Corruption, greed and infidelity are just a few of the descriptors that can sum up Starz's hit series, Boss, a drama about (fictional) Chicago mayor Tom Kane (played by Kelsey Grammer) who is secretly battling with a debilitating disease that's threatening to ruin his entire empire, one which he's sacrificed his family to uphold.
Among that family is Tom's daughter Emma Kane, played by with palpable vulnerability by newcomer Hannah Ware. As the series' most multi-layered character, Ware must not only put herself in the mindset of an estranged politician's daughter, she must also tap into what it's like to be a priest, a free clinic nurse, a relapsing drug addict, and as the end of season one revealed, a convicted criminal (thanks to her father selling her out for political gain, of course).
In anticipation for tonight's second season premiere (the first season is already in stores on Blu-ray and DVD for those who need to catch up), Complex had the chance to speak to the British actress about how she relates to her character, what it's like growing up with an investigative reporter for a father, and how she learns from Kelsey Grammer.
Interview by Tara Aquino (@t_akino)
So first of all, how did you land the role?
I was still at school. I was studying in the Lee Strasberg Institute in New York. I had just recently gotten a manager and he was sending out a lot of stuff and I got that appointment. I connected with the role immediately and I was excited by the people involved. After the audition, I thought it had gone well. But when it’s a project that’s quite high profile, and you’re nobody, they usually go with a name or someone slightly more experienced, unless you’re really good. So, it was amazing that I got the role.
Your character has so many layers. You’re a priest, a drug addict, a nurse—did you know what you were getting into before you got the part?
Yeah, Farhad Safinia [the show's creator] was very helpful. I knew my character worked within the Church. I didn’t know she was an actual priest until we started shooting. The writers and producers really helped to explain why she is that way, and they really helped me imagine a character for Emma.
When I got the callback, I was told more about her background and where she was coming from. It’s weird because on paper it sounds like the most ridiculous character. For some reason, when you’re in it, it doesn’t seem that crazy.
Watching the character unfold, it seems like it’s a very emotional experience. What kind of place do you have to mentally and emotionally put yourself in to play Emma?
I’m quite new to this but I think that, at least for me, you try to find some sort of truth in the character that you can connect with. It doesn’t have to be a parallel situation. If you find substitution for situations or people in your mind, if you can create that kind of emotion, then it’s not that hard.
Did you have to do any research for the role?
Yeah, I’m not a drug addict. [Laughs.] I really researched that and thought about the people whom I know who’ve dealt with addiction. I didn't study them, but I just thought about them more and more. I thought about that kind of behavior and how it affects their life.
My boyfriend introduced me to a video diary of this heroin addict, which is so heartbreaking. The video is about his inability to get off drugs and it’s real human conflict. It’s quite painful to watch. That was helpful.
I think that the things that frighten me the most in life are the things I should be doing.
Also, I’m Jewish, so being part of a Church was something I wanted to know. I wanted to know what it meant so I’d attend Sunday services, which also made me feel really guilty. [Laughs.] And I wanted to know what it meant to be a newly appointed priest, so I went to speak to a local priest in Chicago.
Although your character doesn’t really engage in a lot of politics, did you have any political experience before the show?
I read the book Boss. Our series isn’t based on this book but I think it inspired Farhad. So that was a nice way to get to know politics and it was a really easy read. It’s about Richard Daley and written by Mike Royko. It really gets you into how unique and specific Chicago politics are and how powerful they are.
Being British, I think I’m less aware of the importance of Chicago compared to an educated American, so that was helpful. But yeah, because my character wasn’t so involved in the politics, I didn’t think it was important to immerse myself it what it would be like to be in a political arena like Chicago. If anything, my character is the antithesis of that. I don’t think it would’ve helped me too much if that makes any sense.
I started looking at the family members of politicians, like wives and daughters. I looked at family members who hadn’t gone down that route. It’s hard by just reading and not meeting people to see how it affects them on a personal level. You never really know.
Your dad is an investigative reporter and that’s a huge part of Boss, so how did he respond to the show?
My dad still doesn’t know how to use a computer so he finds it really hard to download in England but the bit he managed to see, he loved. Troy Garity’s [who plays reporter Sam Miller] performance is amazing. It’s a subject which fascinates him, obviously. I think Troy did an excellent job of capturing that dogged nature of a journalist, and he reminded me very much of my dad.
Growing up, did you witness your dad going after hard-hitting stories?
Yeah, my dad [John Ware] was pretty hardcore about the stories he’d pursue. He did a big exposé on the IRA, and I do remember spending a lot of time in Ireland. As he calls it, he's from "the old school of journalism," where on some level, the story you go for actually means something to you. It’s not about how reader-friendly it’s going to be. Some of his views are quite controversial, but he sticks by them.
It was very exciting. He used to tell us stories about how there was a camera in his pen when he’d interview someone. I think my mom, when she first met him, would have to hide certain documents under the bed.
Speaking of old school, is it true you’re not a big fan of social media?
[Laughs.] Yeah, I’m not on Twitter or Facebook. I’ve never been interested in being on any of them. I don’t know why I’m not. I just don’t have that need. I feel like I’m one of the only people I know who doesn’t do it. I was never really able to get it—I know that sounds really stupid. But I mean, I’m young, so it’s not a generation thing. The way people socialize on the computer seems really odd to me.
But it doesn't seem like it's not working out for you, not being on social media.
Yeah, I mean, at times I think I should be on Twitter. My sister’s a singer and she’s on Twitter and she has millions of followers. I wonder how that helps her. I think it does to an extent. I think she gets free things. [Laughs.]
What's your sister's name?
Her name is Jessie Ware. She’s a British singer.
Did you ever want a singing career?
No, I’m tone deaf. I can’t sing to save my life. [Laughs.]
So what is it about acting that drew you to it?
Well, I came to it really late. I was 26 when I went to my first acting class. I’m naturally quite shy. I’m a quite private person.
There’s this really strange acting class in New York called Black Nexxus. For someone who’s slightly shy or self-conscious, it’s the most frightening thing you can do. I think part of what acting did for me is it kind of represents all my greatest fears. I’m sort of compelled to do it, but at at the same time, it’s so frightening. But I think that the things that frighten me the most in life are the things I should be doing.
Acting is the only thing that really sort of clicks for me. I get thoroughly immersed in what I’m doing and the character’s situation. I sort of forget things around me, which I’ve personally often found hard to do. It’s something that can get my sole concentration and I’m not really sure why. I’ve also been obsessed with people and how they work and why they are the way they are. I like getting into that in an artistic way, where you make some attempt to relate and play that person. I find that endlessly fascinating because I think that people are endlessly fascinating.
When you work with seasoned veterans like Kelsey Grammer, do you try to learn from watching them?
Yeah, I do that so much. Kelsey's been really kind and patient and supportive. One of the great things about Kelsey is that, although he’s a great TV veteran and he’s so good at his craft, there’s never any moment where he makes anyone feel inferior or a lesser actor. He treats everyone as if they’ve had just as much experience or that they’re just as entitled as he is, which makes the set feel like a safe place to learn.
So what can we expect from Emma in season two?
Emma starts the series still in jail and obviously at a really dark place in her life. I think, with all the characters, certain layers have been stripped away. There’s some degree of vulnerability or sacrifice that’s made by all of the characters by the end of season one, including Emma. In season two, I think you get to know more about who Emma is in the face of adversity. You see her true colors more.
And she knows her dad is a traitor in the utmost way and she doesn’t have anyone by the end of season one. When the going gets tough and you face real challenges and you really do feel alone, I think that desire to relapse is ever so strong. So she’ll really fight with herself a lot of the time. She’s really angry, as you can imagine, and I think anger fuels her and makes her not a victim anymore.
Interview by Tara Aquino (@t_akino)