Lauren Ambrose

Photo: Jason Kempin/

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The Power of Fear: Lauren Ambrose
At first glance, Lauren Ambrose's dewy face and doe eyes suggest an innocent naïveté. But anyone familiar with her devastating performances knows that her exterior belies an extraordinary intensity and a preternatural ability to convey the humanity of her characters. Best known for her Emmy-nominated role in the HBO drama Six Feet Under, Ambrose, 32, also wowed audiences in a Broadway production of the Eugène Ionesco play Exit the King, and can be heard in the film adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are . Here, she pulls back the curtain on her favorite emotion:

I enjoy playing roles that push me to my absolute capacity, emotionally and physically—that feel like a leap of faith. I often take a role without knowing what I'm supposed to do, what's required of me. Figuring that out is a process, and for me that process starts with fear.

Every single time I begin a job I think, "I'm a fraud. I'm going to get fired. What am I doing here? They're going to find me out." But you can't tell yourself you shouldn't feel that way, because that doesn't help. What helps is really living with what it feels like to be that afraid, and beginning from there. The fear is the way through.

You can't deny, either in life or as an actor, what's really going on. So even though I might be playing the most confident person in the world, if I'm ready to throw up with nerves, that fear has to be present somehow. I think I need it—that daunting feeling like I'm looking up at Mount Everest. It's what lets me go into rehearsal without expecting anything. But I also know that through diligence, and not letting the fear take over, something will come. I love that feeling, like jumping off a cliff—it's a big, powerful, enlivening, animal feeling. I think, "What will come up, what will come out, if I really relinquish? What real, live thing can happen in the room, and go into the art we're making?" That's what's truly scary, but also such a thrill.


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