Though a very accomplished actress, LAURA MENNELL is now fast becoming a household name due in part to the new Robert Zemeckis-produced, A+E/ History Channel hit, PROJECT BLUE BOOK, a dramatic take on the early Cold Warera UFO sightings across the United States by the Air Force (1952-69).
Films have a huge impact on how we see the world, and that inspiration can stay with us throughout our lives.
Known for dramatic projects including Alphas, Van Helsing, Watchmen, Haven, The Man in the High Castle and Thirteen Ghosts, her work has been heavy on sci-fi and the supernatural. However, Mennell covers comedic ground in Loudermilk, now headed for its third season.
But where Mennell shines the brightest seems to be in roles like Mimi Hynek, the wife of real-life legendary UFO investigator, Allen Hynek, in Project Blue Book. Mennell’s Mimi is at once creatively intelligent, soulful and authentic – as is all of Mennell’s work.
It’s interesting that the weather is just as cool and overcast in South Texas right now as it often is in Vancouver, where Project Blue Book is filmed. Cold War vibes? Climate sympathy?
71 was fortunate to catch up with Mennell between seasons of Project Blue Book to find out how she does what she does so well.
71: Thank you so much for your time today, Laura. We all really appreciate it. And congratulations on the season renewal of Project Blue Book – well deserved by all.
LM: Thank you so much for having me. Looks like you guys celebrated your one-year anniversary last December, so congratulations to you, as well! I love your beautiful magazine. It has insightful articles and is lovely to look at.
I also enjoyed reading your article with Project Blue Book’s creator, David O’Leary. His enthusiasm when talking about anything UFO related is pretty infectious, and he definitely has the gift of the gab. He’s such a great guy – super charming and intelligent, don’t you think? It was a really fun article, and I’m so happy to see you guys are fans of our show.
71: Thank you so much, Laura! What was it like growing up in British Columbia? Did you feel the experience of being Canadian influenced your creativity?
LM: My appreciation for nature and different cultures has made me more open and curious about the world around me. British Columbia is such a stunning province. Lots of rain throughout the year makes everything green, we have majestic mountains, unbelievable forests and so much ocean – all that natural beauty felt like magic to me growing up. I love traveling, but each time I return, I’m overwhelmed by the beauty of home.
As a British Columbian, being outdoors is very much a part of who I am. When hiking by yourself in the forest, you aren’t really alone because it feels as if everything is alive; you can feel energy in the trees and the wind, making you more present and a part of your natural surroundings.
I live in Vancouver, which is home to many people with interesting and diverse ethnic backgrounds. Overall, Canada itself is very multicultural, and I love that we celebrate diversity. For me, this inspires a genuine interest in others, which is essential as an actor; I’m always curious about who people are and where they come from. I love that our differences make us unique; however, we’re all a lot more similar than you’d think.
When preparing for new roles, living in such a super natural environment is quite helpful. Inspiration hits me in different ways. I find taking a moment to ground myself in nature always helps my process. Memorizing lines as I look out to the ocean and thinking about my character as I go for a walk outside are both common practices for me.
It might seem strange, but sometimes I find cemeteries also offer a great spot to work outdoors. Yes, I know that’s weird, but it’s peaceful, and sitting under nice old trees amongst the tombstones can be the perfect place to absorb myself in my work. So yes, overall, British Columbia is a wonderful spot to breathe in inspiration and its natural beauty has so much to offer.
71: What led you on this path and made you feel, I have to do this with my life?
LM: For as long as I can remember, I’ve always felt like this is what I want to do with my life. A lot people take a while to figure out what that is, but I was drawn to acting from an early age. It just felt right. Though I’ve never had an interest in being the center of attention, I’ve always loved the idea of losing myself in a character. I was a creative kid, and performing – more than anything – made me feel at home.
When you’re young and trying to figure out how to fit in, acting is the perfect outlet for self-discovery. At first it’s simply a great way to express yourself, but eventually it leads you out of your comfort zones and opens you up to being a well-rounded person. It definitely has for me, and I’m thankful for that.
More importantly, it lends itself to connecting with others. As an actor, you’re sharing energy with new people all the time. I think that’s something I really needed to work on when I was younger: finding ways to be comfortable and social with new people. And now, it all just makes sense and performing feels like second nature.
I also get inspired by the process and looking at my character’s journey to figure out where they are coming from and why they react the way they do. There’s always a reason for everything; even when character is doing something with moral implications, it’s interesting to see where she’s coming from and what led her down that path. I love that!
It’s interesting to look at the psychology behind everything and do a little digging to look at what influences others. Nothing is ever black-and-white; there are always interesting shades of grey that I’m now learning to enjoy.
And that’s really the fun part of being an actor: You’re always learning new things, researching for new roles and finding ways to grow as a performer. The process never gets old and constantly changes. I still love it, but for very different reasons now than when I started.
71: Who/what have been your predominant influences in acting?
LM: This is a tough question to answer because every life experience influences who I am as a person and, in turn, my work as an actor. Early on, I was lucky enough to have supportive parents who really cared about me. They taught me to be a thoughtful, empathetic person and allowed me to find my own sense of individuality. They also helped me to become curious and respectful toward those around me. All those lessons have been beneficial to me as an actor.
There are also countless performers who inspire and influence me. I could answer this question in many different ways, though today I’ll talk about Sarah Polley, who’s a true Canadian icon. I admire her honesty as an actor and how effortless she is on camera. In My Life Without Me, she quietly draws you in and hits you at the core of what it really means to be human.
I also love that she’s expanded into creating her own films, as well, like Away from Her and Stories We Tell. While I don’t share the same interest in directing, someday I may explore what it’s like to be behind the camera in other ways.
I’m secretly curious about writing and like the idea of making indie films. Since I’m a painfully slow writer and the creative process of TV is always so fast, I’m not sure I’d be comfortable writing for television. Nonetheless, right now, I’m happy focusing on my acting career – but there’s no harm in entertaining thoughts of writing my own stories one day.
71: Are you involved in other arts or creative pursuits?
LM: I love cooking and trying out new recipes, as well as experimenting with ways to make them better. I also like learning from them, stealing techniques or flavor combinations, so I can dream up completely different meals. It’s a wonderful creative outlet; certain recipes work better than others, but it’s always satisfying and can be a good stress reliever.
Recently, I made a vegan crab cake recipe that was to die for, made with palm hearts and chickpeas, from Plant Based Magazine … It’s unique, and I’m excited to fiddle around with it some more. I also found the most amazing vegan mayo in the world by Chosen Foods. It’s so good I went through half the jar in just two days. I love good food!
I also dabble in visual art, mostly crafty things like making cards for friends or family when I have time. Additionally, every year, I participate in a celebrity auction called A Brush of Hope, which helps raise funds for the Kidney Foundation of Canada. Well-known actors, singers and artists create their own paintings to auction off for charity. It’s for such a good cause and is something I always look forward to contributing to each year.
I always feel like a bit of a poser, however, when I compare my artistic creations to my boyfriend’s. Mike Soloman is a talented and professional painter whose work makes my pieces feel not quite as amazing. As I live out my dream as an actor, I’m lucky to spend time with someone as sweet and artistic as Mike.
71: What has been your experience as a woman in the field of acting – mostly positive, would you say?
LM: Yes, I’d say overall, my experience in the film industry has been very positive. For the most part, people I’ve worked with have been wonderful and respectful toward women. Nonetheless, it’s really important to have boundaries with what you are comfortable with and how you want to be perceived in the public eye. There will always be those who try to take advantage for the sake of selling a project and gaining an easy audience.
It’s also important to surround yourself with a team of agents, managers, PR folks or what have you who respect your comforts and needs. Young women in particular should get in the habit of finding agents who are supportive and don’t pressure them into what could be morally grey areas.
For example, I don’t think there is anything wrong with exploring sexuality in art; it is a part of life and valid to explore. But never allow someone else to override your comfort level as a performer. It’s important to remember that we have choices, and I think a lot of young actors don’t remember that when searching for work. That’s where we, as women, need to become part of the conversation of what we are comfortable with and also communicate when we feel uneasy about things.
Additionally, as women, many of us have experienced some sort of sexual harassment in our lives. Thankfully, with the emergence of the #MeToo movement, our industry is slowly making positive and much-needed changes. This won’t happen overnight, but hopefully it’ll start to give women the confidence they need to stand up for themselves and also teach younger generations the importance of respecting women.
71: Among your projects, what are you most proud of, and what was the most (or particularly) challenging?
LM: Overall, I’m proud of the journey I’ve taken as an actor and where I am today. It’s been slow and steady, which I like. It has allowed me the luxury of being under the radar as I’ve honed my craft throughout the years. It’s impossible to pick a favorite job; I love them all in their own way – even the really embarrassing ones. I learn new things on every project and usually find something enjoyable and worthwhile in all of them.
One show I’m particularly proud of was a theater piece called Tear the Curtain!, created by the Electric Company – arguably one of Vancouver’s most innovative and respected theater companies. I always wanted to do theater and even trained for it, but my hometown produces so much film and television that my career naturally turned down a different path. Needless to say, it was wonderful to have the opportunity to do theater again.
For me, it was both exciting and nerve-wracking. I got to work with some of the best Canadian theater artists in the country. At the time, I was young and insecure about how I measured up with my seasoned colleagues. Despite these challenges, it shaped me as a performer and inspired me to dig deeper in my preparation as an actor. I loved the show’s meatier themes, exploring the meaning of true art and authenticity.
I must admit, it got me thinking more about my career, who I wanted to be as a performer and what was important to me as an artist. I gained so much confidence from that experience and somehow even got nominated for a Jessie (Vancouver’s theater awards). I will always be thankful for that show taking a chance on me and teaching me the value of stepping out of my comfort zone. Thinking back, it was scary as hell, but so worth it.
And right now, I’m proud to be a part of Project Blue Book. Two years ago, I decided to only go after work that inspires me and advances my career. Thankfully, it worked out. I landed a role in the critically acclaimed The Man in the High Castle, was a lead in the first season of Peter Farrelly and Bobby Mort’s comedy, Loudermilk, and then Blue Book came along.
It’s important to set goals for yourself and be honest with what you want. When you put that energy out into the universe, something is bound to come back to you. And working for History and A+E this year has been a dream for me. I’m working on an entertaining show with talented actors, and I loved playing Mimi and her arc this season. It’s also a show that felt more collaborative with our producers, and I feel right at home with everyone. I’m looking forward to all of us returning for Season 2.
71: There has been a huge resurgence of interest in the extraterrestrial experience. Project Blue Book is timed perfectly. What has been your experience working on the show, and what was in your background and work that led to your role in Blue Book?
LM: I don’t think anything really specific from my background drew me to working on Project Blue Book, other than maybe a childhood phase of being fascinated with visitors from outer space. This interest came from being an ‘80s kid: The film, E.T., pretty much sealed the deal for my generation being obsessed with aliens. E.T. made us all fall in love with him and inspired a curiosity for what is really out there. It evoked far more wonder in its audience than fear of the unknown and was such a magical film that felt so real.
Films have a huge impact on how we see the world, and that inspiration can stay with us throughout our lives. As an adult, it’s great to be working on a show with a similar fascination, though Project Blue Book’s obviously much darker and eerier than my favorite childhood movie.
And yeah, you’re right, there’s a huge resurgence of interest in UFOs, which has been apparent in the media in the last couple of years. The New York Times, along with other credible sources, reported a top-secret, multimillion-dollar program funded by the Pentagon (the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, or AATIP).
The U.S. government was investigating UFOs from 2007 and was “supposedly” shut down in 2012. And this past November, the BBC wrote about two commercial aircrafts witnessing strange and unexplained bright lights off the coast of Ireland.
There have been numerous reports like these, and it’s exciting seeing them start to filter through the mainstream media. I also love that our show explores government cover-ups of what was going on during the days of Project Blue Book, and clearly things haven’t changed all that much – if anything, it’s become more secretive.
I’ve been fascinated with our show’s exploration of one of the greatest mysteries of all time: Is there intelligent life out there in the universe other than ourselves? And we definitely make a pretty good argument for yes.
And from the moment I read David O’Leary’s first script, I fell in love with it, along with the role of Mimi. I easily empathized with her search for greater meaning in her life and feeling a little stuck in her world of domesticity, as a lot of women felt in that era.
And during our shoot, my excitement only heightened; it felt like we were working on something special. I love the show’s noir-esque vibe. When I’d sneak a peek at the monitors, everything looked cinematic and entertaining.
We also have great people involved in Project Blue Book: Robert Zemeckis is one of our producers, and his amazing track record speaks for itself. Our show-runner, Sean Jablonski, and creator, David O’Leary, churned out all sorts of exciting material for us.
The core group of actors in our cast are stellar: Aidan Gillen, Michael Malarkey, Ksenia Solo, Neal McDonough and Michael Harney are wonderful people to work with. So I am pleased we get to do this all over again in a few months. I can’t wait to see where our second season leads.
71: Can you talk about how you prepared for the role of Mimi Hynek and the experience of working with Blue Book’s stellar cast?
LM: Luckily, Paul and Joel Hynek, who are my character’s real-life sons, are producing consultants on our show. They were wonderful in sharing stories and photographs about their parents. I was very thankful for their time, as I must admit I found it difficult at first to find inspiration for Mimi.
Our scripts started off with Mimi being more sheltered and not as self-assured. Yet her sons talked about her being a pillar in her community – they remembered her not only as a strong woman, but a social one. So initially, I became confused with how to move forward in my preparation.
Luckily, Paul was kind enough to introduce me to their sister, who’s about 16 years older and has different memories from earlier times. She felt Mimi was more introverted, though it wasn’t something their mother let define her. Being social was just something she cultivated throughout the years.
And voilà! That gave me my first inspiration for where to start with Mimi, along with highlighting where she would be headed. So it was a fun season to work on Mimi’s blossoming and coming into her own as a strong woman.
It was also important for me to research women from the 1950s. It was crazy to watch educational films from the ‘50s that taught young women how to be good wives. In the beginning, I was sucked into the wholesomeness of these movies, as I’m sure women from back then would also have been. But I soon realized the overall message they were teaching was to fully compromise one’s needs for those of their husbands.
It was a different time; women didn’t have as many choices and were relegated to the domestic sphere, while men went out into the workforce. I imagine a lot of women would have had a tough time with that, which is something I got to play with this season in my interpretation of Mimi.
One last tidbit I’ll share with you has to do with the episode where Susie teaches Mimi how to shoot a gun. Ksenia Solo, who I love as an actor and person, plays Susie. Before the taping, both Ksenia and I decided to go to the gun range together to practice our scene using real ammunition. The prep work really helped. Our whole visit to the gun range was probably why the scene went so smoothly. It’s also one of my absolute favorite scenes in the show.
So both Project Blue Book and various episodes of The X-Files were filmed in British Columbia.
LM: That’s right! Vancouver is a perfect place to film shows like Project Blue Book, as well as The X-Files franchise. It helps that we have so much rain throughout the year; it’s so grey and foggy, setting the perfect eerie tone for the mysterious quest of UFOs.
In fact, the city also has its own noteworthy sighting from 1937. According to brothers Leonard and Wilfred Lamoureux, they claimed to see a UFO drop from the sky at city hall. Supposedly the ship was quiet, blue and stopped long enough for Leonard to capture what he saw on camera, before it quickly flew up and out of sight.
The brothers have since passed, but one of their daughters swears they stood by their claim throughout their lifetimes. Who knows if it’s real or fake, but regardless, Vancouver having its own legend about its skies makes it an even more perfect fit for the show.
71: I know you’ve been asked this, as has the whole cast, but how have your beliefs evolved regarding what’s beyond this planet and the surrounding and ongoing mysteries of UFOs/ UAPs?
LM: Our show explores so many baffling real-life cases and leaves the audience with more questions than answers – which I love! It would be ignorant to completely dismiss the idea of intelligent life out there other than ourselves.
I find it especially telling that the government and U.S. Air Force have gone out of their way to keep information surrounding these sightings from the public. I guess the big question is: Would we be ready for full disclosure of something as enormous as this? It’s tricky; I don’t know if we would be. But I’ve definitely been eyeing up the skies differently since being on Blue Book.
71: Season 1 was eye-opening for many, and Season 2 can’t come soon enough. Is there anything at all you can talk about regarding what to expect when it returns?
LM: I am as excited as you are about what’s to come for Season 2! I honestly can’t wait. Of course, I’ve heard of possible storylines for future episodes, but sadly, my lips must remain sealed for now. For the most part, it’s a mystery to me, as well.
Sean and David, along with all the writers, have already led the show down an eye-opening and entertaining path. I’m confident the next season will only deepen with all the possibilities at hand. I’m ecstatic about its return and am sure the second season will be even more epic than the first. A second crack at it always opens things up story-wise for even more character development, allowing more breathing room to get more in-depth.
71: What are your future projects – in film or TV – that you can talk about?
LM: Really, right now, all I can talk about is Project Blue Book! And even with that, I can’t really disclose much. I’m sorry. I’ve been in the mix and shortlisted for some interesting projects, but sometimes it takes time to land the right jobs, and as I’ve mentioned, I’m being selective with how I want to spend my time. But as an actor, even when you aren’t shooting, you’re always hustling for a new job … You never really have time off. Ü