Annika Marks, a name heard quite frequently amongst fans of the hit ABC Family drama The Fosters, has become well-known for shaking things up… on television that is. Marks, who plays Monte Porter on the heartfelt show about a close-knit and diverse family revolving around partners Lena (Sherri Saum) and Stef (Teri Polo), can be seen playing the mildly timid but curious new Principal of Anchor Beach Community Charter School. Monte, a newly divorced woman recently locked lips with subordinate Lena in last seasons epic finale, leaving the fandom to literally lose their shit.
Although fans questioned the characters motives in the beginning it’s slowly becoming clear that Monte isn’t the malicious woman the overzealous kids make her out to be. She’s just trying to find herself, and kissing other people’s wives is a casualty of that. But seriously, when she’s not portraying a homewrecker on TV (just kidding, we love Monte), Marks can currently be seen on stage in InterAct Theatre Company’s presentation of “All-American Girl,” the world premiere of Wendy Graf’s provocative solo drama currently running up until July 26 at The Lounge Theatre in Los Angeles, CA.
We chatted extensively about the play, and its importance, as well as got much needed insight into her character on the critically acclaimed hit drama series The Fosters.
MCKENZIE MORRELL: Can you tell us a little bit about All American Girl, the play you star in that’s written by, directed by, about, and starring women?
ANNIKA MARKS: Yes! Yes! That’s all true. It’s a one-woman show. It’s double cast, so there’s two of us doing it, reading back and forth [the role alternates with Jeanne Syquia]. We tell the story of a girl who starts off as sort of an idealistic, passionate, young woman, or young lady, an “all-American girl.” And she grows up to be a radical extremist who uses violence to make her point, or to fight for her cause. It’s really the story of how she gets there. We play her from the time she’s 7 till she’s 24, and we also play about 17 other people that she comes into contact with along her journey, who kind of influence her down this path. It’s really an exploration inside the mind of extremists. It humanizes something that’s very difficult and scary to humanize, but it’s important to humanize it if we’re ever going to have a conversation about why these things happen.
MM: Playing all these roles in a one-woman show, how did you prepare for that? Did you find any difficulties?
AM: It’s really challenging! I’ve never done something like this before. I’ve done really long monologues — I actually did a piece by [All American Girl playwright] Wendy Graf. I did a piece of hers a few years back where I had a sort of 30-minute monologue, but it was always the same person. So despite the fact that she was going through a metamorphosis, I never had to step outside of her and become the person she was interacting with. This is a completely different experience. It’s wonderfully challenging. It’s very theatrical, which for my money, if you’re going to do theater, it’s so much more fun to do something that can only be done in a theater. The believability of, a little bit vocally and physically, becoming someone else in a room, it’s been so fun to get into that space mentally and creatively. It’s incredibly challenging. It’s challenging to figure out how 17 different characters can exist in your body, in your instrument. You’re tempted to make them all caricatures to differentiate it. So the bigger challenge is how you make them all human and real so that the audience can relate to them and feel things for them. It’s been a wonderful challenge, but, yes, very challenging.
MM: Would you say that was the aspect that sold you on this part? What was it that drew you to the role?
AM: Wendy [Graf] came to me when she was first writing it. I did a reading of this when she only had about 10 pages of it written. And then we did a workshop of it when she had a first draft. She kept coming to me and saying, “I want you to do this. I see you in this role.” And I would say, “Yeah, OK! Great!” And then we would do a workshop, or do a reading, or whatever. A part of me never believed that it would actually happen because it’s so terrifying to think about getting up and doing this play. A part of me never believed it would actually manifest. But I feel like that fear around something is actually really precious as an actor. It’s been really wonderful to feel scared. Selfishly, creatively it’s drawn me to the project. It feels wonderful to be scared. It feels wonderful to be unsure and stretch farther than you’ve ever stretched before. And then, in a more global sense, I was drawn to this project because this conversation is important. People are hesitant to talk about people who are terrorists, extremists, people who use violence. We talk about them like they’re a different kind of person, like they’re an alien. It’s important to talk about these people who make these decisions and come to these conclusions, despite the fact that we can all agree that violence is never a justified act. It’s important to realize the people choosing this are making this choice for a reason. We have to be able to understand the head-space of someone who chooses violence if we ever hope to help the world choose something different. So not that it’s a play that’s going to change the world, but I hope it starts a discussion around extremism and that head-space.
MM: Definitely, I think that it’s something that needs to be talked about. And if you’re able to do it in a way that is going to captivate an audience, I think that even a little bit of exploration of the topic is a wonderful thing.
AM: Yeah, and people are scared to do it, you know? They’re worried that if they open up that conversation it will look like they’re sympathizing with violence, or they’re encouraging it somehow. I think people sort of shy away from it out of fear. Again, I just think you have to work through your fear as an artist. That’s what this feels like to me.
MM: A different angle on the play being women-drive, what’s your take on women on entertainment? Do you think there’s a stigma that surrounds successful women in the industry and their overall shelf life of what they can do on screen or in the theater?
AM: I do think it’s different in theater, but I think that yes women are, unfortunately, still fighting the same fight they’ve been fighting for decades. It’s exhausting. We’re at the point where we can all agree that this has to change. Yet you look at the numbers. Women in film put out numbers every year, as I’m sure you’re well aware of, the breakdowns of women in front of the camera, behind the camera, all aspects of filmmaking — women in the background of shots to women at the heads of studios — and the numbers are just pathetic. There are places where women are better represented than others, but I think we can all agree that we talk like we’re making progress, and yet these numbers do not reflect that at all. I feel like the only people who really have the potential to change that are women. I am incredibly attracted to projects where women are at the helm and are creating other opportunities for other women to be creative. A project like this, one of the things that is most appealing about it to me is: this in no way is going to attract a female audience more than a male audience. This is just going to attract a human audience, and it happens to be a female writer, a female director, and a female lead. But it in no way feels like it’s operating on a gender bias. It’s just a story that happens to be about a woman. That’s where we go so wrong, that we tend to categorize female content like only women would be interested in it. And that’s not true. So we have to be braver and bolder, and women need to take the lead on this. We can’t be waiting for men to create our opportunities. We have to do it ourselves.
MM: I think the message is universal. Are there any causes that you’re extremely passionate about?
AM: There are. My primary cause is my sister is the executive director of the Hamomi Children’s Centre, their website is Hamomi.org if people want to get information on them. It’s a nonprofit that’s a primary school and children’s center in Nairobi, Kenya. They provide schooling and food and make sure all the kids are sheltered in the community. They give secondary scholarships to kids that go on to secondary school. Their numbers are extraordinary. They’re having extraordinary success in that community. They’re absolutely changing the future of Kenya by putting out a new generation of kids that are safe, and who have been handed respect and confidence around their intellect and skill. It’s really incredible. There’s nothing I’m prouder of than to be associated with Hamomi. It’s really an organization that is doing such great work. Less than 10 percent of the money they raise goes to administrative costs. It’s very grassroots. You give a dollar to the organization, and you know that over 90 cents of that dollar is going right to Hamomi. So I do a lot of activism work for them. And then there’s another group I’m involved with called A Sense of Home. They’re only in Los Angeles right now, but they’re hoping to expand. They are a program that happened to cross over with a show that I’m on, The Fosters on ABC Family. They are a group that takes in foster kids that age out of the foster care system. They create a home for them. There are no services for a kid that ages out of the foster care system, which is just horrifying. There are a huge amount of these kids who are homeless. This is an organization that, based on getting furniture donated, shows up to one of these kids’ apartments that has nothing in it, that is government-subsidized so they’re sometimes sleeping on the floor, and they create a home for them. It’s really an amazing thing to be a part of. Obviously, they can use money, they can use furniture, or they can just use your time if you want to just show up, like I do, and lug furniture in and create a home and spend a couple of hours with one of these kids.
MM: That’s so amazing, and we’ll definitely spread the word on both of those causes that you are involved with. Now you’re obviously on a little show called The Fosters — we’ll get to a few questions about that in just a minute — but having a background on screen and in theater, what would you say is the biggest difference between the two? Do you prefer one over the other?
AM: At this point I wouldn’t want to let any of it go. All three are really different; theater, film, and television are all really different. I definitely started in theater and thought I would never, ever do… I mean I moved to New York at 17 thinking, “Oh, I will do theater!” Which is crazy now, looking back at it. But that’s how much I loved theater. I’ll always feel that way about theater. The experience an actor has communicating directly to an audience in theater is something that you cannot duplicate in any other medium. It stands alone to me. I can’t imagine my life without theater in it. But I also can’t, at this point in my life, imagine it without film and television. I’ve really fallen in love with those mediums as well. There’s a little freedom when you’re on camera to be able to be so subtle and so private, and for it all to be captured. That’s something I’ve gotten used to, and I would be very sad giving that up as well. And then there’s this incredible mystery on television where this group of amazing writers watches you and writes for you and writes as they watch you work. It becomes this conversation between you and a group of writers as your character expands. That is so exciting as well! Theater goes on, and on, and on, but you’re repeating the same story. It’s different every time, but you’re doing it again every night the same story. A television show, it’s this evolution of a character. That’s also very exciting. I’m in love with all of these mediums now.
MM: I don’t think you have to give up any of them! So you should stick with all of them.
AM: [Laughs.] I hope you’re right.
MM: Do you remember the first play you were ever in?
AM: Oh, man. That’s a good question. Wow, I don’t think I’ve gotten that question before! What was the first play that I was in? Oh… oh, I remember the first play that had a huge influence on me, that really made me feel like, “I want to do this.” I was a teenager, I was probably like 14 years old, and we did The Wizard of Oz. I auditioned for it, and I got the part of the Wicked Witch of the West. And I went for it. I remember that I went for it. I really threw everything that I had into it. And I remember I made these kids cry, and they had to leave the theater because they were so scared. I just felt extremely accomplished after that [laughs]. There was something about it where I thought, “I can do this.” [Laughs.]
MM: That’s awesome. So now let’s talk about that troublemaker Monte.
AM: Oh, yeah… [laughs].
MM: Not really. I’m being sarcastic. Don’t worry. So obviously the character is shaking things up a bit. We haven’t seen her in a couple episodes, so hopefully she’ll be coming back, but has the fan response died down in regards to that kiss between Monte and Lena? Or are you still getting hate on Twitter and all that good stuff?
AM: I think fans are conflicted about Monte more than anything else. I think it’s mostly that they’re conflicted. This show is really well constructed. Even the lead characters on the show are terribly flawed. And the characters that are there to cause trouble, the ones you’re supposed to dislike, they’re complicated and you find yourself feeling unsure about exactly where you stand with them. That’s a testament to great writing, and Monte is a great example of that. She’s obviously not a scandalous person; she’s not trying to break up marriage, and she’s not trying to have an affair. She isn’t doing any of those things. But she’s a woman who has found herself a little confused and unsure of her own sexuality, and in being brave enough to tell that story, of course things have gotten a little complicated with that marriage at the center of the show that everybody — including myself — is very invested in. Truthfully, fans know that they do not have to worry about that marriage. Obviously, Stef and Lena, they’re the heart of the show. They’re going to be fine. The storyline is really about them getting through this experience, and what it does to their marriage, and ultimately how it will strengthen it. But you know it’s fun to have a character you don’t like or a character who is causing trouble! It drives drama! I think fans are conflicted on how to feel about her, and it’s fun. I really love Monte. To have a character who is a very well established professional woman who is suddenly confused about her own sexuality, that’s a very interesting story.
MM: Oh, I totally agree. I think I’m one of those fans who are conflicted. You said the Stef and Lena fans don’t have anything to worry about, but I’m a glutton for punishment and I kind of still want Monte and Lena to be a thing, at least a quick one. Would you be open to that relationship blossoming and throw that wrench into things, shake things up?
AM: [Laughs.] I feel generally how the fans feel. I don’t want that marriage to be destroyed in any way. As a fan of the show, which I totally am, I want that marriage to stay strong. And I don’t think Monte wants to interfere with that marriage. I mean Monte obviously was married and her marriage fell apart. She knows the pain of divorce; she knows the pain of a marriage falling apart. She certainly doesn’t want to create that for someone else. I think that the friendship she has with Lena is really, really important to her, so she wants to keep that strong. Whatever romantic feelings Monte is having, she struggles with them, but I think she’s doing a pretty good job of maintaining that balance.
MM: We have to know, will we be seeing any more of Monte in upcoming episodes? Can you tease anything?
AM: I can’t tell you any plot points, but yes she will be coming back. I forget which episode, but she will be coming back definitely. You will definitely be seeing more of Monte coming up. And there are some great episodes coming. I’m excited for the fans to see them. The writers have been very brave and very truthful in the way that they’ve let this character evolve.
MM: Wonderful. We cannot wait for you to come back. All right, I always love to throw in a few wild cards. So if you’re ready, I’m going to throw some crazy questions at you.
AM: [Laughs.] OK.
MM: OK! So if you were given the chance, would you enter The Bachelor?
AM: No. [Laughs!] Oh, my god: No. Absolutely not.
MM: [Laughs]. Absolutely not. Just shut that down.
AM: Nobody should have to witness my romantic life. Like that’s just — like that would just — that would not be entertaining for anyone. [Laughs.] Including me or my family.
MM: So say I looked in your purse, what three items would I find?
AM: Cough drops, I’m addicted to Halls menthol cough drops. This like chai vanilla lip balm, that I’m also addicted to. And lots of loose change that just manages to collect itself in my purse all the time.
MM: Which celebrity would leave you star-stricken if you saw them in person?
AM: Oh… I have several of them. I’m trying to think of one that’s not so predictable, but there’s no way to get around it. I have never met Meryl Streep, and I really hope I will get to one day, but I’m a little nervous about — I would hope that I would be able to be poised and not embarrass myself. I’m in awe of her and her talent. And also I’m in awe of the roles she’s played, as sort of a maternal figure, among other actors. I feel like all actors look at her in a way as some sort of Acting Momma. She’s such a goddess of talent. It would be a real honor to meet her.
MM: Lastly, I’m sure the play and The Fosters keeps you busy, but do you have anything else coming up that we can look out for?
AM: Yeah, I have a film coming up called Anguish that is going to premiere this month. It’s at a festival called the Fantasia Film Festival, up in Montreal. It’s a huge genre festival. It’s a horror film, but it’s more of a psychological thriller, art house drama that blends with horror. It’s all very much about the emotional horror of the circumstances, not about blood and guts and stuff. I’m really, really proud of it! Talk about women in film, it’s a film that has three female leads, it’s a very, very dark film, but I think very well put together. Karina Logue, Ryan Simpkins and I star in it together. I’m really proud of it. I’m so excited for it to come out. I also have a series of PSAs for the California drought that I co-wrote and produced with my friend [actress] Cerina Vincent (Cabin Fever) and [producer] John Fitzpatrick and some other friends. Bruce Campbell (Burn Notice) did all the voiceovers. They’re called Stay Filthy, Cali. They’re raunchy and dirty and offensive, but they’re pretty funny. They’re for a good cause, the California drought. You can find them online.
MM: That’s amazing. We’re looking forward to everything you have coming up. I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to chat with me.
AM: Thank you for talking to me!
The Fosters airs on ABC Family, Mondays at 8|7c