Interview with Actress Allison Mack

Allison Mack Impresses in "Red Velvet"

Allison Mack at the Old Globe

Photos by Jim Cox

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What do you do after the highly-successful, 10 season television series you grew up on ends? For actress Allison Mack, the answer is turn inward and set your sights on the stage. As fan-favorite Chloe Sullivan on the WB/CW series Smallville, Allison Mack appeared in over 200 episodes––from the pilot to the finale––as an original character not from the DC comic book universe. Through her universal popularity with fans, however, Chloe Sullivan was eventually added into the DC canon.

Thanks to Smallville, Allison Mack has been in the public eye since she was 18, so it's no wonder that after the series' conclusion in 2011, Mack's attention turned towards the more intimate stage. Currently, she is slated to appear in Red Velvet, the latest production by the acclaimed Old Globe Theatre. The show centers on a production of Othello in the early 1800s in London. In Red Velvet, Edmund Kean, the greatest actor of his generation, can’t go on as Othello, leaving his company in disarray. A young American actor named Ira Aldridge arrives to step into the role—but no black man has ever played Othello on the English stage.

In the production, Allison Mack plays Ellen Tree, a supporter of the young Aldridge. Two weeks away from opening night (March 30th), Red Velvet is scheduled to run until April 30th, with previews for the production beginning on March 25th. FINE Magazine spoke with Allison Mack about moving on from Smallville, her relationship with the Globe, and Red Velvet's impact on audiences.

You’re best known for your role as Chloe Sullivan on Smallville. What was it like to have so much success at a young age?

It was intense. It was overwhelming and intimidating. While I was doing Smallville, I didn't really notice [the success] so much because it was just the life that I was living. We didn't experience that much of a difference in Vancouver [where Smallville was filmed] because we were in the middle of work all the time, but the real moments of distinction and the ways it impacted me came afterwards, when I realized that I kind of grew up on a TV show and didn't really know where to go afterwards. I was 28 and I felt not quite sure where I was going or who I was. I think that was probably the most bumpy transition.

How did you start navigating that change?

I have a wonderful teacher and mentor named Keith Rainiere, who really gave me some incredible guidance. I think everyone needs a mentor. I don't think any of us really know the answers without a little bit of wisdom. If you aren't willing to be humble enough to seek wisdom from other people, I think you're missing a lot of really incredible opportunities to build a certain amount of depth and value in your life that you wouldn't have if you didn't have somebody to help guide you.

I chose to have this mentor in my life, and I was talking to him about my struggle, confusion, and not knowing what to do. He said, "Why don't you take some time and think about? Give yourself some space to figure out who you are now." So that's what I did. He recommended that I study classical theatre, so I did a program that was a summer-intensive Shakespeare program that Barry Edelstein actually headed at the time. It was awesome and really whet my appetite for theatre. It helped my recognize that I really wanted to be a serious actor who wanted to do more than TV.

Allison Mack

What’s the difference between acting for TV and acting on stage?

They are very distinct because you don't have time in TV to do anything with your castmates or your director outside of just showing up, block it, and go. The type of preparation that's necessary for television is very different from the type of preparation that's necessary for theatre. You don't have the preparation to build the same amount of depth on the job with the work you do in filming for TV because you're doing it so quickly. 

TV is also smaller, so your opportunity to express yourself to your fullest is limited because you're playing to a very small frame, especially on shows like Smallville that used a lot of extreme close-ups. I think those are probably the two biggest distinction: the preparation process and the size of the performance.

Do you have a preference?

Right now, I much prefer theatre. I love the communal aspects of it. I love the artistic aspect of it. I love the aliveness and the fact that there's real people listening that I can see and feel. I love the stories that are told in plays––the fact that you tell a story from beginning to end and you feel that congruency. You have to know what you're doing to produce a good play––there's no editor or opportunity to do it again, and no massaging will make you look good if you don't know what you're doing––and I love that.