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Q&A: Lili Taylor

The American Crime star on the healing power of karaoke

The ABC drama American Crime is an anthology series that changes its characters and scenario each season, but it always takes a startling look at the dark side of life in the United States. In the latest season, which recently wrapped, Lili Taylor stars as Anna Blaine, a woman whose teenage son accuses classmates of sexually assaulting him. And while Taylor’s performance has earned accolades and the show’s garnered an impressive critical response, you can’t expect anything to stay the same. Here, Taylor chats with DuJour about the nature of an ever-changing series, her comfort amidst chaos and the surprising ways she blows off steam.

This is a series that changes completely with each season. What’s it like for you to play a different character each time around?

It feels really familiar as an actor, because I’ve been doing this with theater for so long. I don’t know why it’s just kind of catching on with TV—it’s a bit of a new chapter because TV is still kind of young—but more people are going to start doing it, because it works. The actors start to have a connection, the writers get to know the actors really well and everything just deepens that much more.

Was that part of what made you sign on for the show?

John Ridley asked last year if I wanted to do a few episodes and I said yes because I like him a lot. I’m really glad I did because this season for me has been great. Just to collaborate more with him and have more to do with him… it’s been a great experience. 

What do you make of the material you got this season? It’s heavy stuff.

I was really excited. I had been following an epidemic of date rape, I’ve been following all of these cases and I’ve been very concerned. I just finished Jon Krakauer’s Missoula and then John told me about this and I was like, perfect. I knew John was going to address it in a way that would really be not from the head, but from an emotional place—from the heart or gut. So that really impacts more than just these ideas.

What are your fondest memories of making this season?

There were some pretty cool things going on. Do you know the birds the chimney swifts? They roost in chimney, and a month or two before it migrates they all would start to roost in these [local] chimneys. There’s usually school chimneys, which can hold over 1,000 birds and they all go in one after the other. It’s this fluttering in—this beautiful spiral of little black birds going into this chimney. I was watching those chimney swifts going into the chimney at dusk. Also, karaoke. I was doing it by myself, which was helping me get through the tough subject matter.

Do you have a go-to karaoke song? 

I was finding myself doing a lot of Bobby Darin and some Amy Winehouse. Those were a couple that I was going to. I was getting a room so I was doing it by myself so I was trying things I normally wouldn’t try. I was like, oh wow, I really like this. Some things I wouldn’t have tried if I was in a public place with a group of people. 

A show like this is able to recalibrate each season and tackle what feels important. You’re not just stuck with a premise that felt strong in the first season.

Right. Whenever it started to feel like a diatribe or a political thing, John would rewrite it so that it was coming from a human place. If someone starts telling me, this is a very bad problem in America, I just stop listening. But if I’m experiencing it through the characters through complex relationships it’s much more impactful.

Do you know anything about whether there will be a third season?

ABC won’t decide until May so we have no idea, but I know I signed up for another season. I became a regular last year so I signed up. My contract is done if there’s a third season.

And do you have any idea about what might be in store for you?

I don’t know where I’m going to be, I don’t know what I’m going to be doing, I don’t know anything—no actor does. If I do have the job, first I’ll just be relieved that the season is going. Not because of the job, but because John creates such a great environment to work and it’s so gratifying. I would just be really happy about that. I wouldn’t trust John completely and I feel like he’ll give me how he sees me or what he thinks and it will be just right. 

This series seems to give you a chance to try out plenty of new stuff, but are there projects you’re still dying to do? 

I love doing theater. I would love to try a musical, I would love to do a play. I’m not dreaming big at the moment.