When VEEP premiered in 2012, most people were surprised (and excited) to see child star, Anna Chlumsky, all grown up and cursing up a storm on HBO. Three seasons later, the 34-year-old actress has been twice nominated for an Emmy for her role as Amy Brookheimer, the determined and sometimes ruthless Chief of Staff to Vice President Selina Meyer.
Having already marked her territory in both film and TV, Chlumsky is taking on Broadway with her debut in You Can’t Take It with You, a slapstick play that has her testing her ability to keep a straight face.
Despite all the recent success, Chlumsky still hasn’t forgotten the little things she’s learned along the way, such as the acting tricks Jamie Lee Curtis and Dan Aykroyd, her then-adult co-stars, taught her on the set of My Girl.
In a conversation with ETonline, the actress opens up about taking the stage, Amy’s relationship with Dan on VEEP, and watching the film that made her a star with her daughter.
ETonline: I want to start with You Can’t Take It with You. How does it feel to make your Broadway debut?
Anna Chlumsky: There’s just nothing like it. It’s magic. And it feels really right, which is wonderful. Sometimes good things happen to you and you go, “Oh my gosh! Why me?” It just feels really, really exactly the right thing to do, to go to the theater every day and sign in and do a show. [Laughs]
Is there a certain notch in the belt in that distinction?
You know, I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t. I know better than to think that it’s all about the title or the name or the size of the house. You can do wonderful work in smaller houses all around the country so just having the Broadway label doesn’t make it good necessarily. But in my case, it’s excellent. It’s a wonderful show. So that’s the best gift. It does definitely feel like now I know my chops are good enough to be in this company and to be with these amazing people. You kind of already know that’s where you’re headed but once it happens it does feel a little bit like -- I don’t want to say -- it's funny, it does feel like a notch in the belt but the work is so much fuller than a notch.
You mentioned earning a sense of validation. Was there a time when you didn’t think you were good enough as an actress or your skills were up to a certain level?
It’s going to make me seem arrogant to say no but I’ve always known that the work is good. I think the thing you get nervous about, as an actress sometimes, is you’re like, “Am I the only who thinks I can do this?” That’s just a case of being new at something. This was probably things I would go through six, seven years ago when I knew I was working hard to do well at this craft. You kind of feel like -- and every actor goes through this -- "Is anybody else aware, especially people who can give me a job?” So that’s the doubt that comes in. It’s not necessarily that I don’t have chops. Personally, I always knew that I had the chops or that I was going to hone the chops even more.
The ensemble cast features a lot of great actors but we have to talk about the real stars of the show: the kittens.
[Laughs] The kittens and the snakes definitely steal the show. They get the first laugh if I’m not mistaken. It’s a very humbling experience as one of the actors. When I was doing Living On Love in Williamstown -- we have a dog in that production -- it was the same exact thing. You know what, no matter how seasoned we are at what we do, we’re never going to get the reaction an adorable puppy or an adorable kitten is going to get. [Laughs] There’s something freeing in that.
Your next show is Living On Love, which looks to be a romp. Will fans get to see you play less of a straight man in this production?
I don’t know. I wouldn’t call my character clownish in any way but it’s hard to identify the straight man in this one… As kooky as it is, it’s not just clowning. We’re still telling our story and being true to it. So that’s nice for me, otherwise I wouldn’t know what I was doing on stage. I always need to approach it from a very grounded level.
With such a funny script and ensemble cast, is it hard to not break on stage?
You know, if you drop out of the scene for any split second for Julie Halston’s ascent, you’re going to be in trouble for sure. It’s certainly one of those plays that keeps you honest in that. You have to stay in, otherwise you’ve gotten off the rails. It’s a ride and everyone’s on that ride. In order to stay on it with everybody, you can’t drop out. It’s a great feeling. You can trust the play more.
I have to imagine you’ve gotten all your training while filming VEEP.
VEEP! Exactly. Same exact rules apply. It’s like, “Amy is not going to find any of that stuff funny.” [Laughs]
We’ve seen Amy become a lot more ruthless as the show has gone on. Will that continue into next season?
Yeah. I think that it’s always part of her. She’s not a benevolent soul in anyway. The audience got to see it front and center last season, which was so much fun to play. But it’s always her M.O. to keep that Machiavellian motivation going.
The show has flirted with Amy and Dan’s past but never acted on it. Do you think we’ll ever get to see more of their relationship?
I think Dan and Amy can never get rid of each other, you know? There’s something about them that draws them to each other. Whether it’s magnanimous at times or amicable, it is a dance. It’s never to be ignored I think.
I have to ask you about My Girl because we have footage of you on set talking about the film. You mention that Dan Aykroyd and Jamie Lee Curtis taught you some acting exercises, such as “silent scream” and “tiny face.” Do you still use any of those today?
Oh yeah! [Laughs] I still do the “silent scream” and “tiny face.” That’s so funny that I spoke about it then because yeah, she did teach us that. You know, it gets energy in your face when you’re kind of losing energy. And if it’s cold outside, it makes you warm. Yeah, I definitely do. I still use that. [Laughs]
Now that you have found success on stage and on TV, even being nominated for multiple Emmys, does My Girl feel like a footnote in your career now? Is there finally distance from it?
I hope so because that makes sense for math. The past gets farther and farther away from us so whatever I’m doing currently always just feels more in my life and to me than something that happened 24 years ago. You know what I mean? It’s not because I don’t appreciate it. I appreciate it very much. But I think footnote is a nice description just in the sense it’s been a very, very long time. Hopefully things that happened 24 years ago don’t stand out more than what’s happening now.
Now that you’re a mother, has your perspective of that film (or the experience making it) changed?
Not so much. It was three months of my life when I was 10. I think I have perspective on everything that has happened since that movie -- on childhood and being a kid. She hasn’t changed it any way. I think I’m applying my perspective to raising her. I don’t necessarily think kids need to be professionals. And I felt that way before her and it’ll just apply, I think.
When your daughter Penelope is old enough, do you think you’ll sit down with her to watch it?
Possibly. I just so haven’t even crossed that bridge yet. I’m just trying to figure out how much we’re supposed to let her use the iPad. [Laughs]
Chlumsky can be seen in You Can't Take It with You, which co-stars James Earl Jones, Fran Kanz, and Annaleigh Ashford, at The Longacre Theatre in New York City now until Sunday, Feb. 22. VEEP returns to HBO on Apr. 12.
Photos of You Can't Take It with You by Joan Marcus