She is perhaps most well known as a musician, Alison Sudol’s frenzy rolling had led her into a wild, wild world of her own making. Ever since she began her music career in 2007, she released three albums under the name A Fine Frenzy, and her songs have appeared in film and television shows in and out of the United States of America.
In 2014, Alison took a leap into acting and was starred as Kaya in the recurring cast of the first season of Amazon Video series Transparent. Like Alison, her character was of a singer who is also the love interest of Jay Duplass’ character Josh. Next, she took a step forward with the television series Dig and played Emma Wilson, the eloquent archaeologist who found the secret tunnel while working on a dig site under Jerusalem.
Then, the 33 years old actress has involved herself with various minor television and film roles before being cast as Queenie Goldstein in the film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the first in a series of five Harry Potter prequel films written by J.K. Rowling. The fantasy film was also Alison’s feature film. Following its success, a sequel titled Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald was released and Alison’s charisma remains as captivating and ineluctable as ever.
Your parents are both actors. And growing up, you have seen the ups and downs in their chosen profession. What was in your mind then? Have you considered going into another industry?
Growing up around so many actors trying to find their place, I never was under the illusion that Hollywood was some kind of glittering utopia where big dreams came true. Hollywood, to me, was a grey, noisy garbage bin of a place full of confused tourists and drunk people. It made me sad, seeing so many sweet actors I knew deal with the constant rejection and disappointment of slippery agents and cattle calls. I did some auditions myself, early on, but I think I sort of sabotaged them, because I didn’t want to play a mean cheerleader or a corpse. But more than that, I think I was scared of putting my heart into a career that seemed impossible to succeed in. For a while, in school, I wanted to be an architect and potentially, the President, or at least a diplomat (at least—I was definitely an ambitious kid). However, I had to make a geodesic dome out of toothpicks and it was such a disaster—I threw it against a wall. There was more than a little shadiness from my opponent at our student government election, which broke my young, idealistic little heart. So, in a short span of time both of those options went out the window. Thankfully I found music and from about 14 years old onwards, it was all I wanted to do.
Was there a song or a person who inspired you to pursue a career in music?
My dad was always playing instruments around the house—he was always strumming a guitar, playing a flute or diddling around on the piano. So, he made music accessible to me, although I didn’t realize it until much later in life. Mariah Carey was indirectly the reason I started writing, though—when I first started taking singing lessons, all the other girls sang big pop ballads, so I too tried my hand at it too. It took me a while to realize that my voice really wasn't suited for that kind of music at all, and so I started writing to give myself songs I could actually sing. Writing became my passion, my safe haven, somewhere I could belong.
Do you remember how you felt when you were on the set for Transparent? Do you still carry that same emotion with you whenever you enter a new set?
I was nauseous and so nervous. Not only was it my first proper acting job, but it was the first scene of the first episode of the show, and it also happened to be in bed, and topless… I remember sitting in bed clutching my bathrobe, so freaked out… but then Jill gave Jay (Duplass) and I the most moving, heart-warming speech about how grateful she was for us being a part of this, and the beauty of what we were about to make together. Jay and I, as well as Jimmy, the incredible cinematographer, were practically in tears after she finished. So off went the robe. Jay, who was also nervous, and I were laughing constantly between takes that by the time we finished the scene, I had pretty much zero self-consciousness about my body. It was liberating actually.
Each time I come onto a new set, I’m nervous all over again. Each production has its own energy, its own rhythm, and it always takes me a little while to get comfortable. It’s really nice coming back to Fantastic Beasts, though, because I know the crew so well now, and the rest of the cast. It’s like coming back to summer camp or something. I miss everyone when we’re apart.
What can we expect from Queenie in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald?
Well… there are all kinds of archetypical stories where the uninitiated maiden descends into the shadow world in order to become a more fully integrated, powerful, wild woman. Queenie was so pure, so sweet, so innocent in the first film, and she was a complete and utter joy to play. This time around, there are much more complex colors emerging in her. While she has this extraordinary ability to read minds, her gift is often met with annoyance by those around her, and I think that takes much more of a toll on her than she realizes. I also think, because she’s so busy listening to everyone around her, she’s not nearly as adept at listening to herself. She is open-hearted and trusting, the kind of person that really needs to be protected, and in this film, that protection is absent. The choices she makes as a consequence of this are pretty shocking, but I feel like they, in some way, are necessary for her development as a woman.
Tell us what are some of the expectations and realities you discovered along the filming of the sequel.
My expectation was that we were going to have more time to explore her (Queenie) journey, and I wish we had had a bit more of a chance to dig into some things along the way. But there are a lot of stories being told in this film, and I feel like what David Yates ended up bringing together managed to capture the beating heart of her journey. I’m grateful for that. I didn't expect this film to be as hard on me as it was, but some of the things that Queenie goes through echoed things in my own history, and I had to do a lot of digging and confronting of my own demons in order to bring her to life cleanly, without my own stuff getting in the way.
What do you love most about the cast list in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald?
I love our cast so much. It’s such a special group of people David Yates, David Heyman, Fiona Weir and J.K. Rowling have assembled. We genuinely care about each other as human beings, and it’s so fun to play scenes with them. Everyone loves the films and wants to do our best to bring them to life with as much depth and humanity as we can. Plus, I can’t imagine a more fun group of people to do a press tour with. We did karaoke in Japan together—easily one of my favorite memories ever. I love them so much.
Which is your favourite magical creature in the Harry Potter realm and why?
The niffler, because he’s hilarious and naughty and I want to tickle his little coin-laden belly till he giggles quarters.
If you were to meet a Boggart, what form will it take?
Umm… a port-a-potty? Horrors.
As a reputable musician yourself, how would you categorise good music, especially in this digital era?
It’s overwhelming, the amount of music that’s out there today. It’s really hard to sift through it to find what you love. The music I gravitate towards is a bit rough around the edges - I love music where you hear a person’s soul in their voice, where you can feel the hands on the instruments, even if the instruments are synths. So much music is sanitized these days, it feels like it’s made by robots or dudes in suits and sneakers, and it makes me cringe. I just want to feel something real when I hear a song, and like the person making it has a real need to make it that extends beyond the desire for a hit.
Looking at the entertainment industry today, what contribution do you think the society can provide to help young talents bloom?
I think the more we reward good storytelling, diversity of casting and honest, human performances by watching programs and films of that nature, the more we open the doors for truly great performances and real talent to rise. For such a long time, there was a fairly stringent view of what was “beautiful” or “star-quality” and that rigidity seems to finally be breaking down, which is great, because honestly, it was getting pretty boring. We still have a long way to go, though, but at least there seems to be progress.
Name one specific item you cannot live without.
Love. That’s not really an item though, is it? Kombucha. And pawpaw ointment.
What projects are you working on to date? We read that you’ve been writing a children’s book. Tell us about it.
Oh goodness, yes. I wrote that ages ago but it’s in need of a serious edit. My long-time music-manager and business partner, Adrienne Butcher, and I started a platform for releasing music and ultimately other projects called Hearth. Our first release was my first EP in years, called Moon, and the response has been incredible. We are releasing the second EP in the new year, with much more music to come. That’s my main focus at the moment, as well as learning how to cook better, now that I have a bit of time at home, which I haven’t had in ages. We got a bunch of new pots and pans and I get so excited every time I use them. I was fantasizing about them on the Beasts press tour. It’s the little things.