IN CONVERSATION WITH ZIBBY ALLEN
Multi-hyphenate actor, writer and producer, Zibby Allen is a creative whose work spans from broad comedy to heartfelt television drama. Currently she can be seen starring in the hit Netflix series ‘Virgin River’ as Brie Sheridan. The fourth season premiered today (July 20). She will also star as the lead in a new thriller for Lifetime, ‘Daughter Danger’, which is set to premiere this Summer.
Zibby, you’re starring in Netflix’s hit series ‘Virgin River’, which is premiered its fourth season today. What can we expect to see in Season 4?
If you watched the show, you know that season three ended on so many cliffhangers. So season four has got a lot of ground to cover. It is drama packed, I can promise you that. You’ll definitely see more of my character Brie and her romantic interest Brady. A lot of the fans have nicknamed them Briady, it’s like a hashtag that’s out there. But also this season, Brie really puts on her lawyer hat to get involved in Brady’s case. Last season ended on Brady being arrested under suspicion of shooting Brie’s brother Jack, so Brie gets involved in that to figure out the truth. And in doing that, she kind of gets entangled in Calvin’s big criminal web. And as a result, she also ends up getting a little bit closer to detective Mike. If you’re a fan of the books, you know that Brie and Mike have this major romance in the book. So there’s some portion of the fan base that really wanna see Mike and Brie get together. I will say, at the very least they become closer.
Your character Brie’s storyline deals with some pretty powerful topics, involving sexual abuse and miscarriage for which the writers consulted with RAINN. How is it for you to delve into such difficult topics?
It was really eye-opening, heartbreaking and kind of healing for me in my own way. For people who don’t know, RAINN is one of the largest antisexual violence organizations in the United States and they provide a ton of resources for victims of sexual violence. It’s been really educational to be able to consult with them as well, because I got to learn a lot about the statistics of sexual violence. In United States, every 68 seconds a person is sexually assaulted. Between that and miscarriages, which is something that is very universal and happens all over the world to women every day, I knew these topics were big. And so going into the season, I had a real grave sense of responsibility to do right by this part of Brie’s story.
When the season came out, I received so many messages from people from all over the world, sharing stories that they shared with Brie in some similar fashion. It broke my heart, but it also made me feel really good that people were relating to what they see on screen. That’s the power of television.
The other thing I really love that the show does, is that growing up in the eighties I always associated sexual assault with stranger rape, and what’s so cool about this story is that Brie’s assault happens within the context of a relationship. I heard from so many people and I’ll be the first to admit, even I wouldn’t know exactly how to qualify that form of assault until I started to realize, and we’re all starting to realize that there’s a broad spectrum of what assault looks like. And if I can be a part of that conversation by nature of being in the show and helping serve up this side of Brie’s story, then all the better. It’s not easy, but I think it’s really important to talk about because we, as a collective, have a lot of healing to do around both these subjects.
Your passion for acting originated in the theatre, where you spent most of your youth working on various San Francisco stages. You trained at the American Conservatory Theatre (A.C.T.) and then continued on to study with Steppenwolf West in Los Angeles. How has this impacted you as an actor?
Growing up in the theater, I was exposed to a lot of different walks of life, a lot of unconventionality, which I really appreciated having during my formative years. One of the base premises of theater and storytelling is that everybody has a story to tell and that everybody’s point of view is valid, even if you don’t agree with it. And so as a thespian growing up, you sort of learn quickly to lead with this curious compassion. I think that has translated both in my approach to the work and just in life. It was definitely different. At 16 years old, where most of the girls my age were sneaking out to meet up with the person they liked at the high school football field, I was sneaking out to meet up with my 40-year old gay theater friends who wanted to teach me how to smoke a cigar and discuss Kierkegaard. I think it sort of expanded me in ways that I probably can’t measure, but I’m grateful for that upbringing. And I think it has everything to do with who I am as an artist now.
How would you describe the process of preparing for your roles? How do you make them even more special and bring them to life?
Probably in the same way as how I grew up learning about how to approach storytelling in the theater. I’m always looking for ways that I’m similar to my character and different from my character. Where those differences are, is where I really do my best to lean in with curiosity, to try and understand where my character’s coming from. I do think that every role that comes to me has something to teach me about myself. I work off the basic theory that we contain all aspects of humanity in us. It’s just that some aspects are expressed and some aren’t. So the gift of being able to work with different characters that live totally different lives than me and occupy totally different world landscapes than me, I can start to visit aspects of myself that may be there, that I wouldn’t otherwise. And by the time I get to actually play a role, if I’m spending all this time trying to understand this character, ideally I feel like I’m having this meaningful friendship. I’m the biggest advocate and ally for my character by the time I’m filming with them. I don’t know if it elevates the performance, but it certainly elevates the experience for me as an actor.
In addition to your work on camera, you are also a singer/songwriter and one half of a musical duo ‘Socks and Chimes’. It all started more of a hobby, when you published an album titled ‘I Love You Overall’ in 2011, but it gained an unexpected fan-base. Tell us more about this story.
I would still like to reserve the right to call it a hobby, only because I am by no stretch of imagination a talented musician. I play the ukulele, but I play it terribly. I’m a decent lyricist, I can hold a tune and I’m good at harmonizing, but I’m not even a great singer. Participating in making music brings me some kind of joy.
Years ago, I was bartending at a sushi restaurant in Los Angeles while I was waiting for my break. I made friends with a regular who was a musician and on my very last day, I booked an acting job and I was quitting. So on my very last day at the bar, he brought me ukulele cause I had mentioned that maybe I wanted to learn one day. I taught myself on YouTube and then a very dear friend of mine, Ian Morgan who is a brilliant musician, had also been learning the ukulele and so we got together and started making music. Our songs are very simple, but there’s a lot of sweetness and purity and a lot of heart. Ian and I have a real deep soul connection, we just make kind of little magical songs together.
We wrote these songs and it was just fun. And our good friend, who was a music producer, said “I love these. I will record an album for you just for fun, for free”. He did that and we had this scratch album that wasn’t even mixed. And we were out one night and I got talking to this stranger who seemed lovely enough, and it turns out it was Chris Douridas who was a DJ for KCRW’s ‘Morning Becomes Eclectic’. They featured new music. It’s a big program in Los Angeles. I mentioned I was making an album and he told me to send it to him. So I did, I sent him the raw file, unmixed. The next day he texted me and said to turn on the radio. One of our songs was on the radio. And then all of a sudden we had a flood of people start following us. So we ended up going on tour randomly and very unexpected, but super fun and sweet.
‘Socks and Chimes’ are known for your whimsical indie folk tunes.You’re currently in production on a second album. What will we be able to hear from this album?
We have no idea when we’ll be done. It really still is a hobby, both of us have other projects going. Right now, we have like six songs we’re writing. What we may do is just start releasing singles for a little while or videos of us singing. But it’s very similar, it’s all whimsical, folky sweet songs.
I know you were opposed to marriage, but then fell in love and are now married. Why were you so opposed to marriage?
I am married, but I am still unsure that marriage is for everybody. I think I was so opposed to marriage, especially before I got married, because I didn’t have many role models for marriages that look like something I wanted. I didn’t like how people were treating each other in marriage, how they were treating marriage. I still feel it can be a setup for disappointment, hurt and holding people to impossible standards, and trying to squeeze ourselves into a model of relationship that might be outdated.
When I met my now husband, our connection and our compatibility was unlike anything I had experienced and I’ve been in a good deal of relationships. I still told him I didn’t wanna be married, but as we went on and spent time together, my ideas of marriage started to shift and I redefined what marriage is for me, which is a practice. And suddenly, if I look at marriages of practice, I’m interested in what are the long term effects of committing to a practice. Just like if I were committing to meditation or a diet or sobriety or whatever it is, I’m interested in what the long term impact of committing to a practice might be on my life. And my husband inspires that. It might sound unromantic, but it also lets him off the hook from having to be something for me in order for me to stay in it. It means I get to show up no matter who my beautiful husband is on one day or in a chapter in life. And it creates a lot of room for experiencing and still showing up versus holding each other to some impossible standard of what we ought to be in order to be in a marriage.
This summer we’ll be also seeing you as the lead in Lifetime’s thriller ‘Daughter Danger’. Can you tell us more about this film and its story?
As far as Lifetime thriller movies go, they’re pretty formulaic, but even though it’s a formula, you can’t help but get involved. This is a pretty good, juicy story, where my character Claire is married to a multimillion dollar CEO guy who has some skeletons in his closet from his college years, that Claire is unaware of. Based on those skeletons he owes an old college friend, who’s down and out, a favor and that down and out friend comes back and cashes in on this favor. And that favor being if we could let his daughter, who’s going to university, come stay in our big mansion. Of course we say yes, and then Emily finds out some of my husband’s secrets and goes on an vengeance mission. So it’s cool, it’s edgy and I’m excited about it.
Do you have any role that you’ve done so far, either for TV or from film, that is really your favorite and that you hold dearest to your heart?
My first instinct is to say Brie on ‘Virgin River’, because I’m with her now. We’re about to film another season and I’m pretty monogamous that way with my roles. Like if I’m in a role, it’s hard for me to think about another character. But I genuinely love playing Brie. It’s been so satisfying for a million reasons. One of which being, I get to actually play a character for longer than just one season or a couple of episodes. Doing this long form dance with one role has been so satisfying and I feel like Brie is my good friend. Also, ‘Virgin River’ fans are so kind and have been so responsive to the character that there’s a satisfaction in that. It’s a really lovely exchange that I’m appreciating right now.
Do you have any special wishes on what projects you would like to work on in the future? Or maybe any actors in particular that you would really hope to share the screen with one day?
There are so many. I feel like I still have so much to do in my career. I’ve done a couple multi-camera sitcoms and I really love that format. It’s a far cry from ‘Virgin River’, one hour drama, but I would really love to go back to the sitcom stage for a minute. I miss comedy a lot. But also, I’d love to do a period piece. Whether it’s something that’s a little cheeky, like ‘Bridgerton’ or something a little more weighty. So in terms of genres, those two things.
I’ve always been a huge fan of certain actresses. Melanie Lynskey, Michaela Watkins and Kirsten Dunst are doing incredible work. I find Jean Smart and a lot of female actresses so inspiring. I would love to work opposite a powerhouse like one of those women. I really wanna work with filmmakers, like Drake Doremus. And I’d love to work with Shonda Rhimes again. I guest starred on ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ way back, and she’s cranking out some really incredible programming. So as you can see, there’s a lot more I wanna do. And I’m sitting here watching some of the best television, I think that we’ve ever seen in our lifetime so far. It makes me hungry to work with all of these geniuses.
Interview by JANA LETONJA
Photography KRISTINE COFSKY