Katherine Waterston: If your character is “fascinating to you then it doesn’t feel like a choice to spend your days with them”
“I think everything happens organically. You mine for clues. It’s all immersive and stuff you can use comes out of that immersion.” – Katherine Waterston on Creating a Character
Katherine Waterston was generally known as a stage actress with some notable film credits until her appearance in 2014’s Inherent Vice. That role kicked off a series of successes for Waterston, including Steve Jobs, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and her latest film, Alien: Covenant. In an interview conducted with her fellow actress Natasha Lyonne for Interview magazine, discussed her early career struggles and important elements of getting into a character successfully.
Waterston recalls her Inherent Vice character being one of her favorites, revealing, “It was a fun character to live with. I think that so much of this stuff has to do with your level of interest in a character—if they’re fascinating to you then it doesn’t feel like a choice to spend your days with them. It happens because it’s fun. I don’t think I necessarily feel like I need to spend every minute of every day listening to music from this period and watching movies from this period. Those things happen because you’re genuinely interested in the story you’re telling.”
When asked if she knows why she doesn’t receive more recognition for her work, Waterston points to her early days a struggling actress in New York and how some things haven’t changed in terms of her attitude toward her work. She says, “Self-promotion is not my strong suit, for sure. I don’t look down on it; I just don’t understand how to do it. All those years working and not working in New York—sure, it was painful, but it was also such a personal process for me because no one was paying attention. Obviously, that was difficult financially, but I’m grateful I was left alone with my work for a number of years. It’s more pleasant not to have to defend or explain yourself so much. A lot of what we do is hard to put into words. And I find that I come up short or disappoint myself in trying to even talk about it. There’s an attitude in Hollywood that those are the tough years, and these are the breezy, easy years, but it’s actually a little more complicated than that. The hell of rejection and panicking about whether you’ve really fucked it all up by pursuing a life in the arts, that stuff’s tough, but there’s also a wonderful solace in it. You get to be alone with your work.”
It was quite a challenge for Waterston to go from her typical low-budget film work to starring in the blockbuster Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, but one aspect that doesn’t change for her is her immersion into her characters. Waterston points out that one way to do that is to think carefully about her wardrobe and how it personifies her character. She says, “I think everything happens organically. You mine for clues. It’s all immersive and stuff you can use comes out of that immersion. I don’t really like to wear wigs in movies because I like to look like the character all the time. But the big one with that movie was the costumes. When I went for the first fitting, [the costume designer] Colleen Atwood had pulled some skirts and stuff. And as we started working on it, I asked to try on some men’s trousers and then we developed this idea that everything my character wore was stuff that was in her parents’ closet. She had been orphaned as a child, but lived in her parents’ old apartment. So I figured, because she couldn’t really give a damn or be bothered to buy herself anything, she’d be in some modified outfit of her parents. We had some men’s trousers and took them in at the waist and that made them too short. And then with these men’s shoes, which were just a little bit too big for me, it changed the way that I moved. Costumes so often change how you feel. I would normally never be caught dead in a skirt nearly as short as the stuff that I wore in Inherent Vice. But when you find yourself in one, it completely changes you. “