Life is brimming with full-circle occurrences, with or without proper acknowledgment or joyous recognition. By the most coincidental odds, rising actress Marnee Carpenter knowingly appreciated her acting career's go-round moment, as she recently had the pleasure of working on the revival series of her most-prized film, The Silence of the Lambs. Through honing her natural-born talents while paying homage to the classic cinematic masterpiece, Marnee now works to bring the new CBS drama series, Clarice, to life. In this exclusive interview, Marnee discusses her experience working on this riveting series while having the ability to bring the classic film back to life, how her childhood impacted her infatuation with the arts, and how she overcame early-set road bumps throughout her career.
Megan Morgante: Did anything or anyone, in particular, inspire you to pursue acting?
Marnee Carpenter: Growing up, I was heavily involved in theater. The first theater company that I was brought to was Trinity Repertory in Providence Rhode Island. My first actual paid job was playing Fan, who is Scrooge's sister in A Christmas Carol. I participated in that as a kid, so all of the resident actors and everyone involved in the company were my first teachers and initial inspiration. They gave me a chance to really try the art myself.
MM: Can you give an overview of your past in the entertainment industry and how it led you to where you are now?
MC: To be honest, most of my background is based around theater and a lot of that was through school, classes, and growing up at Trinity Repertory. I didn't pursue film and television until I moved to Los Angeles in 2012. I've been out there for eight-plus years now and it's been a long haul; I won't pretend it was anything different. It's been a long road of trying to get involved while doing projects for free, making stuff with my friends. I worked on an entire production, which involved travel, that was brutal and I incidentally learned the horrors of the film industry. I started to notice the things that I didn't want to have happen to me and it gave me a different perspective of how it could be. I had also seen so many things within the industry that were so positive, uplifting, and supportive, that I knew the horrible things don't always have to be the case. The first real chance I got on TV was on Criminal Minds on CBS, with who I currently work with now. I got to work a full eight days on a well-running, well-oiled machine that Criminal Minds was. We had Diana Valentine at the helm as our director, so having a female director on one of my first projects was really inspiring. She was totally herself with her purple hair, and I think working on that project with her showed me you can carve this industry to be what you want it to be. You don't have to fit into some mold.
MM: You now star in the new CBS Drama Series, Clarice…. Congratulations! Can you give us some insight into what we can expect from this new series?
MC: I feel like we're really breaking through a lot of barriers. We have a really diverse writers room, so we have a really open discussion with our showrunner and our writers, which I really appreciate. We're tackling problematic things that happen in the classic film the series is based on, Silence of the Lambs. We're dealing with discrimination in terms of misogyny, racism, and the transgender community. There's a lot of things that I'm really proud that we're not afraid to address, which I believe we do have to address. We're lucky that it’s set in the ’90s, so we get to put this other lens on and realize that this really reflects what we're dealing with today. We're dealing with women who are completely belittled in the workplace and not taken seriously, and we're really going to flip that on its head. We've got four incredibly strong women characters doing these brilliant parts, which is a thrill to watch and see existing on prime-time television.
MM: What has your experience been like working on this series and having the ability to bring this classic film back to life?
MC: I grew up watching Silence of the Lambs, and it was my favorite movie. It's always my answer whenever anyone asks me, that this was always my favorite film to watch. A lot of people ask if it’s intimidating to be immersed in the world of my favorite film, but truly, it’s a dream come true. When I got the chance to audition for it, all I could think was, “Don't mess it up, do your absolute best work, and leave everything on the floor.” I was ecstatic that I even had the chance to audition for the part. The way they wrote my character description for Catherine, I just immediately saw how they intended her to be seen. Not a victim, but as a truth-teller that refuses to back down from anyone, won't sweep something under the rug, and will fight for her last breath.
MM: Going into Catherine's character, do you find that you share any similar personality traits?
MC: She’s delightfully stubborn and I love to describe myself that way. I think that I know my worth, and I think Catherine knows her worth as well. I feel like she truly is what we see in the film. Obviously, she's trapped in one area, but, when you watch Brooke Smith portraying her in the film, you already see that she's not going to quit. She's going to do everything in her power to get out alive and make it happen, and that's how Thomas Harris writes his characters. He writes very strong, female characters. But, when I say strong, female characters, I want to be clear that I don't mean that they have to be tough physically. What I mean is that they're using every fiber of their being in showing up as they are. That also doesn't mean that they aren't fallible. They're totally fallible, they have these traumas that they're dealing with. In terms of Catherine, I felt like she's very accepting of where she's at, even in Silence of the Lambs and now in Clarice, she's living out her truth in her present moment no matter where we find her. She's a tough cookie, and I really hope that I bring that out in her.
MM: Do you have any new or upcoming projects that you’re particularly excited about?
MC: Of course, we really hope that we get a season two for Clarice, so we've got our fingers crossed! The world's my oyster, and hopefully, I get some exciting roles to try out. I love nothing more than trying on different characters and really navigating each brain that I get to step into.
MM: Do you have any hobbies you enjoy partaking in when you’re not acting?
MC: I have a double-sided business and volunteer program, Ok9 Dog & Family Consultation, where I work with behavioral issues within rescue dogs. I do in-home personal training with dogs that are coming through the shelter systems or rescues with certain hurdles that maybe an obedience class doesn't address. I have been fostering dogs since I lived in Los Angeles, so I work with families that are newly adopting dogs and I'll pick up dogs from shelters, bring them to foster homes, and do regular visits.
MM: Have you ever experienced any notable challenges throughout your career?
MC: I think the easiest one for me to identify, which I fought against very early on and I think I'm much more outspoken about it now, is when I had this idea that I had to do things a certain way and make certain people happy. When I first entered the industry, I initially was identified as this girl-next-door type. I'm petite, I'm blonde, and my representation at-the-time wanted me to fit into that mold. That’s just not my personality at all, so I wanted to try out other things and explore playing darker characters. I didn't want to be this pretty thing that the audience forgets about the next day, I just wasn't interested in maintaining that role. It took me a while, in the beginning, to realize that I didn't have to play those parts if I didn't want to. I knew what I was good at and what inspired me. Hopefully, it didn't take me too long, but I wish I realized sooner.
MM: If you could give a piece of advice to your younger self, or to anyone looking to break into the industry, what would it be?
MC: The first thing I'd say is that nobody's path looks the same. Don't assume that there's a way to do this or a trick to be successful, I haven't met two people who have the same story. This idea that someone has the answer for you, is unfortunately false. You really have to learn to trust your own voice, what fits best for you, and that there isn't a magical timeline for success. Go for what you want and don't let somebody's own limiting beliefs define what you're doing for yourself.
FaceTime Photography by Megan Morgante