Interview: Annika Marks of Grace

Annika+Marks_optThe 2014 independent drama Grace stars Annika Marks in the title role as a lady with a problem: Having been arrested for public drunkenness and attacking a police officer in a small Florida beach town, she has the choice of either accepting a sentence of six months in jailor attending 90 Alcoholics Anonymous meetings over the course of the three months. Grace opts for the latter and, embraced by the small beachtown community, she inches her way towards redemption.

Born in Sweden and raised in Seattle, Washington, Annika first appeared on our radar in a supporting turn in the 2012’s The Sessions, and Grace marks her first starring role in a feature. Disc Dish recently spoke with Annika about her theatrical roots and the making of the film..

Disc Dish: You’re a veteran of the Circle in the Square Theatre School in New York?

Annika Marks: I certainly am–I lived in New York for seven years!

DD: The great Jacqueline Brooks, who’s no longer with us, taught there.

AM: Oh my gosh, she’s such an angel in my life! I loved her! She’s an extraordinary actress and an incredibly passionate and empathetic woman who taught me the most basic and important stuff. I went to Circle in the Square when I was eighteen years old and I had no language of acting. I really needed a conservatory environment and it marked the beginning of my understanding of what it means to be an actor—what it means to live as an artist and to figure out what you’re striving for as an artist. And that can take a long time.

DD: Grace was your first feature since The Sessions, as well as your first starring role. How did it come your way?

AM: My opportunities definitely changed after The Sessions. I never really felt I was in the running for things—like being the lead of a feature—until The Sessions came out. Judy Henderson did the casting for Grace and she knew my work. Through my reps, she got me the script to read. I read it and, obviously, it’s an exceptional role. I had a Skype call with the [writer/director] Heath Jones and we talked for a while. I knew they were still hoping to get a bigger name, as everyone always is. In the meantime, as they were doing that dance, I put taped a bunch of scenes and did a lot of work on the role it like it was mine.

GraceDVDDD: Very pro-active!

AM: Yes. And, well, here we are.

DD: And how did your co-star Sharon Lawrence get involved?

AM: I was the first person they bought on and they hadn’t cast anyone else. Sharon Lawrence was the actress I really wanted for Sonia. I’d been a fan of hers for years and we were at the same agency at the time, so I actually wrote her a letter begging her to read the script and consider working for me.

DD: Ms. Lawrence has mentioned that in interviews, as well.

AM: She’s one of those women who actively tries to bring other women up, which is much more rare that you’d think it would be. She takes her work very seriously and she’s incredibly talented, as I’m sure you know. But she’s also amazingly generous. I’m still amazed that she agreed to do Grace with me!

DD: You shot for six weeks or so in New Smyrna Beach on the Florida coast.

AM: The whole film takes place there. And it was completely energizing. We worked around the clock. It was all about the work and a lot fun—hard-working fun.

DD: You’re in nearly every scene of the film and your character and her story—how can I put this?—definitely are little nasty, a little dirty..

AM: I like getting dirty. I’m definitely more attracted to characters with flaws and demons and insecurities. That’s the stuff that’s really exciting to explore. To get to step into the shoes of somebody who’s her own worst enemy was a challenge I looked forward to. The whole story takes place over four days and a lot happens to Grace in that short amount of time. I attended a number of open AA meetings while I researched the film, which was a remarkable experience for me, both as an actor and as a person. One of the main things I learned—and this is something we conveyed in the film—is that, for my character, it isn’t about recovery; it’s about the potential for recovery.

Annika Marks in Grace

Annika Marks in Grace

DD: The film has rolled out over the festival circuit over the past year and can now be seen on DVD or digitally.

AM: Yes, between the festival and it’s availability on DVD or as a download, it’s out there. The way films are distributed these days—from the festivals to theaters to discs and downloads—I think it makes the best possible scenario for the audience they were made for. Any film these days can take its own journey, hopefully a successful one. It’s accessible for anyone who wants to watch it. And people are responding!

DD: That’s great.

AM: Yes! In fact, someone who saw Grace just contacted me this morning. He told me that that after watching it, he was finally able to have a conversation with his sister. He said that he realized he had to forgive her and that she had agreed to go to her first AA meeting and that he was going to go with her. And I get things like that all the time. And if those people are seeing the film, then the film is doing its job. What you really hope for as an artist is that something you do has a big enough life that positively affect change in an individual.

Grace is now available on DVD from E-One for a suggested retail price of $19.99 and as a Digital download from iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, Hulu and Google.

About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.