Ana Mulvoy-Ten


For an actor, John Ridley‘s American Crime is the sort of prestige television show to aspire to. For its more established stars, such as Regina King and Felicity Huffman, it has earned Golden Globe, Emmy, and SAG nominations. For young actors, such as Connor Jessup and Trevor Jackson last year, it has served as a launching pad.

In the third season, Ridley and his casting director Kim Coleman introduce us to another rising talent, Ana Mulvoy-Ten. Raised between the U.K. and Spain, Mulvoy-Ten plays Shae Reese, a teenage runaway who falls into prostitution. Earlier this month, Mulvoy-Ten spoke to her close friend and fellow actor Glen Powell about her break-out role.

GLEN POWELL: How are you doing, my dear? Happy International Women’s Day.

ANA MULVOY-TEN: Oh yeah, happy International Women’s Day.

POWELL: It’s really big on my calendar.

MULVOY-TEN: It is? What are you doing for it?

POWELL: International Women’s Day? I’ll call my mom and my little sister and my older sister, just like normal.

MULVOY-TEN: Aw, that’s so cute.

POWELL: Maybe I’ll shoot a pink beacon up into the sky.

MULVOY-TEN: Okay, now I know you’re joking.

POWELL: [laughs] I think people are a little confused on how we know each other. So, how did that happen?

MULVOY-TEN: I met you in a sushi restaurant. You were having dinner with friends and I was having dinner with my boyfriend and some friends. You came over to say hello and you were so charming, I told my boyfriend that I thought you were going to be a movie star. That’s how I met you.

POWELL: We’ve known each other for a long time and getting to watch your ascent has been really, really fun, especially in the scope of knowing Tyler [Shields]. I think I first knew you as the subject [of his photos], kind of his muse, so to speak. How does that relationship fuel everything you do?

MULVOY-TEN: I feel like now, I’m not afraid of doing anything. I have no fear. It’s made me pretty confident in that I can have a plane flown over my head or I can go head-to-head with an alligator or with a python, and it’s all okay and it’s so fun.

POWELL: I think I’ve seen the photos, but I didn’t realize they were real.

MULVOY-TEN: Oh yeah, they were completely alive. The alligator was really great. His name was Gary after Gary Busey.

POWELL: Why would you do that?

MULVOY-TEN: I find it really fun. You know that feeling you get when you’re acting, where it’s just this high and you forget what you just did, but you know that it was so much fun? I get that.

POWELL: Yeah, but I’m never worried about my co-stars biting me in the face.

MULVOY-TEN: Well, with the alligator, I was never meant to get within five feet of it, but they said that it was the most calm the alligator had been with anyone, so I asked if I could get down and lay facing it, and they said yeah. The alligator was really cool; so was the python, actually. The python was really calm with me.

POWELL: You have a weird Zen energy to you. Do you make anxious actors feel calm as well, so they don’t bite you in the face?

MULVOY-TEN: [laughs] That would be really nice. I would love to be considered Zen, but I’m not sure that I am. Maybe just with animals and babies and in tough situations. I think that in a high-pressure situation, I can remain very calm and not freak out.

POWELL: Fearlessness is probably the best quality one can have in this business.

MULVOY-TEN: Working with the wild animals really helps for when you’re in a normal acting situation, because you don’t control it—you can’t control a wild animal and you shouldn’t try and control a scene. I think the best things happen when you just let go and see what comes in. I find that that’s always the most satisfying.

POWELL: Do you feel like that lack of fear is the reason you’ve been successful?

MULVOY-TEN: It’s not something I really think about. I don’t think about competition. I am definitely attracted to not just playing a regular [character]—I don’t know there’s any such thing as “regular,” but you know what I mean. In American Crime, I get to play a runaway who’s living with her pimp in North Carolina and she’s a prostitute, but she’s a victim of human trafficking because she’s under 18. I like those roles. I definitely did not get type cast, which is so cool—thank you, John Ridley. But that’s what I wanted; I wanted to play someone that was a challenge.

POWELL: There’s this elegance to you. You have this very diverse and interesting cultural background, Spain and England. How did you transition to a prostitute in North Carolina? It’s a very specific accent.

MULVOY-TEN: They actually didn’t want me to have a North Carolina accent. I’m from D.C. originally, but because I’ve been on the run, just trying to survive, they didn’t want me to have the accent. I have a standard American accent. But I think I can adapt quite easily from having a Spanish mother and an English dad and growing up in both places. I feel like I’ve got two lives—that Spanish life, which was so free, and then I lived in England and went to an all-girls, private school and had to fit in with that. That switching out and becoming someone else, I find it quite liberating, actually. You’d think that it was really hard for me to turn into this North Carolina prostitute, but I didn’t think of her like that. I just thought, “This is just a girl who’s in a really awful situation.” Really, there were a lot of similarities. She loves art and she loves beautiful things, and in that regard, she’s a girl, I’m a girl. We love beautiful things, we want adventure, we just want to be loved. She just really wants a family and to be safe. I think everyone wants that. I just came from it from that point of view rather than, “Oh, this girl is so different from me. How on Earth am I going to play her?”

POWELL: Yeah, that sort of judgment is the tragic flaw of a lot of actors where you start seeing the other rather than the collective, so to speak. Having that background, do you think that helps or hurts you?

MULVOY-TEN: I think it helps me. I like to see the positive. [laughs] I went to Madrid when I was 18 and did a TV show there. Really, my first job was in Madrid and I was on my own. I think it teaches you how to be independent and survive on your own and not really need anyone, although I definitely needed help in Madrid. It was kind of a disaster. I ended up living with nuns, but that’s a whole other story.

POWELL: You lived with nuns?

MULVOY-TEN: Yeah. It’s actually kind of funny now, but I got an agent in Spain and the first thing I auditioned for, I ended up getting it. I told them that I was a local hire; they were only hiring local people, because they were shooting in Madrid. I had to start in two days and I had nowhere to live. You can’t even rent a place for three months—you have to get a year lease. I didn’t know anyone; my family lived in Valencia, not in Madrid, and you can’t commute from Valencia to Madrid every day. So I phoned my mum, and my mum was like, “They have halls of residence,” which are like dorms. I thought that would be so fabulous, because I knew that Lorca, Dalí, and Hemingway—all of those guys—had lived in halls of residence. I was like, “I’m going to go live with artists, and fall in love with an artist. He’s going to write poetry about me and make art.” In my mind, this was what was going to happen. I had this whole romantic idea of what Madrid was going to be. My mum found a hall of residence, and she said, “I found a place for you, but there are couple of things you’re not going to really like. The first thing is that it’s all-girls.” I’d just been at an all-girls school, and it was fine, but then my whole falling in love with an artist [fantasy] wasn’t going to happen.

POWELL: Unless he sneaks into the nunnery. It’s a little harder.

MULVOY-TEN: Right. Then she said, “Also, it’s run by nuns.” [But] they were really cool nuns. I didn’t have to go to church or do any nun things.

POWELL: “I’m not a regular nun, I’m a cool nun!”

MULVOY-TEN: [laughs] Right?

POWELL: Did you get in any trouble with the nuns, or were you pretty well-behaved?

MULVOY-TEN: I was working so much that I didn’t even have time to get in trouble. I cried so much the first night I got there. My mum was like, “You need to be tougher than this. You don’t get to just do one show and suddenly you’re staying in a five-star hotel. You have to earn that. You told them you were a local hire, so now you have to deal with the consequences.”

POWELL: I think that’s the most unique struggling-to-make-it story I’ve ever heard. I think you should lie and say you went and got bottle service with a nun. You should develop a script called Bad Nuns. I think that’s your next starring vehicle.

MULVOY-TEN: Would you produce it? [laughs]

POWELL: Oh, I would totally produce it. We get John Ridley to direct, me to produce, and I don’t know who’s hot right now in the nun world, but maybe we could get a really solid cameo. I was stalking you a little bit, and I kind of fanboyed-out. I heard that you are in the first Harry Potter. Is that true?

MULVOY-TEN: I was in the second Harry Potter, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, for a hot second. I think I was nine or 10, and that was actually my very first job. I was in a scene in the Great Hall, and then I was in a scene when Harry and Malfoy have a duel and a snake comes out. I just wanted to be in a scene. I was in a line to go into the Great Hall, and they counted the kids and stopped when they got to me. They were like, “We have enough now.” I was absolutely devastated. I went home and I was crying to my mum—I’m not always crying; it sounds like I’m always crying. She was like, “You can’t cry about this stuff. Do something different. If you don’t like it, change it.” So I went back the next day and stood next to some of the leads, next to Malfoy and Crabbe and Goyle. One of the A.D.s came up to me and said, “Who told you to stand here?” and I was like, “Christopher Columbus,” which was a complete lie, but I said it because he was directing, and she was like, “Okay.”

POWELL: You were such a Slytherin. You deserve to be in Slytherin. So sneaky.

MULVOY-TEN: [laughs] No, I’m not! No! I was actually a Ravenclaw—the uniform was epic—but I really wanted to be Gryffindor.

POWELL: So if we go back and watch Chamber of Secrets, you’re with the Slytherin crew?

MULVOY-TEN: For a heartbeat. Don’t get excited. And I have these really chubby cheeks because there was so much craft services. [laughs] I had two pigtails, and I’m a little bit chubs. It’s great.

POWELL: I think it’s important just to develop a personality—which you definitely have—to be a little bit chubs as a kid.

MULVOY-TEN: [laughs] I was so not an attractive child.

POWELL: Ugly kids are my favorite adults.

MULVOY-TEN: You were definitely a beautiful child. You weren’t an ugly kid.

POWELL: [laughs] I also heard—because obviously I screenwrite as well—that you wrote a Star Wars movie. Is that true?

MULVOY-TEN: Yes, I did. [laughs] I was obsessed with Star Wars, and I wrote my own Star Wars script. I put me and my classmates into my script—I wrote them all in—but none of them cared. I was so confused at the time, because I was so excited and no one was grateful that I had written them into this amazing story. I sent it to George Lucas. It was handwritten in pencil on pink paper. I think I was eight. I addressed it to “George Lucas, Hollywood.”

POWELL: You didn’t actually get the Skywalker address? It was just George Lucas in Hollywood?

MULVOY-TEN: I didn’t know. Then I found out that George Lucas didn’t even live in Hollywood.

POWELL: I wonder how many times somebody in the post office has gotten a script that’s just labeled, “George Lucas, Hollywood.” You were just looking out for your friends. It’s a rare quality in this town. Everybody’s always looking out for themselves and you write an ensemble Star Wars movie, and nobody pays attention. They just don’t know it until they see it. In terms of American Crime, I’ve heard a lot of people talking about you and your role. It’s really fun to hear people around the town talking about one of your really good friends—and they don’t know that we know each other. They’re saying, ” I hear she’s the break-out of the show.” How are you responding to everybody talking you up?

MULVOY-TEN: That is nice. I’ve been auditioning for a while, so it’s good to finally feel like some of the hard work has paid off. But I don’t pay that much attention because I think it’s unhealthy to listen to what people say. My dad used to always say, “Don’t believe in your own hype!” I was confused at the time: “Dad, there is no hype on me.” But now I understand what he was saying. If someone says, “I think you’re amazing” and someone says, “I think you’re awful,” I would like to have the same reaction to both, to be confident and calm enough to be able to take both of those and not be affected by either.

POWELL: This show is a real drama piece. I know that personally, when I’m on a drama set, the energy is very different, and you’re in a much darker frame of mind. What does that feel like when you go home each day, and what does it feel like when you wake up in the morning to prep?

MULVOY-TEN: Usually, I’m very good at switching on and off, and this was the first thing where I would get home and I hadn’t turned it off. I couldn’t. It was tough, actually. Some of the things that this girl goes through are so insanely difficult—literally the hardest decisions that you have to make in your life, this girl has to make. So I would get home some days and have to go on, a midnight walk and just walk it off. I found it really hard to let it go because it was the job of my dreams. The set was amazing, the crew—everyone. Then all my scenes were with Regina King, who was just so wonderful. I’d get home, and I actually got quite sad. I knew that there was someone in the world going through this, and it seemed really unfair. But that aside, it was the best job I’ve ever done.

POWELL: When you’re prepping for something like this, do you feel like you watch a lot of movies? Did you do a lot of research on human trafficking? What was that prep like?

MULVOY-TEN: There’s quite a few documentaries, like Hot Girls Wanted, which is on Netflix. But there is no movie that I have seen thus far that has a character like this—there is no one film where I thought, “Oh, I should watch such-and-such because it will help me.” I’ve never read anything like this. I feel like sometimes the runaway prostitute can be a little bit vandalized. Taxi Driver is one of my favorite films, and Jodie Foster is so cool in it, but this girl is nothing like that. There’s actually a channel called JohnTV and this man interviews prostitutes. I watched every single one of those, and I actually found that that helped me more than anything. There was this one girl, she’s 19 and her name is Honey, and I watched her interview so many times. These girls are so candid and this girl was so normal. Her mum was a prostitute and her grandmother was a prostitute, and if she’d have had a different parental situation, this girl would have gone to college and had a normal job and a nice life. These girls don’t feel sorry for themselves; they don’t think they’re victims. That was the thing with my character. She doesn’t think she’s a victim. She doesn’t think, “Oh, poor me.” She’s just living her life, and she just gets on with it. I also read a book called Pimpology, a pimp writing from his perspective. That helped me because I understood the logic of manipulation that these people endure. My character thinks that her pimp is a great guy—he’s better than her dad was. So getting in that mindset—that I actually think my pimp is not doing anything wrong; that I have a roof over my head and am sharing a bedroom with six other kids, and that’s fine because it’s better than my parents—that was pretty crazy.

POWELL: What do you hope people take away from this character? What are you hoping to put out in the world?

MULVOY-TEN: I think it’s just giving someone a voice who otherwise doesn’t have one, and I think that’s what John does really well. I just hope that they have a different outlook. There’s so much judgment around prostitution and other issues that they deal with in American Crime this season. Hopefully it will take away some of the judgment and contribute some compassion.

POWELL: Before we finish up, I just want to ask you, what is a piece of advice you’d tell a struggling actress or a young girl coming up in the world?

MULVOY-TEN: My one piece of advice to anyone trying to do this would just be to keep going. It sounds really basic, but I went to 121 auditions my first year in L.A. That is no exaggeration, because I keep lists—I know it’s a little psychotic—of every audition that I have ever been to. I went to 121 auditions and I got none. [But] who cares? I look back on it fondly. People think that it happens overnight, and maybe for a very, very small percentage of people it does, but just keep going.