Exclusive Interview: THE UNIT Star Abby Brammell

abby brammellBy: Amrie Cunningham [My Take on TV]

I’ll be the first to admit that the only reason I started watching The Unit was because it featured 24’s President Palmer and Felicity’s Noel Crane working side by side as members of a secret government organization . I have to say, though, that what keeps me coming back is the story of the wives and how they deal with their lives as a part of The Unit.

I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Abby Brammell, who plays Tiffy Gerhardt (one of my favorites, second only to the amazing Regina Taylor’s Molly Blane). We spoke for a few minutes about what’s coming up for Tiffy, who Abby would choose (the Colonel or Mack), and what she does in her downtime.

My first question is what about Tiffy made you want to play this character?
She’s so troubled. I really gravitate towards the troubled, soul-searching character. I really like she was caught up in the affair and she was struggling with right and wrong. And also that she’s married to a soldier. That seemed really fantastic to me. I’ve always loved the kind of archetype of the warrior, so to be a warrior’s lady, is like pretty great, too.

It seems like it’s not an easy role to play, which I’m sure gives you a lot of rewarding challenges.
You have to kind of let go of what you think is right and wrong, and really just deal with trying to love your character. And accept them for who they are with all of the terrible mistakes they make. And not judge them. You really can’t judge your characters; you just have to love them and try to portray them as honest as possible. It’s hard.

You do it so well. You’re one of the characters that stands out. In a show with so many people, your character could have easily blended into the background.
Thank you very much!

How did you / do you prepare to play this character?
TV is show interesting. I don’t have to do much preparation. Sometimes I just open myself up, and use my own life experience and my own pain and my own joy, and just kind of tap into the human thing, the human heart. On TV you have very little time to prepare. You get the scripts maybe two days in advance, and you’ve gotta read it really fast, and look at all your scenes and figure out how you’re going to do it. I always say you’re pulling from a very shallow well in television. It’s great if your shallow well is kind of deep, then you’re blessed. It’s not really as in depth a preparation that you would need for a play or a movie. TV, in a way, is kind of easier than those other two things. So I don’t do a whole lot of preparation; just make sure I got my mind down, and make sure my emotional state is open and ready, and that’s really about it.

Do you have a favorite thing about your character?
I think I love that she’s a little bit reckless and she’s a little bit wild, and she doesn’t the straight and narrow path. She can’t. She’s driven to experience life to its fullest, and it gets her into trouble sometimes, I think. But I really enjoy people and characters that live life on the edge, because they are explorers of life and I love those kind of people, in real life, and on paper too.

Without giving too much away, can you tell us what’s coming up on the show?
We’re kind of still struggling with the death of Hector Williams. Tiffy has questions about why he died. She kind of questions the Colonel. There is going to be a little bit of a cutoff. She kind of decides to live life on her own, away from both Mack and the Colonel, so that’s going to be kind of interesting, to see how long that will last. I mean, I do have to relate to them some way, haha, it’s not a show about this woman on her own. It’s about a show relating to these soldiers, so hopefully, they’ll figure out a way to get me back in the arms of one of them. I think she’s going to go back with her husband, but I’m not 100% sure.

If you had to pick between Mack and the Colonel, who would you pick for Tiffy?
Oh that’s so hard. You can’t have your cake and eat it too!! Probably, because of the children, it would be Mack. Even though he’s hard, and not very communicative; he’s a little insane, but I think for the sake of the children, I would say I hope she ends up with Mack.

How has the strike affected you guys?
We finished 11 scripts, and then they shut us down. We’re just waiting until further notice. Hopefully, when negotiations start back up, we can come to some understanding and find a balance and go back to work.

Right, because you guys were officially given the back part of the season, too, right?
Yeah, we’re picked up for 22 episodes, and everybody wants to know what’s going on. It’s kind of time in limbo. We’re all wandering around in limbo!

What else is coming up for you?
I would love to be doing some theatre, or a movie. Right now, a couple of auditions for movies that have already been written. It’s so hard because everything’s kind of shutting down for the holidays and there are some scripts that are written, but there’s not a whole lot that’s happening because of the strike. Just kind of trying to relax and enjoy my family.

How did acting become a career goal for you – was there a moment where you said “I want to be an actress” or was it a gradual thing?
No, it was when I was 12 years old and I saw Phantom of the Opera in Toronto, and I just knew. I knew, I just knew that’s what I’m on this planet for, haha. I didn’t know how to go about making it happen really, but it was definitely one of those light bulb moments. I knew I would be an actor, a stage actor and whatever else that meant. The dream was always to be on the stage, and then I guess movies. I never really said “I want to be a TV star” growing up, haha, but you know, I’ll take it. Hey, it’s great work, and it’s amazing to be able to do what I love.

Who would you love to work with in the future?
That’s so funny that you ask that – I was telling someone the other day that I would love to work with Sean Penn. Sean Penn, Cate Blanchett. Cate Blanchett, she’s like my hero, she’s amazing [editor’s note – I would totally buy Abby as Cate’s sister or cousin or something in some sprawling epic…]. Johnny Depp. I wish I knew some of the directors; I can’t think of any of the directors’ names. I have to write down a list for these kinds of situations ha. It would be good to work with some friends of mine, who went to school with me, who are making it big. Zach Quinto, he’s on Heroes [Sylar, for those of you not watching]. You know, it would be so fun to do a project with him. Like relive our old college days.

When you have downtime, what are some of your favorite shows?
I like shows on the History Channel, haha; I like Heroes. I was watching Weeds for a little bit. I don’t think I have any regular shows. The Unit, hahaha, I watch The Unit a lot, every week. The Twilight Zone. They have old episodes of The Twilight Zone; I love catching one of those. Those are great. I’m usually a spontaneous television viewer. I don’t really have a schedule.

What do you do for fun when you have downtime?
I like to hike with my dog. And hang out with my husband. We just bought a house, so a lot of my downtime is fixing up this old house built in 1904. We’re kind of slowly trying to get it to the place where we’re comfortable with everything. That’s a lot of work and it takes a lot of patience so that’s been fantastic. It’s like a new hobby. And I meditate a lot. I have a regular meditation practice I do. I just kind of breathe and enjoy life.

Bringing it back to the show to wrap it up, why should people get involved in The Unit, and start watching, or watch more regularly?
I think people should watch the show as an example of a show that’s really got a great balance of the masculine and the feminine elements. They’re really wonderful portrayals of both of those types of energies. You have all of the war stuff, which is so masculine, and you also have the women at home, which is really feminine. But they go back and forth. The women have to take on the very masculine roles at home, where they’re actually paying the bills and they’re doing all the, traditionally, things that are related to the masculine side, in a traditional sense. The men, they’re so close and compassionate for their brothers in arms that they almost have a feminine quality of compassion. There’s a lot going on in terms of the human experience and I think it’s a fascinating study in that. I highly recommend it.

The Unit airs on CBS at 9PM between NCIS and before Cane. Check it out!