The 24-year-old opens up about her role on the buzzy Hulu show, meeting Nicole Kidman, and her hopes for the future.
In Hulu’s new show Nine Perfect Strangers, Grace Van Patten plays, well, one of the strangers. Her character is Zoe Marconi, a 20-year-old who, along with her parents (played by Michael Shannon and Asher Keddie), travels to a wellness resort called Tranquillum in the wake of a family tragedy. She meets the resort’s mysterious owner, Marsha (Nicole Kidman), and submits to treatments that are said to be life-changing. But soon the Marconis and the other guests—who include characters played by Melissa McCarthy, Bobby Cannavale, and Regina Hall—realize not everything at Tranquillum is what it seems. In fact, they could be in danger.
It’s an emotional roller coaster of a series, and Van Patten hits virtually every note possible as Zoe. At times she’s heartbreaking, grappling with the devastating loss that brought her to Tranquillum. In other scenes she’s sardonic, as most college students would be if they were trapped in a kooky wellness center with their parents for 10 days. There are moment of joy, sadness, horror—you name it, Nine Perfect Strangers has it. The show is excellent—and Van Patten, hands down, is one of its breakout stars.
The 24-year-old was born in New York City to a showbiz family. (Her dad, Tim Van Patten, is a director and producer; her mom, Wendy, is a model.) A slew of guest spots and small roles on shows like The Sopranos, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and Maniac have led Van Patten to this moment. And there’s no stopping her from here. Get to know her now, because she’s about to be everywhere.
Glamour: How did you get involved with Nine Perfect Strangers?
Grace Van Patten: So I just got a good old email audition for it and was so excited by everything I saw. Starting with [screenwriter] David E. Kelley’s name, [director] Jonathan Levine, who I was a huge fan of. I’m a huge fan of everybody. Nicole Kidman. I get these auditions, and I’m like, “Yeah, right. This is such a far-fetched thing that could happen.” I read Zoe’s character description, and I remember thinking how beautiful it was. I had never read a character description that was so thoughtful and deep and layered. You just don’t see that often, especially with female roles. I was very intrigued by that. I didn’t get to read any scripts before I auditioned. And then once I got the part, I read the book. I did a whole book club with my friends.
My first audition was on tape and then my callback, I went into the room with Jonathan. He told me a little bit more about what Zoe had gone through. Then I found out a while after…I totally thought this was not going to happen. I found out right when we went into lockdown. So it was a very contrasting day of feelings.
What was that like? Receiving such good news during such a scary and confusing time?
I was in a Trader Joe’s stocking up, and I got the call when I was in a line that was out the door. I was so, so excited and could not believe it and was speechless. Then I hung up the phone and looked at where I was, and it was like, “Holy shit, this is.…” That was a polarizing moment. Obviously, that time was just very hard for everyone and weird and uncertain, but I felt very lucky that I had this to look forward to.
Were you starstruck by anyone in the cast when you met them?
I was such a big fan of every single person in it. So I think it became almost overwhelming before I went to Australia [where the show filmed]. But one by one I met them, and they were all so amazing and so welcoming and so sweet that the nerves went down. They all just made everyone feel so comfortable. The first time I met Nicole was actually the first time my character was supposed to see her in the show. It was the first time everyone was meeting her for the first time in the show. So she walked in, and it was exactly how it was written. She was mesmerizing. She walked in, and it was a force that just took over the room. Me, Zoe, whoever it was, I was like, “I will do whatever you say. Tell me…give me anything.” So yeah, it put us all right into the story.
Growing up, did you have an idea of what it meant to be a successful actor? Has that definition changed?
I think because I did grow up around it, I never expected any glamour. I saw the unpredictable side very clearly at a young age and the stress of it. I had never expected this lavish lifestyle. So I think I interpreted success as passion: the ability to do what you love and to be able to do it frequently. And I think that definition has maintained. I think success is to have the opportunity to do what you love as much as you can and to continue to love what you do. That is my goal, and then to be respected while doing it. Respect is a big part of it.
Was there a moment when you realized this is what you wanted to do?
My first job, which was when I was eight, was on The Sopranos. I saw James Gandolfini go from being the sweetest, big teddy bear to this monster. I remember being in awe of that transformation and wanting to do that so badly, play dress up as a career. That excited me so much. Going through middle school and high school, it was definitely a passion of mine, but I never saw it as a career. Maybe that was because I was afraid; I knew that it was so hard and I didn’t have the confidence. It really took me until the last year of high school and after high school to start doing it professionally. Once I got my manager, I think her believing in me made me believe a little bit more of myself. That was what lit the fire.
Were there other characters or TV shows or movies that you were in awe of growing up?
I remember seeing Urban Cowboy at a very young age and thinking Debra Winger’s performance was genius. That was definitely very inspiring for me. Also, Goldie Hawn in Shampoo. Goldie Hawn in anything. I loved ’70s movies like that, where the emotions were very raw and natural. I was very drawn to those performances.
How did you prepare for your role in Nine Perfect Strangers?
It was tough. It was a really emotional head space to be in for six months. What helped was talking about it with Michael and Asher. We would go into these really deep conversations about the Marconis and their family dynamic and what they were like as a family before this traumatic event—what changed them and how did they change. Talking about that and going there was really hard for all of us. We all felt a responsibility to translate that emotion and be respectful about it, but having those discussions with Jonathan, the director, as well, got us there.
Did this experience change you as a person?
I think it definitely did. I don’t know if it was just the whole year in addition to this, or if it was the role. There are a lot of factors this past year, but playing somebody that is in the midst of such deep, intense grief was definitely.… It made me think a lot about how there is no right or wrong way to deal with grief and how everybody deals with it their own way and figures it out themselves. Just in terms of this year, realizing that support for the people you love is so incredibly important. Being supportive isn’t just waiting for somebody to ask you for help. It’s checking in. It’s an active duty as a friend, as a partner, as a daughter, a sister. It’s important to be an active supporter with the people you love, because that’s what saves you at the end of the day, the connection and the love.
You just got cast in Tell Me Lies, another buzzy Hulu drama. What would you like to do after that?
A comedy! A good old knee-slapper! I need that. I need that for my soul. I tend to be drawn to internal characters, and I want to push myself out of that. I love comedy so much, and I would love to be a part of something like that and go for it. After this job, I need it.
Nine Perfect Strangers is absolutely going to give you a larger platform. Are there any issues or causes you’re keen on raising awareness about?
Something that’s very close to my heart is a camp called Camp Boggy Creek that my grandpa helped start. It’s a camp for terminally ill kids. I’ve been going every year since I was probably seven years old. This camp is so beautiful and gives these kids a life-changing experience. They go and hide all the medical equipment and make these kids feel safe and feel normal for the amount of time they’re there. It is so beautiful. We do a big charity ride every October, so I’m excited to do that this October and really try to get it out there. Hopefully I’ll be able to reach some more people about it.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
This story originally appeared on: Glamour - Author:Condé Nast