Actress and Broadway icon Lauren Patten embarks on a journey in Hulu’s Death and Other Details.
Lauren Patten is starting 2024 by setting the sails to a new voyage. Created by Mike Weiss and Heidi Cole McAdams, Death and Other Details is a 10-episode whodunit based on a luxury cruise liner in the Mediterranean Ocean. A murder happens on the ship and the show goes through many twists and turns whilst Imogen (played by Violett Beane) and Detective Rufus Cotesworth (Mandy Patinkin) work to solve the murder. The Broadway icon, who has starred in musicals such as Fun Home and Jagged Little Pill plays Anna Collier, heiress to a textile company. It’s a role that showcases Lauren Patten’s ability to transform fully into a glamorous heiress, a departure from her previous on-stage work.
1883 Magazine talks with Lauren Patten about creating a character on screen and how it was stepping into the world of luxury that her character lives within.
The show is focused on a cruise ship, set in the Mediterranean, and it got me thinking of those glamorous old whodunnit movies. To have it as a TV show with 10 episodes, we get to have the story and characters really fleshed out. How did you find the overall experience?
I had an incredible time filming it, it felt like such a gift to work on a show that was so interesting and complex. The nature of murder mysteries like that, of course, is that you’re going to be dealing with a lot of twists and turns and complex plot points.
I remember the experience of reading through the pilot episode for the first time and I think Heidi’s writing is just so specific and funny and interesting that I really was drawn in right away. I hadn’t read anything like, it even in this genre, so to get to work on the entire season of it, and build out this arc for the show, and also for my character was really exciting. It was a mental challenge to keep everything that was happening straight in my head. It was so fun, I was doing my own detective work at home, I bought, the classic setup of a cork board and the post-it notes, the push pins, and was keeping track of everything myself, so I could plot out A to B to C. The first few episodes jump around time and obviously, we don’t film in chronological order so keeping up with a plot this complex was a bit of a challenge.
I think that the show does a really great job of allowing you real-time with all these characters because it is a very large ensemble cast, which I love. I think that because we have the time, over 10 episodes, we get to get to know all of these characters, and they get to be fully fleshed out, like you said.
Your character is called Anna, who is a friend of Imogen, without giving too much away, she is a very layered and complex character… can you tell us about her in your own words?
Anna is the daughter of the Collier family who own a textile company. In the show, everybody’s going on this luxury vintage ocean liner for the week at sea, they’ve all been invited by the Collier family. Anna is next in line to take over her father’s pretty massive company, she’s someone who grew up in this world of both extraordinary wealth, but also everything focused on the business and the family legacy. We meet her at the beginning of the series at this moment in which she is poised to take over that mantle. She is extremely driven and she’s very tightly wound. There’s a lot that needs to happen on the ship that’s important to her. She does not mess around, she’s pretty badass.
She is badass! She goes on quite a journey throughout the series, it’s been described as ‘a blend of love, ambition, and the perilous consequences of hidden truth’.’ How was playing that for you?
Yeah, it was very fun for me, because it’s not a character I’ve gotten to play before. She’s not the type of woman that I’m typically hired to play so that was really fun for me as an actor to get to do something so vastly different and really stretch myself. She’s not just vastly different from what I’ve gotten to act before but also who I am in my life. That part of it was really fun for me.
As you mentioned, she does go through quite a journey through the show. Not to spoil it. But I think, of course, the goal of great writing is to see great change in your characters. I think Mike and Heidi really do that with a lot of the people on the show. As I said, when you meet her, there’s a lot at stake for her on this trip and she feels that she has everything really locked down and under control. think that’s enough to say as a setup of, once chaos starts happening on the ship, what can go wrong. To get to play somebody who by the time that you get to the end of the season is a vastly different place in their life is, of course, a whole lot of fun.
The costumes you get to wear in the show are absolutely beautiful and definitely add extra elements to the characters. The costume designer Mandi Line says she took inspiration from Katherine Hepburn and Grace Kelly, how did the costumes help you find your character?
I completely agree, Mandi’s such an artist, I think she was the perfect person to build the look of this world of how everybody dresses and that felt very important to me for Anna. I think, of course, when you’re telling the story about people in this class of life, clothes tell a lot about these people.
Another interesting part of it is that the Collier family company is a textile company. They’re not necessarily in fashion but they are part of this world of how clothes are made. That’s what Anna grew up around and I think she has a really elegant, classic but very powerful look to her. The fact that is what she feels comfortable in says a lot to me about her as well as how she feels she needs to present herself. You very rarely see her present herself in a way that isn’t extremely put together. Getting to do that with these absolutely fabulous costumes is so helpful.
Also, I was always in four or five-inch heels and that was definitely a challenge for me as a person who wears primarily sneakers and boots, but that was so essential for her so it was definitely a challenge I was willing to take up. I really tried to pay attention to whatever details I could, when we were filming the pilot there was a big discussion between myself and Mike about props – what type of watch was she wearing? What jewellery does she have? All these little things just point to the world that she comes from. It was important to me to have these discussions, especially when everything is on screen and you get to see things close up – for example, I’m a terrible nail biter, it’s a lifelong habit of mine, but I decided that Anna is the kind of person who would have everything perfect, not horribly bitten nails, so I went to the salon every few weeks to have them redone because that’s an important element to how she is.
We had really brilliant, brilliant designers on all fronts. It’s very exciting to see what our prop department put forward and all the things that make this world what it is.
You’ve been in TV shows such as Blue Bloods, Succession and The Good Fight but you are also well known and beloved to the theatre community for your performances in Deaf West’s Spring Awakening, Fun Home and Jagged Little Pill – obviously stage acting and screen acting is very different – but I always find stage actors on screen to be incredibly compelling in television or film – how do you think your stagecraft has aided to your screen work?
Yeah, there is definitely something intimidating about moving between mediums, I definitely felt nervous going into shooting because as you said, I have done television before, but this is the first time I’m really creating a character on screen. I’ve done theatre really for my whole life and there’s something that is second nature, about being on stage. I have not had that many years of experience with television, so I was intimidated by parts of the process. I could talk for a long time about how different it is, it’s really just in your preparation and in the process of getting into your performance, with theatre, you have so much rehearsal time and so much time together as a company before anybody sees the work. Then even when we weren’t doing the work, you have the opportunity to come back the next day and do it again and try something different.
This is all so different to how you have to prepare when you’re going to show up on set, you have, say three hours, to do that scene, and then it’s done. That’s it. I would find myself having ‘theatre thinking’ almost, I would still be thinking about the scene after we filmed it and found myself thinking about different things. that I could try. I had to stop myself, because it’s over and done, you’re never doing that scene again.
I would say maybe what I do bring to screen work is, is a lot of questioning and a lot of intensive detail work, that’s what I’m used to. You really do question and think about the meaning of and the specificity of every little aspect of it. I think that that is how I’ve learned to approach scripts. Depending on what type of TV set you’re on, and the time that you’re afforded, you can’t always do that with television. Sometimes you’re not getting the script until a couple of days before you’re filming the scene, but I think I approached this show with love, curiosity, and a lot of questions about every detail of it, and I think that mode of thinking definitely comes from my theatre work.
Now you’ve created a character on screen, what would you like to do next?
Well, honestly, my dream for work has always been to move between mediums and continue to challenge and explore new ways of working that are exciting to me. I’ve loved the experience of filming the show, working on the screen is fascinating, there are things you can do for a screen that you can’t do for the theatre and vice versa, so I hope to be able to do all of it.
As for what is next, I mean, I have some upcoming theatre work that I’m excited to talk about at some point. I also have an EP of a collection of covers coming out with my band, it’s going to start coming out with singles in January. I’ve got some fun things to look forward to in a few different mediums this year.
Finally, as a queer woman, you’ve kind of built a cult following of queer people naturally with the roles you’ve played like Alison Bechdel and Jo in Jagged Little Pill, more recently in The Lonely Few – you’re such a fantastic advocate for queer arts and you wrote this beautiful piece for Refinery29 in 2020 called ‘If I’m Not Gay Enough, & I’m Not Straight Enough, Then What Am I?‘ — which was a beautiful piece of introspection and a look at how queer people identify one another — I was just wondering, what some of your favourite pieces of queer art are at the moment?
Thank you, that’s very kind of you to say you enjoyed that essay. What I will say is that I got to be part of something this past year that felt pretty monumental. It was Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For she had a podcast that came out on Audible, and though I wasn’t part of the podcast, I got to be part of a live reading that was done during Pride in New York City, where there was a live read of the best bits of the podcast scripts.
It was a really incredible room of multigenerational queer people, both on-stage and in the audience. Alison was there and Madeleine George, a queer playwright who wrote the script, and Lee Silverman directed it, who’s this incredible queer director in New York. That was one of the most meaningful artistic experiences that I’ve had as a queer person, and something about being in a room with queer folks celebrating a piece of queer art, and something about it being multi-generational was very inspiring.
I’m always interested in art that is both honouring our queer elders and also uplifting and moving forward with the new generation. I think holding space for both of those things is how we thrive as a community and how we grow and change with each other. That was an experience that I had that was particularly exciting for me, so that’s the first thing that came to my mind.
Death and Other Details is airing now.
Interview Amelia Walker
Photography Jenny Anderson
Styling Greg Dassonville
Hair & Makeup Kelli J. Bartlett