With meaty roles in Billions and as a stone-cold villain in Chicago-set action flick Rampage, funny girl Malin Akerman is channeling her serious side - and having a blast doing it.
Draped bustier gown, $4,990, cropped tuxedo jacket, $2,950, and crystal mesh pumps, $1,390, all at Tom Ford.
Everybody knows Malin Akerman can do comedy. From her breakout as a ditzy ingenue in HBO cult favorite The Comeback to hilarious turns in 27 Dresses and Trophy Wife, the Swedish-Canadian actress has made a career out of playing the funny blonde. Lately, though, the 39-year-old has been showing her range, as tough-as-nails Lara Axelrod on Showtime’s Billions and, even more surprisingly, playing the villain in the upcoming Rampage alongside an allstar cast including Joe Manganiello and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. With the third season of Billions set to premiere March 25 and Rampage—whose trailer depicts the destruction of downtown Chicago—in theaters April 20, it’s going to be a thrilling spring for Akerman. Here, she dishes with us on the fun of playing evil, the #MeToo movement and how she’s changed since her first Michigan Avenue cover way back in 2009.
Tulle coat, price upon request, by Off-White c/o Virgil Abloh at Barneys New York and off---white.com; Anne satin heels, $995, by Off-White C/O Jimmy Choo at Jimmy Choo.
Let’s talk Rampage. I’ve watched the trailers, and I have to say it’s rare as a Chicagoan to see your city destroyed on the silver screen. And you’re playing the villain!
I am! It was different. I don’t think I’ve played a villain before, so it’s new to me, and to be in charge of having a city destroyed is terrible—and exciting.
Like you said, you’re not known for playing the bad guy. What was the experience like for you?
Oh, it was so freeing. The thing I love about acting is you get to live vicariously through these characters, especially something like this, where I get to play a complete villain who is really cold. It was hard at first to find the humanity in that because it’s so far from who I am and how I [exist], but at the same time, it was so much fun to not have a single care for anybody. It was exciting to play this woman who’s on this power trip and go into a different place.
There are so many big personalities in this cast: The Rock, Joe Manganiello, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Naomie Harris… What was it like on set?
It was great. Like you said, it’s a totally big, bold cast—I mean, Dwayne Johnson is big in every sense of the word—and everyone was just lovely. I don’t have any screen time with Jeffrey Dean Morgan, but we ended up having time together backstage when I was coming to set and he was finishing up, and we worked on Watchmen together, so it was nice to be partnered together again in a film. But as far as the rest of them, Dwayne is probably the most positive, hardworking guy out there. And Naomie Harris is lovely—she couldn’t be a more gentle, talented, smart woman. But most of my time was spent with Jake Lacy, whom I absolutely adore, and the only problem was that he made me laugh so much when I was trying to be this serious, hard character. He was such a shit because right before they called action, he’d make some sort of joke or silly sound, and I would crack up.
Pink sequin gown, $6,995, by Alberta Ferretti at Barneys New York; wool jacket, $5,050, at Chanel.
You also have the season 3 premiere of Billions coming up. In these days of TV saturation, why do you think that show has connected with people?
I think people have always looked to the financial world here in the States—that delegates a lot of what happens around the rest of the world—and after 2008, people had a lot of questions, and I think people are curious [about] what the top 1 percent are really up to. What I find interesting about this show is that you don’t have a clear bad guy or clear good guy, which makes it human, because nobody is a clear good guy or bad guy in the world—we just make choices. I also think, to the credit of the writers, they’ve written a great show and keep up the suspense through every episode.
Another project from early in your career was The Comeback, which was such a breakout role for you, and people still talk about it today. What do you remember about filming that?
I was so naive back then and so excited to get that job for so many reasons. Clearly at the top of my list was who I was working with: Lisa Kudrow, Michael Patrick King. It was an amazing group of people. And the writing was brilliant—I didn’t realize how brilliant it was until it went away, and I was reading other scripts and I was just like, ‘Really? This is it?’ [laughs] Wait a second— how is it possible that a brilliant show like The Comeback didn’t get to come back? I was so baffled by it. I remember the last day of shooting: I said goodbye to everyone in the makeup chair, and I was like ‘See you next season!’ I was so positive and so sure we were coming back—how could we not? But I felt so lucky. To me [the role of Juna Millken] wasn’t far-fetched because I played a girl who was elated to be working with one of her idols, which was true to life—I mean, I was working with Lisa Kudrow, who played Phoebe on Friends. [I’m thinking:] ‘This is incredible—I’m working in Hollywood at Paramount Studios, and there’s so much history with that.’ And I had a paycheck. I didn’t have to live on a friend’s couch anymore! [laughs]. But most of all, the takeaway from that was then being able to get auditions for other things—doors were opening up for me as far as being able to audition for something. It really was my key into Hollywood.
Black silk jacket, $2,595, silk mesh pants, $945, satin bra, $545, and silk panty, $345, all at Dolce & Gabbana; black suede point-toe mules, $675, by Gianvito Rossi at Barneys New York.
You’ve done everything from big-budget popcorn movies to indie projects like Happythankyoumoreplease to musicals. What’s your dream project?
Good question. I’m mainly focused on working with a great director. I’m a huge Coen brothers fan—if I could work with those guys, I’d be done. That would be my be-all and end-all. And mainly character-based films, veering away from the broad comedy stuff—which I [do] love and will always want to do. It definitely is something that’s in my wheelhouse. But if someone was like, ‘If you could have anything what would it be,’ I would say a Coen brothers film.
We’re in awards season right now—what has blown you away in the past year?
I’ve been so out of the loop this year. I was just sitting with my fiance now, and we said, ‘We have to go see Three Billboards [Outside Ebbing, Missouri].’ I love Frances [McDormand], and I feel like that’s going to be my jam. I did see one film that I love called Patti Cake$, and I thought it was brilliant. It’s so raw, and the actors in it are real and believable. I’ve seen Ozark, which Jason [Bateman] has done a great job on. There’s so much [to see] these days. I watch Pokémon with my son [Sebastian]—that’s all we have on the TV these days—and by the time he goes to bed, I’m wiped.
Kahlo strapless top with layer chiffon ruffles, $945, by Cushnie et Ochs at Neiman Marcus; ring, Akerman’s own.
You mention your fiance—you just got engaged to British actor Jack Donnelly. Are you in wedding-planning mode?
Sort of. We’re taking it slow and enjoying being engaged, and definitely talking about it, but no settled plans as of right now.
You’re known for donating your time to organizations like Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and Opportunity International. Why is it important for you to give back?
That’s just part of humanity, part of our spirit. I think anyone who’s ever given anything back—holding the door, giving a dollar to someone on the street—it’s not just helping, it helps you. I’ll tell you a quick story. A friend of mine has a leadership program in juvenile hall. She asked me to co-lead with her, and we went in thinking we were going to help these boys out because [they were] about to get out of juvenile hall, and the rate of recidivism is so massive that we were hoping to make a dent in that. [Ultimately though], when you walk out of there, you feel like you’re the one who’s learned a lesson somehow—you feel awake and inspired and alive, and I think that when we get outside of ourselves, it’s just the way we should be. Especially if you have a platform and the possibility, and I do, [so] I don’t see why I wouldn’t. So many times I’ve been like, ‘I’m done. I’m not going to act; I’m going to move to Nicaragua and be part of Operation International and fund this school they have there, and sit with the kids and make sure the school continues.’ That’s when you feel like you’re a part of real life—that’s when it feels like, ‘Yeah, this is the right space to be.’ I have a lucky, blessed life and some people don’t, and I’m happy to be able to help out any way I can.
The #MeToo movement has such momentum right now, not only in Hollywood but across society. How do you feel about what’s happening?
It’s a tough climate for sure. Change is tough. But I think it’s incredibly positive. And you’re right, it’s not just Hollywood, and I hope people start to see that it’s across the board. It’s a fight that needs to be fought—for everyone to feel comfortable to speak the truth and not be shamed and not be put down for it, whether male or female. I think the message is clear and important; it’s a really interesting time, and I love that there’s so much support out there, and I’m curious to see where this is going to go. I think it’s going to be positive and beautiful. I am so proud of people for speaking up and speaking their truth, and not being afraid anymore, because nobody should live in fear.
“[THE #METOO MOVEMENT IS] A FIGHT THAT NEEDS TO BE FOUGHT—FOR EVERYONE TO FEEL COMFORTABLE TO SPEAK THE TRUTH AND NOT BE SHAMED AND NOT BE PUT DOWN FOR IT, WHETHER MALE OR FEMALE.”
Back in October 2009, you were promoting Couples Retreat with Vince Vaughn and you appeared on our cover for the first time. Looking back on that period, how do you think you’ve changed?
I’ve definitely learned the ropes more when it comes to the business side of things. I have become a mother, which has been probably the biggest change in my life, and I’ve realized more and more each year what is important in life and really seiz[ed] every moment for what it’s worth. Because time is fleeting. You know, [for me] it was such an exciting time in 2009 because Couples Retreat was a big film, and it was Vince Vaughn and all these wonderful actors, and I’ve been so lucky to continue to work since then. But I also know there are five other girls waiting right behind me to take my spot, so I feel lucky to continue to work, and every day is a day I can be thankful I’m still here. But most of all, the biggest change has been that the things I value most are clear, and that is absolutely family above all else.
If you could give Malin from 2009 any advice, what would it be?
Oh, wow. This is such a tough one. I don’t know what I would say to myself—I’d probably say…. [laughs] My fiance just walked in and whispered, ‘You’re going to meet a great guy.’ … Yeah, that would be good advice. Advice is hard to give because you don’t want to mess things up, but I guess it would be to be present in every moment. You know, sometimes you get swept away by things and I think you’ve got to remember: Just stay in the moment.
PHOTOGRAPHED BY NIGEL BARKER. STYLED BY PAUL FREDERICK