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Interview: Amy Gumenick

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In a short period of time, actress Amy Gumenick has built an impressive resume of film and television credits. The Swedish born actress graduated from the University California at Santa Barbara in 2008, earning a BFA in theatre with an emphasis in acting. She’s made memorable appearances on television shows such as Grimm, Rules of Engagement, Grey’s Anatomy and Castle. She became a fan favorite playing Mary Winchester on the hit series Supernatural. In a memorable performance, Amy took on the role of Natalee Holloway in the Lifetime television movie Natalee Holloway.

Currently she can be seen on the AMC hit series Turn which was just renewed for a second season. Amy was kind enough to sit down with us to discuss Turn, being a part of the Supernatural universe, diversity in her work and gives some sound advice for those looking to become actors.

Pop Culture Principle – Can you tell us what Turn is about?

Amy Gumenick – Turn is a Revolutionary War drama that tells the story of George Washington’s first spy ring. It gives a closer, more in-depth look into the people who formed the United States of America and what it is today. The writers have done an amazing job at capturing the historical accuracy of that time period, and making it accessible and interesting to a broader audience by their own level of drama. In doing so, it just doesn’t attract the history buffs out there but is enjoyable, entertaining and educational for everyone, regardless of what you know about the Revolutionary War. There have been lots of films that have tried to capture that. There are bits and pieces that we learn about in school and that we see in the media, but Turn gives more of an up close and personal, behind-the-scenes view of what that time period was for our country.

Pop Culture Principle – Can you tell us a little bit about your character, Philomena?

Amy Gumenick – Philomena is an American actress who attracts the attention of Major John Andre, who recruits her to be a spy for the British Army. Thus, she has been turned. She’s an interesting character because, while Philomena perhaps didn’t exist in history, she represents the whole world of female spies, a world that was very prominent on both sides of the war and yet remains very secretive.

Pop Culture Principle – What kind of preparation did you do for Turn?

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Amy Gumenick – I immediately got my hands on whatever material I could find, and started researching female spies during the Revolutionary War. There are a few famous ones that were later recorded, but for most of them either I didn’t have recorded names or their identities were merely speculation. I tried to do as much research as I could to fill in the gaps in my own education. Not only was Philomena a woman but also she was an actress, a profession highly looked down upon in the 1700s. To go from the bottom of the barrel to then be courted and recruited by someone with such high stature as a Major was remarkable and life-changing. I tried to get as much information as I could about all those pieces, and then creatively figure out how to link them all together and create this life for this woman.

While I was familiar with many of the characters in the show, my research for Turn made me realize how much more than just the facts and the timeline there was to this beautifully rich time in our history. Alexander Rose, who wrote the book on which the series is based, gives you a glance into that world which was really helpful. Being that Philomena is not necessarily a historic figure, I gathered all the facts that I could and sort of filled in the rest based on a mixture of history and my own imagination, which was really fun!

Pop Culture Principle – The sets and costumes are amazing on the series. As an actor, how do those two things enhance your performance?

Amy Gumenick – I could imagine what it was like to live in corsets and those incredible gowns, and to walk down the streets and see horses and buggies, yet that was based on what I had seen in movies and my imagination. Walking onto that set from day one it was as if I were transported back in time. The attention to detail, the incredible gorgeous landscaping and costume designs—it’s unreal. I felt like in a way I was fulfilling my childhood dream of being a fairytale princess, because the dresses are so incredible. The first gown that I tried on was handmade and was a compilation of these incredible fabrics which had been flown in from England and India. When you see the episode and see that dress for one second, you don’t realize what a masterpiece it was. I definitely had fun with the wardrobe, hair, makeup, and the set. I would catch myself on set sometimes thinking that I get to play professional make-believe for a living, which is pretty incredible. The designers, the crew and the people that bring that world and those visions to life are hands down some of the most talented people I have ever worked with.

So as an actor I can prepare only so much, but then putting on the costumes, the wigs and the makeup and then walking onto those streets, that did the last twenty percent of my job.

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Pop Culture Principle – The first season of Turn just finished, but for those who haven’t seen the series yet, what can they expect?

Amy Gumenick – Oh man, so much! I would say be prepared to learn the history that wasn’t in your history books. Also, while I think there is a lot of great television on today and the television world is really exploding and becoming so cinematic and amazing in a way that it hasn’t been, there is a lot of television that is entertaining for the sake of being entertaining, or those mind numbing shows that you need at the end of the day. I don’t think Turn is that. Turn is extremely intelligently written, the characters are complex, and there are a lot of people to keep track of. So I guess my advice to viewers would be to make sure you pay attention!

Turn is sort of a mind game, and I think that is part of what makes the show successful. It really makes you think and it leaves you continuing to think about it and figuring it out. It evokes conversation and perhaps allows you to see history through another set of eyes.

Pop Culture Principle – You are also known for playing Mary Winchester on Supernatural. How did that role come about?

Amy Gumenick – I will start by saying working on that show was hands down one of the most incredible experiences I have had to date. It was one of my first professional roles. It was weeks after I graduated from college and had just moved to LA. I was starry-eyed and wanted to see if this dream of being an actress could be a reality. I had not seen the show until I got the audition and had a day or two to watch as much as I could to learn about these characters, just so that I had an idea of the world I was entering and the tone of the show.

It was interesting because they are very secretive on that show, and I think that is because the fans are so awesome and they pay attention to every little detail. There is nothing that gets by the fans! In casting the show, they gave out very little information. The character name I was auditioning for was not named Mary but some other generic name. For example, the first scene in “In the Beginning” when John and Mary are in the diner discussing her parents, I believe that John’s name in the audition was Jeffrey and it didn’t connect. I didn’t know I was playing the younger version of Mary Winchester until I got to the audition and there was a picture of Samantha Smith in the casting office and the casting directing kept looking at me and then the picture of Samantha, so I put it together. So, I created a character based on the tiny bit of information I was given and the two scenes that I was given to prepare, and it wasn’t until after I was cast that I was told I was in fact young Mary Winchester.

Pop Culture Principle – Did you feel any pressure or responsibilities knowing you were portraying an important person in the Winchester story?

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Amy Gumenick – I absolutely did. Samantha Smith did such a beautiful job creating this universal mother that everyone instantly falls in love with. As soon as I knew who I would be playing, I watched every episode that she had done to try to embody who she was and the Mary Winchester that she created. Those are pretty big shoes to fill and, through my research, I learned what an incredibly loyal and massive fan base the show has, and I started to wonder if I could live up to this.

It was interesting because when I first got to set for the first episode, we hadn’t shot anything yet and I was doing a fitting. The director came into my fitting and introduced himself. He told me that one reason I was cast was because of an essence that Samantha and I shared—not something he could clearly put into words. “In moving forward, we want to see a Mary that we haven’t seen before. So, any pressure that you feel to recreate what’s already been done or been seen, you can relieve yourself of that. We are not looking to recreate because if that’s all we wanted to do, we would have had Samantha Smith dress younger.” So for me that was really freeing and a gift moving forward that I got permission to create my own Mary, and I could breathe knowing that the essence of Mary was there. Of course I did my very best to honor the Mary that was already so loved and celebrated, but at the same time putting my own spin on the character. I will also say that I was really warmly welcomed by the whole Supernatural community, which I was so grateful for.

Pop Culture Principle – It was a great idea having Mary actually be the hunter at the beginning and not John Winchester. What did you think when you read that fact in the script?

Amy Gumenick – It’s funny to me when you asked me that question because it just gave me the chills! I loved it! I think one of the things that they do so well on that show is write for powerful women. Unfortunately we live in a world where that isn’t so common, especially the kinds of roles that I go out for; it’s rare to play such a strong, independent, powerhouse female. So for me it was such an incredible experience and so vastly different from anything that I had done. I think the show consistently writes fantastic, fun, complex, smart and interesting characters. Also, the fact that they went back in time to explore young John and Mary adds so many layers to the boys that everybody already knew and loved.

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Pop Culture Principle – If Mary could say anything to Sam and Dean right now, what do you think she would say?

Amy Gumenick – I think there is so much that she would say, and yet my instincts when you ask that question would be, “I’m sorry.” I think that she feels responsible, and that the last thing Mary wanted was for her boys to be raised in the world that she was raised in. I think her goal was to give them as normal a life as she could and the childhood that she never had. It’s probably torture for her to see just how much craziness has gone on as a result of this deal she made and the life that she unknowingly led them into, but at the same time she would be proud of how they have stepped up to the challenge.

Pop Culture Principle – You’ve had the opportunity to attend a couple of Supernatural conventions. How was that experience for you meeting the fans?

Amy Gumenick – The first convention I did was after I had done the first episode and it was also Matt Cohen’s first convention. I remember we were sitting on a bus with all the other actors being taking from our hotel to the convention center in Birmingham, England. Matt and I were laughing, saying no one would know who we are because we had only done one episode. Boy, were we wrong! Just walking into the hallway to go to the green room to wait and hang out until the convention started was literally like watching old Beatles concert footage where the girls are screaming and fainting. It was unlike anything I have ever experienced or could have imagined—just the intense love and loyalty and commitment that the fans have to the characters on that show and the actors who play those characters. I had no idea accepting that role the family I was joining. You feel it from the second you walk on that set that you are a part of that family. Some of my closest friends to this day are actors that I met on Supernatural. I think that energy starts from Jensen and Jared and trickles down to the fans. Without the fans there would be no Supernatural.

I’ve done a handful of these conventions and every one tops the one before. There is a whole world of Supernatural fans that is truly unlike anything I have ever seen or experienced. It was pretty surreal to be on the other end of that. I will say the fans have been so loyal and supportive of everything that I have done since, also in a way that I never even imagined possible. I am grateful beyond words.

Pop Culture Principle – You portrayed Natalee Holloway in two made for TV movies about her life and tragic death. How was that experience?

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Amy Gumenick – That was a really interesting experience from day one. When I got the audition and got the information sent to me to prepare for the audition, it initially struck something inside me because I remembered that story so vividly. Natalee and I are not that far apart in age and I remember when that happened; it was one of the first times that I had the realization that I wasn’t immortal, and that it could happen to anyone and does happen to hundreds of young men and women, and most of the time you don’t hear about it. I was excited and honored to have the opportunity to tackle that role and put my own spin on it. Even in the audition, there was this kind of daunting pressure of how do I honor this person and how do I capture and share her memory and her message, which I think is an extremely important one. While actors play living people all the time it’s usually years after the event has happened, and this one was still so fresh and raw in so many people’s minds. That posed a bit of a challenge from day one.

My goal in the whole project was to honor her memory, and to get her and her mother’s message out there and give some kind of reason as to why this happened, and how we could use this as a teaching tool to save other teenage lives.

Pop Culture Principle - You had a great guest appearance on Rules of Engagement. What was it like working on that show?

Amy Gumenick – It was so much fun! I’ve done mostly dramas and to have that opportunity was such a gift. It was the first live audience show that I had done. I did work on How I Met Your Mother which is filmed as if there was a live audience, but there isn’t one. Coming from a theater background and growing up in the theater world, I was surprised by how similar it was, and while I was nervous to shoot in front of a live audience, I quickly made that connection and realized it was just like being in a play.

They are such a well-oiled machine there. We would do a take, and the writers would meet for about five seconds and tell us line changes or beat changes. You have to be on your toes. The actors who work on that show are so in that world and just get it; it was the best master class of comedy I could ever had just watching them work. When we would film scenes that I wasn’t in, I would just hang out on set and watch them because it was so amazing to see how quick they were and how bright they were and how much life they brought to it, and to really feel how the audience’s response really informs your performance which you don’t usually get in film and television. It was a really freeing experience for me to just go with it and trust that in the end it will work.

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Pop Culture Principle – You’ve had some great guest appearances on shows such as Ghost Whisperer, Grey’s Anatomy, Castle and Grimm to name a few. As an actor, what is it like coming on to a show that is a well-oiled machine?

Amy Gumenick - It really depends on the show. I always feel like the night before walking on to a new set is like the night before the first day of school. I never sleep before the first day because you don’t know what the dynamic is going to be like or the overall feel of the set is going to be or if you are going to fit into that world. There are a thousand factors that are out of your control. Like working in front of a live studio audience, you have to be ready for anything and everything. It’s always nerve-wracking, but I have to say I have been pretty fortunate to have pretty much only positive experiences with cast and crew on all the shows that I have worked on. I think all you can do as an actor is to prepare the best you possibly can, and know that you are entering into an already established world with already established relationships and sometimes years and years of these people working together.

Because I’ve had such positive experiences, I’ve learned so much from each one and I take that knowledge to the next job.

Pop Culture Principle – You have such diversity in your roles. Is that something you look for before taking on a project?

Amy Gumenick – Absolutely. I think every actor’s dream is to be a chameleon and to be able to morph into any role. I am most drawn to roles that are the most different from who I am because I think it’s a fun opportunity to explore people from all walks of life and live in that world, whether it’s a thirty second audition or six months on a film shoot. I love roles that are challenging, different and force me to face fears or stretch me outside of my comfort zone. As an actor, I do look for those kinds of roles. The other side of it is that we are kind of at the mercy of projects that are casting, and do you have the right look or is your hair the right length. There is so much out of our control that you have to just embrace every opportunity you get. Ideally I would love a career where you never know what you are going to get from my performances. I think diversity is what I strive for and hope for, but I also know that there is only so much that I can control.

Pop Culture Principle – What, if any advice would you give to up and coming actors who want to get in the business?

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Amy Gumenick – For me, I think actors and artists in general have a tremendous power to heal, teach and inspire, and I think that the origin of performing arts was to do those things—to tell stories and make a difference in community and bring communities together and force people to change their perspective. Make someone think about a situation differently or go home and research something that was brought up by whatever it is they saw. I feel like as an actor if one person in the audience was somehow impacted by a performance of mine or a story I was trying to tell or was forced to change their perspective or have a conversation about what they just experienced, then I think that is success.

Unfortunately acting doesn’t give out a handbook, so there are a million paths that actors can take to get to that success. In most careers if you do your training, get your education and do well, most likely you are going to work in that field, but you can’t say that about acting. If it is something you have zero doubt that you are meant to do it and you think this is your calling, eventually it will happen. I think it is a game of persistence; stick to what you believe in and don’t let anyone define what that career will be for you. You have to be ready before that opportunity comes so, when it does come, you can attack it full force!

Pop Culture Principle – Any upcoming projects can you tell us about?

Amy Gumenick – I am in the middle of shooting an independent feature called The Binding. It’s a fun psychological drama that is scheduled to wrap in August. It’s been really fun and very different than anything I have ever done, and I am really excited to see where that goes. It’s been a very intimate set and cast and crew; doing that while working on such a grand scale show like Turn has been really interesting. I look forward to (hopefully) continuing my adventures as Philomena in season 2 of TURN!” Other than that, I am auditioning and waiting to see what the next adventure is going to be.

We would like to thank Amy for talking with us. If you would like to follow her and keep up with her career, check out the links below!

LINKS

Official Amy Gumenick website

Official Amy Gumenick Twitter

Official Amy Gumenick Facebook page

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