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Joanna Going

Mable Yiu

Photo courtesy of  Benjo Arwas

Photo courtesy of Benjo Arwas

by Mable Yiu

House of Cards star, breast cancer awareness role model, and successful single mother Joanna Going, sits down with us to discuss her roles as an actress and definitions of success.

Have you always wanted to become an actress? What led you to attend the American Academy of Dramatic Arts after going to college for 2 years?

I became interested in acting at the age of 14, when I got involved with a local theater company’s production of The Tempest in my home town of Newport, RI. I continued doing theater throughout high school, and when it came time to apply to colleges, I knew I wanted to study theater. The American Academy of Dramatic Arts had been on my radar, but, at 17, I wasn’t ready to move to New York, and wanted the more traditional college experience, so I joined the BFA Acting program at Emerson College in Boston. After two years there, I truly knew I wanted to focus on acting, and desired a more conservatory-type atmosphere. I took six months off to play Thea in The Incredibly Far Off-Broadway Ensemble Theater’s production of Hedda Gabler in Newport, and then moved to New York to attend the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

What has it been like to work on such a successful Netflix series House of Cards? How has that experience been different than filming other TV shows and movies, such as your current role on DirectTV’s KINGDOM?

It was an honor, and a little bit intimidating to come in to the second season of House of Cards, a show that was flying high on the well-deserved success of their ground-breaking first season on Netflix. I had been a fan of the show from the moment it was released and was over-the-moon to be a part of it. 

As a guest part, albeit a recurring one, hopping onto a moving train and visiting for a while is quite different from being a part of the building of a new show from the outset, as is the case with Kingdom. Creator Byron Balasco, just named one of TV’s Most Powerful Showrunners 2015 by The Hollywood Reporter, has been very inclusive with the cast in discussions that shape the characters and the direction of the story lines. We are given a lot of freedom as actors to develop our roles emotionally and visually in a way that is setting the tone of the world where our show exists. We live in that world, we own it, and we feel validated to make the outrageous choices, or take the time to give attention to the small details that all add up to giving the richest life possible to Byron’s beautifully drawn cast of characters.

Can you describe your work advocating for breast cancer awareness?

There are several women among my friends and family who have battled breast cancer, including my daughter’s aunt, grandmother, and great-grandmother. The aunt, who is a dear friend, learned she had the gene markers for breast cancer, and opted to have a preemptive double mastectomy. It was a difficult choice, but a pro-active one. I admire her so much and I am grateful for her example to her daughters and nieces, who may also have an inherited propensity toward developing breast cancer, in letting them know that you can get out ahead of this disease, if necessary, beat the threat, and continue on with a healthy and happy and beautiful life. Education, awareness and early detection are the key in the fight against breast cancer. 

What was the process like creating a work-life balance with raising your daughter? Do you have any advice for women who want to have both a successful career and family?

I’ll be blunt: it isn’t easy. Especially since becoming a single mom. It was simpler when she was a baby and I could travel her with me to out-of-town locations, along with a nanny, who’d get a nice chunk of my paycheck. (Sidebar: in the ongoing discussion of the gender pay gap in Hollywood, it would be interesting to examine the percentages of males’ and females’ income that goes toward childcare!)

Once my daughter started school, I limited my work options to closer to home. It felt important to me to give her that consistency of always having a parent around, as well as an uninterrupted school life. I chose to take a step back from my work and focus on raising my child, and I was very fortunate that my then-husband was working on a very demanding hit TV show, and afforded me the chance to do that. I know the majority of women who work outside the home do not get the luxury of making that choice. During that period I threw myself into the work of running a home, taking care of a family, and went a little volunteer-crazy at my daughter’s schools, while continuing to audition and take the occasional close-to-home job. 

It made me happy, and I am forever grateful for the years I got to be THAT mom. But eventually, with the end of my marriage, I needed to get back to my profession in full-force, and for that it truly did take a village of friends, relatives, school, and nannies. My daughter and I are parent and child, but also a team, we support each other, and she has grown to understand what my work means to me. As necessary as it felt for me to be a mostly, stay-at-home mom when she was little, I am so grateful to now be able to show her what it means to be an independent working woman.  

To find a balance between work and family, you need to find the center of yourself, and know what satisfies you. There are no rules. Only what works for you and your family. If you are lucky enough to have a choice, and quit your job to stay at home and raise your kids and are miserable every second, that is not what works for you. If you go to work and cannot focus, devote your full attention to your job and find satisfaction in it because you are consumed with worry and the gut longing to be with your kids — then maybe you need a different arrangement. Of course, for many mothers there is not a choice: there is the necessity to work, and there is family to be nurtured. For everyone it is vitally important that you create a network of support for yourself and your children; extended family, friends, teachers, classmates. Nobody can do it alone. Take the opportunity to teach your children to build a community, and be willing to reach out when you need help.

What are your plans for your career in the future?

My immediate plan is to continue my work as “Christina Kulina” on Season 3 of KINGDOM, which begins shooting next week. Beyond that, it is my simple hope and prayer to be a working actress, with the ability to support myself and my family, long into my old-age.