Fresh Faces: Penelope Mitchell

Penelope Mitchell sits across from me at our table at Mohawk Bend in Echo Park, tousling her hair to one side while we look through some of the photos Koury Angelo had taken of her a few days before. Her hair has a natural frizz and curl to it, and when the sunlight catches a few stray hairs, it creates an angelic glow around the delicate features of her face. The young Australian-born actress, who stars as Letha Godfrey, one of the lead roles in the Netflix Original Series Hemlock Grove, seems to have an impeccable sense for knowing not only what she wants out of life, but what she needs out of life in order to be happy. We started our conversation off by Penelope thinking back on her time as a student–a smile broke across the lovely girl’s face and she began to laugh.

"I was a massive nerd in school. I am also really competitive and just wanted to nail everything. If I wasn’t going to be full-on in something, I wasn’t going to do it. I studied ballet my whole life and then quit because I was like, ‘I’m going to become a lawyer now because that’s what one does. People don’t just keep being ballet dancers.’ So I kinda just stopped everything and studied 7 hours a day."

The waiter dropped by with Penelope’s iced coffee and without skipping a beat in her story, she flashed another award-winning smile in the waiter’s direction and began bobbing her straw up and down in her drink as she continued…

"So then I begin my undergrad and about three months into it, I said to myself, ‘I’m going to start doing a bit of acting just for fun.’ I was feeling depressed and stifled by the nonstop studying. I need a balance, you know? I need to be stimulated intellectually, but at the same time I loved being on stage. I had grown up doing that and think of myself as overly exhibitionistic, so just all of a sudden stopping all that made me extremely depressed. So as soon as I started acting, it felt like, ‘Oh, this is what I should be doing. I feel fantastic doing this.’ So I enrolled in this acting conservatory which I did for two years while I finished my going to school for journalism and literature."

Even before finding out about her overzealous attitude towards school and learning, and even before she started using the vocabulary of a literary scholar, I didn’t discount Penelope as "just another pretty face." However, in the world of Hollywood, it’s pretty easy for a gorgeous, young blonde girl to get lumped into a fairly specific category.

"I found that after a few months of going into some casting, I began to feel…I dunno…yucky. I thought to myself, ‘This feels really bizarre. Something doesn’t feel right.’ What would happen is agents would see me and say, ‘Here are these five roles we think youd be perfect for.’ Always the exact same roles, ‘You can read for the part of the blonde best friend or girlfriend or sister or girlfriend’s sister.’ Whatever. That’s so not me. I think that I have an unusual sensibility in some respect for the kind of material I’m interested in and things like that, which brings me to choosing roles like Letha in Hemlock."

If you have yet to see Hemlock Grove, now would be a good time to tell you that it’s not an easy pill to swallow. There’s a lot going on: metamorphosis, incest, mutations and immaculate conception. The show runs the gamut of weird and Penelope’s character is right in the heart of all of it, discovering her sexuality and deciding where see stands spiritually. Hemlock Grove is a true gothic trip down a macabre rabbit hole, which might be why Penelope was excited to take the role.

"After about three weeks of nothing but pre-audition stage, I was like, ‘Alright this kind of sucks.’ Then Hemlock Grove just landed into my lap and it was just like, ‘Oh now it all makes sense. This is why I waited.’ Yeah I mean my last semester at university I took Gothic literature and that ended up being one of my majors and so I’ve written so many essays and theses on the idea of the kind of abject. So it felt like serendipity that such a perfect role would fall in my lap. It just made me realize that if I follow my gut and keep my head on straight, I’ll lead myself down the proper path."

To play Letha in the show, not only did Penelope have to master an American accent, but she had to sink herself into the skin of another person for six straight months. I wondered if slipping in and out of an identity other than her own for that length of time took a toll on Penelope.

"It was a really beautiful place to occupy. I’ve never been so open and available with my life. And it’s a really beautiful character as well. I think [playing Letha] also changed the way I thought about life, she’s really lovely. Because I’m at heart probably an easily cynical person, so to play a character who just takes everything at face value and sees the good in everything…it actually really made me a better person, which is pretty cool."

Although Penelope’s character in Hemlock Grove may have reached the conclusion of her story, I’m sure Penelope’s face will be one we begin to see fairly regularly on the silver screen. In fact, Penelope is set to play the role of Tracy, opposite Bella Heathcote, in the upcoming film The Curse of Downers Grove, screenplay by Brett Easton Ellis adapted from the novel by Michael Hornburg. In the mean time, feel free to do what I did and binge out on the entire season of Hemlock Grove, available exclusively on Netflix.

Photos By: Koury Angelo

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