SXSW 2021: Interview With Anna Hopkins, Star Of FOR THE RECORD

Julian De Zotti‘s intimate mini-series For the Record becomes especially tender for those of us who still prefer collecting over streaming. The six-episode anthology series strings together the stories of people whose lives revolve, in some romantic, harmonious way, around music.

Anna Hopkins of The Expanse fame loads the series’ first two episodes with some hefty star power. She plays Angela, a woman in the height of her breakup with Ray (De Zotti). Together, they peer through their record albums with the ferocity and sticky fingers of divorce lawyers. The experience is entirely overwhelming, leaving Angela a scorned former lover, a romantic without hope. Fortunately for her, the art form that embodied her pain will soon bring her a redemptive spirit.

Film Inquiry spoke with Hopkins soon after For the Record‘s run at SXSW 2021. In conversation, the actress touched on the nostalgic nature of music, the benefits of short form work on performance, and her own sense of vulnerability as an actress.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Luke Parker for Film Inquiry: This is a strange first question, but bear with me. In general, would you describe yourself as a nostalgic person?

Anna Hopkins: Um, you know, I like to keep a healthy distance from nostalgia. [laughs] I love to think about great memories but living too much in the past can kind of get me down. So yeah, healthy relationship with nostalgia.

SXSW 2021: Interview With Anna Hopkins, Star Of FOR THE RECORD
source: SXSW

I ask because your character Angela is someone who attaches meaning to things. And as she quickly finds out here – and I know because I walk into the same damn trap myself – with music, that’s not always the best thing to do. What do you think it is about music that makes it so easy for us to latch meaning and memory onto?

Anna Hopkins: It probably comes down to some kind of chemical reaction in our bodies. [laughs] Hearing and smell, these senses are so linked to emotion and anything linked to emotion is going to build memory. Music has the ability to give us really visceral reaction to things. And once you have a reaction like that, it’s imprinted in your memory.

I’m speaking so rationally, but it’s an emotional experience, I think, when you hear experience. You’re bound to connect to that and want to keep going back to it if it feels good. And sometimes, when it feels bad, you keep going there. We listen to sad songs when we’re sad, which is… weird.

That was a surprisingly scientific answer. [laughs]

Anna Hopkins: Wasn’t it?! I know I can get into my head sometimes. But I stand by what I said!

Hey, I’m all for it. But you know, there’s a reason why I talk to artists and not scientists. [laughs all around, thankfully]

But as an actress and a performer, how do you think those ideas – those scientific ideas – extend to visual art forms?

Anna Hopkins: For film or television, it’s so different than listening to music because with music, you’re filling in so many holes with where you’re coming from emotionally. With film, it’s sort of an abundance of your senses and the story is being told to you. So I think there’s less of, “oh, we used to watch that movie together,” and more of like, “oh, we used to listen to that song together.”

They’re very different. But I think there’s more space for yourself when you’re listening to music.

Filling the holes is a very personal experience. As you said, you’re able to find more of yourself in music as opposed to watching a film. When you’re preparing a character, do you ever form ideas of who the character might be by listening to different music?

Anna Hopkins: Absolutely. That’s a big, big part of my preparation for any – I mean, not everything. But if it’s a role that requires something very different from me, or goes into a very emotional place, I have playlists all through my phone that are named the characters that I’ve played.

SXSW 2021: Interview With Anna Hopkins, Star Of FOR THE RECORD
source: SXSW

It’s less of what would this person listen to, and more of how do I get to a dark place? What are the songs that can get me there?

Music is such a great tool, and most actors I know use music as a preparation tool.

Man, what did actors in the ’50s do without Spotify?

Anna Hopkins: I know! [laughs]

Music is an important part of this series. And you guys have certainly assembled a great collection here. I know songs and licensing rights are far from the cheapest things in the world. Do you know how the team got access to all of this music?

Anna Hopkins: I don’t know the specifics, but from what I understand, Julian made a short film that this series was based on. And the music supervisor from that film had a really good relationship with Universal. And they really loved the short, and I think that they were also really into the concept of the series. I think there was a sort of relationship where they said, “you can use this music if we can be a part of what you choose.” That might be a symbiotic relationship.

This series is broken up into tight, 10–15-minute episodes. But in that time, you’re exposed to quite a range of emotion. I know the fluidity of that emotion rests mostly in the writer’s hands, but as someone who’s done a lot of work in television, does runtime affect your ability or approach in conveying emotion?

Anna Hopkins: I think, actually, the shorter a project is, the more accessible that stuff is. Sometimes with film and television, you’re shooting a big emotional scene over four days. What was nice about this was that in a scene, we had a beginning, middle, and end, and you’re doing it all in that day. So I think shorter is a little bit easier, I’d have to say. The longer it is, the more stamina you have to have to kind of keep everything to where it was the day before.

I think it’s easy for viewers to forget than in short-form work like this, not only do we not get to spend a lot of time with the characters and learn a lot about them, but the performers don’t either. Are there any holes in a character’s personality or biography that you’ll fill to help yourself embody them?

Anna Hopkins: Yes and no. I think you can get into the trap of wanting to figure out everything about this person. Or you pick and choose the most important things. Sometimes, I’ll just try and think of a memory that, for instance, Angela might’ve had but isn’t in the script, but also something that could enhance the writing and enhance my experience of it.

SXSW 2021: Interview With Anna Hopkins, Star Of FOR THE RECORD
source: SXSW

In an interview with Real Style Magazine, you said that you have a tendency of closing yourself off whenever you feel vulnerable, a “survival tactic.” Acting seems to me, as an outsider, to be a very vulnerable form of expression, even if the expressions are designed to be those of the character and not the performer. Is that “survival tactic” ever a hindrance on your ability to perform?

Anna Hopkins: It used to be, but I’ve trained myself to work against that. I think, in a lot of ways, acting is a nice release for me to be vulnerable. It’s a safer place when you’re letting it all out on a set than when you’re letting it out at home. [laughs] It’s therapeutic, and I don’t think I’d be able to do my job if I held back.

Film Inquiry thanks Anna Hopkins for taking the time to speak with us!

The first episode of For the Record premiered at SXSW 2021 as part of the Episodic Pilot Competition.

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