Exclusive Interview with Brittany Curran of The Magicians

Brittany Curran of Syfy’s The Magicians has had a long and diverse acting career – and she’s only 28! Growing up in Massachusetts, Brittany studied ballet, jazz, and tap dancing as well as violin. She began memorizing dialogue and scenes from her favorite movies before she entered the third grade. A few years later, she saw an ad for acting classes, which she promptly signed up for, that led to her “discovery.” Brittany moved to Hollywood at age 11 and landed roles on MADtv and Power Rangers Wild Force. She appeared in a Chevrolet commercial with one of her childhood heroes, Michelle Kwan, and has done more than 20 other commercials since.

During a family vacation to Walt Disney World in Florida, she handed Cinderella a letter asking to be a lead or even an extra in a Disney movie, and in 2005, her dream came true when she landed the lead role in Disney’s Go Figure.

Brittany has also appeared in the movies 13 Going on 30, Akeelah and The Bee, and Dear White People, and has appeared in multiple TV series including The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, The Young and The Restless, Men of a Certain Age and Chicago Fire.

Brittany was gracious enough to take time out of her busy day to talk with us at TNWU about The Magicians…

Congratulations on Season Five!

We got picked up before we aired episode one; that was awesome.

It is for you guys and for the fans because we live in constant fear of cancellation.

Oh, I know. I kind of am that way with all of my shows that I watch, like they better not cancel this.

Will we be seeing more of Fen during the rest of the season?

Yes, we definitely will be. I know I wasn’t in episode two. There’s a few of us series regulars that were in 10 of the 13 episodes, and then Fen’s episodes just happened to all fall at the beginning of the season. So I know right now it looks like I’m not really in it, but I promise it’s all up from here for Fen – maybe not emotionally, but great time-wise.

Has Fen lost some of her innocence over the course of this season and last? From the girl who was so thrilled about entering our world, seeing Times Square and everything that’s happened since?

She’s definitely, definitely, definitely lost a lot of her innocence. She’s almost a different person now from when we met her at the end of season one. And I don’t even think she needed to go to Earth to lose her innocence. I think once she escaped the bubble of her own upbringing and where she was being raised and she was told she was going to marry a King, I think there was a part of her that didn’t even believe that that would happen. So I think when it did happen, she thought it was just going to be perfect and life is going to be perfect from here on out. She was marrying a king. So when that did happen, and it was less than ideal to put it lightly, I think that’s what started her descent.

I think Earth actually brought a little of her innocence back just because there is so much magic about Earth that that child-like joy that she had was maybe brought back because of the emojis and the phones and all this technology that she’s never seen. I think it’s more her journey with Eliot and Margo and the fairies and everything that happened to her in Fillory that actually destroyed her innocence, which is good. She needed it. She needed a little knock in the head; she was too wide-eyed and bushy-tailed.

What did she do during the six months that Margo and Eliot were gone? How did she run Fillory?

Yeah, I think that was a time for friends and where she’s still a little bit unsure of herself. I’m like, anyone would be [if they were] propelled into a position like that. But Fillory has always been her number one love, so she did everything she could to be a good ruler and also work on herself. I honestly think for the first time she sees life, especially after getting to know Margo and seeing Margo be such a strong woman and then the fairy queen also be such a strong woman. When the fairy queen tells her, before the fairy queen is executed, that Fen needs to stop apologizing so much and actually be a ruler, I think that actually makes sense. So during the time in Fillory when Eliot and Margo were gone, not only was she trying to find a way to rule Fillory, but she was trying to find a way to find her own personal power as a woman and as a ruler.

Or it could be because there was more opium in the air when they were gone, and she was pretty high and didn’t know what the heck was going on. But Fen doesn’t seem like much of a dabbler in drugs. It was probably a bit of a shock or the opiate wore off more quickly than everybody else or she got accustomed to it quickly just because she was so focused. She was probably pretty confused because she doesn’t know where her friends or husband are, and no one’s responding.

Do you think Fen really loved Eliot?

I think she thought she did in the beginning. I think she had this idea of the perfect family unit, and she was convinced that that was going to be her life. And I think because she is an incredibly empathetic, loyal person that she did love Eliot for a time. But I think the more she got to know Eliot, and his treatment of her, I think her loving feelings probably wore off, and it turned just to loyalty. But she obviously cared about him still because she mourned him so much when everyone was telling her that he was dead in this past episode. I definitely don’t think it was a normal “in love with” situation. I think she just wanted to be in love. If that makes sense?

Yeah, absolutely. That’s a great perspective.

Yeah. I think she wanted to be in love really, really badly that she was able to convince herself for a while that she was.

But she’s certainly grieving! It must’ve been really fun to play.

It was! It’s so funny because in the episode I’m really crying, but it’s also funny. I’d be on set with Meera Menon, who directed it, and Mike Moore, who wrote it. [In] the beginning of the episode, there are these funny scenes, and a lot of times when you’re doing a comedy and you’re supposed to cry, you don’t actually have to cry [because you can] get teardrops. But I don’t like teardrops unless it’s something big. I feel like I’m cheating as an actor. So I was like, “No, no, no. I have to really, really cry.”

I still did my same process for this episode that I would in a really serious episode. But I also realized that it was humorous. So I’m playing into the humor a little bit, and then at the end of each take, I’m crying. They’re cracking up, which you’re like, “Okay, I’m doing my job right.” It was just like the weirdest episode, but so much fun. It was one of my favorite ones actually.

Did you have a point where you would stop crying and kind of start laughing, and then have to get back in that zone?

That’s a good question because there was one moment that was a struggle for me. I think the last crying scene we filmed was “the last lay.” So when you spend an episode, or however much time, consistently crying, it’s incredibly cathartic. But then after you do the final take, it’s kind of a relief that you get to stop crying and being sad and come back to life. I bring myself out of it emotionally because otherwise, you’ll kind of stay in your own little world.

And so with what I thought was the last take, I just kind of brought myself out of it. Then they’re like,
“Oh wait, I think it was a technical thing, and we’re going to do one more take.” Thank God I’ve been doing this for 28 years cause I’m able to usually get myself into it again. So I just went in the corner and I was talking to myself. I was just working myself up because at that point there was no time to go into my black hole to cry and it was just pure willpower that is going to get me back into this.

I mean it sounds so dramatic. It was like 30 seconds and I was like, “Oh God, I hope I can do this again”.

I don’t know if this would be too personal or not, but what is it you think about to make yourself cry?

I kind of do a few different things. I’ll take a real moment sometimes, but I’m actually trying to work more towards just thinking about what the character’s going through. One of my goals as an actor is to be able to do this generally. I mean obviously, I need to supplement it with stuff that resonates with me personally, whether it’s real or not. But I think this was actually the first episode I’ve ever done, including movies, where I just thought about what the character was going through and then I just made that as real as possible for myself.

I’ve been living with this character for three years, and so it’s easier for me to empathize with her just because she’s feeling more and more real as time goes on. So sometimes I just immerse myself in the circumstances of the character alone and it’s great. And that’s what I did this entire episode and I’m really proud of myself, as an actor anyway, cause I actually did it for the whole episode.

But usually other times I’ll do anything. I mean I’ll think of something real and then I’ll just make it horrible. I mean different acting schools have different beliefs around that, but I’ll just take a scenario and then I’ll just twist it into something that’s kind of equal to the character’s storyline I guess.

Wow. That’s pretty impressive.

I used to think about real stuff when I was younger, but that can also be harmful, bringing up real stuff over and over again. But it can also not work cause there’s like a point in life where all of a sudden stuff that bothered you once doesn’t bother you anymore. So there’s a lot of arguments for not using, but that’s the goal.

That makes sense. You’re right. If you dwell on the past too much, you could kind of get lost in it.

Totally. Also, there’s some certain things that would have made me cry six years ago, but I don’t really care anymore, you know? So it’s also the opposite where it doesn’t have that effect on you that it used to. Whereas weird shit I make up in my head, as an actor, I always have power over the stories I make up and so I just make it work for whatever I need.

Have you ever considered writing?

Yeah, I do write actually. Not professionally yet but I do. I actually have a degree in literature. I was at UCLA.

Well, now I’m tempted to ask, what are your favorite books?

Oh yeah. I love Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis. I love Walden. I really love the east coast transcendentalists like Henry David Thoreau and Emerson and Alcott and all those people. I also really loved Jack Kerouac; his book, Maggie Cassidy is one of my favorites. I’ve read a lot of American authors because that’s what my degree was in, but I also really, really love English periods like the Tudor period, English literature and Elizabethan times and all that stuff.

I was just in London a couple of weeks ago visiting castles. I was working on a documentary, and on my days off, I would just go to castles and read books about Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. All that fun stuff to me. I stayed in the stables of what used to be Henry VIII’s hunting lodge 30 minutes outside of Hampton Court Palace. It’s redone obviously now, but it still is the original building and it’s just made into apartments and stuff.

Kind of taking the subject back to books, have you read The Magicians trilogy?

I have, yeah. I actually haven’t read the last one. I was trying to read them as I was going along in the show and then it starts going backwards and forwards in time. So I’m going to start reading the third one during this break. I really love the first year, for the record. I would read all three of them if that was research obviously, but Fen is only in like 20 pages and she’s an entirely different character. But I read the books because obviously it’s important to know what’s going on, and I loved them. I really fell in love with the books. I whipped through the first one, especially, really quickly.

I have a couple of fan questions and this is a really good one. If you were to sort The Magicians characters into Hogwarts houses, which houses do you think they’d be in?

Oh God, I do this all the time! I’ll just start with Fen. I know her. I would be Hufflepuff, maybe on the cusp of Gryffindor. Oh God, I feel wrong doing this. I feel like the actors should do their own, but this is just my perspective. Quentin, he would probably be Gryffindor. Alice would be Ravenclaw. Julia would be Gryffindor. Now I’m wondering: am I thinking about the actors or the characters? I wonder if I know what the actors’ houses are… if we talked about it. I’m sure we have. Kady would be Slytherin. I’m putting way too much into this. Who else is there? Josh would be probably Gryffindor.

And Margo and Eliot?

God, that’s a hard one. I was just thinking about Eliot, and he really doesn’t fit in any of them. He’d probably be somewhere between Gryffindor and Slytherin I’m guessing. Margo, I’d put in them both. They’d have to choose. It’s like The Sorting Hat; once someone hears Slytherin but he doesn’t want to be there, he gets into Gryffindor because it matters where you want to be.

Another fan wanted me to ask: where do you get your shoes?

I know they’re cool, right? They make some of them; they just buy the basic shoe and then, in the costume department, they use fabrics that they match to my costume. They do actually use one designer in general. I think it’s a Canadian brand.

Do you film in Canada or New York?

We film in Canada. In Vancouver. Even though the show kind of takes place in New York, we just use downtown Vancouver as the exteriors. I think they might’ve done some shooting in New York. The pilot was shot in New Orleans, which I wasn’t in, but that’s where they shot for the pilot.

They do a great job of making us believe it’s New York.

They do a good job with that, right? Everything [shoots in Vancouver] like The Flash and Arrow and Supernatural.

Have you actually run into other casts while shooting?

I have run into other actors there and writers and producers I know from other shows. I saw Jason Momoa right before I left, and I was pretty excited about that. I didn’t say hi because I was too scared but excited about seeing him. This bar, it’s a lounge bar at the hotel that all the actors and producers and everyone stays in when they’re there for short term. I was like, “God, there’s a very good looking man that just sat down across the lounge. He looks like Jason Momoa”. And I was like, “Oh my God, it is Jason Momoa”. I know a bunch of people that have worked with them and they just said he’s like the nicest guy. So that makes me happy.

I see other people all the time. Jim saw Grant Gustin walking down the street before we left. We watch The Flash too. So just randomly [it’s like], “Oh, there’s The Flash walking down the street in Vancouver”.

Basically, all the shows I like are filmed in Vancouver it seems.

I know, same here. We watch The Flash for instance. You know, CC Jitters is the coffee shop that they go to. We found a real coffee shop that it’s supposed to be at; they don’t actually film inside, but there’s actually an English style pub and bar called Elephant and Castle, or the least the food is English style. James and I are always like, “Do you want to go to CC Jitters tonight?” And then we’ll just go to Elephant and Castle. But we will never call it that. We always call it CC Jitters. They’re actually filming on the stage somewhere in reality, but the exterior is there.

You started acting very young. Professionally, has your perspective of being an actor changed throughout the years?

Yeah, for sure. I started acting when I was 11. It’s funny, I actually love it even more than when I started. Before I started acting, when I was really little, I remember having an image of a sound stage in my head.  I had an idea that it was fake and inside of a building, but to me, I was like, “Okay, well if they’re shooting a movie that’s an hour and a half, they need time to move to the different sets. So it’ll probably take two hours to film.” So I had an idea of it takes a little extra time, but you know, I thought that extra time was like a half an hour in addition to the runtime itself. So that was different. I was pretty little when I thought that though. I think maybe it’s not as glamorous as I thought it was the very beginning. I mean it is, sometimes it is but a lot of times it’s really not, which is fine.

Another thing is probably I saw an actor and they were at a certain point in their career and I was like, “Wow, okay. They don’t need to try anymore”. And that’s not true at all. I mean, movie stars are still auditioning for stuff sometimes. So I think it was maybe harder than I thought it was, but I never thought it was easy. I thought it was hard and then it was just even harder than I thought it was. But I certainly love it even more than when I started, which is probably a good sign.

What are some of your upcoming projects?

I went back to Chicago Fire this past season, [and] I did another episode and maybe more of those to come. We’ll see. I’m doing actually my first animated [project], and I’m recording that at the end of the month; I can’t really say what it is yet, but it’s an animated feature. I’m doing a voice in it. I’m really excited about that because I’ve been wanting to get into animation for a while now.

I’m also producing, what I’ve been doing most of the time, a documentary about scotch whiskey. That’s what I was actually doing in Scotland and England a couple of weeks ago. We were just getting some pickup shots for the film. It’s called The Water of Life. It’s about Scotch and we’re focusing on this one master distiller named Jim McEwin, which any whiskey nerd will know who he is. I mean, there’s a lot more than that, but our directors are actually in Australia right now. I’m doing the rest of the film in the last few days of shooting, and then we’ll be picture-wrapped. We’ll be editing it. So I’ve been working on learning a lot about whiskey; way more than I ever thought I would. And drinking a lot of whiskey.

I was going to ask, did you get to sample any of it?

Oh yeah. It was crazy because when we were in Scotland, some of these interviews that we’d be conducting would be at 10 in the morning, and we would be with these master distillers. These are people that ran the company. We were going to be interviewing them in their tasting rooms and they’d be like, “Do you want to try it? This really, really rare old whiskey.” And we’d be like, “Well yeah”, even though it’s 10 in the morning and we’re working. So we’d have little sips here and there. I was like, “Oh man, I’m not passing up on an opportunity to like try this drink that most people never get to try.” I’m not getting hammered at 10 in the morning while I’m working, of course, but yeah, we got to try a lot of really amazing stuff and share a drink with the people that made it. It was a really incredible experience.

Is this going to be released to theaters or picked up online?

We’re still in the middle of negotiating that. So I can’t really say. I’m not a hundred percent sure. We’re literally in the middle of figuring it out. I wish I had more info on that side of things.

We’re called Talk Nerdy With Us. What are all of your nerd fandoms? What are you nerdy about?

Alright. So I’ve gotten so deep into Harry Potter lately. I live 10 minutes away from Harry Potter World in Universal Studios Hollywood. I have a year pass, so I just go all the time. I usually go with James or with my brother. But sometimes I just go by myself, hang out, and have a butterbeer with my little Gryffindor sweater on. Just walk around and pretend I’m a wizard. I actually had never read the books, pathetically. I’ve seen the movies a million times, but I was like, “What the hell am I doing? I haven’t read the books.” So I finally started reading the first book. I brought it with me to London. I read it in Edinburgh. I went to the cafe, one of the cafes, no, two of the cafes that J.K. wrote the first three books in. I just got a coffee or a tea and then read Harry Potter. {Thought] about how she wrote part of it there. I went on this like little J.K. Rowling pilgrimage.

I really love Lord of the Rings. Recently we were supposed to go to New Zealand – actually last year, but then the shooting schedule for The Magicians kind of got in the way. What else do I love? I love The Flash and Arrow and Supergirl. I would go to those locations. Oh, I just started watching Supernatural too this year. I love it. We watched a couple episodes last night, and I’m at the beginning of season three right now.

I’d say you have a lot of ground to cover there.

Oh, I know. I’m so excited. It feels like it will never run out. I feel like I have 25 years left of the seasons to go. I often nerd out about random stuff like Tudor history and Anne Boleyn and all of that stuff. And writers; I visited the graves of my favorite writers back on the east coast and read a part from their book in front of their grave. I don’t know, I’m such a nerd in so many random different ways.

We really are kindred spirits because I did a pilgrimage in England and went to Haworth, the Brontes’ home, and I picked heather out of the fields and put it on their graves, so you’re not alone.

Okay. You got it. I totally get it. Totally get it. Nerdiness. That’s awesome. I love it. I don’t know if we’re the only two like that, but to me that’s like really awesome.

One more question. The musical episode. Do we get to see Fen singing this time?

Fen does sing this time. Thank God. I missed the musical episode last season. It was so fun. But yeah Fen is definitely in the musical episode. I’ve actually seen it and it came out really awesome. I know I’m biased, but I think it came out awesome.

You can follow Brittany on Twitter and Instagram. Be sure to watch The Magicians on Wednesdays at 9 pm EC on Syfy.

This interview has been edited for clarity.
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