When Anna Chlumsky starred as Macaulay Culkin’s automatic crush Vada Sultenfuss in the 1991 classic My Girl, a child star was born. But then came a string of mild films that led Chlumsky away from Hollywood and into college life as an international studies major at the University of Chicago. But now that she’s all growed up, Chlumsky is making what seems like an inevitable bid for a serious career as an actress, and she’s launching it with In the Loop. In the political satire, Chlumsky plays the sexy and ambitious Liza Weld — aide to the US Assistant Secretary for Diplomacy (Mimi Kennedy) — whose anti-war briefing paper causes a cross-Atlantic stir. We caught up to the actress to talk about her return to the big screen and what she likes about living in Brooklyn.
In The Loop is your first starring role in a film since the mid-90s. What inspired you to return to show business and what was it that attracted you to this film in particular? Five years ago I decided to get back into show business. I was getting a lot of signs that made me ask what I should doing. And after taking inventory, I just thought, would I be able to face my grandkids someday and tell them to follow their dreams when I didn’t? So I thought, I have to take a risk, and I have to go for it and do it on my own time and know why I’m doing it. And with In the Loop, I auditioned for it and was excited just to be auditioning for anything that the BBC was putting out because I’m a big old fan of the BBC television productions.
The film is a pretty glaring satire of how the media spins and twists political events. Did working on this film make you even more aware of or cynical towards the politics and the media? I think in a way it confirmed what I had always suspected, which is that all these people that we talk about in our day-to-day who are running the government, they really are people. And I think that we have such a habit as a society to “good and evil” everything, to make it a comic book. It really hits so much closer to home if we see it as: these are people who wake up, drink their coffee, and go to work. From a media standpoint, I loved what Armando’s been saying, which is “Who does have the power anymore?” If they’re so afraid about something they say being spun the right or wrong way, they really can’t have any power over their own decisions. It’s such a funny and truthful way of looking at politics.
You got your degree in international studies at the University of Chicago. Were you planning to find a career in that field if you didn’t return to acting? When I chose a major I was just doing the liberal arts thing where you choose what you love to study and take all the classes that you can in that particular genre. I did internships in DC and nothing panned out. It turned out — thank goodness — I didn’t do that, because I don’t think I would have been good in those positions. Once you know more about yourself, you start to realize where you’d be good and where you wouldn’t.
You’re best known for starring in My Girl when you were 11 years old. How do you think that being a child star and achieving that level of success at such a young age has affected the trajectory of your career? It’s really surreal because when you’re a kid, you’re not really acting in the way that we think of it as adults. Acting is really about finding the truth in some way or form and communicating that, and the whole beauty of kids is that they speak truth by nature. When you’re little, you say the lines right, and all the adults around you are like “Oh, she’s so great, she’s a natural.” That’s why I think it’s so important to get training once you get older, because you start to develop walls. I’m very grateful when people say how good I was or how well I did, but it’s funny because I didn’t really have much to do with it. I’m more grateful that I got to be involved in such a good movie that meant so much to people. That’s where all the compliments and the recognition and stuff like that lives for me, as opposed to necessarily the way I’m doing it now, which is really honing my own skills. When I was little it was more just saying what the adults told me to say.
You’re currently living in Brooklyn. What made you choose to live there instead of Manhattan or LA? Back when I was moving here, it was a lot cheaper than Manhattan, which is not really the case anymore. But it was just a smarter choice, and I really appreciated so much the trees and the families and being able to feel like I was going home every night. My husband and I don’t have kids yet, so Manhattan might be in the future because we love Manhattan.
What are your favorite restaurants and bars in Brooklyn? In Brooklyn, I love Castro’s — it’s the best Mexican in my opinion — on Myrtle. That’s my favorite for tacos. It’s so, so good. We love Stonehome Wine Bar, that’s where we go all the time in Brooklyn. It’s a really good wine bar. In Manhattan, I love to go to Le Gamin on 9th Ave and West 21st. They have really great breakfast. It’s one of those places that you can just sit forever. And if you forgot your book, they have literary journals on the shelves so you can read poetry. It’s awesome.