On Under the Dome, CBS’s big summer hit, Rachelle Lefevre plays newspaper editor Julia Shumway, one of the few dome-entrapped town residents who seems to have no nefarious intentions. Though she did shack up with the mysterious Barbie — played by Mike Vogel — with little thought to her missing husband.
Julia has shown curiosity about her domed plight; she’s joined forces with the other sensible characters to try to keep everyone safe and as un-anarchic as possible while they figure out what’s going on with the dome. But Under the Dome (CBS, Mondays at 10 p.m.) isn’t a show about journalism, so it’s unclear what her work skills are. The actress, on the other hand, gets high editorial manipulation marks for setting this interview in a location where she knew what she was doing and I was a complete disaster: Duff’s Cakemix, the DIY cake-decorating store in Los Angeles owned by Duff Goldman, the pastry chef and Food Network star.
Lefevre, 34, is a foodie; I can barely pour myself a glass of water. We each decorated a cake — one of them turned out well. Our conversation was peppered with my expressions of incompetence (“I can’t even unwrap this.” “What am I supposed to do now?”) and her quietly and expertly making a really lovely looking cake. As you will see below.
We also managed to talk about a wide range of subjects. Like? Twilight, killing animals, Under the Dome, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Anne Hathaway. As you will also see below!
So you grew up in Montreal. Are you Francophone?
Rachelle Lefevre: I’m not Quebec Francophone. My grandfather was born in Paris, so I’m French on my father’s side. But it’s kind of a political distinction in Quebec, so I consider myself a bilingual Anglophone. Because I do not believe at all — at all — in the secession of Quebec from the rest of Canada. I think we oughtta stay a country!
And you went to McGill. Did you study acting there?
RL: I didn’t want to study the theater program at McGill. I didn’t want to just do plays. Not that I think it’s a waste of a university education, because if that’s what you want to do, I get it. But for me, here I am in a country where I can go to a school that people compare to Harvard for $1,300 a semester, plus the cost of books and my rent. I’m not going to miss that opportunity to study whatever they have to offer. So I don’t actually have a degree from McGill, because I kept changing my major.
At what point were you getting professional acting jobs?
RL: When I was doing my English degree the first year and a half, I was able to go to lectures when I could. And if I had to go away for six weeks, I just went. TV movies, a small part in a film — just building my career. I would do a semester, but I would FedEx my assignments.
You were one of the many people on MTV’s dirty anthology show, Undressed. I want someone to write the book of Undressed.
RL: They moved it to Montreal. Every single actor in Montreal did Undressed. Do you know who directed my episode of Undressed? The guy who directed The Killing Fields, Roland Joffé. There I was in my underwear taking direction from Oscar-nominated Roland Joffé.
At what point did you realize that you needed to leave school for a big job?
RL: I booked a pilot called Life on a Stick for Fox. I thought, “I have to move to L.A. now — it’s too hard.”
How did Twilight come into your life?
RL: By then I’d done a pilot for David Kelley, I had done What About Brian, I had done Boston Legal, I had done Swingtown. Twilight was a game-changer. I auditioned like everybody else. I didn’t have a name for myself in film.
Did you know the book?
RL: No. We were chasing the audition, and I got the call that I was getting a shot. And I read the book in 24 hours to prep for the audition. So by the time I auditioned, I really wanted it, because I loved the book. I auditioned like everybody else, but I did something Catherine Hardwicke really liked. The character is barefoot in the book. I had worn flip-flops or Converse or something, and right when I walked into the room, I kicked them off. The first thing she said to me was, “You’re barefoot!” I did the audition and I think I leapt onto a chair like a cat. Catherine just really responded. The studio didn’t want to hire me because they’d never heard of me. I wrote her a four-page letter telling her basically that I loved it. I didn’t mean for it to be four pages, I meant to just write her a note, like, “Hey, I’d really love the job, and if you don’t get whoever else you’re looking at, please consider me.” And because I love the book so much, and because I have an English literature background, it ended up being four pages about why I love the book, and why loved the role, and why I love the lore of vampires. It ended up being this nerdy letter. And she really loved it, and she went to bat for me.
What was the first movie like to film?
RL: We didn’t know in the first one what the fanbase was going to be. We had no clue what to expect. The first one was just a bunch of relatively unknown actors. Kristen had done a ton of stuff, and was already really well-respected. But she wasn’t quote-unquote famous by paparazzi standards.
Her life had not yet been destroyed.
RL: Right. It was really just a bunch of us out in Portland making a movie during the day and eating dinner together at night. We nicknamed it “Vampire Camp.” We were all within a decade of each other, but Elizabeth Reaser, Peter Facinelli, and Edi Gathegi and I were in the upper decade, and we were with these younger people who were in their teens — some of them not old enough to drink. We played the den mother roles. I listened to a lot of people talking about their feelings and problems.
I bet there were a lot of feelings! Then the movie came out. That must have been insane.
RL: It was crazy. And then weird things happened, like TMZ camped out in front of my house one night and took a picture of me in my bathrobe walking my dog at 6 a.m.
How was that?
RL: Horrifying. I sobbed. I cried every time it happened for a while. When you have what you think is a normal living moment, and then you see photos of yourself — and that would happen a lot, they’re like snipers. I wouldn’t know that I was being photographed. I was a smaller cast member in terms of the size of my role, so I was slightly interesting, but not that interesting. Thank god. I wasn’t worth the big bucks. So then making the second movie was a different experience, because there were people running from that. The second one we filmed in hiding.
What did you think when the Kristen Stewart/Robert Pattinson explosion was happening last summer?
RL: I felt bad for them that they had to be living their lives publicly. I’ve never met anyone who’s that famous who wants to be living in the public eye like that. And, of course, never less so than when you’re dealing with things that people deal with in real life. It’s awful.
Take me through what happened with your being recast for Eclipse. You were going to be in it, and then you got a job in the Paul Giamatti movie Barney’s Version. Did they change the schedule for Eclipse and that’s what screwed things up?
RL: They fast-tracked it.
And then you found out that the two conflicted? You were going to be in Rome filming Barney’s Version when you were supposed to be in Vancouver filming Eclipse?
RL: That’s their version of it. My version is exactly the statement that I released. Which is that I took a job I was completely allowed to take on my free time, my legal free time. They changed their schedule, they fired me. That’s what happened.
And you found that out from your agent?
RL: Mmmhmm. My agent called me.
Is there an alternative narrative here?
RL: I don’t know. I have theories.
Did they just want to put Bryce Dallas Howard in the part?
RL: I have no idea. Honestly? I’m not hiding anything. You’d have to ask them. I had a really great time making the films. I loved being a part of it. I was replaced. I was devastated. I had no recourse. They weren’t going to un-replace me.
There was a huge fan outcry —
RL: There was a huge fan outcry. Which was the most comforting thing that could have possibly happened. I never intended to ever in my life be rude to a fan who was nice to me, even if they were interrupting my dinner, which is really annoying. But from that moment on, I just thought, “These are the people who when I was terrified —” because you feel really rejected. These were the people who made me feel better.
I told Under the Dome’s executive producer Neal Baer I was interviewing you, and I asked him what I should ask you that you haven’t talked about in interviews. He said, she’s half-Jewish, she’s played a doctor three times on shows that haven’t made it out of the first season, and she’s committed to environmental causes.
RL: Wow, he knows me well! And animal causes.
Are you a vegetarian?
RL: No. I do cheat from this rule, but as much as humanly possible, I eat organic, locally sourced, humane meat. I was vegetarian for a year, but, and this is in the realm of TMI, though it’s such a non-interesting fact: I get slightly anemic. I’d sit up, and I’d get woozy and sit back down.
It’s not for everyone.
RL: This is going to get some people’s backs up aggressively in the animal rights community, so if you put it in the article, please put my full answer. I would really like to go to a farm at some point and I would like to kill with my own hands one of every animal that I’m ever going to eat again. And if I can’t bring myself to do it, then not eat it.
This will be making it into the article.
RL: Because the thing I think is the worst in our society is not just how we treat our animals, but the level of waste and the level of disrespect and the inhumane manner in which they’re raised and slaughtered. It’s awful. I respect my food. I only buy the meat I’m going to eat. If I order a meat dish at a restaurant, I don’t care how full I am: I will either finish it or I will bring it home and eat it for lunch the next day. A living thing died for my eating purposes. I think people should have a better relationship with their food. If you eat meat, someone out there is killing it in your name. If I want to eat rabbit, I should be able to kill a rabbit.
Do you eat rabbit?
RL: I do. And there’s lots of great local farms where they have a normal rabbit life out in the field, and then they go to the slaughter.
What do you think you’d have trouble killing?
RL: Probably a rabbit! Probably everything. Rabbit, deer. I think I’d be OK with a chicken. I don’t think I’m going to be good at killing anything. But I want to do it. I think everybody should have to.
I assume you’ve fished.
RL: I have. Although I’m terrible at it. Like, really terrible.
I get bored, I get seasick.
RL: They’re easier to kill, the fish, because they don’t make eyes at you first. You’re unlikely to name them before they’re on your rod.
Speaking of food, your boyfriend, Chris Crary, was on Top Chef. Did you watch that season?
RL: I didn’t, actually. I didn’t know who he was when he asked me out.
And I read that he asked you out on Twitter?
RL: Oh yeah. “When are you coming into the restaurant so I can cook for you?” The immortal words.
You looked at his bio, saw that he’d been on Top Chef, and determined that he wasn’t a killer.
RL: Right. First I went to his Twitter profile and saw he was the chef de cuisine at the Viceroy in Santa Monica. Which I’d been to, and is not just a public place, but a legitimate one. A lovely hotel in Santa Monica where people go every day.
What was he a fan of yours from?
RL: Being a cute redhead.
Oh really? It wasn’t like he was some Twi-hard?
RL: No. He hadn’t seen anything I had done. He saw me on television once for, like, a minute. He likes redheads. And he’s very shy. So I tease him, because the story sounds like he’s some creepy guy who picks girls up on Twitter. I think they covered this on Top Chef — he was overweight, and he lost 70 pounds. So he was never the cool guy with game; he’s a really sweet guy who’s quiet. He’s very confident in the kitchen, but you meet him in real life and he’s very quiet. So Twitter for him was just a way to ask somebody out without having to have the courage to walk up and ask them out.
You went to the Viceroy and hit it off?
RL: He was lovely. The food was incredible. He, like, drugged us with food and wine all night. And so by the time he came out to say hi, I was already smitten.
You had worked for Neal Baer on the CBS show A Gifted Man. Is that how Under the Dome came about for you?
RL: I had worked for CBS before, I had been a lead in a series for them twice. I had a really great experience with them. Neal just called, and saw me in the role of Julia. He said, “Read the script, see what you think.” I loved it. He invited me to come in and meet with all the writers, so I did that in a two-hour meeting that was kind of a lovefest. Asked a lot of questions, talked a lot about the character, talked about the show. By the time I left, we all just really wanted to work together.
Had you read the Stephen King book?
RL: No, I hadn’t read the book.
Have you read it yet?
RL: No! I actually am going to read it on my hiatus. I only got cast a week before we started shooting; it’s 1,200 pages. I like a lot of prep time — I get really nerdy with my scripts. I like to do a lot of research.
What did you do for this one?
RL: I read a lot of journalism. So I went back and thought about the difference between what it’s like to sit and interview somebody versus sitting alone with research and putting together a story. I took it apart to try to figure out what kind of a person she is. What kind of person would become a journalist? What are the personality traits required to do that job?
Only the worst ones. And this cake business was clearly part of a Machiavellian plan to throw me off my game.
RL: Ha! You should call the article “manipulated with sugar.” I try to do a lot of research on the characters so that I understand the choices I’m making as I’m being asked to make them.
What have you enjoyed about being on the show? Obviously, it’s a huge hit and is going to come back.
RL: That’s awesome. It’s a fun show — it’s big.
It’s not the art house.
RL: It’s not the art house! That’s part of the reason why my ideal job during my hiatus would be a small indie. Because I do want to get back to that. But if you do have to move away from your home and go somewhere and do a job for six months, you want it to be something continuously interesting. And fun. Which it is. Mike Vogel — I love him. He’s a really thoughtful actor. He wants to talk about it. We just sit and talk about the scene and the characters. A lot of the actors are like that. I do get that fulfilled, that creative side. And then I get to deliver babies and hallucinate or see visions. Break out of buildings, run for my life. Really, it’s fun to do a show that’s that epic.
Are there downsides?
RL: Sure. Living away from my home. Being in Wilmington is tough — there’s no direct flight to anywhere except Atlanta or Charlotte, so I can’t pop home for the weekend. The older I get, the harder that is. I have a house in L.A. that I love, I have a boyfriend who I’m very serious about, and friendships I really rely on. Parents I like to see more as they get older. Living out of a suitcase in my twenties was the adventure of a lifetime. And now, it’s what the job requires and I don’t resent it. But I do feel it costs a bit more. You know?
What does your ideal career look like?
RL: You mean, like, fantasyland?
Sure. Is there an actress who exists or has existed whose career you emulate?
RL: Anyone who gets to make one or two movies a year. I’m not one of these actors who feels like I have one particular thing that I love to do. Drama is where I feel most comfortable; I like the more serious things. But I’m an idiot, and it’s fun to do comedy too. My friends make fun of me all the time for meeting my boyfriend on Twitter — zany stuff. The idea of training for six months to do Angelina Jolie’s role in Tomb Raider, to play a Lara Croft-type character — stuffing my bra and building up my biceps and going off and kicking ass for a few months god knows where: what an adventure that would be. That sounds like a lot of fucking fun, pardon my French. My list of actors I want to work with is a who’s who of insane talent. But I also want to look back and say I did the crazy things too.
When you say one or two movies a year, does that mean you wish TV weren’t your main thing? I assume you’re signed on for Under the Dome for a while.
RL: I am, I am. And this one is OK, actually, because this is 13. And that’s really manageable. If I did this and one movie a year, that would be really great. I need balance. I like my personal life. I like my family and my friends — I want to see them. I like to stay home with my dog and cook. Travel. I have no desire to be Rachelle Lefevre Incorporated. And I might move to the South of France if I got my dream. Since I’m fantasizing!
You wouldn’t want to live in L.A.?
RL: I do love L.A. It’s still the epicenter of where decisions get made. But I would so quickly move to Europe in a heartbeat. You know who might have my dream life? Gwyneth Paltrow.
There’s a Coldplay song on in here right now!
RL: That must have been subliminal. I would live in London or Paris. Husband, kids, cookbook, Goop. Which, god bless her, she gets criticism, but I get it. I travel the world and I stay in hotels — or I find a dumpling shop in god knows where in Toronto — and I want to tell people about it. Why should we hate her because her life is the way it is?
I don’t know what it is; it’s just a thing.
RL: It’s funny. I don’t know her. I can’t say here or there. She’s insanely talented. She’s done romantic comedies, she’s done incredible dramas — Shakespeare in Love, Sliding Doors, she gets to kick ass in Iron Man. That’s what it looks like in my dream life.
She’s a wonderful actress. I think maybe it’s that tonally she infuriates people who then want The Revolution to come if only for her to be beheaded?
RL: Here’s my response to that, not that anybody asked me to weigh in.
RL: If I was on the Defend Gwyneth Paltrow side of the debate club: We read fashion magazines, and nobody hates on Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar or the editors or designers. Nobody is calling for Marc Jacobs’ head on a platter because he designs handbags that cost $2,500 or upward from that. Most of the people who read those magazines can’t afford the clothes in there. I can’t afford most of the clothes that are in there. Goop is no different for me. You can’t be mad at her and not be mad at everyone who is successful.
There are people, usually women, who become a target for anger. What Anne Hathaway had to deal with during the Oscar campaign, for instance. Which on one level, I understood why it was happening.
RL: Can you explain it to me? Because I didn’t understand what was happening. I thought she was a lovely girl who did a phenomenal job in a movie. And everybody should just back the fuck up.
I think people don’t like it when someone is needy in public. That side of her that really wanted to win — it brought out a bully that manifested itself on the internet. Do you get any of that yourself?
RL: I do. Mainly when I say something that’s completely misinterpreted, which usually happens when I’m political. And I’m ready for it then. I don’t pay attention to name-callers, quote-unquote haters. If you disagree with me, I actually welcome it. Just be intelligent, have something to say.
Are these cakes done? Like: done? I sort of pictured mine being rescued somehow?
RL: I don’t think that’s happening.
Let me look at my questions to make sure I didn’t miss anything.
RL: While you’re doing that I’m going to talk into the tape recorder. The thing about poor Anne Hathaway, who I’ve never met but adore from her interviews, and whose work I love, the idea of being needy in public or needing to be reassured or admitting you’re insecure —. That thing she said, I think it was the Golden Globes, she said, “I will use this as a weapon against self-doubt.” I have never met anybody in my life who isn’t afraid that they aren’t good enough. If you tell me that you’re not afraid that you’re not good enough, then either of two things have happened: 1) You’re a liar. Or 2) You’ve done a lot of soul-searching and you’ve had a lot of therapy. Or you’ve come a long way in your journey. Actors in general tend to do publicly what other people do privately. I think people have a lot about themselves that they don’t like. Or that they’re afraid of. When they see other people making mistakes publicly, or being insecure publicly — when they see that side, it’s like having a mirror reflected back, and nobody likes the mirror. So they shoot the messenger.
RL: They shoot the messenger! It’s the wrong response. I think the response should be: God bless you for being honest about the fact that even though you have an amazing career and even though you have tons of money and even though you’re getting married and even though you’re skinny and look great in clothing, you still wake up in the morning and wonder if you’re good enough.
Did that turn into something about you at any point that I should be able to identify?
RL: No, except that I wrestle with all of those things. I really appreciated her being honest about it. Anne Hathaway is one of those people who has a career I would love to have. I appreciate as a fellow actor that she’s willing to admit that there’s nowhere to get to where you feel like you’re a worthy, wonderful human being. And that you have it all.
This interview has been edited and condensed.