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UNSTOPPABLE: Andrea Roth Talks Career, Challenging Herself and ‘Cloak & Dagger’

Andrea Roth continues to embrace challenging material and thrives on exploring flawed characters.

To say Andrea Roth is more than a pretty face is an understatement. Through the years, she has built an incredible reputation in Hollywood for bringing spellbinding portrayals of raw, emotional, angst-driven, women to the screen. Fearless, quick witted, intensely expressive, and laser focused, she pours her heart and soul into her roles to take each one to the next level.

Roth became a household name in the United States when she starred as Janet Gavin opposite Denis Leary in the acclaimed and award-winning series “Rescue Me,” which aired for seven years on FX. The gritty drama set in a post 9/11 firehouse was where Roth first showcased her skills at bringing a strong female character to life, portraying the beleaguered ex-wife of an NYC fireman as they struggled with life and surviving in a tight knit community severely impacted by the tragic events of September 11. Her additional credits include a pivotal supporting role in “Dark Places,” the most recent Gillian Flynn screen adaptation starring Charlize Theron and Chloe Moretz. Prior to that she had a starring role in the acclaimed SyFy mini-series, “Ascension” with Tricia Helfer. Fans can currently find Roth lighting up the screen in the hit series, “Cloak and Dagger,” which is entering its second season on Freeform, as well as a recurring role on Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why.” She continues to challenge herself and audiences with uniquely complicated characters and material as she continues to grow at her craft. 

Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Andrea Roth to get an inside look at her journey as an artist. In the interview, we discuss her early years in the entertainment industry, the lessons learned along the way, her process for bringing her tenacious characters to life on the screen, and her creative evolution.

You’ve become a familiar face over the years and have built a tremendous resume along the way. I want to start at the beginning. How did you get involved in the arts earlier on in life?

My mom was an accountant but she did a lot of artsy, creative things. I always loved doing arts and crafts with her. At a really young age, I remember being really taken by “The Sound of Music” and dreamed of one day playing Liesl! [laughs] Being from the dairy capital of Canada, it was just a big, big dream and, with a mother who was an accountant, it didn’t feel like a real possibility. I guess I must have had something at that young age because I went and auditioned for the local town’s theater company and became involved with that and I would do plays here and there at school. Honestly, I thought I was going to be an English teacher or an art teacher before I chose advertising. From there, I fell into modeling and then into acting. It was at that point I quit modeling because I enjoyed acting so much. I’ve just always had an innate need, whether it was arranging flowers or painting, to get emotions out through the arts.

Success in the entertainment industry doesn’t happen overnight. When did things start to break for you professionally?

No, it definitely doesn’t happen overnight. At the beginning of my career, I was smart enough to know that I was awful and I didn’t know what I was doing and I better try and figure some things out! [laughs] I was lucky that I was young and that it was an easier playing field in Toronto because there were fewer actors there. That gave me the opportunity to learn and make mistakes on camera. When I moved to Los Angeles, I was cast as Sally Field’s daughter in “A Woman of Independent Means,” which was based on the book. That gave me the chance to play a character from the age of 15 to 65. I also got to play opposite of Sally Field! At the time, a movie star doing a TV mini-series was kind of unheard of. I almost didn’t go to that audition because I’m 5′ 8″ and-a-half and, I don’t know her exact height, I know she’s not that tall of a woman. She’s also a brunette and me being a blonde had me thinking that I didn’t even stand a chance, just based on our physicalities. Little did I know how wrong I was!

What lessons did you learn early on in the business that impacted the way you approach things today?

I think Canadians, in general, are naturally polite and modest. I think it was great being around that. I had a lot of great role models when it came to watching actors being very grateful for their work. I keep seeing people saying, “Oh, you’re so kind. Always stay that way.” That really rings true for me when it comes to being happy, lucky to work and knowing it. After that, I think it comes down to having a good work ethic, working really hard to bring out your character and letting go of it all when you arrive on set. That’s when the magic is going to happen; when everything is free and you’re not in your head trying to do such specific things. It’s about trusting yourself.

When did you come into your own with the craft?

Definitely with “Rescue Me.” That’s a show that I am so, so proud of. I got to do such interesting and complex work. I got to learn comedy from Denis Leary and Peter Tolin, who are two great writers and Denis being both an actor and comedian. I hope that I’m lucky and blessed enough to get another something like that but I so grateful to have had seven years on “Rescue Me.”

How do you view your evolution as an actor over the course of your career?

I think it’s quite fascinating because, when I first started acting in Canada, I would be at an audition and they would say, “We really like her. We think she’s really, really good but we can’t hear her.” I was so frightened that my voice, my vocal cords would just shut down! I couldn’t talk louder out of fear. I wanted it so badly but some people are just more outgoing and are immediately confident. I wasn’t those things but I kept plowing through. I think it then came to the point of playing Janet Gavin where I’m knocking Denis Leary over the head or to be able to yell back with anger just as much as he can or even more is a huge evolution. It’s a huge evolution from the nice, sweet, shy, quiet Canadian girl I started out as! [laughs]

Tell us about your process for bringing a new character to life.

It starts with reading the script and, often times, your natural intuition takes over. Other times, things are a little more complex. I just read and read and read the script over and over to get different thoughts. When people see my scripts, they can’t believe the amount of notes written on it! [laughs] I might think, “Oh, what if I did that here …” or “Psychologically she feel this … “ or “Why is she acting out here?” I really just try to find out what’s going on inside the characters mind, heart and, in most all the cases, what troubled psychological issues are impeding the character or pushing them forward. I just keep reading it, working it and let it percolate in my head while I’m in the shower or sleeping. Then, I learn my lines and just hope upon hope that the actor I will be working with is free and in the moment. Magic can happen when both of the actors have done their homework! That definitely happened when I was working with Denis Leary.

You haven’t slowed with the challenges you take on. Freeform’s “Cloak & Dagger” is a perfect example! What attracted you to the project?

A Marvel TV series was really outside any sort of genre I had done. I didn’t even necessarily think that my strengths played to that sort of show. When I had the audition, Marvel is so secretive that I didn’t even know what the show or character was. I kind of did some sleuthing and figured out that it might be this show “Cloak & Dagger.” They had the two names of a guy and girl that were never seen or heard of before or again that were to be playing those characters. Everything was so top secret! I just got two scenes and the character obviously drank too much, was a mom, was conflicted and a bit of a victim. Anytime there is a deeply flawed character, as an actress, it’s so interesting and exciting to try and get into it. I think that’s because it’s so scary. It’s scary because you’re going into the unknown! I didn’t know what the rest of the script might hold but I went in and got the part. Cut to when I got to see it, the same night that everyone else did when it premiered here in The States. I was so pleasantly blown away by how deep and complex the show was! You never know what you’re shooting until you see what their vision was but it was really exciting. I was really proud to be a part of it!

What did you bring to this character that wasn’t on the original written page?

I think I bring a little bit more edge to it. That comes from something that I learned on “Rescue Me.” Denis was very, very clear that characters don’t have to be likeable. Anytime you would make a choice to make your character more likable, that was a definite no-no on our show. I think it allowed me to bring more of her flawed character to the surface. For example, not to soften things as a mom, so maybe that you can kind of forgive me a little bit more. I went more for the truth of the scene.

A seasoned veteran of the entertainment industry, Andrea Roth is truly a force to be reckoned with.

What are your hopes for the future of this series?

Honestly, I hope it keeps going on and on. Secretly, I hope I get thrown in a vat of acid or something and I get to become a middle-aged superhero! [laughs] I’m ready to kick some serious butt! I think that would be pure fun! [laughs] I don’t think it will happen but a girl can hope. I just hope they keep exploring with this series. This season they are exploring topics like human trafficking and domestic violence. I hope they keep exploring pertinent topical issues in a really deeply thought out and fleshed out way. I also hope that my character evolves. I don’t want her to get too healthy because too healthy is boring! [laughs] Even though she’s on an upward swing this season, I hope we find more demons for her to have to struggle with along the way.

What do you look for in the material you take on these days?

There are a few things. One is that I have a daughter who is almost 9 years old and my husband is a comedic TV director who’s working a lot now. In certain ways, there are certain perimeters that it has to work. It can’t be some that is so far away, especially if my husband is working. We try to balance our time, which can be a challenge. Now that I’m getting older and my daughter’s at a really critical age where girl stuff is happening, I want to be present for her. So, unless the material is so amazing or, to be quite honest, they are making me an offer monetarily that I just can’t say no to. Otherwise, it’s a little harder for me to want to do it the same way because it means I’m away from my family. Even if I’m here shooting, you find yourself caught up in your work a little bit more. So, it has to be really, really good material with really, really good people. Life is too short, so you just want to have fun and do good work!

That’s a great outlook to have. What’s the best lesson we can take from your journey as an artist?

I think it’s important to know that whatever dream or hopes you have as a young kid can come true with hard work and perseverance. Find the magic and joy in life and follow it. If you do, your bound to have a happy and hopefully successful career!

Well said! Thank you so much for your time today, Andrea! I really appreciate it. I’m excited to see what the future holds for you and the characters you bring our way!

Thank you, Jason! I really appreciate it. Have a great day and I look forward to speaking with you again soon!

Marvel’s ‘Cloak & Dagger’ Season Two premieres Thursday, April 4 on Freeform. Mark your calendar and check out a sneak peek for the series below!