Movies & TV
Anna Konkle Is Ready for Her Next Act
The Pen15 co-creator and star isn’t afraid to get weird.
by : Patricia Karounos- Jun 29th, 2023
Ilona Szwarc / Redux
For the better part of a decade, Anna Konkle was working on Pen15, the intentionally-cringe-inducing comedy she co-created, produced and starred in alongside her best friend, Maya Erskine. The Emmy-nominated series, which wrapped its 25-episode run on Hulu in 2021, saw the two adult actors play fictionalized middle-school versions of themselves, offering an unflinching, hilarious and often disgusting look at being a 13-year-old girl in the early 2000s. The passion-fuelled project meant that Konkle, who in reality is 36 years old, spent a lot of time in the headspace of a hormonal teenager.
The Massachusetts-raised talent is now two years removed from Pen15, but it’s still with her every day—including when she signed on for the second season of The Afterparty. Konkle was a fan of the critically acclaimed Apple TV+ comedy—which stars Tiffany Haddish, Sam Richardson and Zoë Chao and centres around a season-long murder mystery—from its debut. Each episode is told through the eyes of a different character and borrows from different filmmaking styles and genres. Season two follows the same structure, and Konkle would be lying if she said the concept wasn’t as nerve-racking as it was exciting. “It was scary because [the show] asks so much of everybody in terms of bouncing between different film styles in the same day, and I didn’t have a lot of experience doing that,” she says. “I was like: ‘Okay, I’ve been playing a 13-year-old—can I only play 13-year-olds? Is that all I can do? And now I have to play 10 versions of this adult?’”
Not a trace of Konkle’s self-doubt can be seen in season two of The Afterparty, which starts streaming on July 12. Haddish, Richardson and Chao all return—this time for an idyllic wedding weekend that ends in murder—alongside a few new cast members, including John Cho, Elizabeth Perkins, Zach Woods and Poppy Liu. Konkle plays Hannah, the oddball sister of the groom, who is always unabashedly herself. The actor steals scenes regardless of which genre a given episode is riffing on—she is wry and alluring and unafraid to do the weirdest thing possible—but it’s in her spotlight episode (the fourth episode of the season) that she truly shines.
This particular episode plays on the style of Wes Anderson and similarly aestheticized films, like 2001’s Amélie: It is artful and fantasy-like with exaggerated colour palettes and twee, eccentric characters who are somehow both unlike any living person you’ve ever met and grounded in humanity. Konkle says it was a challenge to match her performance with the ultra-stylized look while staying true to the role, but she appears to pull it off effortlessly. The actor reveals hidden depths to her character, who at that point could easily be written off as a joke, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine her actually starring in a big-screen Anderson film.
Also a challenge? Letting go of some of the creative control she’d been used to sharing with Erskine—whom she met in 2008 at an experimental-theatre workshop while they were both N.Y.U. undergrads doing a study-abroad program in Amsterdam—on the set of Pen15 and focusing on just being an actor. An admirer of all the creative talent involved in The Afterparty, she’d find herself listening in on decision-making conversations before remembering that she didn’t have to and was struck by how calm creator Chris Miller and co-showrunner Anthony King were because that was not the type of energy she’d carried with her while wearing multiple hats.
“On Pen15, if I felt something wasn’t going well, I would say something or rewrite something, or maybe Maya would and then we would edit ourselves,” says Konkle. “I’m a perfectionist, so that was the place my neurotic-ness could live—at the end of the day, I could fix it later. As just an actor, you really have to trust a lot of other people. The good news is that the minute I was on this set, I felt really at ease and comfortable.”
It helps that Konkle is still wearing those other professional hats. She writes every day—she’s currently working on a memoir that explores growing up in a dysfunctional household where her parents were separated but lived on opposite sides of the same house—and is developing other projects. In fact, after Pen15, she considered focusing on behind-the-scenes work. The series, she says, allowed her to explore so much of what she wanted to on-camera, and she couldn’t envision what might come next. But The Afterparty was too intriguing to pass up. (Post-Pen15, she has also had roles in two feature-length films, including black comedy The Drop, which premiered earlier this year on Hulu in the U.S.) And it paid off: The show, and the role of Hannah, made Konkle realize that she still loves acting and that there is a path forward where she can do it all.
What that will look like is still up in the air. Konkle approaches acting day by day. If there’s a role she really wants—something that’s different and makes her feel inspired—she’ll go after it. If not, that’s okay too. It’s with that same open-mindedness that she tackles her writing. She’s working on multiple ideas—she can see a role for herself in some of them but would have no problem giving it to someone else instead.
“Art that pushes the limits of what we think [something should] be or a character who marches to the beat of their own drum is really exciting to me,” she says. “Something that drives most of what I do, I’ve realized recently, is shame—and what’s funny, sad and human about it. I’m willing to do anything. If I picture myself [when I’m writing], I’m less careful. I’m not putting anybody else in a situation that would make them uncomfortable. I can go further and be less afraid because the only person I’d be making uncomfortable is myself.”
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