The Quarantined Talent: Annie Hägg, Looking at the Silver Lining

by Helen Hoehne May 5, 2020
Annie Hägg

David Goddard

Annie Hägg has played a Swede on Law & Order: SVU, a Ukrainian on FBI: Most Wanted and a German on The Blacklist. She also used her gift for languages alongside Al Pacino and Logan Lerman in the Amazon original series Hunters where she spoke exclusively in Polish, Yiddish, and German. It doesn’t end there; the role required her to get her head shaved on camera and lose a significant amount of weight. We caught up with the born and raised New Yorker to learn more about her career and her outlook on the pandemic.

How are you coping with the pandemic?

I live in Uptown New York and my boyfriend and I are not leaving the house. As long as we have enough food in the fridge for a week, we don’t even risk going to the supermarket. The numbers here are horrifying. There have been so many deaths of transit workers, and the numbers keep rising like crazy. There are tents set up in Central Park, and you go outside and it's just not New York anymore.

Have you ever felt like that before?

I went to school in the Bronx when 9/11 happened. The objective at that point was to get as far away from Manhattan as possible so I went with a friend of mine and her family to their house upstate. We were just fleeing to get out of the city. This pandemic is different because everybody's going inward and hunkering down at home. I’ve never seen New York like this.

You are starring in the Amazon original series Hunters.  Is your character based on a real person?

Yes, my character is based on the writer/showrunner’s grandmother, who was a survivor of the Holocaust. It’s a tremendous responsibility to play a survivor of the Holocaust and the fact that it was our writer’s grandmother was a challenge and exciting.

How much did you know about that part of history?

I studied the Holocaust in depth in college because I was a history major and one of my focuses was the study of the Holocaust and the study of genocide. I also studied the debate about who is responsible for the Holocaust. Was it entirely the responsibility of one evil man at the top or do we share the blame across kind of the foot soldiers? Was it brought about by the economic pressures on Germany at the time? I think it was called the intentionalist versus the functionalist view of the Holocaust. I studied it a lot and it was a good base to have for the role. Having an understanding of the timeline is important, so that you can really place yourself in the historical context and have some idea of the world that you're operating in.

How difficult was it to shave your head on camera?

Having your hair cut off like that felt like a violation. My hair was always very long, thick, blonde and sort of bushy. It was defining in terms of my image and persona. I looked like a Scandinavian blonde. And then when I had all the hair cut off and you're experiencing that in real time on camera, the reaction can't really be anything but authentic because it is actually happening to your body. When I came home after shooting that scene I actually broke out in hives.

How do you feel now?

I'm kind of doing the Pixie thing. Now everyone is telling me that this brings out my features and I should forget about the long hair look. I have to say that I like this androgynous look as well. It feels really powerful and kind of adult and female and less little girl with the long pretty hair. It kind of had an effect on my identity and I like what that effect is.

You have a talent for languages.

I love acting in other languages and in other accents and that's kind of up to this point been my bread and butter in my career. I speak Spanish, studied German, Italian, Russian and my family's Swedish. I'm very musical and really understand the sounds of a language, so it’s very easy for me to mimic and absorb the sound and the musicality of the language. I can do it to the best of my ability without an accent and in the same kind of cadence that native speakers use.

Are you binge-watching anything at the moment?

I am not a binge-watcher but there have been series that I've loved. I recently watched the British series Broadchurch with Olivia Colman and David Tennant. I just think those two actors are absolutely incredible. Little Fires Everywhere is also amazing. And then I watch a lot of old movies. I love Bergman, Rossellini, Antonioni. I've been watching the Criterion channel non-stop because they have all the good old stuff.

What kind of impact do you think the pandemic will have on the entertainment industry?

I have no idea what the industry is going to look like when this is all over. What's going to happen with live theater? It’s just so sad that people can’t congregate together. I never thought I'd say it but thank God for the Internet because we're all connected even though we're all isolated from one another. There is a silver lining in all of this. I'm hoping that a lot of really wonderful art comes out of this period of isolation. I think people are working, writing, dreaming and painting and creating. And I hope that when we come out of this there are going to be a lot of things to see and share among people in the artistic community.