In 2016, the 34-year-old actress Annabelle Wallis was wrapping up her third and final season on the BBC’s Peaky Blinders, completely unaware that the real-life events which would lead to her next major project, The Loudest Voice, were unfolding in real time. A new Showtime miniseries, The Loudest Voice is an uncomfortable, up-close look at the late Roger Ailes‘s hugely influential tenure as CEO and chairman of Fox News, which came to an end in 2016. That July, former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson sued Ailes for sexual harassment—effectively opening the floodgates for the all too many women who’d also been subjected to Ailes’s predatory behavior for decades.
Like Carlson, many of those women worked for Fox News. Among them was Laurie Luhn, a booker for the network who soon shared her truly harrowing story of being sexually harassed and “psychologically tortured” by Ailes for more than 20 years. Her name might not be as recognizable as Carlson’s or Megyn Kelly‘s, but her story, as Wallis quickly learned in portraying her, is unfortunately all too emblematic of Ailes’s reign of terror. Here, the actress opens up about everything from feeling like “a product” of Ailes herself to forever crushing on Prince William. (Or any prince, for that matter.)
Tell me about your role in The Loudest Voice. I play Laurie Luhn, who was a booker for the Fox News shows. I’m in a sea of prosthetics with my other castmates, because we’re playing true characters, but luckily, I just had to alter my makeup and kind of arch my eyebrows differently. We worked with a lot of very orange makeup for the time and the aesthetic of Fox News, which was very much curated by Roger Ailes: the tight, the bright, the overly revealing. The sexy, but with a bit of restraint, like the high necklines. And legs. Lots of legs. There were no desks at Fox News, because with a desk, I suspect, you could get up to a lot of trouble underneath.
Were you aware of what had been going on at Fox before you did the movie? Well, it was only when I started to read about Roger Ailes that I realized how we’re all so much a part of a world that he created—this image-heavy world that’s so saturated with news of all forms, be it real, be it fake. It’s a saturation of stimuli and content, and I, myself, am a product of that world, which Roger Ailes very much helped create.
I didn’t really know where it came from before, but it was also then that I realized how much of the over-sexualization of women in film, TV, and news stemmed from Roger Ailes, too. It was quite fascinating to see the influence that he had on Western culture. We’ve absorbed his ways, but his ways were also one of the catalysts of the #MeToo movement, because women are fed up with these ideas of they have to look, and how they’re perceived. We’ve been sexualized in a certain way and there’s a rebellion to that. So, it’s a fascinating story. It’s been a ride to look at all sides of it, because by being in the world, we enable it as much as we like his ideals. And we have to say no. So it’s interesting being in this time that people are using their voice to maybe change that. It’s exciting.
What was your first serious audition? When I first got to London, I had a meeting for one of Christopher Nolan’s films. But they wouldn’t give you the script or anything; they just said, “Dress as a superhero,” and I wore the most skin-tight, latex situation. It was so intense that when I walked into the room, Christopher Nolan couldn’t look at me. He was so embarrassed—he was just like, “Too much!” I think my over-preparation went against me that day.
Well, I bet he remembered you. I bet he did.
Did you have a fallback plan, if acting didn’t work out? No. When I was young, I just wanted to be like Jane Goodall—to contribute to the earth, and to live among animals. I liked sloths the best: That’s the animal I aspire to be like. A sloth just owns it. I think they’re a lovely metaphor for how we all hope to be—to be mindful, and to slow down. There’s great power in stillness.
Where was your first kiss? It was outside of the school gates of Saint Dominic’s”, an international school I went to in Lisbon. And I was such a tomboy then, which people seem to find interesting with my aesthetic. I had a motorbike and I used to ride horses and I used to wear chaps like I was a cowboy. I was a bit odd, and I didn’t really get into boys until I was 15 or 16, so I wasn’t expecting it. I did not expect to be liked by anyone, really.
So it was a surprise? It was—I wasn’t really angling for it at all. But I loved the kiss. I just love a kiss. If you’re going to give me one, I’ll probably enjoy it very much.
What was your favorite film growing up? Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, with Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor. It wasn’t so much that I understood the film—I was probably too young to be watching it—but I just remember watching it and thinking there was so much ferocity. I thought, “What an amazing job, to be able to convey life in that way that it vibrates within you and it vibrates within the person watching it.” So, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof—but also Home Alone. I was quite the sophisticated child.
Natasha Lyonne, Michelle Williams, Billy Porter, and More Stars Bringing Television To New Heights
The working title of our show was not Fosse/Verdon—it was just Fosse, but then the producers got smart. They realized that Gwen Verdon and Bob Fosse were romantic and creative partners who remained entangled until the end of his life. It was the right time, in 2019, to make a show about a partnership. It was also the first time that I’ve had pay parity with a male costar and equal space to voice my thoughts. I’d never experienced anything like it. Since I felt completely supported, I could jump higher and take more risks.
You started acting as a child. Did you find that people treated you—and continue to treat you—in a diminishing way?
Absolutely. When you’re physically small, when men hug you, they pick you up off the floor. That doesn’t happen anymore.
What’s your favorite Fosse musical?
Cabaret. When I performed the song “Maybe This Time” [on Broadway, in 2014], it never didn’t get to me. I’m sad that I’ll never sing it again. Musicals are deep in me: When I did a tap dance for Fosse/Verdon, I realized it returned me to this very primal love, before anything negative was associated with acting, work, or identity. I felt like I was a little girl. It was a genuine moment of joy.
Williams wears a Louis Vuitton turtleneck, skirt, belt, and boots.
I started out doing stand-up comedy at U.C. Davis and then moved to San Francisco, which has one of the most interesting comedy scenes in the country. In comedy, we’re all mutants and we share these different superpowers. Early on, I learned that humor is a way to break tension. It’s a very powerful tool.
Is it easier for you to be autobiographical or political?
I came from The Daily Show, where you are steeped in politics and the news. It’s your life, day in and day out. But for me, as an Indian-American Muslim, I always felt this insider/outsider relationship with America. And because of my background, at this moment in time, the personal and the political merged.
Do your parents worry when your show takes on Saudi Arabia?
Sure. That episode was banned in Saudi Arabia, and my parents said, “We don’t want you causing international outrage and controversy.” They said, “Please just tell embarrassing stories about your childhood.”
Minhaj wears a Prada jacket, pants, and belt; Jil Sander shirt; Shinola bracelet; Dior Men boots.
I honestly didn’t know much about witchcraft before starting on Sabrina, but now I realize it’s just dudes being scared of women and their power.
You were a child on Mad Men. Have you finally seen the episodes you were too young to watch?
I have now seen Mad Men. I can say I’m a fan, but it’s weird to watch your 6-year-old self. Oftentimes, while I was watching, I’d forget that I was in the show. So many things happened to Sally on Mad Men before they happened in my real life: My first kiss was onscreen; I got my TV period before my real period. I was prepared for everything because on Mad Men Sally was a little ahead of me. She taught me the ways of the world.
Shipka wears a Chloé dress; Isabel Marant belt; Cartier ring.
Tell me about kissing Chris Hemsworth.
I was on the shoot for Bad Times at the El Royale, and I still hadn’t met Chris. He played a cult leader, and I was his devoted follower. I knew he was on set, and I wanted to meet him because we had a kissing scene that day. At the last minute—we still hadn’t met—we were about to make out, and I’m like, “How many kids do you have? Oh, you have three kids,” and then—“Action!” He was really nice, but it was super-awkward, and they ended up dropping the scene from the film.
You cut your hair very short for Devs. Is androgyny part of your character?
Yes. The show has to do with a tech company. Secret stuff. My character is really smart and knows quantum physics, so that’s kind of like a superpower. I was supposed to shave my head for the part, and I was always down for that. I think I’m going to shave it all off anyway: I’m so into being bald.
Spaeny wears a Bottega Veneta sweater; Sophie Buhai earrings; Tiffany & Co. ring (right hand); Cartier ring (left hand); Manolo Blahnik shoes.
My first part was in a film called Complicity. I played a boy who gets raped and then kills his rapist. I was 11 years old. It was baptism by fire.
In your TV projects, you seem to undergo torture or get killed a lot.
I love a good death, and I’ve had a few really good demises in my time. On Game of Thrones, I was killed at the Red Wedding. That was my favorite death: full of arrows and then they cut off my head. I was covered in blood and my limbs were hanging off.
Do you have any surprising secret skills?
No. I went to drama school to learn all those skills, and then I was like, “I ain’t going to sing or dance in films, so I’m not going to singing or dancing class. And I can’t be bothered with the fencing class, because I won’t be fencing.” Cut to: I have been sword fighting for half my life and now I’ve had to sing and dance. This is why you should go to class. Kids: Stay in school.
Madden wears a Givenchy jacket; Calvin Klein Underwear tank top; Dries Van Noten pants; Shinola bracelet; Dior Men shoes.
My agent called me and said, “They’re casting a show about a women’s wrestling television program in the ’80s.” I said, “I want that job!” However, I very quickly learned that the producers didn’t think I was right.
Why? Too petite?
Yes, but I’ve secretly been strength training for years. After four auditions, I wore them down. And yes, I’ve learned how to wrestle and throw women across a ring. It’s incredibly empowering.
Do you ever practice by beating up your husband?
I don’t ever beat up my husband. I’ve been known to wrestle our cat a little bit. He doesn’t love it.
Brie wears a Givenchy sweater and skirt; Balenciaga boots.
When I was 12, I was washing dishes at home and the Tony Awards came on. It was the year Dreamgirls was up for best musical and Jennifer Holliday sang “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going.” I was in shock: all of these beautiful black people in high fashion with gowns and hair and makeup. At that time, you didn’t see a lot of people of color on television, dripping in style. And Jennifer Holliday sang like I knew how to sing in church, except she was on television! The connection of money, style, and television launched me into this space where I thought, That’s what I’m going to do. I can be that.
How did Pose come about?
They called me in to play the dance teacher. I was like, “Well, this ain’t quite the role I want, but…” I told them at the audition that I felt I’d lived through the world of Pose. I said, “Wouldn’t you need a father figure in the ballroom world?” Because one of the things that’s so powerful about Paris Is Burning [which influenced Pose] is that it’s about a marginalized group of people who had nothing in a world where people were dying of AIDS. And they chose life anyway. I wanted to tell that story.
Porter wears a Thom Browne dress and shoes; Wolford fishnets; his own jewelry.
I moved to California from London because I wanted to be happy. My very first audition was for The Good Place, and it went great: I am now on a show opposite Ted Danson, my hero. As a young girl, I always fancied Ted! Is that creepy? Am I creepy? But, my Lord, he’s still so hot.
Were you on social media before the show began? You currently have 2 million followers on Instagram.
The Good Place asked me to join Instagram, and now I use it to scream at people [laughs]. In all honesty, I think I’ve found a genuine community of people online who are tired of being erased. I understand being challenged: The bravest thing I’ve done in my life was move to Los Angeles, even though I was told I was too old, too fat, and too ethnic. I had no contacts and no friends in L.A. But I got on a plane anyway and flew to California to have an acting career. This had to work: I’m not talented at sex, so I couldn’t be a porn star. And I have no upper body strength, so pole dancing was out.
Jamil wears a Sacai coat; Prada boots.
For my sweet 16 party, my parents knew I loved The Book of Mormon so they had Andrew Rannells, who was one of the leads in the show, come and perform. It was literally the best moment of my life.
You were named after the kooky octogenarian in the film Harold and Maude.
Yes. As a joke, my dad started calling me Maude when my mom was pregnant, and it stuck. I do love that movie.
Do you ever sing any of the Cat Stevens songs from that film when you do karaoke?
No. I sing “The Confrontation” from Les Misérables. I love musical theater. The first album I really listened to was Hairspray, and the first thing I auditioned for was Grease. I was Jan, one of the Pink Ladies. I got to sing in a musical, and I had never been happier.
Apatow wears a Dior jacket, top, and pants; Cartier earrings, necklace, and ring.
I had not listened to the Dirty John podcast, but I heard friends talking about it obsessively. Two days later, my agent asked me, “Have you heard of Dirty John?” That was exciting to me: I love things that are creating conversation in the culture.
Your character, Debra, is both intriguing and infuriating.
I never judge my characters. I looked at playing Debra as almost a women’s studies project. She was self-made and had raised a family by herself, but she had this Achilles’ heel: She needed to have a man in her life. As horrible as it got for Debra, she thought she could handle and change that man. As the show goes on, she becomes more and more aware. We reflected that awakening in her clothing: In the beginning, she wears pink and light colors. And as the situation with John becomes more and more extreme, we go darker. By the end, she’s in black.
You were in a happier marriage on Friday Night Lights.
Kyle Chandler [who played Coach Taylor, her character’s husband] and I really fought for that marriage. Right from the beginning, we said to the writers, “Don’t make one of us go and have an affair.” I think the audience really appreciated that.
Growing up, who did you have a crush on?
Tom Selleck in Magnum, P.I. The short shorts. The floral shirts. He was a sexual fantasy. I actually auditioned to play his wife in something. I remember thinking, No, Tom Selleck was a grown-up when I was a little girl. So that didn’t happen.
Britton wears a Stella McCartney shirt; Loro Piana skirt; Bulgari earrings; Tiffany & Co. wrap bracelet worn as necklace; Cartier ring; Tom Ford belt; Balenciaga shoes.
In The Loudest Voice, which is about Roger Ailes and Fox News, I play Laurie Luhn, who was a booker for the shows. To play her, we worked with very orange makeup and a look that was curated by Roger Ailes: the tight, the bright, the overly revealing. And legs. Lots of legs. There were no desks at Fox News, because with a desk, I suspect, you could get up to a lot of trouble underneath.
Do you have a secret skill?
I’m good with animals. When I was young, I wanted to live among animals. I liked sloths the best: That’s the animal I aspire to be like. A sloth just owns it. There’s great power in stillness.
Wallis wears an Isabel Marant top; Hermès skirt; Dior belt; Tiffany & Co. bracelet.
I am from Omaha, Nebraska, and I wanted to move to New York since the third grade. I had never been to New York, but I knew all about the city from watching television. I just knew New York was where I belonged. Later, I learned that most of those New York City shows like Friends and Seinfeld were filmed in Los Angeles. That was a bit of a mind fuck.
Was Girls your first part outside of theater?
No. I had another job playing a headless stripper in Sex and the City 2. It was just me in a Speedo grinding with another guy. On Girls, I played the ex-boyfriend who turned out to be gay and then became Hannah’s [Lena Dunham] best friend. My first nude scene was in season two. Suddenly, I would show up to work and there would just be a pair of underwear on a hanger. I was oddly comfortable with it.
Growing up, who did you have a crush on?
Maxwell Caulfield from Grease 2. He played Michael Carrington. He also played Miles Colby on Dynasty. Every day of my life is a hair tribute to Maxwell Caulfield.
Rannells wears a Dior Men coat and pants; Brioni turtleneck; Givenchy boots.
When I first read the script for You, I was not attracted to Joe, my character. I was like, “Oof—I don’t know.” He’s a villain, and yet he’s also an antihero. He’s seductive, but he’s a murderer. It’s fascinating that people—especially women—are drawn to this guy. The greatest challenge I have is not judging him. I don’t ever think of him as a killer. To him, murder is simply a means to an end.
Did you always want to act?
At the age of eight, I was in The Music Man, and I told my parents, “I want to do this for the rest of my life.” When I was 12, my mom and I went to L.A. and I started working immediately.
Was your first kiss on camera?
No, but starting out so young, you’re always having to display sexuality before you’ve had those experiences. For You, I was tied up in bondage rope for the first and, so far, only time in my life. Look [shows his wrists], I still have rope burn. First time, and it’s on camera.
Badgley wears an Alexander McQueen coat; Boss T-shirt; Jil Sander pants; Sophie Buhai bracelet.
My big childhood claim to mediocre fame is Pee-wee’s Playhouse. I played Opal on that show when I was around 6 years old. I’d already done a bunch of commercials, and they didn’t all air. You want the ads to get on the air if you want to get your imaginary Lamborghini. Sadly, I didn’t get the Lambo.
You always had a smoky voice.
Yes, but thanks to a lifetime of smoking cigarettes—which they recently discovered are actually good for you—my voice has become thicker and deeper over the years.
In Russian Doll, you are asking existential questions.
I am curious about what it means to have a life. I imagined being at death’s door, looking back and asking, “What happened here?” I also recognize that it’s a nice thing to move from a disconnected life to a more connected one.
Who is your cinematic crush?
Recently, I watched Viggo Mortensen in Eastern Promises, and Mamma mia! My boyfriend, Fred Armisen, was there. I took screen grabs of Viggo’s nude fight scene and told Fred the stills were for research. Usually, when I play this game, I think it’s best to pick dead people—to say, like, “Isn’t Peter Falk a babe on Columbo?” I’m also very disappointed to discover that Idris Elba and I did not get married. I think many women felt the same way.
Lyonne wears a Marni dress; Tiffany & Co. wrap bracelet worn as necklace, and bracelet.
Who was your childhood crush? Oh, Prince William. You know when you could collage your binders at school? Everyone had the obvious ones, like Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, but I didn’t like that everyone liked the same guy. So I was like, “I want Prince William,” and I had Prince William on my binder. An ex-boyfriend of mine found it quite hilarious, so when I was away, he took the opportunity to “collage” all my other books with all these pictures of Prince William, too. It was quite funny, actually.
Would you have gone for Harry, too? Well, once a prince, always a prince. You’re pretty happy with any prince. When he comes, you take him. I’m happy with my life choices, but I would’ve been happy with either prince. I thought, “Princess, actress…” [Laughs.] I was like, “Could I be like Grace Kelly? I could.” And I could’ve!
You know, it does actually seem like that could have transpired over the course of your life. I like that you think it was not impossible. You know, maybe this is where our love affair begins.
Did you ever intersect? Were you ever at same place, at the same time? Yeah, growing up, I was in London, and my friends went to Saint Andrews with William—and Harry, too. Harry was always around. It could’ve happened.
And Harry liked blondes. Well, he really didn’t like them that much, because he didn’t end up with one, did he?
No, but there was a long period of blondes. “There was a long period of blondes.” That’s my first album.
What was the first album you ever bought? Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” Or this band called Chaka Demus and Pliers, which is also very sexy music for a young kid to be dancing to. Now that I think about it, again, slightly odd.
Do you have a karaoke song? I have a few. The last time I went, I did “Tainted Love.” I find it quite theatrical and you can move around. I need to dance while I karaoke, and that allows me to do a faux seductress type of act. I mean, I don’t know how it is, but with a couple drinks in, I think it’s good.