Alisen Down is no stranger to dark and twisty tales. But her newest project doesn’t exactly follow the science-fiction formula of her past work on Mysterious Ways and Battlestar Galactica. As the newspaper editor in a small town, Down is faced seriously dark subject matter on Gracepoint. We chatted with the soft-spoken actress about paranormal activity, troubling story lines and acting alongside Breaking Bad‘s Anna Gunn.
How did you first get involved with Gracepoint?
I taped my audition for Kathy Eaton in my living room with my husband. The producers came back and said they loved the audition but ‘she’s too young and too pretty.’ That’s never a bad thing to hear but you don’t want it to be why you don’t get a role. They had me read for another character but still called me to say ‘you were the best audition we saw for Kathy, we’ve just got to fix your look a bit’. So, they asked to cut my hair and put grey in it and I said ‘of course’. Two days after that conversation, I was on a plane to BC and getting my hair cut and dyed. It’s flattering because a lot of the time they don’t really make you physically fit a role, they’ll just cast whoever fits the role. It was very flattering that they worked so hard to make sure that I fit.
Tell me about your character Kathy.
She’s the editor of the local newspaper in Gracepoint, which is the name of the town. I really like Kathy, she was trained in the big city but decided to come back and pursue her work in her hometown. Often with small town newspaper editors, they don’t always get to handle the stories that the big cities have but she’s very smart and very savvy and she believes in truthful and honest reporting . I think she’s still a bit of an enigma…to me anyway. She’s a very strong woman in many ways and she’s the voice of Gracepoint because she edits the local newspaper.
The subject matter is pretty dark. I call it terrifying because I think it’s every person and every parent’s nightmare. What did you think when you first read a script for it?
Even if I wasn’t a mother I think it would still be a really tough subject matter to deal with. But as a mother, it hits home in a different way. Whenever I was on set or whenever I read a script, there was definitely a wave of sadness that just overtook me. And I’m the mother of a little boy. I just carried that with me. The reality that no one is ever really safe is kind of what hit me the most working on the show. Especially in a small town like Gracepoint where you somehow think you’re safe from all of that only to find out that you’re not. It shatters that world.
In your own career, you were on a pretty big show called Mysterious Ways which dealt with paranormal activity. Did the show make you believe more in the paranormal or less?
Well, you kind of walk a fine line. I naturally believe that there’s more to it than we think which scares me. I like to try and find out the science behind things. A part of me likes to know that if need be, I can rely on some kind of scientific answer so I am not terrified of the other side. I need some sort of balance. I like knowing that there’s more to this world than what we physically see and feel gives me a sense of hope. I can believe in a universe that’s greater than myself. That’s comforting.
But I don’t want to see any ghosts! I don’t need to see them. I don’t mind reading about them but I don’t want to wake up to someone standing at the end of my bed!
You have a bunch of on-screen credits that have to do with the sci-fi genre. Is that something you enjoy doing or do you think that after the first few, you were typecast?
I’m from Vancouver so the first ten years of my career were spent there and a lot of sci-fi shows were shot there. So really, a lot of what I auditioned for was sci-fi. But I actually really like the genre! I like the challenge of walking into that weird world and making it seem as if that’s the regular world. A lot of my sci-fi work has been because those were most of the shows I auditioned for but I also really like that genre because it’s really cool and really imaginative. On sets like Stargate, almost everything is handmade. The imagination that goes into these shows is phenomenal. And it has a very dedicated fan base which I also think is really cool.
You have some pretty amazing costars on the show that include Breaking Bad’s Anna Gunn, Crash’s Michael Pena, Silver Linings Playbook’s Jacki Weave and Nick Nolte. What’s the cast dynamic like when working with such incredible actors?
I was a little nervous when I first arrived because these are pretty high-caliber actors. But they were very sweet and kind and warm. It took a bit of the pressure off me—pressure that only I put on myself—and I starting to look at it like ‘these are actors and I’m an actor and I deserve to be here as well’. Your mind kind of plays tricks and makes you think that maybe you don’t deserve to be here amongst this caliber of actors. Once you get over that mindset, it gets so much better. Having a lot of scenes with each of them is helpful too because it helps me get over my jitters.
Does anyone on set ever want to talk Breaking Bad with Anna Gunn?
Oh, all the time! It was such a huge thing. During filming, we took a break and had lunch in a church basement and the priest came and asked to take a picture because he was such a bigBreaking Bad fan! It just goes to show you how big an audience that show reached. It came up a lot on set and as well it should have because it was called the best show on television by some. And that’s a pretty big statement. It was a big subject on set for sure.
Is there a genre that you haven’t tackled yet that you’d like to?
I wouldn’t mind doing more period pieces. I did Murdoch Mysteries but I’d love to do an entire movie set in something like the Marie Antoinette days. I think that would be interesting. And I’ve always wanted to do a vampire movie just for fun. I would love to do something like one of theBlade movies because they’re just so cool. I don’t know, maybe I should have said something more intelligent.
I like that better than some boring romcom.
What can viewers expect from Gracepoint?
I think they can expect to be drawn into the story and the characters and to the mystery and to what happens to this town. No one is really ever the same. I truly believe that they will be really drawn into the characters and what becomes of us after this tragedy. Because it’s the American adaptation of Broadchuch, even if people have seen Broadchurch, they’ll really find something to love and hang on to inGracepoint. We all knew when we were shooting, that we were working on something very special and I believe that to this day.
Gracepoint premieres on October 2 on FOX