Michelle Forbes Makes a 'Killing' as a Character Actor

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Photo Source: AMC
In her varied career, Michelle Forbes has played her share of authority figures. From a tough medical examiner ("Homicide: Life on the Street") to a presidential aide ("24") to a space admiral ("Battlestar Galactica"), steely determination comes easy to the Austin, Texas, native. But on AMC's mystery procedural "The Killing," Forbes plays Mitch Larsen, the grieving working-class mother to a murdered teenage girl. It's the type of role that has evaded Forbes until this point. Asked why she's never cast in such parts, Forbes says with a laugh, "I think it's the eyebrows."

Indeed, her exotic beauty has made her a natural for roles as wide-ranging as a Bajoran alien in "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and, most recently, on "True Blood" as a magical creature that seduces the entire town. "I'm tall and I have a deep voice," Forbes continues. "So I get cast as a lot of authoritative, upper-class people. This was a welcome change."

Other facts about the versatile actor:

1. Mitch wasn't the only role she was considered for.

Casting directors Libby Goldstein and Junie Lowry-Johnson originally told Forbes to look at two roles; in addition to Mitch, they wanted her to consider Sarah, the female cop heading the investigation. Though Sarah was the lead role, Forbes responded to Mitch. "I could not get Mitch out of my head," she says. "I'd been looking, maybe even on a subconscious level, to play a working-class mother, for some time. I don't often get cast in those roles. Also, I was coming off of 'True Blood,' where I played a sex-mad seductress, and I always like my next job to be different. And this story fell into my lap."

2. She embraces the nomadic lifestyle of an actor.

Because "The Killing" focuses on one crime for the season, the odds are good that Mitch won't return for a second season, unless the case isn't solved by the finale. But Forbes has a habit of joining shows for shorter runs: She played a patient on the freshman season of "In Treatment" and knew when she signed on to "True Blood" it would only be for a limited time. In addition, she turned down the opportunity to reprise her "Star Trek" character in the spinoff "Deep Space Nine." Says Forbes, "I'm usually quite happy to move on to the next project, even when it's an extraordinary group of people. I just enjoy my freedom so much, and I'm always excited to move on to the next project. I've always wanted the career of a character actor and the freedom to play as many different characters as possible."

3. She landed her first agent at age 16.

As a teenager, Forbes attended a performing arts high school in Houston. But her big break came while she was visiting her elder sister in New York. "Honestly, it was so long ago, I can't even remember how it all happened," she says. "I was talking to somebody at a party, and they introduced me to another person, and it went on and on, and before I knew it, I wound up in the office of a guy named Leo Bookman at William Morris, and he was talking about me moving to New York." A few weeks later, Forbes made the move to the city, but work didn't come immediately. She spent a few years "living on couches and floors and staying in crazy lofts on the Lower East Side" and waitressing before she landed the dual roles of Solita Carrera and Sonni Carrera Lewis on "Guiding Light" at 22.

4. In her first film role, she starred opposite Brad Pitt.

Forbes played a photographer involved with David Duchovny in the 1993 thriller "Kalifornia," in which the pair find themselves on the road trip from hell with a strange couple, played by Brad Pitt and Juliette Lewis. Forbes says it was evident to everyone on the film that Pitt had a bright future. "There was just something extremely special about him," she recalls. "And I think what I always really admired about him is that he was being really pushed into being that pretty-boy, leading-man guy, but he was all about the work. He was an incredibly hard worker. He didn't care about anything else. He didn't care about the fame; he didn't care about all that nonsense. It really irritated him, as far as I recall. And I really admired and respected that about him."

5. She's still learning new things about acting.

One of the reasons Forbes loves acting is that she's always making new discoveries. "That's the most gorgeous thing about what we do, is that it's bottomless," she says. "There's always something you can learn about working with the camera, and how you fit into that frame, and how you're fitting into that cinemagraphic language." She adds that she particularly enjoys working with children and nonactors. "Then, you really learn something. On 'Homicide,' they used a lot of nonactors, and it was amazing to watch them do it for the first time and not bring any of that intellect to it—to just play pretend. And they're actually more open and less cynical than a lot of actors who've been around for a long time."


– Other films include "Swimming With Sharks," "Escape From L.A.," and "Perfume"

– Received a Daytime Emmy Award nomination for her work on "Guiding Light" in 1990

– Cites casting directors Libby Goldstein and Junie Lowry-Johnson (who cast her in "The Killing") as longtime supporters through her career. Among the shows they've cast her on: "Star Trek," "In Treatment," and "True Blood."

Michelle Forbes on Her Most Difficult Roles

"They're all difficult in different ways. The format of 'In Treatment' was stressful; we didn't know if it would work. Two people sitting in a room and having to learn 26 pages of dialogue with no rehearsal, all in close-up—that was terrifying. 'The Killing' has been difficult because of the relentlessness of the grief involved. And 'True Blood' was extraordinarily difficult in the sense that when someone tells you you're going to seduce an entire town and be completely blissful with no attachments to violence and death—well, that was probably the most terrifying. It's easy, as humans, to tap into grief and suffering and loss—we understand that. If you ask anybody if they really want to be happy, they'll tell you they will. But if you offer it to them, they wouldn't know what to do with it."