The idea to interview Catch-22‘s Julie Ann Emery has been on our wish list for a while now, especially after Rhea Seehorn was so effusive in her praise of the director-producer-actress. Yet the circumstances in which it happened were beyond our wildest imagination as the multi-talented Emery called up Brief Take herself (!) from set of Preacher season 4 (!!) which is now filming in Melbourne, Australia. It was a great opportunity to talk Catch-22, in which Julie Ann Emery acts opposite Christopher Abbott and George Clooney as Marion Scheisskopf, as well as to speak about the aforementioned Preacher and Better Call Saul.
This is a bit of a long take because such a talented performer deserves it, quite frankly.
The following is a condensed and edited version of our phone conversation with the lovely Julie Ann Emery.
Brief Take: What did you think of the Catch-22 premiere?
Julie Ann Emery: It was a whirlwind! I’ve done some prestige television, but George Clooney commands a certain amount of attention from the press, and it was definitely bigger than anything I’ve ever been a part of. I’m thrilled that it’s for something like Catch-22, which is an examination of war and society and where we are, instead of a Marvel movie. Although I love the Marvel movies, I’m a big fan of Avengers: Endgame, I thought it was fantastic, but it was great to see that much interest and enthusiasm. I think Smokehouse Pictures does always try to do projects that say something socially, and it was great to see that kind of turnout for something like Catch-22.
BT: Have you been following along with the reactions to the miniseries?
JAE: I’ve been hearing from folks on social media. The range of folks from which I’m hearing is very wide, which I find very interesting, including some veterans. I’ve heard from a few veterans who were very surprised by the bombing sequences, that they were so effective and so truthful and that means a lot that it was something for which they were proud. I just was chatting with a Marine on Twitter last week about how he was surprised. He thought it was going to be funny and kind of a farce but he was very moved and affected. That’s the virtue of doing satire and doing something with a sense of humour, is that then those dramatic threads do creep up on you as an audience, you don’t see them coming, they don’t smack you in the face, suddenly you are immersed in it. It’s a very effective storytelling tool for sure.
BT: Did being in the world of Catch-22 feel like stepping back in time?
JAE: The tone is very important to George and Grant (Heslov) and Ellen (Kuras), our three directors. But also in Sardinia, we took over an airfield for a couple of months and they built the barracks there and the planes were there. When I would drive to base camp in the morning, I would drive right by the giant World War II bombers that were still flying, so it did feel like actually taking a step backwards. It felt weird to be in modern clothes on that set. And then the stuff we shot in Rome was at Cinecittà Studios soundstages there, and they’re so steeped in history and the buildings still feel like an old Italian glamour studio lot. So it did feel like stepping back in time, which frankly, was really helpful in shooting, yeah. I think it was terrific, George and Grant do this thing in which they walk the line at Smokehouse Pictures, like Monuments Men and The Men who Stare at Goats, they walk this line I think really well between satire and drama.
BT: What was the experience like of being around multi-talented creatives on Catch-22?
JAE: Incredibly inspiring. And watching Grant and George, particularly, also put on different hats as actors, I tend to in the directing projects so far that I’ve done, I tend to not like to be in it as well, but watching them so seamlessly swap those hats was a real lesson for me, and very impressive to watch them hang on to that. It was also a pleasure as an actor to have someone really understand your process but then also to understand that they have a visual style and a visual plan for it. That’s not something that you get all the time. Sometimes as an actor you’re struggling to arc out your own character because the director is very strong visually. Sometimes I will watch a director’s shot because I know what they are going for, if they don’t have a language fully. But to have a director, you know, Ellen Kuras is a famous Director of Photography, in her own right, and to have directors who are so visually specific and visually strong, but also able to have that character conversation with you, or have that conversation about moments..George gave Chris and me something in our last scene in episode 6 that I think is so brilliant and absolutely blew me away, and I couldn’t believe that I never thought of it. So I think it was a real pleasure and I did learn a lot from it and it did inspire me quite a lot. [laughs]
BT: What a surprising introduction to your character! (in bed with Christopher Abbott’s Yossarian)
JAE: I think that Chris is a similar kind of actor in which that kind of sexuality and that kind of nudity is right for the role. I rarely see women written in a way that it makes sense to me. So this made sense to me, this is where Marion finds both her independence and her own power over her person. Women did not have the rights that we have today back in the 1940’s, she’s obviously in an unhappy marriage, and I felt like it was very empowering for her. I’m thrilled that Marion got a little more three-dimensional, from the day we shot, they showed all the female characters in that way.
BT: The way that your character exhibits agency is fascinating.
JAE: Agency is a terrific word for it. I will say also that we are in the era of #MeToo that I felt like I, Julie Ann, as an actress, had an enormous amount of agency on the day that we were shooting those scenes, more than I ever had when I was in one of those positions on the shoot day, and I’m incredibly grateful to the producers and to George and Grant and Ellen for that.
BT: You seem to really live in the grey area in so many of your roles.
JAE: I think that I like complicated women and we’re seeing more and more and more complicated women on screen, by which I am thrilled. But I also feel like I play a villain on Preacher, my character on Better Call Saul is…I mean, I suppose Betsy Kettleman is a bad guy, but no one thinks of themselves that way. In trying to make those characters completely three-dimensional, you have to find their humanity or you have to find their reasons for fighting what they are fighting for. I think Betsy Kettleman definitely feels strongly that she’s fighting for her family, and if there is a redeeming feature of that character, that’s it, right? We’re going to see a bit of Featherstone redemption in Preacher season 4, we see different sides of Featherstone this season that we hadn’t been seeing, for sure.
BT: How do people feel about the response to Preacher‘s approach to organized religion?
JAE: Yeah, Preacher‘s interesting. I mean we’ve certainly have the Million Mom March after us and (Sarah) Palin has talked about us, but we also do have a contingent of fans that like the examination of faith in a gritty world. I mean, look, Featherstone is a true believer with the grail, Herr Starr, not so much, so I find that very interesting, and I find that true believer aspect of her, that she’s living in a world that she thinks has really gone wrong and is looking for a way to fix that, that’s what she finds in the grail and she just completely overcommits to it. So that’s where she will always come back to being grounded for me, and I think that does come around in the writing of the show as well. I am really pleased about that. But again, that makes her more three-dimensional as well. Preacher also did something in which we are based on the Garth Ennis comics which were written in the nineties and women in comics in the nineties were not necessarily three-dimensional. Preacher is another good example of taking source material and the writers kind of deepening the female characters. Ruth Negga’s character Tulip is much more three-dimensional, and so is Featherstone. I’m really grateful to see that’s where we’re trending even with source material.
BT: Did you think you would find so many complex characters on TV, even in the “Peak TV” era?
JAE: I’m a woman over 40, so when you’re in your 20’s, you’re very focused on your own career. But eventually you start looking at what’s available out there, and I think as a woman in the business, I’m thrilled to see that we are getting more of those characters and I’m even more thrilled I’m being allowed to play them. But I think that’s the hope when I got into the business, I wasn’t interested in the female roles. [laughs] I was more interested in the male roles in stuff that I was being sent. So I don’t think that we’re all the way there yet, but I think we’re moving in the right direction, and I hope that continues. I mean, truthfully, I’m a woman in the business over 40, I’m just happy to have interesting roles to play. Since Preacher is coming to an end, I hope that whatever comes next for me is also an interesting three-dimensional character. Marion in Catch-22 could very easily have been written and played as a floozy. And I think that we accomplished more than that, and I’m really, really proud of what we were able to do with her.
BT: You bring so much depth to your performances. Is it because you possess a true sense of authenticity?
JAE: Ummm…(pauses), it’s hard to give myself a compliment like that. [laughs] I will say this, I do work very hard, I do a lot of homework, I spend a lot of time examining characters and fleshing them out, making them three dimensional, figuring out I’m all about inner monologue, what’s my character thinking moment to moment, and I think like begets like. So a lot of those actors that we were talking about—Rhea Seehorn, Pip Torrens, Bob Odenkirk, I’ve worked with on Fargo and on Better Call Saul, a lot of like-minded actors—these are people who work very hard, spend a lot of time on homework, on their characters, on crafting scenes—these are craftsmen. And so I think craftsmen are attracted to each other. I mean, look, I’ve had a very lucky four or five years here, I think there are writers, content creators, who are also attracted to that kind of craftsman. Vince Gilligan is definitely one of them. He is very attracted to actors that are bringing something to the table that he didn’t think of or bringing something to the table that deepens what his original idea was. Sam Catlin on Preacher comes from the Breaking Bad world and is very similar that way, Noah Hawley as well. I think that much as we are meant to find the people we are meant to find in life, I think creatives are meant to find the people they find at some point.
BT: Perhaps it’s something as simple as being from the Southern United States?
JAE: You know, I say that to Vince a lot because he’s from Virginia. And he feels very much like home to me, like working with him provides a comfort level for me. I do philosophically believe that I catch more flies with honey, I do tend to look at what we are doing as a group effort, I don’t tend to make myself an island, and that probably has to do with growing up in the South. My dad had a dairy farm for most of my life, that’s a group effort, that’s a lot of people working very hard for very long hours but having to do it together. So that probably has something to do with it, I guess. We are our childhood into our adulthood, right, in our dealings in full. [laughs]
BT: You’re a very charitable person. Tell me about some of your charity work.
JAE: I’m involved with the American Diabetes Association. I am pre-diabetic myself, diabetes runs in my family, my Dad is a Type 1 Diabetic. It’s an area in which we’re treating the illness but we’ve not come anywhere close to curing it. And it affects larger and larger portions of our community. I do think that’s important, I like to spread things out! I’m involved with Tree People in Los Angeles, who literally just plant trees in an urban landscape, all over Los Angeles. And they are engaging in the battle against climate change. They have discovered that they can lower the temperature of the asphalt of an urban neighbourhood by planting trees along the streets, and they can lower it 5 or 10 degrees. So I think things like that are important, honestly. I would love to highlight all my charities, but I think the truth is that whoever you are, in whatever you are interested, whether you have money or not, all charities benefit from your time, and I think that it’s important to get out there in the world and try to do something about it. So whatever you see in the world, whatever change you’d like to make, I think that it’s important to take those steps. It’s not difficult now to Google your local chapter of whatever issue to be a part of that you’d like.
BT: What can we expect from the upcoming final season of Preacher?
JAE: Season 4 of Preacher is definitely unlike any of the previous 3 seasons, it’s pretty incredible. We definitely go out with a bang.
Catch-22 is available on Hulu and Citytv Now