Connolly Delves Into ‘Houdini’s’ Mysteries

History will chronicle the life of legendary magician Harry Houdini in a miniseries set to premiere today (Sept. 1). Houdini stars Adrien Brody as Harry Houdini and Kristen Connolly as his wife, Bess (see Review). Connolly, who also plays Christina Gallagher in Netflix’s drama series House of Cards and will star in the ABC midseason drama The Whispers, recently spoke to Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead about her role in the miniseries. An edited transcript follows.

MCN: What was it about the character of Bess Houdini that attracted you to the role?

Kristen Connolly: The role is of Harry’s wife, who was his assistant for a while, and they performed and traveled together — they were really partners in every sense of the word. I didn’t really know anything about her when I was offered the role, so I started to do some research and I think she’s a really interesting person on her own and a really interesting foil to Harry. Their relationship really intrigued me, and I’m glad I had a chance to spend time with those two historical figures.

MCN: Is it easier for you to get into a role about a historical figure or is it an easier adjustment playing a contemporary character?

KC: I went to school for theater, so we were doing Shakespeare; I’ve had experience with [historical figures]. I think the thing that makes these stories so compelling is not necessarily the period but the humanity of the people involved. The reason we study history and tell the same stories over and over again is because there’s something there that touches us no matter when it takes place. That said, it was really exciting and fun to dive into a world where people dressed so differently and got around differently … It really makes you think about what kind of a world people were living in and how it’s different from ours. The amount of celebrity that Harry Houdini had at that time is extraordinary in and of itself, but it’s particularly extraordinary given that there was no television and no Internet. You couldn’t hop on a plane and fly to Europe on a red-eye — yet he was this enormous global celebrity.

MCN: Houdini was known for his death-defying stunts. During filming, were you concerned at all for the safety of star Adrien Brody or any of the cast?

KC: Yes. While watching Adrien get hoisted upside down along the side of a building, I was legitimately worried about him, and I think you see it in the scene as well. It’s one thing to hear that Houdini was upside down in a harness and then when you actually see a human being that you care about in that [harness], it’s really startling, and it makes you realize how dangerous what Houdini was doing really was. It was really very intense.

MCN: You’ve also worked on several theatrical movies. Do you favor the pace and style of movie acting or television acting?

KC: I don’t have a preference. A movie is shorter, and you’re working on it for less time, but sometimes you want to have more time with a character and get deeper into that character and television allows you to do that. There are pluses and minuses for both. What’s really exciting about right now in 2014 is that it’s become really easy for actors to move seamlessly between television, film and theater, whereas in the past, that wasn’t always the case. I feel really excited and very lucky to be an actor right now.