The Play’s The Thing … But TV Is Pretty Good Too

Victoria Mack ’01

By June Bell

Photograph by Susan Shachter

It’s a great time to be a TV actor in New York City. Never have so many prime-time episodes been filmed in the Big Apple, according to the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment. It’s a great time to be Victoria Mack, too. Trained as a theatre actor, she’s finding steady work on the stage and in television shows made in New York, including Boardwalk Empire and The Good Wife.

Mack recently played “an evil rich person” in a pilot for a show called Members Only that she hopes will be picked up this spring by ABC. She wrapped up a part in the off-Broadway comedy The Fatal Weakness at the Mint Theater. “I played one of the roles I tend to play a lot: a bitchy, petulant, spoiled person, which unfortunately is something I do quite well, probably because I’m an only child,” Mack says with a laugh.

She’s hardly playing to character. Effervescent and gracious in an interview, Mack credits her mother, Phyllis Mack ’61, with igniting her passion for drama as well as for Barnard. A professor in the women’s and gender studies department at Rutgers University, Phyllis Mack took her young daughter to London during summers when she researched British history. Victoria saw her first Shakespeare plays there. She was entranced by A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Covent Garden. She absorbed a performance of King Lear from the front row. “I remember the scene where they stabbed out Gloucester’s eyes,” she says, “and the fake eyeball rolled off the stage right in front of me. I thought that was the coolest thing ever.”

After graduating from Barnard, Mack earned a master’s degree in acting from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. “After three years of being critiqued by people you’re terrified of, and respect and think are wonderful, you get out into the real world, and it’s not quite as terrifying because you know you can survive it,” she says of auditions. “But it never stops being scary.”

A Washington Heights resident, Mack was working regularly in regional theatre until about two years ago, when she made up her mind to find television and theatre work closer to home. “I just made a decision that I was going to have faith in myself and things were going to work out,” she says. It was a smart move. Mack shot five TV episodes in a 12-month period, and she’s performed in five off-Broadway shows in the last 19 months.

She also spent four months in 2011 as the understudy for Tony Award- winner Nina Arianda in the Broadway production of Venus in Fur. Being an understudy “was kind of like needing to sneeze and not being able to,” Mack says. “You feel this sort of itch to have the role yourself at some point.… It is a frustrating experience. I’m not going to lie. It’s tough.” She was never needed to fill in for Arianda, and after four months of excellent pay and lots of sitting around, Mack was ready to move on.

Last summer, she and her boyfriend, Michael Schantz, produced four 10-minute plays for Tisch’s summer alumni festival. They will bring the show to the Taller Siglo Cultural Center in Santiago, Chile, this spring. Mack also teaches at the New York Film Academy, where she’s also directing her second-year students in Antigone.

Stage and TV work appear to require similar skills, but they couldn’t be more different, Mack says. Theatre demands astonishing stamina, trained breathing, and muscle control. Television requires more subtlety. “You shoot the same moment over and over and over again,” she says. “As an actor, that’s exciting because you’re getting to explore one moment. You get to try it a million different ways, and you get to change the smallest little variation each time you do it.”

Performing live eight times a week can be grueling, but she’s found that nothing matches the long days TV actors put in. “I did several episodes of The Good Wife and Juliana Margulies is there all the time. She’s called first, and she leaves last. Those people are soldiers! When I did Boardwalk Empire, my call time was 4 a.m. I had to leave my apartment at 3 a.m., and of course you’re thinking, ‘Here I am on TV. I want to look my best!’ But you think you look terrible because you got two hours of sleep.”