Laura Mennell greeted me warmly upon her entrance into the Corus Communications building in downtown Toronto recently. I previously had the chance to speak with the fascinating performer by phone this time last year, and I was dead-set on doing so again this year as she was one of my most memorable interviews of all time. As expected, Mennell did not disappoint. Our one-on-one interview felt like an intimate chat and hopefully this interview piece reflects that.
History’s Project Blue Book is about the intersection of science and skepticism in the 1950’s, and Mennell returns in season two as Mimi Hynek, the wife of Dr. Allen Hynek (Game of Thrones‘ Aidan Gillen). Instead of finding herself on the outside in this season (and having engaged in an emotional affair the previous season), the plot lines are shuffled up a little as we see Mimi striving to be a part of a Project Blue Book from outside and then looking in. Mennell’s brilliant performance on the show is definitely worth a watch.
The following is a condensed and edited version of my sit-down chat with the wonderful Laura Mennell of Project Blue Book.
Brief Take: Now that you can talk about Mimi’s relationship with Susie, what was it like to play it and ultimately to reject her in the last episode of the first season?
Laura Mennell: Yeah, the relationship with Susie, played by the really lovely, wonderful Ksenia Solo, who really did steal my heart in real life and on the show, she’s so talented and wonderful and lovely in every single way. Playing that relationship was one of my favorite things about this show – it’s so complex and there’s so much going on in terms of I don’t think it’s very surprising that Mimi’s feelings at least became a little confused in terms of how she felt about this other woman. I think when someone comes along in your life and they really see you and they hear you and they see the inner potential in you and they’re able to be a catalyst for so much change, in terms of being stronger and finding your inner strength. She just meant so much to her, they really in a way had an emotional affair, you could say, and they found an emotional intimacy that isn’t easy to find in life. So I think when that happens, sometimes, the feelings can get a little bit confusing. But that being said, Mimi never meant for things to go where they went, obviously. Susie did a few things that maybe took advantage of Mimi’s inhibitions, but Mimi felt like she obviously needed to take a step back, because she loves her husband, she loves her family, she would never want to do anything to hurt Allen or disrupt the family, that is her number one priority. So I think when life gets confusing and complicated, and that can happen, we’re human, we take a step back, so she did and she wanted the energy to shift and change.
So that being said, we will start off season 2 with a little bit of a different feel. Mimi’s going to take a break from Susie because she needs this change. She’s going to set her sites elsewhere for a little while, especially because she’s going to start working a little more with Allen, starting doing a little research for him, start doing a little digging for the truth on her own terms, in terms of what’s going on with the UFO phenomenon, and it’s exciting new start for me. And Susie’s going to be busy herself, she is working Captain Quinn, I gotta say, I’m a little jealous. [laughs] But that’s what she’s up to and I think it’s smart on the writers’ part to mix things up a little bit, which is great, but for fans of the Mimi-Susie storyline, don’t get too upset, you do have to wait. Don’t get excited, don’t get too excited, because there’s a wait and I am going to admit, it’s a long wait, but Mimi and Susie will reunite on camera, you just have to wait. But when we do reunite, there’s going to be some pretty epic stuff going on. That’s all I can say, but just hang in there, if you’re a Mimi-Susie fan.
BT: This series continues to have a distinct visual aesthetic this season. What does this mean to you?
LM: It’s a good-looking show. It definitely is very cinematic, which is nice, and C. Kim Miles, our cinematographer, we’ve had from the first to second season really did start off strong in terms of a visual style for the show, that’s now continued on. Yeah, I love the look of the show, it’s very film noir, very eerie, and then it has that 1950’s era to it which just brings it to another level.
BT: In our previous interview, you discussed the process of being a part of a series that had not yet aired and promoting it. How does it feel now to be talking about the show?
LM: You know, it’s been really great and it’s also been really wonderful being part of a show about which I really do truly care and I love—it’s a great show. Not only do we deal with some real-life history stuff, which is fascinating, but it’s entertaining and it’s fun and there’s a lot of magic in it, dealing with the 1950’s, and it’s also dark and edgy, there’s just so much going on, which is great. The audience has been so supportive and we have all sorts of different types of people who are excited about the show. I mean we have people who maybe could have been a bit like me from the beginning, not knowing very much about Ufology at all in the beginning and then, little by little, kind of learning more about it and going: “Wow, this is pretty fascinating stuff” and becoming more of a believer over time. Other people might just be entertained and maybe won’t be fully believing at all, but our show is a great show in that we don’t always necessarily pick sides for cases. We like to show various possibilities in terms of earthly explanations and unearthly as well and that’s exciting. It’s also nice because there’s this group called MUFON, really the largest and longest organization of its kind that’s been around, who are primarily, obviously really invested in UFOs and the study of that, and I know when we first screened our show, we did a bit more of a grassroots kind of screening in Chicago and…
BT: In Dallas?
LM: In Dallas, yes. And MUFON was going to be there and they were there in full force – both screenings, both cities – and we wondered how they would feel about it, right? Because this is near and dear to their heart. They were so lovely and so welcoming and so excited, and I think, at least at the time, there may be other folks at MUFON that may not be as excited as the ones to whom I talked, but the ones I talked to were just so excited because we weren’t dealing with the UFO issue in terms of normal Hollywood standards, where it’s entertaining and it’s a little bit of fluff and it’s fun and fantastical, we’re actually trying to delve into some real questions here and talk about what really went on in terms of these real cases that were classified and secret from the public. So I think that they really loved that we were taking things seriously, even though we were also having a lot of fun with it and being entertaining.
BT: Has participating in this series made you a little more open-minded in your day-to-day life?
LM: Oh I definitely have my eyes wide open, and a lot of the time, I’m so open to the possibility of there being a lot of…well I think that there is a lot of validity to what’s going on. I think nowadays, especially, when there’s so many mainstream news sources that are credible, like The New York Times, or the BBC or The Guardian, and they’re talking about what’s going on out there, and there’s Navy pilots seeing objects that are ping-ponging along in the sky that defy the laws of physics as we know them, saying that the human body wouldn’t be able to stand the G-Force of some of these crazy things out there. It would be pretty ignorant to completely dismiss that. I think the possibility of an unearthly more extra-terrestrial [chuckles] explanation seems to be sort of plausible, I think why not be open to that? Why wouldn’t there be something out there and why wouldn’t they want to visit us? Obviously they’d be a bit more intelligent than us… [laughs] and their technology would probably be a little bit better, but yeah, it’s bizarre and interesting and exciting and it’s neat to see just how things have changed, even in 10 years. If someone would even fathom some of these stories coming out, it would be almost comical, and now people are really taking it seriously.
BT: Talk a little about your chemistry with Aidan Gillen, as your “date night” scene was quite memorable, in particular.
LM: I did really love that scene and there was so much magic within it. What was really great about it, I mean, first of all, we were in front of a…date night was at a drive-in movie theatre, in the fifties, it’s so much fun, and it was nice because last year, so much of the interaction I had with Aidan, we were at odds – he wasn’t able to tell me information I wanted to know, Blue Book was becoming a threat to our marriage, to the safety of our family, to our home, and Mimi was really starting to put her foot down, so it was tough. And it was nice with that scene because the audience will really start to see how much things have changed, right? Mimi and Allen are connecting more and he’s made good on his promise to be more of a team and keep her informed. And more than that, he’s having her start to work for him and she’s doing a little digging in terms of helping him with his cases, and she’s also going to start to work officially for Project Blue Book. But in that scene, you can tell that there’s more of a mutual understanding of both of them and Allen is also really excited that Mimi is starting to share the same kind of passion for what he’s doing. But more than that, it’s not necessarily about him, it’s also about her finding something which she’s good at, that she has a knack for finding this information, and yeah, it’s a really nice shift. It was a sweet scene and I love that Mimi’s starting to do some truth-seeking of her own.
BT: You’re very transformative in your roles.
LM: Thanks! [laughs]
BT: How did you craft the character of Mimi?
LM: I guess early on one thing that really drew me to Mimi, in the very, very beginning, probably when I was going to first audition for her, I felt like there was something in the script with which I really identified and it was that Mimi was missing something in her life, she maybe didn’t fully understand what that was, or even her full inner potential, but she felt a little stagnant. I think a lot of women in the 1950’s would have, in terms of being stuck in a role in which domesticity is your realm, right? I understood that from a different perspective, and I really loved playing that out. Also, I love the arc of the transformation in terms of her becoming a stronger woman in a way, but it’s gradual, it’s actual very gradual, it’s not like night and day right away, it happens over time and it continues to this year. Mimi’s even going to get stronger this year and be smarter and have more purpose and really start to break that mould and I think that’s exciting, because the real Mimi Hynek became a very strong woman, so it’s nice to start that transformation and to have her also start to be more active in Allen’s work as well, it’s great.
BT: Speaking in terms of transformation, you just reminded me of the incredible event that you moderated at Indigo Granville last year.
LM: Oh yeah! With my friend whose name was Joshua M. Ferguson, but now Joshua is Luna. Yeah, I got to talk about their book, which I loved getting to do, I mean Luna is a really close friend of mine and yeah, I felt very touched that they wanted me to start to talk about their book, which was great. It’s not usually my world to be hosting something like that, I think some actors are good at always being “on” and also love….I don’t know, some actors feel like they’re very good with being personalities, like big TV personalities, but I’m more of an actor who likes to act because I can pretend to be somebody else [laughs] for a little bit and not myself. But yeah, it was great.
BT: Obviously I am very much a fan of your craftsmanship and particularly in this show. What kind of shows do you like to watch?
LM: That’s a good question. I think I’m pretty eclectic in terms of liking really good quality shows. They don’t have to be big-budget movies, in fact, I like when things are really honest and hit me with a certain kind of truth. I think that my favourite movie of all-time is Amelie, I love that movie. In fact, with Amelie, I listened to the soundtrack a lot in the first season when I was going to set. It’s a great soundtrack and there’s a few songs and one in particular, of course, they don’t have lyrics, so I don’t know what the name of that particular piece is, but it felt like it really embodied the transformation of Mimi trying to come out of her shell and go out and do these adventures with Susie. So often I would listen to specific songs and there was one favourite one constantly, and sometimes on loop going to set, depending on my mood and what was my scene, and it was a great soundtrack to reference.
BT: You had a chance to come to Toronto with your play. What was that experience like for you?
LM: First of all, I loved Tear the Curtain! because it meant a lot to me. I got to work with one of Vancouver’s most innovative companies, Electric Company Theatre, really great in terms of their use of different types of media, really a smart group, really true artists, I was so lucky to get to do that. And for me it meant so much because originally, as a young actor, I kind of thought I would be a theatre actor, I just thought my life would go that way. But then living in Vancouver and starting so young, I definitely fell more into the film and television industry, I mean it’s such a big part of what actors can get if they’re lucky enough to be on TV shows or films, there’s so many of them out there, and that’s just where my life took me. But I was able to circle back a little bit and get to work with some really incredible actors and it blew my mind, and we also got to tour it to Toronto, which was fantastic, at the Bluma Appel Theatre. It was wonderful and I was really lucky to get to be a part of that.
BT: What are you excited for audiences to see in this season of Project Blue Book?
LM: Oh my God, we start with a big bang, we start with the biggest case of all time, Roswell, you can’t get much bigger than that, and that goes hand-in-hand with Area 51, the mystery of what’s behind those gates. And also, one of my favourite things about which we delve in is the CIA’s secret mind control program, which is very cool, but that’s all I can say without ruining my NDA contract. [laughs] So we’ll leave it at that.
Project Blue Book airs Tuesdays at 10pm on History channel