Actress Maggie Siff on Billions, self-consciousness and the golden age of television…
From start to finish, what would be your ideal food day?
In our house we usually have a “toast party” in the morning. My brother-in-law is an avid gluten-free baker and he makes a killer gluten-free sourdough, so that’d be my go-to. The nature of the toast party is that all the condiments – butter, jam, marmite, and peanut butter end up on the table and you get to choose as you go. Sometimes eggs make it to the party, or avocado for avocado toast. And an oat milk latte. For lunch I would say some enormous chopped salad with tons of veggies and toasted seeds…I try to work a big salad into my day because you need to eat a lot of veggies to get all those phytonutrients. For dinner I have to go with my mother’s Budin which is kind of like a Mexican lasagna; layers of tortillas and cheese and tomatillo salsa (she grew up in Mexico so my comfort food is some variation on tortillas and cheese). She made huge trays of it at my wedding as it’s always represented comfort and love and home.
How do you practice beauty from the inside out?
I have a mediation practice that goes in and out – but when it’s happening I feel mental and physical health on an almost cellular level. Beyond that, I think joy and gratitude are the great beautifiers. So when I feel those emotions start to glimmer I try to lean in.
What was something you were insecure about growing up, and how did you get past it?
I got curvy early. And I was so unprepared and unwilling to embrace the new reality. I hid in my clothes and slumped my shoulders and grew my hair really long. I got past it when I really started performing and realized that I needed to make friends with my body. That it needed to be a place from which I could come forward, not a place of hiding and shame. It was a slow process of overcoming the obstacle of self-consciousness that just really involved using my body for things I loved…dancing, doing yoga, moving around a stage, playing frisbee at a beach with friends, and cultivating my awareness that to be in a body at all, much less one that was healthy and had the capacity for movement and expression, is a gift.
Is there an issue right now you’re most passionate about? What is it and why?
I work with an organization called Drama Club which mentors youth through the criminal justice system by bringing theater programming to incarcerated teens in New York City. Some friends of mine from drama school (at NYU) founded the org and the work it’s doing is profound. Our prison population is pretty invisible to us in our daily lives but our mantra is that every child deserves a voice, deserves to be seen, and to be the agent of change in shaping their own destiny. Theater games and improvisation build empathy and connectedness and empowerment within this population.
How do you prepare for your role on Billions? What do you love most about the role and what is the biggest challenge?
Well in a daily way, just getting into Wendy’s clothes helps me transform…she’s so stylish and pulled together and perfectly armored. The beauty of a long running series is that when you’re in a room with one of your scene partners you drop right in. There isn’t a lot of preamble or foreplay needed. I love her x-ray vision…the way she just sees people for what they are. The biggest challenge is finding the truth of where she is blind to her own weaknesses and pitfalls.
How has the film/television industry changed since you first started?
There’s just so much content on TV now that I find interesting. My first real job in television was shooting the first season of Mad Men which ushered in this age of artisanal television. I think that show led the pack in terms of restructuring our industry…where there used to be tons of films made, now there are tons of television shows. And it’s where you find the most complex storytelling and the most opportunity for an actor or director or writer to have some serious fun and take serious risks as well.
Who would you still like to collaborate with?
Oh so many people! I think we’re at an interesting moment culturally and collectively that’s calling for voices we haven’t from as much. I try to support and work with as many female writers and directors as I can. I’d love to work with Greta Gerwig, Ava Duvernay, Tamara Jenkins, Wes Anderson, to name a few…
What film has most inspired you throughout your life?
I had a dream when I was a kid that I was Robert Redford in The Natural, hitting a homerun into the lights the way he does in that movie. It’s the best dream I have ever had and I can still feel the euphoria of it. So I guess, as odd an answer as this is, I have to go with that. It’s either that or The Muppets Take Manhattan.
What’s the worst advice you’ve ever received? The best?
Lose 10 pounds and tweeze your eyebrows was the worst. The best is probably something my acting teacher used to say which is that it’s okay to stink up the room. That sometimes you have to make bad choices to arrive at good ones.
If you could host a dinner party with any five-people living or dead, who would be there and why?
Virginia Woolf, The Buddha, Katharine Hepburn, Oscar Wilde, and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez to bring us all into the moment.
If you could pick a quote to sum up your current mood and mode what would it be?
What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding?