Law & Order fans might know Elisabeth Röhm best from her four years playing hard-nosed district attorney Serena Southerlyn on the popular crime show, but the actress has recently come into her own on the big screen, appearing alongside Jennifer Lawrence in 2013’s award-winning American Hustle and again in the forthcoming film Joy. Before Joy’s Dec. 25 release, we got Röhm on the line to talk about the film and her experiences while working in Boston.
You lived in Boston while filming American Hustle and Joy… Yes, and we seem to have these epic experiences when we’re in town. I didn’t know Boston that well, but I got to know it very intimately, because when we were there filming American Hustle the bombings happened, and we were also there during the snowstorm last year, the highest snow you guys have experienced, right? [Laughs.] I just remember seeing all the residents digging their cars out and thinking to myself, “You are so lucky that a van comes and picks you up,” because that daily experience I saw outside my window…I lived in the North End. I mean, yes, there’s a magic and a beauty and I was so excited to be in snow, and my 7-year-old daughter loved it, but these cars were buried up to the roof. So, I’ve gotten to know Boston pretty intimately, having been there through some challenging times.
Tell us a little bit about your role in Joy. I play Jennifer Lawrence’s—Joy’s—sister Peggy. I’m sort of a stepchild, but we grew up together. There’s a feeling of sibling rivalry and competition, but there’s also love and complicated things. It’s like any stepsister relationship where there’s one child who is the beloved and the stepchild kind of feels like a second-class citizen, you know? That informs a lot of how Peggy views the world, so I think in many ways she’s an obstacle for Joy.
This is your second time working with David O. Russell… Yes, and my second time working with Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper, so it feels like being with a family. It’s such an incredible blessing.
Does working again with the same actors and director foster a better creative energy? I don’t know if you would distinctly say it’s better. I think it was sort of automatic, at least for me. Starting from the very beginning we had a shorthand to communicating with each other that felt like we had known each other forever, and that informed the work and the ability to hear each other and know what the other person wanted. Because ultimately David is a genius, and we’re the paint on his canvas. We express his vision of the story. And I would say that happened instantly.
Well, David is an extremely funny person. He’s got an incredible sense of humor, and there was a lot of joy on-set. There was a great relationship between David and Jennifer, so they really set the tone. I don’t know how she pulls it off, but she is just the most grounded person. She’s full of love, totally honest—in her work and in person. We spent a lot of time together on both films, and I just really admire her, how, at 25—and I’m 42—she’s so able to access her truest, sweetest, deepest, most complex self to play these characters.
You’ve worked with some very talented actors. Any dream people you’d love to work with? Eddie Redmayne lately has just been blowing my mind, and I would love to work with him. The Danish Girl is just a beautiful movie, and he’s exquisite in it. He seems pretty spectacular lately.
How about an actor from the past, had you lived in their time? Oh, gosh. For some reason he just popped into my mind, but Raúl Juliá! But I think there are so many people who have been inspiring to me, whether it’s writers or directors or actors, music. When you see someone expressing something that’s emotional and real and you think, “Well, that’s how I feel.” Or, at least, I’d like to work on myself to get to a place where I’m in touch with how much that moved me and why it moved me, and then discover those things in yourself so that you can share them with others. That’s what art does—it creates a connection between all of us.