When Margaret Qualley was younger, she would have never dreamed of playing All That Jazz star Ann Reinking. The actress, who happens to be the daughter of actress Andie MacDowell and former model Paul Qualley, decided to end her ballet career at the age of 16. Little did she know at the time that she would later return to the world of dance as Ann Reinking on FX’s Fosse/Verdon, a role that would land her an Emmy nomination for best supporting actress in a limited series for the 2019 Emmy Awards. Qualley plays opposite Michelle Williams and Sam Rockwell in the limited series, which explores the legendary relationship between Broadway’s greatest dancer, Gwen Verdon, and theater’s most influential directors and choreographers, Bob Fosse. To round out her year, Qualley also makes an appearance in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time in Hollywood and just finished filming My Salinger Year, a film that’s based on Joanna Rakoff’s best-selling novel. Qualley plays the lead.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Qualley discussed how her background in dance influenced her performance in Fosse/Verdon. She first explained why she quit dance in favor of acting, saying, “One of the reasons why I stopped dancing is because, at a certain point, I just became obsessed with the idea of being perfect. In the ballet world, that is a pretty common theme. What’s so great about acting is the messier you are, the more that you make yourself available to make mistakes and being vulnerable, usually, the better it is. There are certain things about me that are dancer traits and will always be a part of me: I like to work hard, I’m prompt, I’m not good at being late or being cool. I think probably dancers can’t help but think about certain things, maybe body awareness. At the same time, I’m probably one of the clumsiest people I know.”
Despite having quit the artform at 16, her experience at the barre brought her closer to Ann Reinking, a woman who Qualley had come to venerate from a young age. “I grew up really idolizing Ann Reinking; it was one of the most surreal opportunities for me to try to play her,” Qualley said. “I was really fortunate because I had the opportunity to talk with her on the phone before we started shooting; we ended up talking for two hours. It was the coolest thing just to get her blessing. At the end of the conversation, I basically said, ‘I have to be honest, I feel nervous, I’ve looked up to you for so long.’ She was really, really sweet and said, ‘Well, be honest and trust yourself, I believe in you. And if you ever want to call me, I’m here.’ I definitely abused that power and ended up calling her once or twice a week.”
Fosse/Verdon is not the only reason that Qualley reconnected to her dancing roots. In 2017, the actress appeared in a Kenzo ad with Spike Jonze that quickly spread online and attracted a hugely positive response from performance industries. “That Kenzo dance ad really was huge for me because I quit dancing when I was 16 and I really didn’t dance at all until then,” Qualley said, recalling her experience working on the project. “What was awesome about it for me personally was in no world was it trying to be perfect — the point was to have fun. It reminded me of all the reasons why I used to love dance, and I’m thankful to Spike for that. I was really focusing on ballet, and I never would have been the dancer that I really wanted to be. And to work on Fosse/Verdon with Broadway legends teaching me Fosse choreography … I feel so fortunate; it’s been a very circuitous route to being able to do things that childhood me would freak out about — and adult me does as well, to be honest.”
The interview ended with Qualley explaining what ultimately draws her to a project. For the actress, the decision to move ahead with an opportunity comes down to two key factors: an instinctual connection, or the chance to work with someone who she admires. Fosse/Verdon embodies both of those opportunities. “An instinctual connection to the story of the character or the opportunity to work with somebody I really admire,” she started. “Sometimes you get really lucky and you have all of those things. With Fosse/Verdon, I felt like I grew up with Ann — I was also dying to work with Michelle Williams and Sam Rockwell and Thomas Kail and Steven Levenson. But I have to lower my standards — it can’t always be this good! I’ll settle for one of those things.”
Fosse/Verdon aired on FX from April 9 to May 28, 2019. The series is currently available for streaming on Fox Now.