sun records

The Featured Presentation

Margaret Anne Florence

Photo by: Caitlin Mitchell

As the star of CMT’s “Sun Records,” Margaret Anne Florence has charmed us all. While the music of that era continues to inspire and elicit toe-tapping happiness, it’s the Charleston, South Carolina native’s irrefutable on-screen charisma that has entertained us well beyond the shaking of Elvis Presley’s hound dog hips.

We recently sat down with Florence to discuss the series, the bittersweet arrival of the season finale, and getting the songs of “Little Shop of Horrors” stuck in our heads.

TrunkSpace: In reading your various tweets about “Sun Records,” it seems like you are genuinely in love with being a part of the show. Is that a fair assessment?
Florence: Oh yeah! I love it! It has really been a dream job and I couldn’t be working with a better group of people. I’m just really proud of the show and excited for people to see it every week. I wasn’t big into Twitter until, really, the show started. It’s really fun to interact with people while they’re watching and kind of give some behind-the-scenes tidbits. It’s been cool. We’re so lucky to have had such a great response, so that’s been really nice.

TrunkSpace: It does seem like the show has found a fanbase that has embraced the classic TV model and tunes in every week, as opposed to waiting for it to stream.
Florence: Yes. Exactly. I kind of still think it’s fun to watch TV live and not binge. I mean, binging is good too, but I feel like there’s something fun about waiting until the next week to see what happens.

TrunkSpace: The season finale is set to debut this Thursday night. Is it bittersweet knowing that with a renewal yet to be announced, that the season finale could also be the series finale?
Florence: Yes! It’s very depressing! (Laughter) This journey… something is happening every week, so it feels like it’s a really sad thing to end, but hopefully we’ll get the chance to keep going. It’s been so much fun and I’m excited… I mean, I think the last episode’s great, so I’m excited for people to see that. But it is sad. I thought about it this morning. I was like, “God, it kind of feels like somebody dying or something.” (Laughter) But, hopefully it will just be the beginning of even better things. Regardless of what happens, again, I’m just so proud to be a part of it and it was so much fun and such a great experience. It’s all good whatever happens after this.

TrunkSpace: Have you been given any indication when a decision will be made on a second season?
Florence: I think soon. I know CMT really loves the show and is proud of it, so I hope they’ll be able to give us another season, but, you just don’t know. Especially with so much television content out there with all of the streaming and everything, so it’s a lot. It’s a lot of competition and a lot of different shows in the marketplace. I know it’s not because they don’t love the show if it doesn’t move forward. I think it would be purely just a financial decision, so we’ll see. They’ve been super supportive of us and that’s all you can ask for, so… hopefully soon. We’re kind of all waiting. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: Does your character Marion still have a lot of story left to tell?
Florence: Yeah, she does. Marion was a really fascinating woman in her own right in history. We’re certainly taking liberties with the stories, obviously, but she had her own really successful career in radio and kind of what was sort of being bounced around was Sam Phillips and Marion also started the first all female radio station, WHER, so there was some talk about bringing that in in the second season to do that with my character. She really started that and it was run by women. Only women were on the air. I think that’s kind of a great thing to highlight if they decide to do that. So, there’s plenty more for Marion to do. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: We spoke to your costar Keir O’Donnell last week and asked him this question.
Florence: I love Keir.

TrunkSpace: Is there more pressure from an acting standpoint portraying somebody who actually walked this earth as opposed to a fictional character?
Florence: Yes. Definitely. And I know that’s what Keir said… I read his interview. (Laughter) But it is. Luckily I’m not Elvis. I’m not Johnny Cash. Those people are so well known and so identified publicly and everybody’s got their opinion on how that should be played. The great thing for me is Marion was a real person and there was some history available about her, but not a ton. I definitely was able to sort of take what I read about her and with what the writers created and make her my own person, which is nice. You do feel that responsibility because this was a real person that had life and a family and you definitely don’t want to do anything that would not highlight them in the best way for their contributions in what they did. I feel like we’ve done a really good job of that with Marion… and the writers have too, just from what I’ve gathered talking to some people who knew her while we were shooting in Memphis. She passed away in the late 80s. I just think that she was a really special woman and I hope that we’ve sort of highlighted those things about her.

TrunkSpace: So as you look back over your involvement in the show, from production to now, what for you has been the biggest highlight and the thing that you will carry with you throughout your life?
Florence: Oh my gosssssh! Wow.

Really, the cast and just everybody who works on the show. You don’t always have that, you know… on a movie or on a TV show or whatever. We just had all that time living together, basically, in Memphis, to make those friendships. It’s not like we were going home to our separate lives. We were all living and breathing together 24 hours a day, so you kind of become fast friends that way. And I think you also build a good show that way. I feel like that is really reflected in a lot of the episodes… the relationships we all have. So, certainly the people are the best part of the takeaway from everything because you can always have that going forward. But, just being part of a show that takes place in an era that I love and working on something that’s about Elvis Presley who I’ve always loved since I was a child and teenager… it’s just been kind of a crazy experience for me. This has sort of been one of my bigger jobs, so to have something that has such a personal meaning to me… I don’t know if I’ll ever find something like that again. It could be a once in a lifetime. It was just so special to be a part of it.

Florence in “Sun Records.” CMT

TrunkSpace: The show takes place during such an iconic time period and to a lot of viewers who didn’t live through that, it must seem like an almost fictional era. Everything looks so different right down to the wardrobe and the microphones used. So much visually has changed between then and now.
Florence: I love that about it. That is so fun to me, especially to play something different than yourself and to look different than you normally look every day… I feel like you can just, I don’t know, have more fun with it and do such a better job when you’re kind of outside of yourself. So that was so much fun, to play all of that and wear those clothes and the hair and makeup. It gives you that sort of Marion sass, I like to call it. (Laughter) That was such a great part of making a show like this, was to be in a different time period and play a whole different life. It’s really fun.

TrunkSpace: Has your career been impacted as result of your performance in “Sun Records?” Have you seen increased audition opportunities or been offered roles based on the exposure Marion has brought?
Florence: Yeah. I’ve been really lucky to have some really nice positive feedback from people that have seen it and certainly my agent and manager are showing people clips from the show if they haven’t seen it. Somebody made me an offer on a film. I think it’s definitely leading to auditions. I’m actually prepping for two auditions I have tomorrow. I certainly think that this is a definite positive effect on my career and I’ve certainly got a lot of great footage and scenes for people to see. It’s been really exciting. You’re really just only as good as your last job, they say. You’re still an actor at the end of the day and if this job ends, you’ve still got to find another job. That’s just the nature of the business. You just keep going forward. I’m very lucky to have this and hopefully it will lead me to some good things.

TrunkSpace: You’re based in New York City. If these other opportunities expanded further and you were asked to relocate to Los Angeles, would that be something you’d be open to or are you an East Coast person at heart?
Florence: Well, I’m originally from Charleston, South Carolina, so I do like to be East Coast just because we travel home quite a bit to be with family. That is not to say that if an opportunity came up that I’d be opposed to going to Los Angeles. I originally came to New York to do musical theater and I’ve kind of established myself here, especially in the business and with casting people and all that, so to go to LA without any real project happening would sort of be like starting fresh. I feel like I’m definitely a New York girl and I love the East Coast, but a job if it comes up, I’m certainly open to going anywhere really.

TrunkSpace: And it definitely seems that the industry has branched out well beyond the borders of Los Angeles with projects shooting all over.
Florence: Exactly. It’s funny, everybody in the cast (of “Sun Records”) is from LA but me. Everybody there was like, “I’m traveling for such and such.” I was like, “Does anyone actually shoot in Los Angeles?” (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: Tax breaks!
Florence: Exactly. Things are shooting all over. There’s even stuff that’s been happening periodically, on and off, in Charleston. I have shot a film down there before actually with Kevin Costner called “The New Daughter,” so, any time something pops up somewhere that I like to be, I’m happy to go. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: You’ve done a lot of musical theater and stage work, but we read that you actually once, many years ago, performed in “Little Shop of Horrors.” Tell us you got to sing “Suddenly Seymour?”
Florence: (Laughter) I did! I did that show in Charleston, actually. Yes, I did, I sang “Suddenly Seymour.” I had the whole blonde wig… talk about a character that’s not like yourself. Oh my gosh! (Laughter) That was a really crazy experience, but it was a lot of fun, so I was glad I got to do that.

TrunkSpace: It’s just one of those musicals where the songs infect your brain. Just watching the movie from the 80s, those songs stay with you for days.
Florence: Oh yes! When you’re in a show, you cannot get the songs out of your head. They just play continuously in your mind from the minute you wake up to the minute you go to sleep. (Laughter) So, hopefully it’s a show that you like because it sort of haunts you. (Laughter)

Florence as Marion in “Sun Records” CMT

TrunkSpace: Is there a particular type of role you’re hoping to play in your career… the kind of job that would be the ultimate dream gig?
Florence: Well, I have to say, if you were going to give me a dream gig, it was “Sun Records.” That combined, as I said, everything from my childhood… the music I loved, the time period I loved. It was really the perfect storm for me, getting this job. I think about that now as this last episode is about to air. As any actor has that feeling… “Will you get another job as good as being Marion Keisker?” You don’t always have the characters that you love like that and connect to and have that personal connection with. Sometimes you just have to hope that something else like that will come your way. Is there something else that I want to play? Oh sure, there’s a million things. I actually love doing comedy too, so I really might enjoy doing some kind of sitcom or something like that. I think that’s a lot of fun and I really enjoy that, so maybe change it up with a little comedy. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: Having such a perfect gig right now in “Sun Records” must almost be like a blessing and a curse because while it’s so great, you don’t want to peak too early!
Florence: No. (Laughter) You definitely don’t want to peak to early. I think it’s building in your career. I mean, I remember when I booked my first commercial. That was like the best thing that ever happened to me in the world. Obviously things have moved on from there. (Laughter) So hopefully as you progress in your career, the opportunities will continue to progress with you. Hopefully I’ll have plenty of other things that I’m just as excited and happy about.

The season finale of “Sun Records” premieres Thursday at 10 p.m. on CMT.

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The Featured Presentation

Keir O’Donnell

O’Donnell as Dewey Phillips/CMT

Keir O’Donnell is the kind of actor we love to watch. Never afraid to fully absorb a character into himself, he is a chameleon on screen, embracing the art of becoming someone else entirely with each and every role he takes on. Currently he can be seen as legendary rock ‘n’ roll disc jockey Dewey “Daddy-O” Phillips in the CMT series “Sun Records” as well as in the Chris Evans film “Gifted,” which hits theaters this Friday. For fans of “Ray Donovan,” you can also catch O’Donnell in the upcoming season of the compelling Showtime drama where he’ll be playing none other than Susan Sarandon’s son.

We recently sat down with O’Donnell to discuss portraying real life people, his desire to play a badass and how his turn as the tortured Todd in “Wedding Crashers” was both a blessing and a curse.

TrunkSpace: You’re playing Dewey Phillips in “Sun Records.” You’ve also played John Wilkes Booth in “The Crossroads of History” and Jeff Kyle in “American Sniper.” As an actor, is there more pressure portraying someone who actually walked this earth as opposed to a fictional character?
O’Donnell: No question. Absolutely it is. There’s a lot more, sort of, guidelines to stick by, for better or worse. You have to not only do your job, but you have to do justice to either someone living or dead out there, that probably has some sort of a legacy if you’re portraying them in a film or TV show. It’s quite often big shoes to fill, as with all of the historical figures that I’ve played.

I think within that, obviously you are trying to capture an essence of these people. You’re sort of dead in the water if you’re doing a bad mimic or if you’re trying too hard to sort of encapsulate that person for exactly what they are because you have to work within the parameters of the script and the story, which is often times not exactly how it went down. So, if you can just find the essence of that person and then you sort of make it your own and hope that you land somewhere in the middle there.

TrunkSpace: A guy like Dewey Phillips made a living off of his voice, so did having that recorded history make it easier to help find his voice in your own?
O’Donnell: I mean, yes and no. I remember when I first got the material… I had sort of like heard the name Dewey Phillips, but I wasn’t totally aware of how prolific he was, nor did I know what he sounded like. There is quite a lot of audio of him out there, which is mainly what I went off of. When I first heard it, I thought, “There’s absolutely no way that I can do this.” Somebody categorized him as hillbilly rap or something. I mean, he’s really…

TrunkSpace: He definitely had his own thing going.
O’Donnell: He really did and I think that’s why he was so groundbreaking with that and obviously his music tastes and breaking color lines and everything else. But, originally hearing that, I thought it was sort of an impossibility, but the more that you listen to him, you can start to break through and find your own rhythm within it too.

TrunkSpace: What we love about your career is that you always seem to physically change in any given role and you’re never afraid to take risks and look the part, whatever that part may be. In the case of Dewey, that wardrobe just seems like it would help you get right into character.
O’Donnell: It’s incredible. Yeah. Well, thanks. That’s a huge compliment. The biggest compliment that I can ever get from people is that I’m a chameleon. I guess that’s what I always strive for, from one character to the next. I like to approach characters from the outside in, meaning, from wardrobe to hair and makeup to the physicality of the character and then once you sort of find that, the inner workings seem to go along with it.

TrunkSpace: And that’s what’s so great about your work is that your body always seems to be acting as well.
O’Donnell: Thank you. I think I started to pick that up in drama school in college. I love actors who do a lot of physicality work and I started in theater as well, so that is, just as a whole, more physical. So, to try to find ways to bring that to TV and film… to put that on screen… it’s always something I’m striving for.

TrunkSpace: The series runs on CMT. From a viewers perspective, it’s both awesome and overwhelming how much original content is available everywhere nowadays. Is it sort of the same point of view from an actor’s perspective in that, there’s more roles available but also more noise to cut through in order to have those performances be seen?
O’Donnell: It is. I think that, on a whole, it’s a good problem if it is indeed a problem. When I started out, films were the way to go and everyone wanted films. That was just because that mainly the material was there, but nowadays, I think it has shifted… night and day. The level of content on TV is just so elevated now. And I think what helps immensely is the series orders are smaller, so you’re doing eight or 10 episodes and it’s feeling like it is just a longer film, essentially.

TrunkSpace: You’ve worked on some of the most iconic, pop culturally-accepted television shows of the last decade from “Fargo” to “Sons of Anarchy” and all points between. Do you ever think of your acting career as something that has directly impacted pop culture by having been on these shows that have left such a mark?
O’Donnell: Gosh, that’s such a tough question to answer. From time to time, I do get people who are like, “Wow, you’ve made such great choices.” I would love to say that all of them have been choices of, like, “I will get on this prolific show.” I obviously go where the work speaks to me and stuff that really floats my boat, but, yeah, I’ve sort of stopped through some really, really great ones in the past. And it’s cool to see how… even if I just do a guest star or just a reoccurring arc, it’s cool to see how you can pop in and out of that world and sort of see it from afar. Or, see it as a fan perspective as well. A lot of these shows I’m fans of and you go, “Oh my God! I can’t believe I got to enter that world.”

O’Donnell as Ben Schmidt in “Fargo”/FX

TrunkSpace: And now you get to be Susan Sarandon’s son in the next season of “Ray Donovan!”
O’Donnell: Yeah! What a trip, huh? My God!

TrunkSpace: We know it’s probably too early to say much, but what can you tell us about your character George?
O’Donnell: I mean, to be totally honest with you, it still remains to be seen a little bit. I do know a little bit of the back story, which I can’t go into too much, but it’s… yeah, it’s going to be a wild ride. As always.

TrunkSpace: That show has some of the best badasses in TV. Will you be carrying the badass torch forward?
O’Donnell: (Laughter) I don’t know if badass is the right… God, I would love that. I always strive to play a badass, but I tend to always get the sort of damaged, awkward darker guys, which is obviously fun in its own right. So, it’s more along those lines. Susan Sarandon plays this sort of head of a studio in Los Angeles and I play her damaged son.

TrunkSpace: As an actor it must be fun to be able to slip in and out of all of these shows and play with such a diverse cast of fellow actors.
O’Donnell: It’s incredible. And, for me personally as well, to be able to play this sort of wide range of characters and to not get totally stuck into one thing. I think, still to this day, if I had to pick one thing that I get recognized for the most or that people know me from, it’s “Wedding Crashers.” That was my first film ever, so it’s pretty wild that still 10 plus years later that that’s a mold that I’m extremely proud of, but still trying to break in a lot of ways. It can be a blessing and a curse in many ways.

TrunkSpace: You mention trying to break that mold from your “Wedding Crashers” character, but at the same time, your career path seems to have gone more towards the dramatic side than the comedic side of things.
O’Donnell: Sure. I’d fight to say that, even if you go back and watch “Wedding Crashers,” the character of Todd was a pretty dark, tortured guy. And I like looking at all things that way. It’s not black and white or is it drama or is it comedy, but it’s if you play that character’s reality as real as possible, then the comedy can come from the situations. But it’s also that the comedy can come from the darkness of it all or the drama is suited because that’s the reality of that character.

TrunkSpace: Because like life, things aren’t just funny or just dramatic.
O’Donnell: That’s right. So, I don’t know if I’m a dramatic actor or a comedic actor. I’m just a… I play it situationally, I guess.

TrunkSpace: From your perspective, what’s more difficult… finding that first big break or maintaining career longevity?
O’Donnell: I’d say big break. Big break. I have a ton of actor friends who have worked forever, but they’ve yet to still find that sort of iconic thing that puts them on the map. Like I said, that can be a blessing and a curse, but you’ll find that some doors start to open a little bit more if you can break through with a sort of stamp of approval from the masses.

TrunkSpace: So was “Wedding Crashers” the project that changed things for you?
O’Donnell: Big time. I mean, in three days it changed my life. I went in and I pre-read with a casting director, the next day I got a director callback and then that following day I got the film. So, yeah… I was delivering pizzas at the time and that was it. I had no real concept… I had been just really hustling and trying to figure out LA and figure out film, as opposed to theater. And trying to get myself on tape as much as possible just to see what worked and didn’t work. That came along unexpectedly fast, but I had no real concept of the film industry, I suppose, so when the film was such a huge success, I guess I had no grounds for comparison. There was one part of myself that was like, “Oh, this is great… every film is like a huge success. A comedy classic!” Obviously in time you realize, “Oh wow… that was incredibly special and unreal that it was my first foray into it.”

TrunkSpace: And from an industry projections standpoint, that was a film that a lot of people didn’t see coming in terms of its level of success. When you do a film like “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” which you also starred in, you can kind of expect that it’s going to have a big weekend, but nobody saw “Wedding Crashers” coming.
O’Donnell: That’s right. And I’ve seen that happen in my career since and I’ve also had other things that I’m like, “This is going to be huge,” and it’s not. There’s no real rhyme or reason for these things. To sort of get that out of the way so quickly, it was a giant learning curve right out of the gates.

O’Donnell as Dewey Phillips/CMT

TrunkSpace: Your next film “Gifted” is due out in limited release this Friday. Can you tell us how your character plays into things?
O’Donnell: Chris Evans adopts his sister’s kid and then it becomes a custody battle because the little girl turns out to be gifted, hence the title. So, it has this sort of “Good Will Hunting” vibe because she’s extremely gifted at math. Once this is found out, his mother then tries to gain custody of the kid, so it becomes this sort of… what’s best for her and the societal impact of young geniuses. I play the little girl’s biological father. Some might say deadbeat dad.

TrunkSpace: Not deadbeat. Dark and tortured!
O’Donnell: (Laughter) Exactly. Right in my wheelhouse!

But yeah, I pop up in the courtroom scenes trying to get back into her life all of a sudden. How convenient!

TrunkSpace: It seems like the kind of film that isn’t so easily greenlit these days, but at the same time, is needed in theaters. It’s nice to see something original, particularly in the drama space, getting made.
O’Donnell: Yeah. Absolutely. There’s no question. My part is small but very pivotal to the story, but what drew me towards it was that it’s a great script and the cast, obviously, was phenomenal. But also… Marc Webb directed it, who did “500 Days of Summer.” It is… it’s like you said… it’s a rare thing. It’s becoming more and more rare for a studio to back a film like this, so this is really nice.

“Sun Records” airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on CMT.

“Gifted” hits theaters this Friday.

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