You’ll recognize Adina Porter from the CW’s The 100, HBO’s True Blood and HBO’s The Newsroom. Soon you’ll see her on the new show Underground.
Adina Porter is a master at transformation. She’s barely recognizable from role to role. Even if you look into her eyes, she’s 100% pure character.
One of the things that makes an actor great is their ability to shift. Not only is Adina adept at stage, television and film, but in her personal life, she’s able to somehow conquer the world of being a mom.
But back to transformation!
As actors, we sometimes don’t realize that we actually modify ourselves into an entire other being. Yes, we go through wardrobe and make-up which, on the physical side, helps a lot, and is fun to look at in pictures.
It’s more than that, though, as we’ve seen from Adina’s abilities. We change the way we walk, do little things we may not do in real life, such as different gestures or even talk with a stutter.
When you see an actor capable of total transformation, that’s when you have to take a step back and break down how they operate. That’s what makes it a pleasure to watch an actor.
Let’s learn about Adina Porter!
I remember the first actor to snub me and ignore me on the van ride to set. I think he thought I was a background artist.
ABOUT ADINA’S ACTING CRAFT
You won an Obie award for Suzan Lori Park’s play Venus. Who nominated you for the award? Did you know in advance you won or you found out that moment at the ceremony? Share the story.
Winning the Obie has definitely been one of the highlights of my career. I have no idea who nominated me. I knew I was receiving the Obie when I went to the ceremony. I don’t recall learning I was receiving the honor. I’m guessing I was told backstage after a performance but don’t recall by whom. It was a surprise to have fellow Purchase Alumnus Stanley Tucci present it to me; that was very special, since I had admired his acting work for years. That night I shared a cab home with another Obie winner from that evening, LisaGay Hamilton. She has become one of my closest friends.
Tell us about your experience at the Williamstown Theatre Festival.
At WTF I met and became good friends with Amy Ryan, Patty Clarkson and Michael Learned. We were there working with the legendary Arthur Miller on a play about relationships. I remember how the air would get still with us all listening to his every word especially if he was telling an anecdote about Marilyn Monroe. I auditioned for the role. That’s how I got to Williamstown. Philip Seymour Hoffman was also there workshopping a play.
You were on Broadway in 2001 with the revival of The Women. What was your routine during the run of the show?
I got the role in The Women because of Amy Ryan; I owe her some commission money. For a while whenever I would come into New York from LA to visit friends and family, Amy would mention to someone that I was in town, which would lead to a job offer or at least an audition.
I never arrive at half hour. I always arrive at the theatre at least an hour before curtain. I shared a dressing room with Amy Ryan, Heather Matarazzo and Lisa Emery. We had so much fun together. I hung out in our room and did vocal exercises in the stairways.
The Women began previews very close to 9/11. Cast members would frequently visit Ground Zero, serve food, beverages and attempt to lighten the hearts of first responders who were on bucket detail, trying to locate survivors.
In any of the theatre you’ve done, did you have an understudy? What if you got sick and couldn’t perform?
I have never had an understudy. However, I have been an understudy. Once I was an understudy and an assistant stage manager for Frank Pugliese Aven’ U Boys. It was an Off-Broadway production starring Michael Imperioli, Lili Taylor, Ron Eldard, Lucinda Jenny, Adrian Pasdar and Cynthia Martells. I was at rehearsals as the assistant stage manger. We had separate rehearsals for understudies, just a basic review of the lines. I remember finding it painful not to speak up and participate in the rehearsals. I was told I was a ‘pretty good stage manager and maybe I should pursue it as a career.’
I’ve never been in a play that ran long enough for a vacation. As an actor we are off so much and we use that time to look for work. I don’t know of too many actors who take vacations. Most actors I know also don’t get sick enough to miss work.
You played the crazy Lettie Mae Thornton, Tara’s mom, in HBO’s True Blood. What exactly did you know about Lettie Mae when you were offered the role? Did you know in the beginning you would be asked back for further episodes or did that continue as the show was renewed?
I didn’t know anything about Lettie Mae. At the audition Alan Ball asked me to be ‘more drunk.’ I asked him if I took the note since usually I’m playing characters who are high not drunk. I was told I was going to be in a couple of episodes and then die. Obviously, there was a rewrite.
You’ve played characters that lasted seasons, such as The 100 and The Newsroom, and you’ve played characters on TV for single episodes, such as Glee and Grey’s Anatomy. What’s the difference between being able to carve a character in one episode vs. many episodes?
I was asked to come back to Grey’s Anatomy but it conflicted with The Newsroom. I hate when that happens. As a guest star I feel like you have to prove yourself at every turn. There is a little bit more freedom when you are asked back as a recurring guest star. Though I always feel I have to be my very best. I’m always scared of being killed off. If I’m recurring, I will talk to the crew. If I’m guest starring in a single episode, I stay in character 24/7.
How often do you get professional headshots taken? In today’s acting world, when you audition, are you even asked for a physical headshot on paper or is everything done electronically?
It’s rare to be asked for a headshot. Partly because everything is electronic now — but also – because of my body of work. I come into the audition with some history. My last headshot was cropped from a publicity spec shoot.
Do you prefer your scripts on paper or electronic?
I prefer my scripts electronically; I don’t like wasting paper. I have never been a highlighter kind of actor. Memorizing the sides makes me feel most prepared. Though it does give the impression that the performance is already settled upon. It is always a work in progress.
I don’t use a program to memorize, just repetition. I didn’t even know such software existed. I also believe memory is a muscle which I happen to exercise often.
At what point in your career did you decide to have short hair?
My hair has always been short. I wore a short fro in NY for many years and then thought ‘I need to have long flowing hair for LA.’ So I bought it and sewed it in. I went natural when I became a mother. I remember specifically giving my then three-month-old son a bath and asking him not to splash, ‘Mommie’s hair.’ I heard how crazy that sounded and did a ‘big chop’ the next day.
Do you have an acting coach?
No, I don’t have an acting coach. I have studied acting for many years in NY. I tried attending an acting class here in LA and was disappointed. While shooting The Newsroom if one of us had an audition, we would work with each other. Chris Chalk started that. That’s what I do now to prepare. I ask a friend / actor to read it with me.
What is a confidentiality agreement? Do you sign them on the shows you work on?
There are confidentiality agreements for some auditions. Yes, I sign them often. But I also hate the idea of ruining the story for a fan or hurting a writer by releasing something that is not ready for the public. A confidentiality agreement says you will not share with anyone what you are about to read or reveal plot points from a script and/or what is specifically happening on the set. In my opinion, an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) is about agreeing to be a team player.
You’re also working on a new TV series called Underground. Who helps you with your shoot schedule?
There is a term my manager Heidi Ifft came up with called Team Adina. My manager keeps all parties informed with my work and family schedule.
What advice do you have for actors?
While it sounds cliché: Study. Learn your craft.
Adina in mom-mode.
Do you have any regrets?
I used to regret not auditioning for Juilliard. I’ve forgiven myself for that. I’m very happy to have had a more common college experience.
Why and when did you move to California? Do you or your family have a home in NY?
I was at WTF when my agents called and suggested I try LA. It was supposed to be a year trial basis. However, I met my husband in 2000 and managed to keep working. My mother and sisters are still living in New York.
What do you do on your days off?
I’m a mom of an 8-year-old and a 5-year-old. When working — I almost consider it — time off. Being a mom is a very busy existence.
Do your kids come on set with you? Who watches them while you work?
We have an Au Pair who watches them when I am working. I do not bring my children to set. Maybe that will change now that I am a single mom. But I always found it a bit unprofessional.
Tell us a story about your childhood that’s unrelated to acting.
My family spent one Christmas in Sierra Leone, West Africa. It is the country in which my father was born and raised. At the market, a girl about my age pushed her baby toward me and asked that I take her home with me. I never answered her just walked away.
What’s your take on politics?
I think Trump doesn’t really want to become President. I think he’s in it for the publicity.
ABOUT ‘THE 100′
You play a tough Grounder badass named Indra on The CW’s The 100. Tell us about your audition. Was the name “Indra” in the sides or did they change the names to be secretive? What did you wear?
I got this audition the same way I get most auditions; my manager called me about it. I had three auditions that day so there was some juggling to do and I was shooting Newsroom at the time. It was on tape with the casting agent. I don’t remember if the name Indra was on the sides. There were women of all shapes, ages and colors at the audition. I had my take on the role and I remember getting an adjustment but can’t recall what the adjustment was. Perhaps it was to go deeper. The offense hurts even more. I don’t recall what I wore but it had to have been versatile enough for two other appointments. I changed shoes for each audition and for Indra I wore boots. There was no Grounder [language] to speak. And of the three auditions I had that day, I thought my The 100 audition was the weakest.
Where were you exactly and what was your immediate reaction when you found out you got the role of Indra? Who told you? Who was the first person YOU told?
I was shooting my last day on The Newsroom. I had checked my messages during a break. My manager told me I was being seriously considered and if I got the job would I be okay with flying out to Vancouver the next day. The first people I told were the other actors from The Newsroom bullpen. I remembered being really happy that when my name was called for series wrap applause, there was a good chance I had already booked my next job.
How long after you found out you got the part did you have to report to work?
I flew out to start work on The 100 the next day.
You came into The 100 in the second season. Which Season One actor was the first to greet you and what did you talk about?
I don’t remember the first actor to greet me. I remember the first actor to snub me and ignore me on the van ride to set. I think he thought I was a background artist. On the ride back from set I think he Googled me. I’ve known Isaiah Washington for many years. Our kids have played together.
Does The 100 have table reads? What exactly goes on at a table read? Is there food?
The 100 had only had one table read that I attended. I think Isaiah requested it. The Newsroom ALWAYS had table reads. It was always so formal with name cards. Coffee and bagels were served. All the heads of all the departments were present. They sat in chairs along the walls. The actors, director and producers sat at the table. Sometimes there was a speaker phone in the middle of the table for Scott Rudin since he is based in New York. Each time Aaron Sorkin would stand and make a speech about the upcoming episode, then introduce the director of the episode, there would be applause and we would begin. I was always terrified. It was like a preview for the NY Times with no rehearsal.
True Blood always had table reads. Name tags, no food, especially no carbs. The heads of departments were there too. The atmosphere was so relaxed. Like we had all just come in for a dip in the pool. Gregg Feinberg usually did the welcoming speech. It was usually about scheduling. And at the end Alan Ball would say something referring to the scope of the production, “it’s just two people sitting in a room talking.”
You mention The 100 on your social media. Is it written into your contract that you have to do that or you do that on your own?
No, I have chosen to list The 100 on social media. I am proud of the show and am very grateful to be known as a different character. It’s what you want as a working actor.
How long does your make-up take on The 100? Who came up with the scar on your face? How exactly do they DO that?
In the beginning it took four hours. Now they can do it in an hour. The 100 has amazing make-up artists that create these looks. I have no idea how they do it. It’s a craft that is studied, learned and then reinvented because materials and needs change. They do a tremendous job.
It was very difficult for Indra to accept Octavia of the Sky People into the Grounder’s The Woods Clan. Did you have a discussion with anyone regarding Indra’s initial inability to let Octavia in and how it was such a hard decision?
Change during wartime is hard for any leader. But I think Indra is learning in order to survive you have to adapt. Octavia also has proven herself.
I don’t discuss with writers what a character does. I don’t question their storytelling. They do their job then it is my job to actualize it. I might occasionally ask for clarification, since I wasn’t aware of all that occurred in Season 1.
On The 100, what’s it like being a seasoned actor working with actors who are in a position now that you were in when you started out? Do you give them any advice?
We talk back stories. I am very professional on set, perhaps others follow that example. I don’t give advice. I prefer to congratulate. Everyone likes being praised. I also have a lot going on. I’m not interested in mentoring anyone. Work is my vacation. I enjoy the peace and quiet.
Is The 100 mostly shot on location or are there studio sets as well? Give us a story about working on any indoor studio set vs. working on location.
The 100 shoots in studios and on location. Vancouver can be cold. Costumes have become very good at hiding warming pads. The producers love when it rains. So we don’t stop and wait for the rain to subside. It’s more like we hurry to get an extra take in the rain. Studio shooting is more physically comfortable but you have to act harder. Unlike being on location were sometimes I am just reacting.
Since The 100 shoots in Canada, who pays for your travel, hotel, food, etc? Do you stay in Canada even on your days off or do you go home to Calif? Does production pay for you to return home in between?
That all gets worked out by Team Adina. I am a union actor; The 100 is a union show. There are certain union rules that must be followed. It is part of a union contract that the production pays for travel, lodging and food. If it is more cost efficient for me to go home the production flies me home. If it isn’t then the production takes care of my lodging.
Were there multiple private viewings of The 100 Season 3?
There was a private viewing of the Season 3 premiere for cast and crew held during a holiday feast during an extended lunch break.
Do you ever question the writers, directors or producers about your character to help you better understand the script?
I don’t question writers about their choices. I don’t ask for advice because I don’t want interpretation. I asked for background facts because I only read the scripts in which Indra appears.
Anything else you’d like to say?
Thank you for your interest in my work.
Sincerely, Adina Porter
True Blood Photo by John P. Johnson.
Adina Porter is Indra in The 100.