Interview | Elizabeth Mansfield
Cold is not the right word. I had made my way down the streets of Broadway and 1st and arrived at a coffee shop I was slightly familiar with. I sat in the car for a few minutes, wondering why I hadn’t grabbed my sweater for the short walk to the front door but I managed my way through the chill and into the warmed room, ordered a latte and looked around for a familiar face. Elizabeth came through the door just minutes after, also ordered a latte and pointed towards two seats and a small table by the back garage door. The room was filled with sounds and we began to catch up over all the noise.
“I think if I had to boil it down, everything that I’m drawn to at the foundation, has to do with story and storytelling,” she said as a man behind the counter yelled out for lattes. We grinned at the interuption and she got up to get our drinks and returned with more of a smile. “In film,” she continued, “I’m so drawn to what the story is, even if it’s not great in terms of cinematography, if the story’s good, it can just destroy me.” I picked up my mug to fill my hands with warmth and she took a drink of hers between thoughts. “Story, to me is just always attached with this longing to be in another world, if we’re going to go that far already,” she said and laughed, “this longing to have another story, or to make mine better, or to make others better. That’s one of my biggest passions - storytelling.”
For a few minutes we got lost in talking about history podcasts and the concept of looking at all things as a story and all the while I kept going back to her powerful words that she spoke within the first few minutes of our time together. “One of my favorite films is the King’s Speech because not only does it address personal struggle and issue but it took history and it gave it this moral philosophy,” she said sitting up on her seat and took another sip of her latte. “I’m not one to have a need for a political agenda,” she continued, “But I think there’s certain stories that need to be told at a certain time and I think that movie came at a really good time.” She took another drink and told me about her political ideals, that as I had come to find out throughout our friendship, lined up evenly with mine. “So I have very strong political ideals and beliefs,” she said and laughed her laugh, “but I don’t think I would ever try and implement that into a film. Stories just need to be told as awareness for other people and different kinds of people. For me, going into a script I would just ask what’s the purpose of this story and why does need to be told and is it a redemptive narrative?”
Her attention to purpose behind her art had questions spinning in my mind. I asked her to tell me how she will go about choosing jobs and projects to work on in the future. “I heard this quote from a director – ‘when I approach a project I don’t look at it and say what can I get out of this, I say who can I become from this?’ I think that’s so important not only for people involved in the film but people watching the film. Great films in general compel you to be great, whether with kindness or whether it’s with motivation and inspiration to live a life worth living. That is the framework I have for when I step into any project. Who will I become through this and who would I help people become through telling this story?” A friend of hers walked through the door and she stood to hug and talk. When she sat she asked if I wanted to move to a more lit table. We grabbed our few belongings and sat at a sun-filled spot and she picked back up like nothing had happened. “I was told by one of my mentors that yes, I have a truth of my character, but the ultimate truth doesn’t happen until I show up and I’m with everyone. I have to be a part of the ultimate truth of the story and aid in any way I can to bring that to light - even if it’s me standing next to the main person and not saying a word, or if it’s with a community of actors that I’m studying with.”She took another drink of her almost empty mug and we pressed into a side of acting that most people, more often than not, bring up when someone says acting is their career of choice. “I think struggle is one of those things that you can bring to acting, it shows truth and you can look back and say these are all the hard things and these are what shaped me. Being in a really small role gives you time to observe,” she said and sat and thought for a moment. “Really driving into the communal side of film and acting and being able to observe and come away with the good things – people so easily dehumanize actors once they step into the real world. They see them in the movie and praise them for their utterly humanizing roles but the minute they step off they’re dehumanized. Not only do I think dehumanizing someone is wrong but you will never dehumanize me.
”These past few weeks Elizabeth has been studying in London and is currently on her way to New York City. Towards the end of our meeting I was struck by all of the strong, courageous, powerful things she had said with no more intensity than when we were talking about the Oscars and our favorite speeches. Beautiful souls are hard to hide. I left that chilly morning sad to say goodbye to a friend for a good bit of time but so incredibly inspired by her life and her work.