Katie McGuinness is an actor who has been steadily working for over a decade. She never stopped or got side-tracked, no matter what. She is dedicated to the craft of performing, but she’s also dedicated to living in a world of real ensemble playing. She creates her life as a troupe member with her friends and long-time actor boyfriend, forever being creative together, bouncing ideas off each other and helping one another venture into new artistic angles so they’re often making their own fresh opportunities and not waiting for outside sources to give them permission to try something. They’re planning to build an artist’s colony. Katie has done tiny pub productions, big theater productions, immersive theater with Punchdrunk Theater Company, film, and television. She’s currently on fire. She finished filming Season 1 of “Snowpiercer” which will air on TNT in the spring of 2020. She’s here in LA now filming one episode of Ryan Murphy’s upcoming Netflix series “Hollywood” playing legend Vivien Leigh, no less. Her work and way of life are so inspiring.
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Katie McGuinness: The Troupe Member
Katie McGuinness came and spoke with me. She’s one of my oldest friends. We knew each other in London. We went to drama school together. We have been roommates. We have been co-workers. I love her and I’m so proud of her. She’s an actor, who’s been working hard in the business for a long time. She is doing some remarkable, phenomenal projects. I hope you enjoy this talk with Katie McGuinness.
I’m here with one of my oldest friends, little Katie Evans. That’s not her name anymore. Her professional and serious working actress’ name is Katie McGuinness. Where is McGuinness from?
It’s my mommy’s maiden name.
That is a real name so you didn’t make it up or anything.
There is also Katie McGuinness, who’s a producer in Ireland. It gets a bit confusing.
Katie is an actress. I have known her for a very long time. I won’t say how long because I don’t want to age myself. We went to drama school together in London. We went to LAMDA. We’ve also lived together. We’ve been roommates. We have been co-workers at a bar. She’s taken trips out to LA. She stayed with me a lot. She has babysat Clive. I couldn’t love her more. We’ll talk about why you’re here because it’s pretty exciting. I have a few close friends who are one of many sisters. You are one of three girls. You’re the middle baby. You guys grew up in the actual countryside.
We grew up quite near Brighton in England, which is a seaside town.
What’s your town called?
My mom lives in a tiny village called Rotherfield Peppard, it’s a little country village. We grew up there and my dad decided to move to Somerset.
Your dad’s home. I know he has moved and I haven’t been to the place where he is, which you told me is amazing. When I spent Christmas there, it was a magical fairy place. It was in the middle of the most stunning countryside in Somerset.
It is near Sherborne. I can’t remember how old the house was. It’s probably like 1600s or something.
That’s what it felt like. Wonderful food was being cooked. There are tons of siblings, friends and cousins. The pubs’ walk was so nice.
I love Christmas in England. I was thinking about it. It’s different driving around LA and seeing people putting fake icicles and stuff because it’s a Christmas thing.
Your father has a farm.
He bought it about several years ago in a housing auction. He was slightly drunk.
All the best purchases are made then.
He bid on this old medieval ruined farm in Glastonbury, which is a town in England where the festival is. It’s a huge spiritual Mecca.
We were talking about this. It’s a vortex.
It’s a point where lots of ley lines meet. Jesus was supposed to travel there for the tough period of time he was unaccounted for.
I’ve heard that Glastonbury is like Sedona.
I haven’t been to Sedona, but people have said that to me.
Neither I, but I keep hearing that it is a spiritual vortex and the energies feel remarkable.
I love it there so much. There is something magical about the land and the energy there. There’s this big hill with a tower on top called The Tor. The Holy Grail is said to be buried under there. There are these springs and wells with holy water. Every other shop is a witch shop like crystals.
It’s like Diagon Alley. Do you go to the festival and stay at the farm?
I do, which is a very posh way of doing the Glastonbury Festival.
How far is it? Is it walking distance?
It’s like a mile. It’s nothing. We’re lucky.
You go with lots of friends. One of the things that I’ve always loved about you because I grew up with my mom in the ash-room and the commune. You are very commune. You always have your friends either staying with you or you’re staying with friends. In London, you always have people in your home.
I’ve always aspired to that way of living.
It’s fun. You will never be lonely.
It’s true. I don’t know if I told you this before, but me and my boyfriend sold our flat. We have moved in with a couple of friends because we’re going to buy somewhere together and try and do the same thing.
You’re doing it for real. You’re trying to do the same thing, what is it?
Sharing property and all living there. Maybe get other people being involved at some point and make a creative space. Hopefully, we get some little farm place and have a big barn and we’ll make it into a studio so people can come to rehearse and make work.
You have always been like this. It’s an adult version of you guys owning the space. You’re going into it with other professional people.
We haven’t found it yet, but we were on the hunt and that’s what we’re doing. It feels exciting.
You’re going to have an artist colony. I want to come and learn all about it. We went to drama school together. This is exciting because you and another person, we went to drama school with. You are both having a big-time, getting lots of work. That’s wonderful in and of itself. You’ve been at it for a long time. You’ve done everything big and small. You’ve done great big shows, more small productions. You’ve had little parts, bigger parts. There had times where you haven’t worked.
It’s part and parcel of it. It’s always up and down. That’s something you have to release into and get used to. In my experience, it doesn’t build in a linear way. It’s not like any other job where you think, “I’ve done that. I’ll move up a level or get that thing.” It’s constant highs and lows.
One of the things that I find exciting, encouraging and inspirational about your story, about my friend, Jesse, who did this, is that there is an idea, a pressure and a weird theory that after 25, if you haven’t hit a household name or not, maybe it won’t happen. I feel like in the past few years is when things have picked up for you.
That’s true actually to quite a few of my friends. I would say I don’t know many people who had a great time when they were young, they hate it. It increased from there. Most of my contemporaries are in the past years have started to hit an upgrade of a bit I suppose. There are people who I’ve been working for a long time, grafting, trying to make their own work, keeping the energy going and not relying on stuff coming to them. They seek out other avenues and things that interest them, not just about the industry, like what you’re doing. Starting something new that’s linked with different medium, a different angle. That inspires other things to come.
I think that I’ve always seen you working at it. When people were like, “You’ve come out of nowhere,” it’s really that you have been working hard, grueling for a long time. I saw you in a tiny production of a play, the one with the character of your ovary.
What show is it?
It was above a pub.
I was an egg and Alex was a sperm.
I love that play.
I did too. The writer of that has done amazing stuff. She is called Alice Splash. She writes film. She’s done an incredible job.
That makes me very happy. When I saw the show, you never know you’re going to a pub theater. I knew you were going to be good, but I didn’t know anything about the play. I was like, “Are they all eggs waiting to be fertilized?” I thought the premise was odd, but I ended up loving it. I saw you as Salome. I am your number one fan.
I forgot I’d done that. There is blood everywhere, all over the place.
That was quite a big theatre.
That was quite a big one in Southampton. Did we stay in someone’s house in the countryside?
Yes. I don’t know whose.
That was Andrew and Christie’s house.
I saw you went to the pub, afterward. It was great.
Thank you for coming. Sometimes it’s funny when I remember having done that stuff. I was on set thinking like, “What is the correlation between these two extremes?” It feels bizarre sometimes. I’d be like, “What would I have thought of this then?”
I don’t think that the actors who’ve done the tiny pub shows and then who also get to go on to do the big-budget studio things. It is good to have the whole range of everything.
I appreciate it a lot more than I might have if it had happened earlier.
Let’s talk about the exciting things that are going on. You did season one of Snowpiercer.
It’s on TNT.
I want to say that Sci-Fi is not my genre. Is it a Sci-Fi? When I say it’s not my genre, meaning I don’t know anything about it because those are not the books that I read, but they are Art’s favorite. Whenever there’s anything Sci-Fi, he’s ready. He knows it. When I said that you were in that, he was thrilled and he knows all about it.
It was a French graphic novel. I didn’t know much about Sci-Fi.
Can you give me a broad picture?
Basically, the world has frozen over because scientists messed it up trying to fix the climate.
They are trying to fix global warming. They made a mistake.
They made a big mistake and they froze the whole world. All of humanity is left on a train.
Are they one of everybody? Different types of person like animals?
Initially, the train was built as a leisure train for the rich. The rich people sit at the front of the train who were ticketed. As it was taking off, lots of poor people storm the train and became like refugees in the back. It’s based on a film that Bong Joon-Ho made. He also made that film called Parasite that won Cannes in 2019. He’s amazing.
The film came out when? Was it a long time ago?
It came out in 2013. It has Tilda Swinton and John Hurt. It’s a bit of a cross between Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Kill Bill. It’s really bold.
The train is going around. It was built as a leisure train, the wealthy ticketed people in the front. The survivors of the storm are at the back.
It’s like a class warfare, social commentary.
Are you at the front or the back of the train?
I’m at the back of the train.Your career doesn't always necessarily build in a linear way. Click To Tweet
Do you love your character?
I do love it. It has a lot of struggling to get out of the front. I had led to fighting in it.
Did you fight with weapons or hand to hand combat?
All of it. I’m very excited. I remember shooting one scene, there were lots of stabbings and I kept going after they called cut. They were like, “Are you really into that?”
What’s your character’s name?
Josie, I am at the back of the train. We’re trying to get more equality because we’re basically slaves at the back. The rich people at the front are running it.
Is the train going to keep going until someone figures out a different solution?
That’s the idea of that continuous cycle. Jennifer Connelly is amazing. She is good. I’ve had such a nice time.
Where did it shoot?
During the winter?
It was somewhere in the winter, so I got the whole gamut. I love Vancouver. Have you been there?
Yes, it’s one of the most stunning places I’ve ever been in Canada in general.
It’s amazing being out of hikes off within twenty minutes of downtown and swimming the sea.
Did you do all of it?
Yes. We went out to little islands. It’s nice. I love it.
I got to have you now, which is cool. You are shooting a Ryan Murphy series. This is a guest star. Can’t we say anything else or can we?
It’s dingled in Hollywood, which is good and fun. It’s set in Hollywood in the ‘40s.
Could anything be more fun? Is it like Camp Delicious? Is it funny? Is it a drama?
It’s both. He has an amazing way. He’s a genius. It’s super fun and nice people. I’m playing Vivien Leigh, which is gorgeous.
She’s a legend, icon and a goddess. I read her biography and what a life she had. Was she manic?
She was bipolar, but I don’t know if it was officially diagnosed because back then, it wasn’t there yet. She self-medicated. She has a lot of drinking and in electric shock therapy. She had a troublesome time. She’s incredible and talented because she was beautiful.
You are beautiful and you get to play one of the most legendary beauties. Wardrobe and makeup must be the most fun for that. Do you get to be glammed to the max?
It is mega glam.
You are teeny tiny. Was she teeny-tiny?
There are whole different sizes of people.
You would be tall.
I will be a giant. That never happened in my life.
How tall are you?
I am 5’3.
That’s not tiny. For some reason, I consider myself a full foot taller than you, but I’m not.
I consider you to be a full foot taller than me.
You’re here doing that, Ryan Murphy, Hollywood in the ‘40s, you’re playing Vivien Leigh. Those are some big but little shoes to fill. When does your episode come out? Has that show come out yet?
Is that a Netflix show?
We should also talk about your lovely boyfriend, Jack. This is the sweetest story. It’s sweet because you are not this person. It’s adorable to me that you met playing Romeo and Juliet.
I denied it for so long because I found it so cringy.
You did a touring production.
We did Romeo and Juliet together in Vienna.
You called me from Vienna, telling me that you had a big crush on Romeo. I feel like you might’ve even been using a phone card to call me. Look at you now, you’ve been together for a long time. Jack is a phenomenal actor. He’s done lots of everything also with big theater and shows. What was the show that he was in for a while?
He did a Canadian show called X Company for a few years. He’s done films and lots of theater.
He’s at the Globe.
He finished at the Globe in London.
He’s playing Rosalind in As You Like It.
I’m mad that I didn’t get to see him. I’ll have to come next time. You two have been together for a long time. You are looking for a place to buy to have your artists’ colony.
It’s hard to find a community these days and it feels important and a vital way of living. Anything that can be done to encourage that in my life feels very important.
I am with you. It’s one of the things that being in a show to have the community of your cast in your ensemble. You want to take that with you all the time. You are working towards that. You have your sisters, you’re the middle. Your sisters are Joe and Sasha.
Sasha is the older and Joe is younger. Sasha’s setting up her own business, but they were both theater producers at some point.
That’s what I remember.
We are all in it, somehow.
For one of your birthdays, Jack and Sasha did a whole scavenger hunt all over London for you. I had a role in the scavenger hunt. Your sister, a theater producer, extraordinaire and your lovely boyfriend, I got a very serious call sheet. It was all professional. I had to make a phone call or be on my phone at a certain time to give the next clue. How many people were involved?
Maybe about fifteen or something. I remember walking out onto the jetty and seeing someone at the end with a fishing line that had the phone on that had you on the other line.
I was like, “I don’t know what I’m doing, but this is fun. I can’t be there, so I get to be part of it.” Have you and Jack have acted together since Romeo and Juliet?
Do you want to?
I’ve always said no. It would be nice though. He also is moving into directing more, as well as right to replace.
Do you help each other with auditions?
Yes, especially taping for stuff.
You live in this flat with your friends, are they also actors?
They’re both performers. They act and they both dance as well. We’re all involved in a company called Punchdrunk.
I remember when you were touring with Punchdrunk. Was Jack in that too?
Jack did a show with them many years ago. I did one in London with him several years ago. The other guys who made that huge show in New York with Sleep No More. That’s an immersive theater. We all met on that.
When you have auditions, do you all help put each on their own tape?
That’s also what’s nice about living with your partner.
You are lucky. I think people would die for that. People were working actors out here to be able to have that community. Do you offer notes to each other?
Yes, that’s the part of the joy of it. It probably feels like being in a rehearsal and it’s a proper exchange rather than aligning any exercise or technical.
To have a real person to be working off of, who’s also an actor because out here, if you’re lucky enough to have a friend who’s available to do that. That maybe happens more to people fresh out of school who aren’t full-blown adults. Now that you are, I’m envious because that’s a great way to live. I think that’s nice. There are places here where you can go and put yourself on tape. I am no longer auditioning. I wish I was. I think about how awful that must be to go into a room and you’re paying for the time. The person who may be is helping you with the technical stuff is like, “What do you want? Do you want to do it again? Do you not?” As opposed to having someone like, “I don’t know.”
I prefer the more relaxed version of it. I do understand this going somewhere, going to a different building and preparing ourselves and having twenty minutes to do it. Some people when they tape, they do it and record the lines of the other character in their own voices to play it ourselves, which would drive me insane.Seek out other avenues and things that interest you, not just in your industry; that inspires other things to come. Click To Tweet
I’d be so confused.
Me too, because I’m awful at technology stuff.
I’m the worst. People always ask me to do normal things. I was like, “No.” “Send a resume.” “That’s too hard for me.” You have an agent in London and you have an agent here.
I have an agent and a manager here and an agent in London.
Is there a difference between auditions there and here? Are they all the same?
Practically, I go into a room in London because that’s where I am.
You audition more there.
I actually auditioned more over here, but it’s always on tape. I remember I was thinking because I got nervous about going into a meeting for something because I hadn’t sat in a room with someone auditioning with a real-life person. I like both sides of it, but it so happened that I’ve been used to in London.
When you are in a room with someone, I would think more pressure to get it right faster or no?
Maybe, although it means that you can have more of a discussion about what they’re looking for and there’s a bit more of creativity about it.
That’s true, as opposed to sending it in and you have to guess.
Quite often, I’ll be stabbing in the dark at what it is that they want. Sometimes they give me feedback and it comes back again, but I like taping. I’ve had a nice time doing it. It’s a bit more like being on set, but I learned lots from doing it.
You have a system with your friends and your boyfriend. Do you have the room that you do it in and the good light?
It does also turn into like, “Let’s stack books in that corner and balance that thing on that thing. Make sure the wall doesn’t fall down,” but that doesn’t happen yet.
Do you do it on your phones or do you have something more high tech like a camera?
I’ve always used a proper camera, but I don’t know why. Everyone else does it on the iPhone. I probably should get used to that instead of setting up.
Do you do it on a tripod?
Yes, I like that.
It’s great that you’ve learned how to do that though because when I was still auditioning, that was all fairly new.
When we were at drama school, our screen training at drama school was pretty minimal too. I feel like at that time there was a real snobbery in England about screen work when you had come from traditional and classical training. It was looked down upon a bit maybe. At least not given as much weight. It’s changed so much that time that I feel like it was something I’ve definitely learned so much. Even from taping and auditioning, it completely changed my perception.
It is good for anybody to know who was starting out. That is a skill in and of itself.
When I first signed with my manager over here I was terrible at taping.
That was a few years ago.
I’ve been working with her a bit longer. I wasn’t good at it and she notes me and I did it again.
She will give you a note?
Yes, which was so helpful. I enjoyed it because every meeting that came in, I tried to look at it as a learning experience.
That’s the best way to do it. Do you try to dress a little bit what the character is? Do you do hair, makeup, wardrobe in the vein of the person that you are auditioning for?
It depends. If it’s a period thing, for example, then yes. It makes you feel different on just doing makeup.
When you wear makeup that makes you feel like you’re in it.
Sometimes, there were the ones that you overthink and you’re never going to get. The one that you’re like, “I’ve got two minutes to do it.”
Be the drunk girl that’s making a fool of herself. Do that. When I come to visit, I want to see you and Jack in action, putting each other on tape at your artists’ colony. Do you sing also?
Yes, but not like the others.
You sing well.
I can sing but not like a super musically.
Did you sing in Salome or you didn’t?
I’ve seen a show where you sang, but I can’t remember because as I said, I’m one of your number one fangirls. Do you also want to do more shows with Punchdrunk?
I would love to work with them again.
I remember how much you love the experience.
It’s an amazing crossover because it’s immersive work and you devise it with them.
There’s not a script at the beginning.
They work around a building that they found. There will be one that we did was a set in Hollywood in the ‘40s as well. They had influences for it, but it wasn’t set. You devise it all together and they mainly started with dancers, actors, musicians and then all of the tech. The amazing technical side of it as well. Their sets are incredible. Since it’s immersive, it’s incredibly detailed and the audience is right next to you the whole time. It’s a bit filmic because it’s intimate the stuff you’re doing. The one that we did, the whole top floor was a huge desert. There’s a huge film studio, a caravan park and a forest. It’s the most creative process I’ve ever been.
It sounds like the most creative. I need to see that too. You devise it with the people who run it. Is every night different there or does it then start to follow a format?
With that show, it’s set into an hour-long show that loops three times. It gets set down to a second because there are many performance and audience following each different performance that you have to make sure you’re crossing people exactly the same time or crowds get mixed up with each other. It’s all that works at a school. It’s amazing. I love it.
You’ve done two shows with them.
I’ve done one.
What was it called?
It was called the Drowned Man.
Were you in Miami for a while?
I did a thing with them in Miami. That was One-Woman Show. They won loads of marketing awards to do with VR.
In the One-Woman Show, you were the One-Woman?
Yeah. They’ve done incarnations of it with other people, but that was the one that we did there. That is something I’ve realized as well. What’s always been important to me is to try and work in as many different ways and mediums in the enacting performance as possible so that you’re constantly trying to stretch yourself and not do the same.
I think that being able to remain nimble in what you want to do, but not to pigeonhole yourself into any one thing is the way to stay working, creative and happy. Always willing to try something else like, “I do this one thing and that’s what I do.” I think A) That could be sad if you’re not working and B) It will not grow anything.
It’s that willingness to be vulnerable and to keep learning and know that it’s alright to be bad at something at first. Let yourself fail. Failing is part of something. It’s part of a growing process. I wish I’d been less hard on myself when I was younger.
I was the worst. I went on three auditions and I didn’t book any. That’s it. As you get older, you are going to fail at whatever it is that you do many times, all the time.
There’s an opportunity in all that.
Also, own when you’re bad at something and did a terrible job, then you can also see the times when you’re like, “That was pretty good. I’ve gotten better.”
Definitely, when you can see yourself.
Just like when you were taping.
I feel like it’s about learning to take responsibility for your own journey rather than handing your perception of power over to an outside force and learning. It’s up to you where you put your energy and where you put your focus and not trying to seek outside validation so much.
Try putting your career, your happiness and it ends up a team of people to please and try to get me these jobs or this audition in the room with somebody. If that isn’t happening to always still be doing shows like you always have. You have your artist colony, you do immersive theater and you do it all. You’ve always been working. That’s why it’s triumphant that you get to be working a lot of big, cool projects.
It’s lovely. I feel much more present with what’s happening. On the Snowpiercer side, I had such a lovely time and I learned so much. It was such a fun character. I wanted it to do well. I love it as a show, but I love the experience of doing it. I felt like it’s enough to enjoy what you’re doing and be present in what you’re doing, and then you leave it to the wind. What happens to it, happens to it. That’s not in your control or anything you can attach to.
You have to enjoy what’s happening in the moment. It’s the key to life. That’s what we’re all supposed to be doing. Is Josie good or bad or both or we don’t know what you can’t say?
She’s fighting for the underdog.
We’re all going to love her.
I would say everyone has a bit of a dark side.
I can’t wait to watch it. I hope that you spend a lot more time here, I’m sure you will as you book more and more. Thank you for coming. Katie McGuinness is not on social media. Usually I tell people, “You can find her on Instagram,” but no, she’s not. She’s one of those private, cool people that don’t do that.
I find it a bit confusing.
It’s confusing and it’s a time sucker, but then it’s also fun.
It’s a tricky one.
You can watch her on Snowpiercer on TNT and Hollywood. She will be Vivien Leigh on Brian Murphy’s. It’s on Netflix, but we don’t know when, sometime in the near future. I want you to come back. I love you.
Thank you. Bye.
About Katie McGuinness
Katie McGuinness is an actor who has been steadily working for over a decade. She never stopped or got sidetracked, no matter what. She is dedicated to the craft of performing, but she’s also dedicated to living in a world of real ensemble playing. She creates her life as a troupe member with her friends and longtime actor boyfriend, forever being creative together, bouncing ideas off each other and helping one another venture into new artistic angles so they’re often making their own fresh opportunities and not waiting for outside sources to give them permission to try something. They’re planning to build an artist’s colony. Katie has done tiny pub productions, big theater productions, immersive theater with Punchdrunk Theater Company, film and television. She’s currently on fire. She finished filming Season 1 of “Snowpiercer” which will air on TNT in the spring of 2020. She’s here in LA now filming 1 episode of Ryan Murphy’s upcoming Netflix series “Hollywood” playing legend Vivien Leigh, no less. Her work and way of life are so inspiring.