Joyful Noise: An Interview With Elizabeth Röhm
Upon graduation and unable to shake that streak of practicality she was raised with, Elisabeth got a job as an agent’s assistant and commuted to the bustling metropolis of New York City from the sleepier and more collegiate Yonkers. Frustrated that a day job got in the way of auditioning, she decided to quit her job and give herself one or two years pursuing acting. If it didn’t work out, she decided a practical career using her talents in history and writing could be just fine.
“I want to do well in my life, I want to have a nice home and I want to be proud of myself,” Elisabeth remembers thinking. “You can always change your mind. It doesn’t mean that you’re flaky. You do have a right to evolve and change.”
Living on unemployement and surviving on bagels for all three meals, plus a combination of talent and luck, got Elisabeth working almost immediately.
“It was almost as if necessity and creativity came together with acting,” she reflects. She’s been in front of the camera ever since.
Elisabeth Röhm got her start on the soap opera One Life to Live, playing Dorothy Hayes. From there she played Detective Kate Lockley in Angel (the award-winning spin-off of Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Assistant District Attorney Serena Southerlyn in Law & Order, as well as a slew of other roles on 90210, Heroes, CSI: Miami and The Client List opposite Jennifer Love Hewitt. Not one to stay put in the world of TV, Röhm has been in a number of films, most notably the academy award-winning, American Hustle. Directed by David O. Russell, Röhm so impressed and excited the director that she is appearing in his next film, Joy, starring Jennifer Lawrence.
The film follows Jennifer Lawrence as Joy Mangano, a single mother of three building a business empire. Elisabeth plays Lawrence’s sister in the much- buzzed-about film, coming out on Christmas Day.
“It’s a multigenerational film about strong women encouraging one another to be strong women,” Elisabeth explains. “I as her sister struggle with Joy’s magic and trying to please our father, and it’s an honest film about family.”
Family is something that’s important to Röhm as well, who is not only a mother, but also quite vocal about motherhood. Elisabeth started writing as a celebrity guest blogger for People magazine, and her posts about the trials of parenting and her difficulty getting pregnant struck a chord with readers. Röhm’s 2013 book “Baby Steps: Having the Child I Always Wanted (Just Not as I Expected),” details the star’s struggle with infertility and her experience with in-vitro fertilization.
Perhaps it is Elisabeth’s ability to be candid about a not-often-discussed subject matter, combined with the tenacity it takes to get through something as difficult as infertility, that makes her the perfect amount of tough to play opposite the famously brawny, Jennifer Lawrence, in Joy.
“What is something you’ve really learned in your life and your career?” I ask, eager to hear how her journey has informed the actress she’s become.
“One thing I know for certain,” Elisabeth says with confidence, “is that everybody feels like an outsider looking in. We all feel like freaks. That helps me stay in a compassionate place.”
One of the things that excites Elisabeth so much about Joy is that viewers who feel removed will draw strength from the story. Specifically, she thinks women will be drawn to the film.
“You watch Jennifer Lawrence and think, ‘I’m that woman, and if I’m not being that woman today, I need to be that woman tomorrow.’” Elisabeth credits Jennifer Lawrence’s performance, but also the quality of David O. Russell’s writing for the power of the film.
“I’ve never met someone who writes better or more searingly honest material than David O. Russell. I admire [David O. Russell] so profoundly ... with him I feel so safe to take great risks. I just know he’ll always have my back and guide me towards making great creative choices.”
It is David O. Russell’s unique relationship with his often-recurring cast members that makes his films so special, Elisabeth explains. “One of the great things about David is that if I have a question or concern about my part I can go directly to him.” We all probably wish we could have a work relationship as transparent as that.
Never one to rely entirely on others, Elisabeth takes great care to prepare herself for each role she takes on. “It’s a conglomeration of what you’ve learned and hopefully you get better each year. You want it to be exciting and scary. I like to think of that Agnes de Mille quote, ‘artists take leap after leap in the dark,’” she tells me.
Elisabeth is certainly leaping, and we are eager to see where she lands.
Not wanting to leave the interview on too profound a note, I ask Elisabeth if there were ever any embarrassing moments on set. She laughs and tells me about one of her final days on set at Law & Order, when the whole cast and crew payed homage to her by walking around set in blonde wigs, drinking diet coke.
“I wouldn’t say it was embarrassing so much as it was unforgettable. I mean, that’s what I did while I was there for five years,” she says. It’s nice to hear Elisabeth practicing what she preaches, and turning a perhaps-mortifying experience into something much nicer.
As we end our conversation, it is clear that Elisabeth Röhm has a lot of reasons to be nice to herself right now. She has a wonderful daughter. The book she wrote about becoming a mother has given her a whole new way to connect with women. Joy is another opportunity to act daringly, and to show, as Elisabeth puts it, “the spirit of the female heart.” We don’t know about you, but here at CVLUX we are seriously considering sending a thank you note to the cute guy who auditioned for that Sarah Lawrence play. If he hadn’t, who knows what would’ve happened?
Photographer: Louiza Vick Stylist: Tiffani Chynell
Stylist Assistant: Yesenia Cuevas
Hair: Miki Trachtenberg
Makeup: Vanessa Scali
Manicurist: Ayla Montgomery
Assistant: Kimberly Bloom