Emily Swallow talks Fan Expo Chicago 2023, Acting

Emily Swallow

Emily Swallow spoke with Solzy at the Movies last week ahead of making an appearance at this weekend’s Fan Expo Chicago 2023.

In accordance with the current SAG-AFTRA strike rules, we did not discuss any struck work. While it certainly makes for a different interview with actors than I’m used to, it was a very productive conversation. In addition to the upcoming convention, we also spoke about her approach to acting, what she looks for in characters, and how ended up in acting after getting a BA in Middle Eastern Studies. Please note that there are areas in our conversation where Swallow’s Zoom connection broke up a bit. I’ve noted these parts below.

Swallow will be appearing August 11-13, where she will be signing autographs and posing for photos with fans. At 4:45 PM on Friday, the actress will be participating in An Out Of This World CONversation with Giancarlo Esposito, Katee Sackhoff, and Emily Swallow.

Fan Expo Chicago 2023 runs August 10-13 at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont.

It’s so nice to meet you.

Emily Swallow: It’s wonderful to meet you, too.

How are you doing?

Emily Swallow: I’m good right now because I’m up in the Pacific Northwest. I’ve been traveling nonstop for conventions lately, which I love, but which is also a bit exhausting. It’s nice to have a few days with family to just unwind.

Having been at another convention in Chicago this past weekend, I know the feeling.

Emily Swallow: Yes. I feel it’s often like the feeling you would get as a kid after a slumber party—this delirious exhaustion, because it’s so wonderful to be around so many positive people, but then oh my gosh, I get so loopy by the end of it.

Yeah. What do you enjoy about going on the convention circuit?

Emily Swallow: Oh, wow. First and foremost, I just I love that it gives us a chance to connect with our audience, with our fans, because I started acting in theatre and you have the audience right there in the room with you. It’s the shared experience and it’s so life-giving as an actor to have feedback from the audience. When you’re doing anything on camera, it’s a little bit odd because all of the people in the room with you are supposed to be concentrating on their job and not really reacting to you. You don’t really get that feedback about how the story is hitting and what resonates with people.

Getting to go to the conventions, it sort of feels like the completion of the storytelling loop for me. (Zoom broke up here) I’m just always so moved and inspired by the way that these stories resonate with fans and the community they bring. The cosplay that’s at conventions, the community that forms in the way that it motivates people to do incredible charity work and to create their own things. It’s really just motivating to me as an artist. I also I love the travel. I’ve always loved traveling and so a chance to get to go to places all over the world and explore the city when I have time and just meet people from a place that is not LA or New York, which is where I’ve lived all my adult life. Is is such a gift.

Will this be your first time in the Chicago area?

Emily Swallow: No, it will not. I have visited Chicago many times over the years because I have friends who live there or used to live there. I think my very first convention was in Chicago, back when I was on a certain show. Chicago was my first convention stop and I had no idea what to expect. It was such a big, raucous, joyful party so it’s going to be fun to be back there now that I have been a bit more seasoned in the conventions.

I’m curious to know how someone with a BA in Middle Eastern Studies winds up working as an actress.

Emily Swallow: Right? It’s not a natural progression. The short answer is that I was just interested in so many things as I was growing up. I always enjoyed performing but I just didn’t know anyone in my immediate circle who had done it as a career so it didn’t seem like a real thing. I think I’ve always been very solution-oriented and practical-minded and I felt going into the Foreign Service is a way to be of use in the world. I was interested in the travel aspect of it and all that, but all through college, I was splitting my time between my major and performing in the drama department and singing in the choir. I had a few wonderful teachers who posed the question to me, if I had considered doing it and nudged me in that direction. I also knew if I was going to do that, I wanted to feel as prepared as possible, even though nothing can prepare you perfectly. I auditioned for conservatory and went to get my MFA in acting at New York University—such a wonderful experience, because it was an incredible training program. It was also so useful to be in New York and getting to know the city while I was in school so that when I graduated and got thrown into the lion’s den of that particular business, I already had some familiarity with the city and with different people who worked in the industry, and didn’t feel quite as shocked by all of it.

What’s the biggest lesson that you’ve carried with you throughout your career?

Emily Swallow: That I heard very early on in grad school and I think was such an important lesson and just for my life, I think partly because I went into grad school with this very academic mindset in trying to—you find the solution to the problem, you get a good grade, and then you’ve done well. I had that approach to my acting. I kept looking to whoever was evaluating me for this confirmation, like I’d done the right thing, I’d chosen the right character choice, and this, that and the other. They said, you’re trying so hard to get this right and if you continue to do that, you’re going to be bored as an actor and boring. You have to be willing to fail. You have to be willing to try something huge and have it just fail tremendously because that’s the only way you can ever find that totally unusual, unlikely choice that winds up being brilliant. I needed to hear that as an actor and I needed to hear that just in life. I think that it’s so easy for us to get in a comfortable groove and feel it’s natural for us to want to be safe and for us to look to people around us for validation (Zoom broke up here)—we want confirmation and validation from people around us that we’re making choices (inaudible) to tell us we’ve chosen the right thing (inaudible).

What do you typically look for in a character when reading a screenplay?

Emily Swallow: I think on a personal level, I’m drawn to characters who feel like they are maybe asking questions that I myself have. I don’t have a preference about whether—it’s funny because I have played a number of very strong, willful women who have a lot of authority. I wouldn’t say I necessarily looked for that, I feel like they looked for me, because I find whenever I play a character, I learn something from it. I find that there’s a space in my own life where that can come through. I feel like I, inadvertently maybe, look for these characters who are strong, but who are also a bit maybe misunderstood.

One of the things that I could identify with most closely when I was playing this character, who was a deity, was more the interpersonal relationships that she had and feeling like she wasn’t heard, feeling like she didn’t have a voice, feeling like people discounted her. To be able to play someone who is incredibly flawed and who maybe didn’t make the best choices in terms of her interpersonal relationships, but who wanted to have a seat at the table, to be understood, and to present another point of view, I found that incredibly motivating for me. I found that a lot of people responded to that.

I think I am drawn to characters who have asked us questions that I have that challenge some of the assumptions we make about the world. I definitely love characters that have some sense of humor about themselves. I don’t necessarily need to have a character who’s incredibly strong and powerful. I also love finding what in people’s nature makes them not have that strength to stand up for themselves. I find that something that’s also really interesting to look at. I guess I feel like characters more find me than I necessarily look for anything in particular. It’s more about the chemistry of the people that I get to work with. Other than that, like, I just want to see where it goes.

Are there any other factors that you take into consideration when deciding a project such as location?

Emily Swallow: A little bit—more now that I’m married than I used to. When I was single, I had no problem with—I’ve never felt like I need a home base. I’ve always loved living in different places, staying in different places, and just seeing how things work out, even if I, at the last minute, have to pick up and go somewhere, I’ll have a place to stay and I’ll wind up—someone will let me borrow their car. I loved that lifestyle when I was younger. I do try to take my husband into consideration now and not be away too much but he also gets to come with me sometimes. I love the travel part of it, too.

Given the current strike rules, what should fans look forward to hearing Giancarlo, Katee, and you discuss during Fan Expo Chicago?

Emily Swallow: Well, I can’t speak for them. I think everyone is navigating this day by day. Everyone has their own boundaries in terms of what they’re comfortable saying. I have done a few conventions now since this started and we in no way want to alienate the fans. We don’t want this to be unfair for them. We want to increase understanding about what’s going on as much as possible so we’re open to any and all questions about how we feel about the strike and how it impacts society and not just our little group of actor. I do think that some of the questions that we’re asking around AI are things that are impacting us as a society and they provoke interesting discussion. But in terms of talking about the show that the three of us have been on together, I have been trying to artfully answer questions without deviating from the rules that we have from our union. It’s also been a really refreshing thing, I think, for fans and for us actors to have questions other than the ones we normally get asked at conventions. It’s a chance for fans to ask things they might not otherwise and find creative ways to ask things, I guess, if they really want to know something about a show.

It’s been so nice getting to talk with you this afternoon. It was definitely nice to see your face on the screen for a while.

Emily Swallow: I’m glad we at least got to say hi that way face to face before we had to go to this.

Seeing as how the last few years, I haven’t seen your face on a screen.

Emily Swallow: This is true (Laughs).

Alright. Thank you so much and safe travels to Chicago next week.

Emily Swallow: Thank you.

Fan Expo Chicago 2023 runs August 10-13 at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont.

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.