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by Kitty Robson

Talking with ‘The Boys' and ‘Fear the Walking Dead' star on the emphatic power of art through tribulation.

During a trying year for just about everybody bar the Bezos’ of the world, the months of quarantine and lockdown has led us to reach out to a motley of resources for comfort. Whether it be bulk buying cans of soup and toilet roll, or binge watching your favourite series on Netflix, all over the globe people have sought out reassurance wherever they can find it.

Colby Minifie just happens to be giving us huge doses of that right now: an actor as relatable as she is eccentric, she delves deep into her roles and takes us into it with her. Whether it be a no-nonsense PR in the superhero-filled world of The Boys or a cowboy-hat wearing leader in Fear the Walking Dead, Colby takes on roles which capture the diversity and nuance of what it means to be a woman. Seeking to create art that acts as escapist entertainment yet also aids empathy and awareness, we talk to the vibrant actor about her career so far and what else is on the horizon.

How have the past few months been for you personally and creatively?

These past few months have been extremely restorative, and good for rebuilding and replenishing. But I’ve also had the luxury of being able to chill and not work whereas so other many people have the total opposite experience. I bought an Airstream and I’ve been renovating it so that’s been fun. I finally got to do things that I’ve wanted to do for so long. I hope that people who have been able to chill will kind of be able to recognise the need to do that more often. There were so many horrible things about this time but what I tend to love about it was that there’s no hiding, there’s no room for bullshit: normally there’s so much pressure, and so much going on, that there’s no time. It feels kind of like an existential crisis that we’re all in collectively.

And now there’s obviously the US election upcoming…

Yeah a massive General Election which will define you know the rest of our lives. It’s so intense, there’s no small thing about it…

Does it make you want to change the kind of roles you take, to want to take more sociopolitically charged roles?

I mean it’s interesting you ask that as I felt during this time I was kind of like, ‘I just want to work’, but it also did make me realise life is short. It’s not like I have tonnes of options but I am super fortunate to be in a position right now where if auditions are offered to me, I do have the ability to say you know this is really not for me right now. It took me a long time to get to that point. So yes I will definitely consider that. You always have to be tied somehow to a part and feel as though there’s a reason to do it. But I think that, you know, life is short and there’s not much more room for doing shit that I don’t care about anymore, you know.

Do you believe that cinema, that art in general, can cause social change in that way?

I do, I do. It sounds very holier than now to say that but like art’s been around forever: it’s been around since we had the luxury to have the time to write and create things.Theatre has been around forever in the sense of storytelling. It is essential to our lives and there’s a reason why we’re so addicted to it. I do think it has that power. I think something like The Boys is unique in that it is a satire, but the things going on are very emblematic of what’s going on in this country. It’s so smart because putting these social problems into the context of superheroes, it allows people that normally might not look at these subjects in this way, watch and be like, ‘oh wait I recognise that like’, ‘I can see why that’s maybe not good…’. We all have our own narratives about who we are, and our entire society or the entire power structure of capitalism. It’s all narratives, it’s all stories that we all agree on, or we don’t agree on. The way we live our lives is all based on that: I have a certain narrative about who I am, where I came from and what I want to do with my life. If we see a story that makes us aware of how that narrative might grow in a certain way or take a different path, then we could change our lives based on that.

It often teaches a kind of empathy as well to a lot of people to be able to watch and learn about people’s stories that they might not have come across ordinarily.

Exactly! Stories are what our entire society is built on. So definitely in answer to your question. [laughs]

Fear the Walking Dead is interesting in that although it’s obviously this kind of post apocalyptic world it’s still very much about the humanity of life and existence…

Yeah definitely. It’s interesting actually we were working on season six of Fear when, you know, Coronavirus shut everything down. So I was driving back to New York from filming in Texas and the whole time I was like, ‘Oh, this feels super apocalyptic on some level… So this is what that’s like…’ [laughs]. But I do think what Fear does is explore what morality means. When the morals of a society are completely ripped out and don’t really exist anymore because society has collapsed, how do you make your own rules? And how do you find a group of people that will join you in what you’ve created? I mean we all notice what we gravitated towards during this time… Like toilet paper! [laughs] But we were grasping for things; for truth and for a cohesive way to live right now. Wondering ‘what are the new rules?’.

Over your career your roles have captured the diversity of the female experience. How do you feel as a woman in the industry at the moment?

I am so happy to be a woman in the film and TV industry. I was listening to this podcast about Polly Platt, who was a production designer and was married to [Peter] Bogdanovich the director who completely humiliated her. Hearing about what it was like for women in the industry during that time, I mean even just like a couple decades ago, is so shocking. Hollywood didn’t trust women to tell their own stories, or just didn’t want to hear women’s stories. I’m so inspired by the certain women who are a part of changing that now. I’m also really interested in the nuance of what it’s like to be a woman: for instance to be a woman in the corporate sphere, like in The Boys, and what a female-led power structure looks like in Fear the Walking Dead… Ashley in The Boys is, I think, gaslit all the time, constantly.

Definitely! That’s so interesting.

Right? It’s so interesting… I didn’t know that term gaslighting until it was in the front of our lexicon in the past few years. I was actually thinking this week that I finally understood what it means, and I think it took me so long to really understand what it means because it’s just a part of our daily lives as women. To feel like we’re losing it but we’re being gaslit, somebody makes you feel crazy for your feelings but you realise ‘oh wait, but that person did that to me’. You’re constantly faced with it. We’re also always apologising and having to make up for every moment where we’re autonomous, where we take a stand for ourselves… Like, ‘I took a stand for myself here, which means I have to be super nice and complimentary next’. Just the gymnastics that women are constantly having to do in all these spaces to make men feel comfortable. I’m becoming even more aware of how our daily lives, my daily life, is plagued by that, and how men can just walk around and say, ‘This is what I’m feeling’ and feel like they’re allowed to take up that space. I don’t think they understand what that’s like: it’s a cultural generational memory bank that women have. But in spite of that, being in this industry right now is so exciting. We’re all continuing to discover the nuances of this together, we’re all exploring it and people are willing to write about that, to pick that apart and have a discourse about that.

Going back to Fear, it’s interesting as the The Walking Dead universe in general has been praised for its representation in terms of the characters and casting. How does it feel to be a part of a show that is groundbreaking in that way?

That’s exciting, it really is. It’s so vital to have a diverse cast, and to cast people of colour in lead roles especially. Having Danai Guiria lead TWD and Lennie James lead the last few seasons [of Fear the Walking Dead] is so great, it’s just a great cast to work with. Also I know that they’re working with Colman [Domingo] as a producer now which will be so exciting. AMC are super responsive, they’ve given us Election Day and Martin Luther King Jr Day off which is actually pretty huge, not normal in the industry so I was very excited to see that. I grew up in New York, constantly surrounded by a diversity of people, so it feels weird to be on a set if it’s just like a hundred white people, but with Fear it feels like home.

What do you hope people will take away from your work?

That’s an interesting question. I’m not like the centrefold of all of these projects, but something that I struggled with as a kid, then going through puberty was trying to find myself as I’m not a ingenue type… I often get cast in like these crazy weirdo roles, angry neighbour, stressed out publicists roles. [laughs] And, like, I’m so happy that those roles were written…

It’s so fun, I bet!

It’s so much fucking fun, but like it took me a long time to kind of embrace my weirdness and my quirkiness, and the things that aren’t really so ‘normal’ about me. So I want people to embrace whatever the fuck weird selves they are! I don’t think we, in Hollywood, all have done so. I want film and TV to reflect the way life really is. And life is full of some fucking weirdos. I’m definitely one of them and I am flying my freak flag. If I can do that, make people feel like they’re welcome here or anywhere then, fuck yeah, that’s great. Yeah, that makes me feel good too.

What’s kind of been like the highlight of your career so far? If you can pick…

I’ve been so lucky… Okay, I’ll tell you a few. I’m Thinking of Ending Things, the Charlie Kaufman movie that just came out, I think it was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen and I’ve ever been a part of. Even though I had only like two days on set and it’s a super tiny role but truly Kaufman has been an idol of mine for a long time: I watched Synecdoche New York in high school and it really defined a few years of my life. When I auditioned for this movie I watched it again and I realised like ‘oh my god that’s where they’re that fucking idea came from’, like ‘that’s what that philosophy I have on that thing came from… Also this movie talks about David Foster Wallace and I wrote my college thesis on David Foster Wallace. Then it talks about a Woman Under the Influence which was like one of my favourite movies. Kaufman has this strange way of collecting people in his movies that are all there in this like supernatural space, all connected: it’s like you’re right there now because of these things. I talked Deirdre O’Connell about it, who’s been in a couple of his movies, she’s a fucking amazing actress. I was talking to her about it and she said it’s the same thing with her, that she felt so connected as well. Yeah, I can’t believe I was in that, he’s the coolest person. Then there’s a lot of theatre, one of the highlights for me was doing Long Day’s Journey into Night on Broadway with like the coolest fucking people like Jessica Lange, Michael Shannon, Gabriel Byrne, John Gallagher Jr. It was like one of those things where you have to elevate yourself to that text: you have to figure out how to reach for that because it’s so smart and in depth. I was just playing like a silly old maid, you know, but getting to watch those people every night for four hours was amazing. I guess those are two highlights.

What have been your other major influences and inspirations so far in your career?

In terms of actors, Diane Keaton is a huge inspiration. Right now I really think Michaela Coel is unbelievable, and the women that wrote PEN15, I’m obsessed with them. I’m really inspired by the writer Rebecca Solnit, who has helped me understand my own story and how retelling my own story or creating a narrative about myself can keep me from actually growing in a lot of ways. But there’s a lot…I have this philosophy that the more I go and study film and acting, the more I get in my head and think I’m doing something wrong. Whereas, the more I just go out into the world and do shit – you know, walk 600 miles across Spain and like, you know, go to other countries, see how people live and talk to people, go and drive cross country and you know just experience life – the more I am able to just release the shoulds of this industry and just kind of wait to see what the fuck happens.

Do you remember the moment that you really knew you wanted to be an actor?

Well my dad’s an opera singer, and he’s just such a performative guy so he had me singing when I was a kid… I mean my sister is a singer, my mom’s a chef which is performative in its own way. I just remember being like, “I’m going to be an actor”, i was one of those coming out of the womb, kicking and singing people. I hit the jackpot with parents that were supportive and not stage parents. They just were like, “let’s just share ourselves”: we used to go to the park and my dad would sing in Central Park with his helmet out. So I learned by example…

What do you hope to achieve in the future?

I hope that I get to keep doing this for one. Yeah I really hope that it doesn’t go away. I would love to do a female centred two-hander sometime, that’d be fun. Personally what I would love to work on right now is just being simple, being present and having some really fucking great writing that I can sink my teeth into it. I’m really into the writer Alice Birch: yeah I would love is to just do a fucking Alice Birch play, that’d be very cool. I just want to read a good piece of writing and fly: I have had the privilege of doing that over the past few years, but I hope it continues.

What’s coming up next then?

Next is finishing up this season of Fear and then I’m going to go home to work on the airstream a little bit. I’m putting in a bathroom which I’m watching YouTube videos for, it’s like taking a lot of them: learning, tools and injuries but, you know, I’ll figure it out. Then I’m gonna go do The Boys, which will be so fun. After that, I don’t know, I hope theatre comes back soon…

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