Elana Dunkelman‘s love for the performing arts blossomed at a young age. All it took was one step onstage in a production of Oliver! The rest, as they say, is history. Since receiving her BFA in theater from Concordia University, Elana has amassed a body of work that includes credits such as Being Human, Workin’ Moms and The Bold Type. Now, she can be seen on FOX’s Alert: Missing Persons Unit, which stars Scott Caan and Dania Ramirez.
Recently, I had the privilege of chatting with Elana about her role in Alert: Missing Persons Unit, what fans can expect, her character’s arc, what she loves most about acting and more.
This interview is condensed for length and clarity.
Melody McCune: We at GGA love a good origin story. What’s your origin story? How did you get involved with acting?
Elana Dunkelman: I started acting when I was 11. I did after-school plays and musicals when I was in high school. When I graduated from high school, I didn’t feel like doing anything else. Thankfully, I was supported by my family. I decided to go to theater school and kept going.
After I graduated, I got an agent and started to do film and TV voiceover work. No magical moment except for the first time I stepped onstage as a little orphan boy in Oliver!, but I just loved it.
MM: Let’s talk about Alert: Missing Persons Unit. Can you tell me what it’s about and how you got involved with the project?
ED: Alert: Missing Persons Unit is a police procedural drama set in Philadelphia. It’s about the police department’s missing persons unit, the MPU. Every week, the special unit helps find missing people and bring them back to their loved ones. On top of that, a storyline drives through the entire season with the main characters and their own stories with a missing person.
The characters are interesting. It’s not out there like sci-fi, but there are some characters I’ve never seen on a procedural, which is pretty cool. I got an audition and was immediately in love with my character Rachel because of her description. She’s a bottle of fricking sunshine. We love that, especially in a dark police procedural drama about missing children. It’s nice to bring some levity.
I did the audition with my husband, and he was very patient while I did it. He’s been good this entire pandemic because it used to be more in-person auditions. Now, you tape most things from home. He’s been my reader. A few weeks later, I got a call from my agent saying they were interested in me and that I was being presented to the network. I got a call an hour later saying I was approved, and off I went. It was a fun journey.
MM: How does your character fit into the narrative?
ED: I would say it’s a B-plot story. I have a lovely arc with one of the characters named C. He is played by Petey Gibson, the most adorable person on this planet. A great, welcoming, lovely, funny and fantastic actor. I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but in my first scene, I come into his workspace and flirt with him over a dead body. It’s an interesting story arc. I’m excited to see how people react to it.
MM: Describe the series using three words.
ED: Heart-pounding. Exciting. Gut-wrenching.
MM: What can audiences expect when they watch this show?
ED: I don’t want to use the word “heart-pounding” again, but [they’ll] be drawn in by the drama in terms of the heartbreak loved ones go through when someone’s missing and the excitement of the team working together to figure out how they can find this person.
There’s also a lot of humor between the characters. Working on set with this team was so much fun. The writers developed these characters that bring a nice balance to the show’s darkness. It was cool to be on set and see how that translates onto the screen.
MM: Are you a fan of procedural dramas?
MM: Is there anything you’ve taken away from working on this series?
ED: I would never want to work with dead bodies. I’m happy to play one [who works with them] on TV, but after researching, I was like, “Not for me.” As an actor, sometimes you go years doing the same thing every time. It’s nice to be challenged and have an opportunity to do something new. It was my first time doing a show like this and trying out a new genre.
MM: What part of the acting process do you love the most?
ED: That’s so hard! I love it all. I think the part at the end where you’ve done all this homework — the prep work and emotional preparation. The hardest part of acting is forgetting you’re prepared, connecting with the person in front of you and letting the magic happen. If something new comes, that’s what you’re looking for. It’s like you’re trying to be affected in the moment; you’re trying to affect the other person in the moment and seeing where it goes.
MM: You also run Sumach Studios. What inspired you to start that venture?
ED: I was living in this shoebox condo in downtown Toronto. When I moved in, my friend came by. I had this den. It was an awkward shape. He was like, “You should do self-tapes here.” This was six years ago. Self-tapes weren’t as prominent back then, but people were looking for coaching, and it did happen. I got comfortable and excited about coaching people.
Over the pandemic, many of my clients working with me nonstop transitioned into virtual. Then, I got married. My husband and I moved into this slightly bigger apartment. I have my own office and equipment set up. I love having people over, working with them and giving them guidance. I don’t want to run classes. I think that’s too much for me as a human being, but the one-on-one is so exhilarating to not only help people with their auditions but give them tips and tricks for acting, seeing their eyes light up, their brain clicking and them getting more excited about acting, too.
MM: What else is on the horizon for you, career-wise?
ED: On top of acting and coaching, I also write. My writing partner and I are working on a rom-com screenplay. If you had asked me three or four years ago, I would’ve said, “I’m not a writer.” Now, I can say with confidence that I love writing. It’s a different expression of performance. We’re hoping it’ll be onscreen early next year, but I don’t. I’m excited about that. I’m also going to be in the first episode of the spin-off for The Boys on Prime Video — Gen V.
MM: Have you watched anything interesting lately?
ED: We finished The Comeback with Lisa Kudrow. It was two seasons on HBO. The first season came out when reality shows were starting to hit it big. It’s about this actress who was on a sitcom years before. She hasn’t acted in a while, and she gets the chance to audition for a sitcom, but with that job would come a reality TV show that would follow her around and be called The Comeback. Lisa Kudrow’s character is unbelievably funny. It’s so cringy and wonderful.
MM: Name your top five favorite films.
MM: Thank you so much for chatting with me today, Elana!
ED: Thank you, Melody!