phenomenal personal and artistic experiences, one of the best of my entire life. It just kept dovetailing into my life.
Your role on Good Behavior has also expanded this season. How were you approached about becoming a bigger part of the show?
I’m not exactly sure how it came about, but I know that at the end of the first season [co-creator] Chad Hodge mentioned that he liked the character of Lashever and he wanted her to come back the next season. It was something simple like that. And I love the idea.
You do a lot of comedy on the show — I think Lashever’s fake arrest video in the car was my favorite moment of the season so far. Do you enjoy the chance to lighten up a bit? Are there any challenges to playing such a big personality?
I love playing this character, I’ve never played a character like her before. Yes, it’s wonderful to lighten up and it’s also terrifying. It’s not a terrain I’m familiar with in my working life. The challenge, of course, is always to keep it real, which I suppose is the challenge for every role, isn’t it?
Can you tease anything about what’s next for Lashever this season now that she’s in cahoots with Letty and Javier?
Now she’s entering the criminal world, and I would bet the farm she’ll be very good at it.
Like Lydia and Patti, Lashever is a forceful personality. Is that a persona you’re drawn to?
I can’t tell you how much. I just feel comfortable and happy to explore them. I wouldn’t have known that, really. I’m a little surprised by it. People say, “Do you have to go home and shower after you have a day on the set of Handmaid’s?” And I say, “Absolutely not! Happy to get to know her.” Plus, at the end of the day, for us, it’s make-believe. The consequences, all of the stuff these characters go through, as actors, we don’t have to live the consequence. And I think that’s important to keep in mind as we play it.
Have you seen a change in roles for women?
Yeah. Isn’t it great? Women are interesting. Hello! There are stories to tell that are phenomenal, and women can tell them and act in them and produce them… And we can support one another wholeheartedly. We’re not competing for two spots here. The world is opening up. Let’s all get in there.