You don’t need your glasses to see that Anna Chlumsky is still awesome.
A former child star best known for the 1991 coming-of-age classic My Girl, the 37-year-old actress is now a five-time Emmy nominee for playing harried political operative Amy Brookheimer on HBO’s Veep, which begins shooting its seventh and final season this summer.
Currently appearing off-Broadway opposite Happy Endings star Adam Pally in Cardinal, a new comedy about urban renewal, Chlumsky explains how her life took wing with La Cage aux Folles.
I hear you’re a big fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Totally. I started watching back in season 2 and just thought it was the most delicious thing in the whole wide world. But I haven’t started the new All Stars yet, so no spoilers!
You must’ve loved doing RuPaul’s What’s the Tee? podcast with Michelle Visage last year.
Oh, I was so nervous. But RuPaul and Michelle are both so wonderful and inviting—they’re like sunshine. After a while, it was like talking to my relatives.
What appeals to you about Drag Race?
I grew up in community musical theater. When I was 8, doing Annie, La Cage aux Folles was rehearsing in the same theater for the next show. I would watch these men that I adored and admired putting on makeup, practicing in heels. These men were paternal figures in my life, so, in a way, I was raised by drag queens. Drag Race comforts me.
Was that your introduction to the LGBT community?
Yeah. When we saw it, in order to explain the storyline, my mom had to explain what being gay meant. It didn’t matter to me, but I had questions, like, “Can they get married? Is so-and-so like that?” My parents were divorced, so these were guys I wanted my mom to marry, and I was suddenly realizing she couldn’t. I wanted all these wonderful gay men to be my dad.
Sorry that didn’t work out.
Well, I do have a brother who’s gay. Frankie’s my half-brother on my dad’s side. He’s 14 years younger than me. I was there when he was born. I cut his cord, actually.
When did he come out to you?
He came out in high school, and I thought that was so brave. But I pretty much always knew. I used to clock little clues when he was younger, so I wasn’t surprised. The week after he came out on Facebook, I flew him out to visit me in New York. I gave him a choice of Broadway show: Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo or the La Cage aux Folles revival with Harvey Fierstein as Zaza. He was like, “Well, I guess I need to see La Cage.” So I got to take my 16-year-old brother to see Harvey Fierstein singing “I Am What I Am.” Oh, the mascara was running down my face.
Wow. You have a real La Cage connection.
[Laughs] I know. My dog is named Zaza, actually, because she has these markings that look like she’s wearing as much makeup as a drag queen. But believe me, I know there’s a wider canon of gay theater, and I’ve seen plenty of it.
You regularly do theater during your hiatuses from Veep. Why keep returning to the stage?
Theater is so important to me. It’s where I was born and bred, but it’s also where I was reborn when I became an adult. After I went to college and stopped acting for awhile, theater is what brought me back.
You seem particularly attracted to gay writers, including David Adjmi, Joe DiPietro, and now Greg Pierce with Cardinal.
They’re the ones hiring me. [Laughs] Friends have told me I’m one of those women who, you know, gay men are drawn to—I’m trying not to use a derogatory term. But maybe it’s because we understand each other. Maybe we’re drawn to a similar kind of storytelling that’s not safe or polite. Cardinal isn’t a polite play. Bryan Fuller, who I worked with on Hannibal, is certainly not a polite writer.
You must be aware of your gay fans. You were in Lifetime’s 12 Men of Christmas, after all.
The best thing about that was meeting Kristin Chenoweth [Laughs] I’m so happy and encouraged by that support, because it feels like an enormous extended family. If I’m still reaching the community in which I was raised, it must mean I’m doing something truthful and authentic, right?
Have you ever played a lesbian role?
You mean since Gold Diggers: The Secret of Bear Mountain?
Oh, good! I wasn’t sure if you considered Jody in Gold Diggers a budding lesbian.
A few years ago, I probably wouldn’t have responded that way. When we made that movie, we certainly didn’t think it was about young lesbians. It wasn’t a popular movie at the time, but I’ve realized over the years that it resonated with a certain ilk of females. Many, many women have come up to me and chuckled, “Gold Diggers, right?”
It’s often listed as a formative movie for queer women who grew up in the ’90s.
I get it. I was never proud of that movie, honestly, because it wasn’t very well made. But then I watched it when it was on TV a few years ago, and for the first time I became so proud of it. Even though it wasn’t our intention, there’s no question it sent a message to young girls who were maybe having confusing feelings for their girlfriends. So I’m happy I got to play that crazy mountain girl.
A lot of people are clamoring for My Girl 3, but give me a Gold Diggers sequel any day.
Oh, god, give me neither! I don’t think I need to revisit either character, but I will happily play a lesbian in a whole new story.
Was that your real hair in Gold Diggers?
It was my real hair. All those young guys at the time had butt cuts, so I went into the salon and asked for a guy’s haircut. People still ask, “Wait, isn’t Gold Diggers the movie with Christina Ricci and that guy?” [Laughs] Yep. I’m the guy.
Vada in My Girl was a also a tomboy. Was playing tomboys a stretch for you?
Growing up, I was totally into dresses. There was a period where I would never wear pants because I was a little princess. Then, when I turned 9, I decided I only wanted to wear jeans, and right around that time is when I auditioned for My Girl. I used to pretend I was like Robin Hood, swashbuckling around the house and saving the day. I would’ve been obsessed with Arya on Game of Thrones, because I thought I was a warrior girl. I wanted to scrap.
Now you slay red carpets by taking major fashion risks. Your pink 2016 Emmys dress by Christian Siriano comes immediately to mind.
That was a very feminist choice. We all knew I was going to get lambasted for it, but I was seven weeks postpartum and there was no freakin’ way I was going to get my second pregnancy body into an hourglass dress just to give people something they expected. I wanted something like one of those Balmain, Balenciaga, crazy-ass ’50s couture bubble dresses. Christian totally got it.
You play Amy, fictional former President Selina Meyer’s deputy chief of staff, on Veep. Do people expect you to weigh in on what’s happening in the real White House?
They definitely do. Pre-Trump, I was very private about my own politics. I’d answer questions truthfully, but I felt there was a time and place for that. Post-Trump, however, I can’t freakin’ help myself. Right after the election, I was on the Golden Globes red carpet telling reporters that we needed to look into Russia. I don’t have the luxury of delineating between my public and private personas anymore. We all need to speak up, because you never know where Trump voters are getting their information. Maybe it’ll be from some annoying actress.
You’ve been retweeting and commenting a bit more lately on articles related to the #TimesUp movement and other hot-button issues.
Well, I’m still a little careful with social media. I want to disappear into my characters, so I don’t want people only thinking of me as their interpretation of myself. That’s why I’m not on Instagram yet. Also, I don’t want to retweet something unless I’m sure it’s correct information that I can stand by.
Veep introduced a relationship between Selina’s daughter and a female secret service agent in season 5. Are there gay writers shepherding that storyline?
[Laughs] If somebody is gay in our writers’ room, I do not know who that would be.
By the way, I’ve always gotten a bit of a lesbian vibe from Amy.
Oh, me, too. She’s so shut off when it comes to sex and romance, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out she had a predilection for women. She definitely dabbled in college. I don’t think she’d discriminate, as long as the other person wasn’t an idiot.
Pitch the writers a lesbian subplot for Amy in the final season. Maybe you’ll finally get your Emmy.
I don’t think that cuts it anymore. I think you have to play Winston Churchhill.
Cardinal runs though February 25 at Second Stage Theater in New York.