Summer Bishil is, quite easily, one of my favorite performers to date. Her total embodiment of the fiercely independent Margo Hanson on The Magicians is truly something to behold. It’s a raw, visceral, and downright messy peek into the internal struggles women face everyday. How we can be strong and vulnerable all at once, despite what society dictates. Summer pulled back the curtain and shed light on said struggles with grace and aplomb. I felt I knew Margo intimately, and could see myself in her. She was relatable because of her imperfections.
Now, Summer is a performer who immerses herself wholly into a role, and her preparedness certainly pays off. The result is an intricate character arc that whisks us away to Fillory and further. Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Summer on a myriad of topics. Not to worry, The Magicians comes up more than once. In spite of our current grim, worldly circumstances, I have no doubt that Summer’s star will continue to rise.
Disclaimer: Minor spoilers for The Magicians lie ahead. Proceed with caution.
Melody McCune: What’s Summer Bishil’s origin story? What prompted you to pursue an acting career?
Summer Bishil: I don’t feel like I have an “origin story” per se. In addition, I can’t really pinpoint a time where I knew I wanted to become an actor. I always enjoyed reading and would immerse myself in stories of any kind. Whenever I saw people perform, whether it was an opera or a sitcom, I admired them and found myself studying performances as I got older. When I relocated to California as a teenager, I think I really started noticing it wasn’t a far off dream to tell stories for a living, so I just started pursuing it.
MM: I’ve read some of your posts on Twitter where you would write in character as Margo. That’s an interesting approach I’d never heard of before. Is this a technique you practice for all of your roles? Is there anything else you do to get into character i.e. listen to music?
SB: Writing an inner narrative while in character has been something I’ve been doing since my first real role. Every scene I would find myself writing out my character’s inner world as she herself was becoming conscious of it. This would help me begin to dream as my character would and build a sense memory. Since then it has always been my process to explore characters through writing.
I do listen to a lot of music before getting into a scene. I especially rely on music during tense or emotional scenes. I have my go-to songwriters that pull me in and ground me into a centered truer place.
MM: My favorite performance of yours, hands down, is in episode 410 “All That Hard, Glossy Armor.” Margo’s struggle to embrace every part of her, even her flaws, was something that resonated with me. How did you get yourself into the right head space for that particular episode?
SB: Thank you for saying that. It was my favorite episode to shoot, and I don’t know that I had to shift a lot of what was going on inside me to accommodate what was happening inside of Margo. I think I felt very similarly to her. I had all those festering nagging feelings that she had. It was basically just a space to show up on the day and be like, “This is what I’m feeling right now.” I was happy to know that our director Shannon Kohli was very supportive and seeking a similar tone, so it was really just a great ten days or however long it took to shoot.
MM: Do you have any favorite set memories from The Magicians?
SB: Yes, I do have one that stands out very clearly. It was the day Olivia [Taylor Dudley], Brittany [Curran], Trevor [Einhorn] and I shot the last scene in the finale. It was a majestically beautiful landscape we were in, and it was on an incline. We had a skeleton crew and all day we just felt really happy and really grateful. It was my favorite day ever on set. There was something special about that day, and I think we as actors and the crew felt it.
MM: Is there a cast member on The Magicians you wanted more scenes with?
SB: I was lucky to get to play around with most of the cast on scene work. The person who I really would have loved to do scene work with is Kacey Rohl. I think she’s a tremendous actor and I could have learned a lot from working with her.
MM: What’s your dream role? It could be in film, TV, theater, etc.
SB: Honestly, my dream role is to read for and book a character that consumes me. I like to be completely engaged in my work. I like to be constantly learning and I had that chance as Margo. So, I’d like a role that pushes me. I can feel it right away when I read something, but it doesn’t happen that often.
MM: You’re of Mexican and Indian descent, and you played a leading role on a fantasy TV series. That’s an impressive milestone for people of color in this industry. How has that impacted you emotionally? Has anyone ever reached out to you to express that they were inspired by said milestone?
SB: I don’t look at it as a milestone – I just worked and tried to make Margo as dimensional as I could. I focused on the work and not much else around it. That’s really all I was focused on – just trying to do a good job. Now, looking back and hearing from fans, it does feel like something I’m very proud of. I never can look at a role objectively till I’m done. I think the writers wrote a really remarkable female character with Margo and a unique perspective of a woman we should see more often.
MM: I want to revisit your character writings on Twitter for a moment. You’re a talented writer! Have you ever considered branching out from acting? Screenwriting, directing, producing, etc.?
SB: Thank you for saying that. I’ve been interested in writing stories since I was a kid. If I weren’t concerned with being seen as a true eccentric, I’d always carry a notebook and pen and write amidst conversation if I could. It’s something that just gives me joy and centers me. So, I’m always writing but it’s always been for me so I haven’t become disciplined enough to produce something. Though, I have been slowly working on a mini series for years now. I agonize over every scene though, so I don’t know when I’ll complete it. I also don’t want to let go of it yet, because the process of writing it is so enjoyable.
MM: What have you learned from playing Margo? Did you find yourself evolving as a person alongside her throughout your tenure on the show?
SB: What I learned from playing Margo is something I can look back on more clearly now that I’m done playing her. When I was playing her, who she was and her strength became a literal projection of who I wished to be. She was truly courageous and oftentimes it would weigh on me that I myself had not possessed her strength yet. I found myself wondering at what age would I feel as courageous and free as she was. It created some inner conflict. She’s a really difficult yardstick to use; now I look at strength differently.
MM: Are there any similarities between you and Margo? Or are you polar opposites?
SB: I think at times her rage was my exact rage. Other times she became exactly what I wished I could be. Margo was a literal projection of what I wanted my interior world to look like at times. She was just radically free.
MM: Alan Ball’s Towelhead was your breakout performance. You worked alongside some big names – Toni Collette, Aaron Eckhart and Maria Bello, to name a few. What was it like being involved in this project at such a young age while surrounded by well-known veteran performers?
SB: I was only 18 when I filmed that. Of course, I did know that I respected all of their work a great deal and I was lucky to be able to learn from them. I looked at it as a learning opportunity and focused on learning something from them during scene work and I think that kept me from being terrified.
MM: Loved your work with Hale Appleman in episode 508 “Garden Variety Homicide.” You emulated Eliot’s mannerisms to perfection. Did you find it difficult to make that Freaky Friday-like switch? Or were you and Hale so in tune with one another that it was a piece of cake?
SB: Thank you, it was definitely one of the more challenging episodes to shoot for me on the entire series. A great deal of preparation and rehearsal went into it. We wanted to get it right. We both respected each other’s work, so we didn’t want to just manifest a caricature for gags and neither did the director or writers. So, a lot of thought went into it at all levels. I also made sure I knew the dialogue like I know my social security number. I wanted as much freedom to play as I could get. Not worrying about the words makes it that much easier to explore a higher concept in a scene.
MM: What’s next for you? Once the current cataclysmic situation subsides, of course.
SB: Unfortunately, we are in such uncertain times. The show was canceled and I had about a week auditioning, maybe less, before things more or less shutdown. I don’t know what’s next, but I am very excited for the future. I had a lot of fun starting to read for new roles.
MM: What TV shows are you binge watching right now?
SB: I just finished binge-watching Cuckoo on Netflix. I love comedy. It’s my favorite genre, and it was a really clever and amusing show.
MM: Name your top five favorite films. And…go!
Summer, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with Geek Girl Authority! We look forward to watching you on our screens for years to come!
Follow Summer on Twitter: @SummerBishil1
This interview was originally published 4/27/20