“With a creative career, everyone is just so very different. We all look different and have different voices and different little talents. It is so important that we all see the world just a bit differently.” -Emily Kinney
Emily Kinney is showing all of the multi-hyphenates out there how it’s done! The actress and musician is best known for her four seasons as an actress on hit television series, Walking Dead, but with the upcoming release of her new 7” record, Back On Love, she is on her way to becoming a household name on screen and in radio waves. In between writing and recording tracks, the Nebraska native has also been filming the first season of Conviction. The new drama premiered on October 7th on ABC, and follows a group of lawyers fighting for wrongly accused prison inmates. As the youngest character on the show, Emily has a lot to prove but we’re sure she’ll come out on top.
Starring in a series is a full-time job but somehow she manages to fit in her music career. The Untitled Magazine’s editor-in-Chief, Indira Cesarine, recently chatted with Emily about her upcoming projects and her secrets to balancing multiple creative pursuits. Check out the full interview below, as well as photo shoot by Patrik Andersson, and look out for Back On Love which releases October 28th!
Indira Cesarine: You grew up in Nebraska, how did you end up pursuing acting and moving to New York City?
Emily Kinney: Acting was always something I was into. While I was in Nebraska, I would do community or school plays. At first I was more into music which quickly translated to “I love musical theatre, I love acting.” I realized that for me it was more about the emotional connection you make. People would say, “I can always hear the words when you sing” and that was something that really stuck and was important to me. I studied acting a bit in Nebraska and then I studied at NYU and started going to open calls. Since I was little I knew that I wanted to act and sing and be creative with my job.
IC: Did you enjoy New York City when you first moved there?
EK: I don’t know that I loved New York the first couple of years. Everything was really different. I was pretty young and Nebraska is much more quiet with a lot less people! New York is such a big city to navigate and it was so different from where I grew up. My parents are not at all in the entertainment industry. My mom is an accountant and my dad is an agronomist, which is someone who sells seed and fertilizer to farmers. The whole thing was somewhat of a mystery to figure out. The first couple of years were definitely difficult but also exciting. Even before any sort of success or a job, its always exciting to just be doing the thing that you have been waiting to do. I remember being frustrated at times but I was never saying “I’ve got to get out of here, this is not for me.” I always felt like “This is is exactly what I want to be doing.”
IC: You moved to the city and got some great roles pretty quickly. Eventually you made a lot of waves with your character, Beth, on The Walking Dead. Tell me about that experience, were there any specific highlights?
EK: The Walking Dead is still very much present in my everyday life. I was on the show through season 5 and now they are on season 7. In season 4, I really loved an episode that was just my character, Beth, and Daryl. That was a big day for me. I feel like the audience really got to know Beth and there were a lot of inner monologues that came to the forefront for her, so that was a highlight for me. He and I were in every shot, and it was quite a lot of responsibility for me. It was definitely a highlight being in season four and season five. I also have moments from when I first started on the show in season two where I was just feeling super grateful and very in awe. All of the actors around me were really outstanding. I had such a great time from the get-go. It’s hard to pick one moment. There’s many!
IC: Was Beth was a breakthrough role for you?
EK: The role made me more popular and more known to a bigger audience but all along there were different moments for me that felt like breakthroughs. I can remember getting my first off-Broadway show and that felt like such a big step for me. Then I worked on Spring Awakening. It was a show that I had seen first and was so in love with. I had to do seven auditions, it was a very long process over the course of months so that felt like such a personal breakthrough for me because I was on a Broadway show and it was like a dream come true. My first time guest starring on Law and Order was a big deal to me. I look back and think “Yes, being on Walking Dead was a major breakthrough for me but there have been other shows that were important for me as an artist – meeting goals, being in a Broadway musical – that was something I always dreamed of. There are many things I am very grateful to have done in my career.
IC: Tell me about your new role on Conviction. I understand that you are playing opposite Hayley Atwell and Shawn Ashmore?
EK: It’s been a really good experience. I’m shooting right now up in Toronto. We are on episode 7, so it’s fairly new and early. It’s one of the first times I get to play more of a grownup, which is great. On the show, we are getting people out of prison who have been wrongly convicted. We all have a case that we are working on and within that we all have different reasons for being in this line of work or how we got into the group conviction integrity unit. My character is just out of law school and is definitely eager to prove herself as the youngest within the group. She also has a bit of a secret past that starts to reveal.
IC: Have you seen any of the final versions of the episodes or will the premiere be a big reveal for you?
EK: It will be a reveal for me. I saw a preliminary pilot but it wasn’t completely done so there are some things that are going to be new for me. It’s interesting – when you are working on a show, you do the scene and you are given different options for the scene and then they edit it and add music and it becomes a product that you hadn’t necessarily imagined it to be. It will be really fun for me to watch.
IC: That must always be a little bit of shock!
EK: I’m always interested of why they pick a certain take – was it something technical, was it continuity, or was it the actual performance? It’s hard. I try to watch things just once and then I’m done. Otherwise I go back and nitpick.
IC: It’s never good to be too self-critical. Tell me about your music, you have been performing all over the place and you’ve had several albums come out. How did your music career evolve alongside your acting?
EK: Music for me is a personal past time, as well as a career. I’m a music fan. When I was in New York going to auditions, I would go to see shows at Rockwood Music Hall, Pianos, or Mercury Lounge. I became friends with a lot of musicians. I sang backup for bands and then I eventually started recording my own music. Then I started performing around the city and started writing a lot of music and eventually put out Expired Love. Beth was a singer too in Walking Dead so that drew a much bigger audience than I had previously. Before, I was playing music in a lot of clubs in New York and now all of a sudden a lot more people were finding my music. That was a catalyst like “Oh you want more music? Let me make more!” Music for me is an outlet. I love writing poetry, I love writing songs, I love sorting through my emotions with music. It’s something I am always doing anyway. I’m always in the midst of working on a song. It’s that thing that makes me feel good, like watching a good TV show or reading a book I like. Music is that for me. This summer, before I came out to Toronto, I was meeting with producers and trying to record a lot of the songs that I had been writing and decided on “Back On Love” and “Popsicle” which are the two that will be on a seven-inch vinyl. It might be a while until my next album so I didn’t want to wait to release all of these songs. When you’ve just been writing, you need to get them out. I knew that people were interested in my music and momentum was gaining. Even though I can’t do shows right now while in Toronto, I still wanted to release some of these songs.
IC: As far as sound and style, how would you describe your music?
EK: It’s very lyric based, it’s sort of in a Folk American place when I’m writing it. As I play it with other people and it makes its way into the studio, it becomes a bit more playful – not that Americana music isn’t playful, but I do tend to gravitate towards certain happier sounds and so it becomes a bit poppier. Growing up I listened to a lot of my parent’s music but then I also loved Mariah Carey, and Top 40 stuff so I do gravitate towards pop once I get into the recording studio. A lot of people call it Folk Pop/Indie. All of those things describe it.
IC: How do you find the time to balance your music and acting career?
EK: I see them both as a part of me. I’m always writing. If I have a day here in Toronto, I tend to write and work on my music. It’s a constant thing for me. There is a lot of maintenance and a lot of things that go into having a music career. I’m lucky, I have people helping me, I have managers, I have a publicist. I would say that I am always juggling the two, it’s something that I am learning to balance. I wouldn’t say I’m a master at it by any means. Some days, it does get difficult and hard to do both at the same time, because I am on set and I try to stay super focused on that work, but then maybe I do need to tweet about the two songs I am releasing or I need to finish up the mixes while I am on set. Even though that seems difficult, there is something great about it too. I think its good to have a release from the projects. With acting, there is a lot of time spent on set waiting for your scene. I’ll have days off but i’ll still need to be here in Toronto, and I might be called to set. There is something about having a creative project that is nice and balances the two so I’m not feeling bored or just waiting to work.
IC: Do you have any words of wisdom you live by that help you manage to stay so creatively inspired?
EK: The thing that keeps me going is when I take the time to read, listen to music, and really not do anything else. I’ve been reading a lot while in Toronto and that inspires me to keep making things because something will really hit home for me and will make me feel like “Oh I really want to write something great like this.” I love Mary Oliver. She is one of my favorite poets. She has a great book called Blue Pastures. It’s a lot of little essays and stories. There is one essay called The Power of Time that I’m always re-reading. It gives me a lot of inspiration about the importance of that moment when you feel called to a certain kind of work, whether it’s making music or just the importance of giving that calling power and time and giving it weight and honoring that. It’s also important to just be where you’re at and not follow or compare, especially when your artistic things are also your career. With a creative career, everyone is just so very different. We all look different and have different voices and different little talents. It is so important that we all see the world just a bit differently. That’s why no one can ever write the same thing.
IC: Are you planning on having a new album out by next year?
EK: Hopefully with good scheduling that will be happening! I definitely have a lot of songs ready to be made into an album. I really want to take my time and make sure that its a different release and that its not the same thing as Expired Love, even just in the way that I release it. I’ve always released my music independently and put all the pieces together myself, which has been super satisfying but I do envision the songs reaching a bigger audience and I think that that may take help from other people.
Interview by Indira Cesarine
Photography by Patrik Andersson
Stylist: Martin Waitt
Makeup by Alex Byrne
Hair by Mahfud