Mackenzie Lansing is an out and proud performer who is currently on the rise. She's part of the cast a brand-new HBO televisions series called Mare of Easttown.
Lansing grew up between Villebon-sur-Yvette, a small town outside of Paris; and Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She began acting in local theater before moving to New York, where she attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
This talented actress began guest-starring in television shows such as Red Oaks, on Amazon; and Tell Me a Story, on CBS. The HBO series Mare of Easttown appears to be her big break, though, with Lansing playing the feisty character Brianna. This is her second show on HBO after The Deuce, in which she acted alongside Maggie Gyllenhaal.
Mare of Easttown stars Kate Winslet and Evan Peters as residents of Pennsylvania dealing with a brutal murder.
Windy City Times: Where are you calling from, Mackenzie?
Mackenzie Lansing: I'm in Queens, New York. I have an apartment here.
WCT: You come from a French background?
ML: Yes. I am naturalized French, so I lived the bulk of my childhood in France. I am also American now and have lived in the States for 11 years. I do identify as French first, though.
WCT: What subjects did you study growing up?
ML: I went to a French high school, where I had to specialize in something, so I specialized in literature. I studied philosophy and art history. I then got into the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, so I moved to New York to go there. I never left!
WCT: It seems like it has paid off.
ML: Yes. I hustle and I am a firm believer in earning your stripes in the industry, so to speak. It is finally all coming together.
WCT: Did you ever have to come out publicly in your career?
ML: Yes. Part of the reason I got a slow start was because when I moved here, I worked with somebody, who will remain nameless, who discouraged me from coming out. That person told me to stay in the closet, had me see a voice coach to make my voice three octaves higher and made me wear pink. I went out for roles like "girl in bikini number 3" and other things that weren't who I was.
I met the lovely agents I am with now at Clear Talent Group, who told me to be authentic and explained that being who I am would reflect in my acting. They were a hundred percent right.
When I came out I started booking roles. It was a big turning point in my career, after hustling for so long and lying to myself. I was 26 years old when I came out later in life.
WCT: I understand that they were trying to mold your career, but this sounds personal.
ML: It was! Luckily, it is changing, but at the time I came on the scene, I got the tail end of that old school theory around acting that you have to erase everything about where you come from and who you are.
The problem is that you can forget what is unique about you. That uniqueness is going to make you good and be able to bring life to a role.
WCT: Thank you for sharing your story about this. How was working with Maggie Gyllenhaal in The Deuce?
ML: It was amazing! She was so laser-focused. It was intimidating to be around, but in a good way. When she is on the set, she is such a charming and nice person.
She has an intense presence and I am a huge fan of hers. We didn't get an introduction, we were thrown into the scene together. I spent about three seconds in the dressing room and then I had Maggie crying in my face. It was incredible!
WCT: That sounds intense.
ML: It was, She was ready to go when I came on. She was very complimentary of me, which gave me a huge boost to feeling I was on the right track with everything I was doing.
WCT: How is Kate Winslet compared to that?
ML: There's a British show called Extras with Ricky Gervais. She was on that playing herself. She is like that and takes her job very seriously. Kate is hilarious and always cracking jokes. She has a lot of wisdom when it comes to the industry. She really cares about what she does and about everyone on set.
WCT: Did you see the movie Ammonite, [in which] Kate played a lesbian?
ML: I did not see it yet, but she was telling me about it. She is very proud of the work she did on it. She said she enjoyed working with Saoirse Ronan.
I'm a bad lesbian for not seeing it yet! [laughs]
WCT: We will let it slide since you've been busy landing this role on Mare of Easttown. How did that happen?
ML: I had talked to my agents about being more authentic and going for grittier roles. This is closer to me in real life, but I am not mean like my character. I do gravitate towards roles like that, though. I want to play everything, but right now that is what I am doing a lot of, while I can do it early in my career.
Sometimes I am out reading for roles and I think, "This is me." That may sound bad when you know this story and character on Mare of Easttown. She is very dark.
When I was a teenager, I was very confrontational. I was lost and in the punk scene in France. This character is what might have happened to me if I hadn't found acting and made me leave my small town. I had been in a lot of fights when I was a teenager and got in trouble. I may have been one of the few people who read for this and had been in an actual fist fight. I knew what it was like to be in that situation. I wasn't a bully. I was defending myself from other people trying to bully me. I knew it was the role for me. I went through three rounds of auditions and eventually booked it.
WCT: Your character Brianna may have been bullied herself and just paying it forward.
ML: Yes. I don't think you can play anyone as a horrible person. Even if your character has a questionable point of views, you have to be able to stand behind them.
She is trying to literally fight her way out of the town!
WCT: Tell our readers what Mare of Easttown has for the LGBTQ audience.
ML: Mare's daughter, Siobhan, has a girlfriend, so she's queer. That will be developed more and that is all I can say.
There is another storyline, but it hasn't been touched on yet. It will reveal itself eventually…
WCT: What is The Repulsive Parts project that I saw on your social media?
ML: That is a play I wrote shortly after I first came out. It is about a struggling stand-up comedian who is queer and is hiding those parts of us that we are all ashamed of. It follows three women with a lot of magical realism.
WCT: If you were going to write a new queer story, what would you want to convey?
ML: I am actually writing a pilot right now. I am writing a storyline that is very similar to what my life was like, such as coming out later in life.
It is partially because my parents were very religious, although they have taken a very different route in life now. We were originally missionaries.
Being educated that way can sometimes make you resent yourself and it becomes very hard to come out. It helped to have therapy and surround myself with a chosen family. That is the story that I am currently writing and really want to tell.
WCT: Being out seems to have really transformed your career.
ML: Yes. When it happened I thought I would never work again. It was a slow start when I reintroduced myself as the person I am today. It eventually paid off in my career and my personal life!
Mare of Easttown airs every Sunday at 9 p.m. CT on HBO.