Do a little experiment: ask the coolest weirdo you know if they've seen Six Feet Under. Chances are, they'll break into a huge, nostalgic smile. I know one of my most vidid memories of high school is of spending New Year's Eve sipping apple cider, listening to Death Cab For Cutie, and watching Claire Fisher be way cooler than I was during a Six Feet Under marathon on HBO. Claire was played with impeccable teenage believability by the actor Lauren Ambrose, who was actually already 23 years old when the show premiered. Amazingly for anyone who knows how fully she seemed to embody Claire, Ambrose says she wasn't even an experienced actor at the time.
"I didn’t go to acting school, but this was acting boot camp. I was very young and I learned a lot every day," Ambrose tells Bustle. Now that Six Feet Under is celebrating its 15th anniversary (you can re-watch all five seasons on HBO NOW, by the way; it holds up) , the now 38-year-old Ambrose has had some time to think about what made the show so unique.
"I was so spoiled. I was working with these incredible actors and incredible writers — I’ve been saying lately that it’s the closest that I may ever have to the fantasy of a group theater — because we had this company with all these incredible people, and everybody was playing and writing to our talents and abilities. It was a magical work environment. I got to go to work every day on good material with these beautiful actors and artists." (That sounded kind of like something Claire would say, amiright?)
As a superfan, I tried to get Ambrose to pick her favorite costars to act with on the show, but all I could get her to divulge was that the scenes with Richard Jenkins, who played her dead father, were some of her favorites. Of course, the chemistry between Ambrose and Frances Conroy, who played her mom, was also undeniable. "There was never a false note when Francis Conroy’s in the room, and I think she inspired that in others — certainly in me, and what I aspire and continue to aspire to be as an actor. I learned a tremendous amount from her," Ambrose says.
Asked to pick a favorite romantic interest on the show from Claire's many hot lovers, Ambrose said she couldn't choose because they were all so different. "They were all great in their own weird ways! I will say, the scenes with Chris Messina at the end were really fun. You know, when I was, like, drunk at work and he was like dragging me out of there and stuff."
Whether Claire was dating a guy she probably shouldn't, making beautiful art, fighting with her mom, or taking drugs, she was always believable as a young artist. As an actor in her 20s during Six Feet Under's run, Ambrose says she had a good perspective on how to play an adolescent — "it was close enough that I could remember!" But now, in her new upcoming show, Ambrose will be playing the same character in both her 20s and her 30s, which makes for an interesting challenge.
The new show, The Interestings, is adapted from Meg Wolitzer’s best-selling novel, and follows a group of artistic teens who meet at summer camp in 1974. As they age over the course the next few decades, you get to follow how their friendships and lives shift. Ambrose is the star of the Amazon show, and plays Jules Jacobson, an aspiring actress who feels less glamorous than her other artistic friends.
Now that she's in her 30s, I asked Ambrose how she approached playing the 20-something version of Jules differently than the 30-something version. "More energy! Way more energy. More searching, just searching, you know? Aspiration. Aspiring and searching, and just trying to eat it all up." She says she likes playing Jules, who's "chosen to sort of abandon her hopes and dreams of being an actress and become a therapist and live a very sort of simple life and not a fancy life — unlike her friends, who are still very much in her face because they’re all still friends. So the show explores ambition and talent and the passage of time, and what happens to people’s lives."
I'll definitely be checking out The Interestings when it premieres, but as amazing of an actor as Ambrose is, to me, she'll always be (at least partially) Claire. I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels that way — which is unfair, perhaps especially because in some ways, they couldn't be more different. Ambrose has been married to the same man since the first season of Six Feet Under, and has two kids. Although, who knows — maybe Claire would be married by now too. Her death scene in the infamous finale sure made it look like it. (Fun fact: no, Ambrose says that is not her with makeup on the death bed. It was an actor they cast especially for the role.)
So I asked Ambrose to set the record straight: is there anything she would like us to know about how she's different than Claire? "Oh, I don’t know. Less drugs. I do less drugs, mostly, I guess." Well, there goes my fantasy of shrooming and sewing a dress with Lauren Ambrose. Fair enough. I guess that's what re-watching Six Feet Under is for.