Genuine Beauty – Elizabeth Mitchell on Rachel Matheson
Once upon a time, if you Googled the words “geek goddess,” Elizabeth Mitchell was the first subject to pop up, thanks to a 2009 article in EW. The actress laughs about the phone call she received from her father telling her she wasn’t supposed to “let her freak flag fly,” but that’s exactly what’s so great about her: An Emmy nomination for Lost, a lead role on the short-lived V and a love of both comic books and Joss Whedon make her pretty freaking awesome.
Mitchell’s character, Rachel Matheson, is also the resident nerd on Revolution. Tasked by her captor, Monroe, to build a device to turn the power back on, Mitchell’s dialogue is filled with scientific language that she wanted to make sure she at least partly understood — starting with physics. “They guided me in the general direction,” she says. “There were three different things, two areas of physics and one area of nanotechnology, that I focused on just to get the broad strokes of how someone’s mind could work like this.”
Mitchell also had to do her own background work on her character so she could understand what drove Rachel to kill her best friend, abandon her children and build a device that offered the ultimate power-granting ability to the man who held her captive.
And, of course, not all the answers she sought came from the Revolution writers. “You can ask specific things and they give you hints,” she says. “A lot of it, you think, ‘If this happened to me, I would make this decision… Did this happen?’ And they will say yes or no. It’s wonderful, because you can have it there or not; it changes you as a person. She does seem to be more of a brainiac than anything else. I think that her violence has only to do with saving her children. It doesn’t seem to me that she resorts to violence to save herself. That happens fast. Why she slapped Miles… We need to know these things. I find that after four years of torture and being around people whose morality is scarce, it would be very hard to hold onto your essential self.”
What’s evident, however, is that despite the questionable nature of some of the characters, the cast of Revolution all genuinely like each other. “What was fun about the last three we shot was being able to be out with everybody. [There was a] tremendous amount more work, but it was absolutely gratifying. And I was so happy to know that everybody was as kind as they appeared to be. Whenever you do a show that’s this big and shoots for this long, you just become a family. And like any other family, there are all kinds of different people.”
Listening to her talk about comic books and Whedon, my two favorite topics, it’s hard not to love Mitchell — especially with our mutual love for the Mutants of Marvel. “I got into the ‘X-Men’ books. I went back and bought a lot of the old ones. I fell in love with Jean Grey. She’s the one that I understood, the character that I saw myself in, but they’re all cool. They’re great looking. They read well. I come from a very artistic family. When things are well drawn and well inked, that’s what’s going to draw me in. You feel like you’re meeting up with old friends, which I love. They’re drawn together as outcasts and I love that — it makes you feel less alone. I have a son and I read them to him,” she says.
Our discussion about the “Astonishing X-Men” soon leads to talks about Whedon, a director whom she hasn’t yet had a chance to work with. “In my family, with my sisters and I, Joss Whedon is our comfort zone. We know that if someone calls and says, ‘I’m re-watching Buffy,’ it’s, ‘OK, what episode are you on, what do we need to talk about?’ Joss is one of my idols. He’s such a unique and amazing voice but, like I said, he’s our mental health in our family.” — N.G.
1. Favorite post-apocalyptic movie?
“Mad Max for sentimental reasons. I used to watch it with my grandmother. It was her favorite.”
2. What technology could you not do without?
“GPS. I would be so lost.”
3. Where would you hole up if something happened?
“On an island in Washington, somewhere you could live off the land.”
4. The one person you would take with you?
“Joss Whedon and my son, of course.”
5. What are you a geek about?
“Comic books, Joss Whedon and sci-fi shows and movies.”
Photography by Charles Bush.