Elizabeth Mitchell: Actor, Advocate, Philanthropist
Elizabeth Mitchell has been acting since she was very small. She had no actors in her family, and yet she always felt at home on stage. As a kid her mom would drop her off at the Dallas Theater Center Children’s Program after school and she learned all about theater acting from them. “It was a magical place” Elizabeth recalls, “The Kalita Humphreys Theater, where our courses took place, was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. There was not a single right angle in the place.”
Elizabeth attended an arts magnet high school in Dallas, Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, and then got her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in acting at Stephens College. She worked with the Dallas Theater Center and their Encore theater company throughout school, participating in plays and musicals such as Chicago, As You Like It, Measure for Measure, Baby, and Classics like A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.
Upon graduating University, Elizabeth went to London, which has a thriving theater community and some of the best acting training opportunities in the world. “My life was far from posh in London” she describes, “I lived mostly on Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches and walked everywhere—long walks! —to avoid spending money on transportation. Students can get into all the plays in London for very cheap prices, so I spent all my extra money on that, and on acting classes.” She studied at the British American Drama Academy, which had teachers who also taught at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and at the Central School of Speech & Drama, but had mostly American students.
When she finished her studies in London Elizabeth moved to New York City and started taking Meisner method acting classes with Freddy Kareman. “That was when it all started to really make sense” she reports. “Freddy was very exacting. He tore me down a lot, but helped me find my way through to the truth. He was also the first teacher to tell me that I was funny, which gave me a whole new perspective on myself and opened up many new possibilities for me in acting.”
Elizabeth started acting in some off-Broadway plays in New York. Being on stage every night before a live audience and with other hard-working actors was a great experience for her. After a short stint on a soap opera, Elizabeth went on tour as an understudy and an assistant on the play Three Tall Women.
When the play stopped to perform in Los Angeles for a while, Elizabeth decided to stay and started going to auditions for film and television roles. She quit her job with the play when it moved on, and auditioned for television pilots until she got one. Her agent in New York had a branch agency in LA. The local agents were skeptical as to whether she would get work in LA, since she had shown up to meet with them wearing no makeup. They were used to LA starlet type glamour. But when she started landing roles, the agents’ opinions changed. She guest starred in roles on Dangerous Curves, The Sentinel, JAG, LA Firefighters, and Significant Others. Twenty two years ago she met with Ben Levine, and he became, and stayed, her manager. He fought very hard for her to get an audition for the 1998 HBO telefilm Gia, which she was chosen for, after several auditions and callbacks. Her role was playing tragic Supermodel Gia’s (Angelina Jolie’s) lover. It was her big break.
“I loved working with Angelina and with Michael Cristofer” says Elizabeth. We did read-throughs with full emotion. We rehearsed Gia and blocked it before we filmed it. In movies that is very rare. The actors will sometimes get together on their own time to do it, but it’s not usually part of a film’s budget. I appreciated the way it was done.”
After people saw her in Gia, Hollywood’s doors flew open for Elizabeth, who worked furiously to keep up with the opportunities that kept rolling in. She played recurring character Dr. Legaspi on the popular television series E.R., appearing in 14 different E.R. episodes. Around the same time she was cast as Linda McCartney in the 2000 released TV movie The Linda McCartney Story. That same year she appeared in Neil LaBute’s Film Nurse Betty, starring Renée Zellweger. In 2000 Elizabeth also played Julia Sullivan in the time travel science fiction movie Frequency, opposite Dennis Quaid and Jim Caveziel.
The following year Elizabeth had roles in the movies Molly, Double Bang, and Hollywood Palms, and appeared in four episodes of the series The Time of Your Life. Things were moving fast for this star. A very memorable role for Elizabeth around 2001 was playing Alice Allendale in the series The Beast, directed by Mimi Leder. ”Mimi taught me so much” Elizabeth exclaims, “Mimi is a master of camera angles and how to set up a scene. She believed in me completely. She even dressed me for an interview with Steven Spielberg. Mimi is very hands-on as a director. She taught me that every nuance is important. We did countless takes before being sure we had the right one.”
For the next few years Elizabeth starred in movies like Santa Clause 2 and 3, Running Scared, and guest starred on series like CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Everwood, House, and Boston Legal, all while holding down a recurring role on The Lyon’s Den. She played in numerous TV movies during this time as well. She became pregnant in 2004 and took her first vacation from work in years.
Elizabeth was nominated for an Emmy award for her portrayal of Doctor Juliet Burke in J.J. Abrams’ series Lost. “Playing that role was a great opportunity,” she recalls. “Damon Lindelof’s writing was exceptional.” It was physically taxing, she remembers, filming 56 episodes of survivalist scenes in wild sections of Oahu, beginning in 2005 shortly after having given birth to her son. In 2007 she reprised the role in Lost: Missing Pieces, which told 13 previously untold stories about the characters from the original series.
A role as an alien starring on the series V soon followed, and her character appeared in 22 episodes between 2009 and 2011. She played Rachel Matheson in the series Revolution soon thereafter, appearing in 42 episodes between 2012 and 2014. Even with all that happening at once, Elizabeth made time to star in the critically-acclaimed drama Answers To Nothing, alongside Dane Cook, Julie Benz and Barbara Hershey.
In 2014 Elizabeth began the role of Ingrid the ice queen in the series Once Upon a Time, which she really enjoyed playing. The following year she moved temporarily to Prague to film the series Crossing Lines with Donald Sutherland. In 2016 Elizabeth completed 10 episodes of The Dead of Summer, as well as playing a senator in The Purge: Election Year. She took a much needed break after all that activity and then joined the cast of Amazon Prime’s The Expanse in 2018, as Reverend Doctor Anna Volovodov.
In 2020 Elizabeth appeared in the movie What We Found, in which a group of teens take a missing person’s case into their own hands when a friend dissappears. “I do indie films with any female director, regardless of if I make a lot of money, since I want to see more women directors,” Elizabeth asserts. For the SXSW Indie feature film Witch Hunt with director Elle Callahan, out now in theaters and on VOD release, Elizabeth co-starred as the mother of the young protagonist, and also served as executive producer. Another project Elizabeth is particularly proud of having been involved in is the film When Time Got Louder, about autism. “Connie Cocchia is such a good writer and director!” says Elizabeth.
Elizabeth felt honored a couple of years ago to play the daughter of the main character in the romantic comedy Queen Bees, which had an all-star cast including film legends Ellen Burstyn, James Caan, Christopher Lloyd, Loretta Devine and Ann-Margret.
Elizabeth recently finished shooting Netfix’s First Kill, due out in early 2022. The series is about vampires and vampire hunters. Elizabeth played a sexy and powerful 500 year old vampire. Emma Roberts was the producer and Felicia Henderson was the showrunner for the production. Elizabeth describes Henderson as “kind, talented, and maternal, but she pushes you to do your finest work.”
Referring to First Kill, Elizabeth shares that “this project was one of the best experiences I have had as an actor. It involved lots of new experiences. The showrunner, producer, director and camera team were all women. The cast included a lot of women, and some amazing men. We all got really close. Because of Covid we were quarantining together and we really needed to stay away from everyone else, so it was somewhat like an extended sleepover party. The cast and crew was quite varied in age, and was multicultural.” Elizabeth reports that she grew a lot from hearing all the other women share their very different life experiences. She also enjoyed getting to share with them what it is like to be a middle-aged white woman. The team had amazing conversations late into the night and on all their meal breaks. “We were like The Breakfast Club” Elizabeth describes. “So many varied perspectives and different backgrounds, and we all had so much compassion for and curiosity about each other. We enjoyed lots of honest and open talks and learned so much.”
Another silver lining to the Covid-19 lockdown situation was that there were actors available to be in the production who normally only do theater. But for Covid, they would not have had time to stop their regular theater runs to work in LA on a television series. Aubin Wise had a break from acting every night in Hamilton on Broadway, and Will Swenson had a break from his role in Assassins. “Working with stage actors is very inspiring,” says Elizabeth. “They were soooo good, no ego, and they worked with joy.”
On First Kill, Elizabeth’s vampire character was Margot, who, despite her 500 years of age, was in excellent shape and showed a lot of skin. Elizabeth enjoyed getting in tip top physical condition for the role. Just prior to shooting First Kill, Elizabeth had purposely lost a lot of weight to play the role of a woman who was anemic and unwell. Her character, Limbrey, on Netflix’s top-rated original series Outer Banks, was a despicable lady [her words] who she found reprehensible. She kept herself underfed and ill-looking to stay in character the whole time she was filming the show in Charleston, South Carolina.
Normally, Elizabeth takes very good care of her body, eating well to maximize energy. She meditates “like crazy” and works out 1 hour a day, either riding the Peloton or running or doing martial arts. “Having a strong body is essential in acting. It keeps you going on those 14 to 16 hour long work days. Acting is an endurance sport” she attests.
Elizabeth’s son is now 15. He is about to be a sophomore in high school. She has been with her partner for 7 years and is “nuts about him,” she reports. They live on ten acres of fruit tree orchards in a small community in the Pacific Northwest. Harvesting peaches from 300 trees is a major undertaking, she complains, but she would not trade it. She makes a lot of jelly! Most of her
close friends are social workers or work in education. She and her son enjoy baking bread and helping out at the local community food bank. She has taught her son that acts of service are rewarding, and he agrees. They work with a nonprofit called Facing Homelessness.
Elizabeth has lost so many people close to her to cancer that she often volunteers for causes that raise money to fund cancer research. She wishes she could do more. Elizabeth is currently concerned with the refugee situation in Afghanistan and would like to get involved in fundraising for that cause.
“I love my life and I love my work.” She says, with palpable happiness. “I feel very fortunate and am grateful for all of it. To the extent that I have abundance, I feel motivated to make a difference for others.”
If you would also like to donate to a charity assisting the homeless, Elizabeth recommends making a contribution to her and her son’s favorite organization: Facing Homelessness.org at the following link:
“Facing Homelessness honors a simple purpose: To invite all of us to come closer, and to contribute our unique passions and skills toward the effort of ending homelessness.”
If you wan to help Elizabeth fund cancer research you can do so at the following link:
If you would like to assist the 3.5 million refugees fleeing Afghanistan, who are currently experiencing winter conditions without appropriate shelter from the elements, you may make a donation to the USA for United Nations Refugee Fund at the following link:
“Your compassionate support can help by keeping UNHCR on the ground, providing emergency shelter, lifesaving aid, food, medicine and clean water. But more help is needed as supplies are stretched thin. Your love can provide more than lifesaving aid — it can send hope for a brighter future.”
You can stay up to date on Elizabeth’s life and adventures by following he Instagram account: