This story on Ann Dowd first appeared in the Down to the Wire issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.
Veteran character actress Ann Dowd chuckles at the idea that she could be an “overnight sensation” at age 61, landing her first two Emmy nominations this year for her work in HBO’s “The Leftovers” and Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
“Many overnights,” she said, laughing.
Dowd has been a working actress for four decades, on stage in Chicago and New York before transitioning to character roles in TV and in movies like “Lorenzo’s Oil,” “Green Card,” “Garden State” and “Philadelphia.” (She still remembers being convinced that she had blown her audition for Jonathan Demme to play Tom Hanks’ sister in the Oscar-winning drama.)
But since scoring a Best Supporting Actress award from the National Board of Review for the 2012 indie “Compliance,” Dowd has been in demand. “There are more roles for middle-aged actresses now,” she said. “There’s more content, more shows, more opportunities, more women involved in the writing and the producing and the creating.”
And she’s proven to have a knack for playing dogmatic but damaged women like Patti, the local head of the cult-like Guilty Remnant in “The Leftovers,” or Aunt Lydia, the severe overseer of enslaved fertile women in the dystopian drama “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
“They are loners, they are courageous and fully committed to what they believe in,” Dowd said of the two characters. “They have a place where they can say, ‘It doesn’t matter what happens — I will complete this, period.'”
In “The Leftovers,” her Patti returned to have chats with Justin Theroux’s cop hero, Kevin, even though she killed herself at the end of the first season. Was she a ghost? A vision? Even Dowd doesn’t know–and series co-creator Damon Lindelof was similarly vague when she pressed him for an explanation. “I just played her as if she were present, sitting next to Kevin,” she said.
She does express disappointment that hers is the only major Emmy nod in the show’s history. “I was fairly speechless,” she said of the snubs for her co-stars.
But Dowd is one of many nominees for “The Handmaid’s Tale,” an adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s classic novel that requires an extreme physical transformation for Dowd to get into character.
“It takes 20 minutes to get dressed,” Dowd said. “The things that go on my feet, over the boots. The layers, the layers, the layers. The severity of the hair and the lack of makeup. By the time I’m there on set, I’m in that very focused place.”
Despite the show’s widespread acclaim and popularity, Dowd said she is seldom recognized by fans for “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Even her family dog-walker “who comes to the house every day” didn’t recognize her until he was three episodes in, she said. “That was thrilling, actually.”
She doesn’t know what will happen to Lydia or the other residents of Gilead in the second season, which she’ll begin shooting shortly after the Emmys in September. “I think it’s going to get dark,” she said. “I can’t imagine it going otherwise.”