Second Act

Jacksonville native Emily Swallow may not be a household name yet, but she has made a successful acting career with a regular role as Dr. Michelle Robidaux in the TNT drama “Monday Mornings” and recurring roles on “Southland” in 2009 and “Ringer” in 2011. She’s also made appearances on “NCIS,” “Medium” and “The Good Wife.” Swallow, who performed at Theater Jacksonville during her childhood, will return to the theater for a staged reading of “Steel Magnolias,” the play made famous by the 1989 film starring Julia Roberts, Sally Field, Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine, Daryl Hannah and Olympia Dukakis. The two performances, which also star Donna McKechnie, Pamela Myers, Sally Mayes, Sarah Boone and Amy Canning, are part of an annual fundraiser.

Folio Weekly: How does it feel to be returning to Jacksonville to perform?

Emily Swallow: It’s very special to be back in theater in Jacksonville because I did plays there when I was in high school.

F.W.: Can you tell us a little about “Steel Magnolias”?

E.S.: It’s one of those quintessential southern stories. It’s about these women covering a few generations in this town, and the beauty salon is kind of their gathering post. The whole play takes place in the beauty salon. You follow the story of this wedding that’s happening with my character, Shelby, and then the pregnancy, and you kind of get it from the point of view from all these different generations of women. Even though they don’t always get along all the time, they are incredibly good friends, and it’s just a really funny and very moving play. 

F.W.: How do you connect to your character of Shelby?

E.S.: Well, I think that I definitely connect with how much she looks up to the women in her life — her mother and her mother’s friends. I have women in my life that are so important to me, and I am so grateful that I can go to them for advice, including my mom. My mom is just incredible. She’s stubborn, Shelby is. I mean she’s a really generous hearted person, but she has things that she wants for her life, and she’s determined to get them. She’s diabetic, so it’s really not advisable for her to get pregnant, but she really wants to have a baby, and so she really fights for the things that she wants. I can definitely connect with that, not specifically the baby thing [laughs], but really believing in certain things and wanting them for myself and going after them. 

F.W.: How did you get involved in this production of “Steel Magnoilas”?

E.S.: I had a friendship with Sarah [Boone, Theatre Jacksonville executive director] since I was in high school, because she took over the theater. I kept in touch with Sarah over the years, and my dad works with the theater a lot. He helps them with technical needs, and he always helps them with their ticketing, video taping performances and things like that. So when Sarah started planning to do this she approached me and said, “if you’re free, we’d love to have you involved,” and fortunately it has worked out. 

F.W.: How long have you been acting?

E.S.: I graduated NYU with an MFA in Acting in 2004, so for about nine years.

F.W.: What prompted you to be interested in theater? Did you always know this was what you were going to do?

E.S.: I’ve always been involved, but I really didn’t consider it for a career until I was almost done with college because, I don’t know. The way my family is, my parents both love the arts, they love theater, so I was exposed to the arts early on. I always performed in the church choir, my mom also sings, and so she put me in the children’s choir. Then we got to sing in the adult choir together. My parents have always shared the joy of the arts with me and encouraged me. I’d make home movies with my friends and stuff, and I did plays 
in high school and in college, but I just, I don’t know, I thought I would do something more practical. But I had a really fantastic acting teacher in college who encouraged me to think about pursuing it, and he helped me work on auditions for grad school, because I didn’t major in it in undergrad. I was a Middle Eastern studies/foreign affairs major. But then I auditioned for graduate training programs, got into NYU, and it felt like that was the door I should walk through, and so I did.