Grace Van Patten proves that when you have a sense of purpose, everything falls into place a little bit more
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Grace Van Patten doesn’t ever miss: whether it’s on-screen, on the red carpet, or on an early morning zoom interview. It’s not every day you get the chance to speak with someone who can uplift you through a computer screen from thousands of miles away—but perhaps that’s exactly what gives her that je ne sais quoi. She compels you. Because some people are just good people, and you can feel it.
Born in New York, the city had a unique inscription on her early upbringing, impressed with artists and visionaries. Her father, Timothy Van Patten, is a prominent actor/director/screenwriter/producer with a dossier of acclaimed titles. However, Grace has taken the lead on her own remarkable career. At only 8 years-old, she made her television debut in a diminutive drama series called The Sopranos. She continued to accrue a range of designations from Boardwalk Empire to The Meyerowitz Stories. However, it was Grace’s first feature film Tramps that garnered her critical acclaim. Her character, Ellie, lends a charm that’s relaxed and freshly intimate; which feeds into the film’s emotional undercurrents guised in humor and vulnerability. She was fantastic here.
Grace’s career is finally catching up to the reputation she’s perfected on the casting radar. In her latest venture, she’s captivated the masses with Nine Perfect Strangers, a star-studded ensemble that makes it clear she’s right where she belongs. This original series from Hulu follows nine individuals at a boutique health-and-wellness resort. With the promise of healing and transformation, the resort’s director (Nicole Kidman) implements unorthodox treatments that reveal secrets, lies, and an array of drama over their 10-day stay. Grace takes on the role of Zoe Marconi, a teenager who arrives with her family who is struggling with a loss. The youngest of all the participants, her character appears withdrawn and guileless, yet somehow brings a humor and awareness that’s exceedingly profound. Next up on the roster is Mayday, a bold fantasy film that transports Grace’s character to a dreamy, dangerous land where she joins an army of girls in a never-ending war. Directed by Karen Cinorre, there is nothing quite like it.
Unlike most twentysomethings, she is someone who seems young, but inquisitive—and somehow embodies an other-worldly soul. Grace Van Patten doesn’t ever miss.
Hello, how are you? Where are you these days?
I’m in Brooklyn. I just got back. I was in Europe for like a month, which I just realized. I didn’t realize I was gone for that long.
How was it over there?
Reality? It was so beautiful. Amazing. Such an escape, especially when this show came out while I was over there.
I hear you. I’m talking to you from Costa Rica right now. I also did the whole escape thing. I’ve been here for a couple of months. It’s been a dream.
That is the best. That’s so nice. So spontaneous. That’s my kind of story. I love it.
Thank you. So, you’re in New York right now. And you grew up there, right?
Yes, I grew up in Tribeca. My family moved to Brooklyn about seven years ago. I have been here and kind of everywhere figuring out where I want to settle down, which I’m… you know, slowly but surely figuring that out.
What is it like? Growing up in the city, around so many artistic people? I’m sure it has such a different effect versus, you know, beaches and palm trees.
Yeah, definitely. I somewhat had a little bit of both, because my dad’s family is all in LA, and Seattle. So I grew up kind of going back and forth. Also, LA was always so glamorous to me and beautiful. I really only started to get an appreciation for New York after I graduated from high school. Experiencing New York City as an adult is just a completely different experience, but teaches a sort of independence at an early age, which I am appreciative of. And I know it’ll always be home.
You’re still exploring. I thought it was so interesting that most people didn’t know that you were really into sports growing up. How did you make that shift to the arts and acting?
Well, It was never one or the other. I was so passionate about both and I was able to do both. And as much as I love sports, I never saw myself pursuing it as a career. I always knew that I was going to end up in the arts, somewhere or another in one way. But there was one decision that I ultimately had to make. When I was choosing between two high schools, one being LaGuardia, which I ended up going to, and another being Poly Prep, which is very sports-oriented. So I kind of went to LaGuardia thinking, you know, I might end up going back to Poly Prep. And I went there, and I fell in love with the school and I can not imagine going anywhere else. That is that’s an experience I will hold with me forever. And those friendships, and the teachers I had, and I just felt like I learned so much and also was so inspired being around kids that were so passionate. Because you’re so lucky if you know what you want to do, or you know what you love at such a young age and to be in this Passion Pit of all these kids. So creative, and just such a beautiful environment to be in and grow up in.
I love that. I just found your career so incredibly impressive. Even from the beginning, you already held all these huge titles like The Sopranos. And I think that most people recognize you from your breakout role on Tramps, which was so fantastic. I would love to know, what it was like for you to take on something like that?
That experience is so special to me. It was my first real move, a real big part. And it also took place in New York. So I was living at home and going to set and I was around the most incredibly talented people. It was just such a creative experience, such a collaboration that Adam Leon the director, so beautifully set the tone of while making the movie, and it just felt like it was just so fun. It didn’t feel like work. That’s kind of what really settled the idea in my head that I wanted to do this, as a career that is so fun for me, and that doesn’t feel like work.
That’s amazing. That character was super dynamic and complex. And at the time, you were much younger. How did you process the character and dive into those very complicated emotions this character was able to carry?
I feel it’s so rare that you come across a female character that is complex and layered. And thankfully, we’re getting more of that which, which is amazing. I felt so lucky to be able to dive into Ellie. And Adams’s writing did it all. I mean, he wrote it in a way that you knew what she was going through on the page, but there was so much more beneath the surface and beneath the words that allowed me to get to dive deeper into that character and have conversations with Adam about it.
And having that experience now, when you look for new characters, you’re always looking for that space and room to kind of develop and delve into it.
Yeah, exactly. Because, that’s how it is meeting people too, you know? People are never exactly what they seem the first time you meet them. The exciting part is to get to know them.
Yeah, definitely. Even just looking at all of the things that you’ve done, so many different types of characters and genres, I am really curious. What do you like most or find challenging in the different mediums that you’ve done? Whether it’s film or television or theater? They’re all so different and you’ve touched on it all.
I would say theater is one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. So vulnerable, so challenging, but the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done. You have to be so disciplined, you have no choice but to throw your whole being into it. I mean, that’s the scariest thing to me, but also, why I do what I do. Especially after the last play I did, called Mother of the Maid, where I played Joan of Arc. Going through those emotions every single night was really heavy. But at the end of it, it was the most fulfilled I have ever felt creatively, personally.
Do you ever feel like you carry that character with you? Are you able to just be okay and say that was that?
I thought I was really good at separating myself from the character but it turns out I’m not as good as I thought. And it really does affect me more than I know and subconsciously. I think I realized that after I finished a job, especially with Nine Perfect Strangers, being in that headspace for six months, and feeling like I left Zoe behind but it definitely took me a few months to shed those emotions off of me. That’s when I realized, ‘Oh, I’m not as good as I thought I was at separating myself from the characters I thought I was.’ I mean, the goal is to become as one with the character as possible. So if there’s some aftermath, I’ll take it.
Is there something that you haven’t been able to explore yet and want to try? Would you do animation or some kind of full-on jump out of a building action film?
I would love to go crazy but really, I’d love to do a comedy. I’ve been playing a lot of sad girls lately, and I would love to just let loose and laugh. My first big play in high school was a farce by George Fado called A Flea in Her Ear, and I had so much fun with it. It’s so challenging- the timing of comedy. I would love to try to go for that again. It’s such a heightened way of acting.
It’s a totally different skill set, exactly.
Yeah, totally. I’m so unbelievably impressed with actors who can do that and still maintain a natural aspect.
Like Melissa McCarthy. You’ve already mentioned it briefly but we have to talk about Nine Perfect Strangers. I’m on episode five and it’s such a fantastic series. I didn’t know what it was about going into it, but the story is so original, and the cast is just exceptional. You know, this piece is going to come out before the finale. So I would love to know, in your words, what this project was about and a little info about your character.
Nine Perfect Strangers. In one word, it would definitely be unpredictable. You’re only on episode five, but boy you don’t know what’s going on. I find it so relatable, as insane as it gets, it’s so grounded by the characters. And these nine very different people, all from different walks of life come to this resort, in the hopes of healing and growing for their individual reasons. Then, I come with my parents because we are in desperate need of reconnecting as a family after we go through the very traumatic loss of my brother. And it’s kind of our last hurrah. It was really tough being in that headspace for those months, but Asher and Michael are so incredible. I just found the whole journey to be so beautiful. And they really do come out the other end of it. That doesn’t mean they get rid of their grief, because I don’t think grief ever goes away. But, people do learn to live with it and to accept it, and live beyond the loss. I thought that that journey was so beautiful, and how Zoe handled it all—very uncertain at first but dedicated to reconnecting with an open heart, creating these friendships along the way that only helped her get through it.
That was exceptionally eloquent, first of all. Your character is very, very nuanced, complicated. There’s so much depth to her. And even though she’s the youngest, she’s also exceptionally grounded. How did you connect to that feeling? What was that like?
I think what I loved about Zoe so much is that she never wanted to burden anyone with her sadness. And I believe it’s in episode five, when Zoe gives a birthday speech, and she says that no one has treated her like a person the past three years. They’ve treated her like a victim and as a patient, but not as a person. And I mean, that is so tragic to me, but I think that is so ingrained in her head, that people will treat her differently because of what she has gone through. And she doesn’t want people to feel sorry for her. She doesn’t want to impose, she doesn’t want any pity. So she tries to act as normal and okay as possible. And ultimately, that makes her bottle up all of these emotions.
I think a lot of kids grew up doing that—being stronger for their own parents. The whole cast is incredible, but the content is heavy. I can only imagine how incredible it is to work with cast. I would love it if you could share one of your favorite moments behind-the-scenes with us.
Oh, wow there are so many. It really was magical. One moment that I will never forget is when I met Nicole, for the first time, and it was also the first time our characters were meeting her. We were about to do the scene where she walked in for the first time and we all meet her and are mesmerized. She walks in and it just, it throws us immediately into the story. I mean, she was Masha. She was hypnotic. The hair on my arms stood up. She’s this insane force that just walked in. And already I was a huge fan of her. But after that first impression, I was so in awe of her.
She has that presence, on and off camera.
Oh my gosh, yeah, it’s palpable. It’s crazy. She completely inhabits the character—there is no separation.
I want to know all your secrets, but obviously I know you can’t give away too much. Without spoiling anything, what do you think we can expect with the finale?
You know, I haven’t even seen the finale.
You haven’t seen it yet?
No. So I honestly don’t really know. But I know if you think it’s tricky now, it gets even trickier. Expect growth. I don’t know what else to say. Honestly, I kind of forgot about that episode. I just remember being high the whole time pretty much so… It’s a big old trick. That’s it. It’s a trick and there’s growth.
I’ve really enjoyed diving into your work. I watched Mayday last night. I’ll give you a minute to tell us what it’s about. I haven’t seen anything that interesting in a really long time.
Yeah, I do think it’s extremely unique. And that’s what made me fall in love with it. When I read the script, you know, you can feel that just from the script. You can see the visuals that were written. And Karen has such a vision for it which is so admirable. The story is really about a young girl finding her inner strength and her power and gaining the confidence to do so with female relationships and sisterhood. I found all those things to be so important, and I loved the story it told about sisterhood, and how important it is and necessary, especially during hard times. And Ana, my character, she really is on her last legs and in a deep rut in her life. She ends up in a fantasy world where she finds herself and her power, and I loved that journey so much.
It’s a very stunning movie. I also found it to be really relevant, like you said, it dives into the lives of these young women. I know that you are very passionate about this in real life as well. I was curious, from your perspective, what kind of message do you hope that other young women that watch this will be able to gain?
I hope it gives young women hope. And I hope it pushes them, to constantly support the people around them. Because that’s what it all comes down to, in hard times is support. And support isn’t a very active job. It’s not just waiting for a phone call from a friend asking for help. It’s asking how people are and making sure they’re okay. I think it really touches upon that. And especially female friendships are so important. And, they’re hard. They’re hard to make and they’re hard to maintain. We’re all complicated, but, when you create that bond, it is the most powerful thing. Also, to not be afraid to ask for help, because it’s a scary thing to appear weak. And the power of vulnerability is very, very strong. And it took me a long time to realize that.
“I would say that discovering a sense of purpose, can be vital. And that doesn’t mean looking for it. But it does mean when you find something that you really love and are passionate about it, to not be afraid to dig into it, to explore, to ask questions, to constantly maintain curiosity, I think is key.”
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I also really loved how she found hope.
The movie is so metaphorical. And that’s what I loved about it. You can interpret it in really any way you want. I did see each girl in Mayday land as a part of Ana, and in order for her to find her inner strength, she had to confront these parts of herself and piece them together to create her true powerful, strong self.
Yeah, it was super cool. After having done that film, if you could go back in time and talk to your younger self, what kind of advice would you give her?
I’ve thought about this a lot. And it’s a hard question. Because it makes you think, ‘will this advice change who you are now?’ But I would say that discovering a sense of purpose, can be vital. And that doesn’t mean looking for it. But it does mean when you find something that you really love and are passionate about it, to not be afraid to dig into it, to explore, to ask questions, to constantly maintain curiosity, I think is key. Because when you feel like you have a sense of purpose, everything falls into place a little bit more. And it’s so hard.
I feel like you just like honed in Masha. That was the perfect way to end our morning together. You are so lovely and fantastic. And thank you so much for spending time with me and I truly can’t wait to see all the work that you’re going to do in the future. Thank you!
Thank you so much, you’re so great and this felt like just such a fun conversation and I appreciate that.
All episodes of Nine Perfect Strangers streaming now on Hulu and Amazon Prime. Watch the trailer below.