Despite being one of today's most promising young actors and celebrating the recent Season 2 release of the Apple TV+ comedy-drama Dickinson — in which she stars alongside the likes of Hailee Steinfeld and Jane Krakowski — Anna Baryshnikov has spent the last year grappling with the same heavy themes as just about anyone.
Who are we when we're forced to sit with ourselves? How much weight should you give to others' perceptions of you and your art? What really makes you feel good? How do you navigate your place in multiple movements, all striving for a better world? (The latter all the more relevant when Baryshnikov and I spoke on the phone, five days after the insurrection on the United States Capitol building.) All overwhelming and ever-evolving ideas, to be sure. But in conversation, Baryshnikov approaches each with grace and nuance — challenging herself without being unkind, a lesson everyone can benefit from as we begin to collectively process the last year of uncertainty.
In her interview with NYLON, the actor got candid about how she's been spending her time in relative solitude: taking expertly executed baths, experimenting with beauty routines she'd once outsourced (see: hair rollers), and using her platform for good — be it by organizing with Knock for Democracy or virtually performing monologues to benefit Release Aging People from Prison.
"I don't even necessarily always feel like I'm doing the right thing," she shared. "I'm questioning every day if I'm using my platform the right way, if I'm using my resources the right way, but I'm definitely just trying to stay active in knowing that every one of us has power right now. It's so important that we all figure out how to use it."
Read highlights from our conversation, below.
What was your relationship to beauty like growing up?
My earliest memories of playing around with beauty were watching my mom get dressed to go out. As a little girl, it was so confusing to me because she wore hardly any makeup, but she had the drawers full of stage makeup from her time as a dancer. As a kid, I was like, why wouldn't you want to do a red lip every time you went out? And she really always stressed that it was about accentuating what you had naturally. Of course, I completely rejected that. Now that I'm getting a little older, I completely agree with her, but when I think of beauty, I think of watching my mom do her makeup.
How has your career being in the spotlight changed how you see yourself and how you want to present yourself?
Being an actor can be so image-driven. Even when I don't want to be aware of what I look like or think too hard about how I present myself, I'm constantly confronted with it. And something that I feel like I've learned recently is that you have to look so closely at which standards of beauty you are ingesting. So many of the American actresses — even the ones that I really admire — so much of the beauty that we see is about trying to erase some of your natural features, or change some of your natural features. I have circles under my eyes and freckles, and I never want the fun of beauty to become about changing my face.
Did you come to that outlook on your own?
I feel like it just ends up being trial and error. If someone would do my makeup, I would feel less like myself and less comfortable in my own skin. And then someone would do something else, and I would really like it, so I could talk to that artist about what they did, I could see who they worked with in the past. It definitely was a learning curve in how to articulate to people and collaborate with them in terms of what I want to feel like.
How has that outlook impacted the way you view social media today? How do you actively work to curate your feeds to be the most beneficial for you?
I think I had a moment before quarantine, but it was exacerbated by quarantine. I realized that any of the people that I follow, I'm absorbing however that person lives, and whether or not I even intend to, I'm comparing myself to whoever I follow. And so I tried to figure out the parts of social media that I get genuine joy from.
I follow a lot of comedy accounts. I genuinely think a lot of memes are really funny. I follow some incredible chefs that I just want to see what they're up to. I started following a lot of vintage stores that I love, and definitely tried to kind of curb the kind of desire to just follow anyone who just looks beautiful.
I think sometimes it's like, This is a beautiful image. Why wouldn't I want to see more of these? And then suddenly I have all of these women on my feed who looked the same, and I don't even want to be modeling myself after them. I don't know, I kind of think you have to think of yourself like your own parent sometimes and try to figure out how to shape your own brain in the healthiest way possible.
Let's talk Dickinson! What about the show and script made it feel like the right fit for you and your career?
I'm so glad that I came to Dickinson after working for a few years because I know how rare it is to work on something that's artistically compelling to me. So I'm really just trying to savor it because Dickinson is such a combination of things that I love — it's genuinely challenging to the audience, but I also feel like you can watch it as a straightforward coming-of-age story.
It's kind of a "choose your own adventure," which I love. I remember the thing that really sold me on the show was my audition scene for Lavinia, which is in Season 1 when all of the girls are having a sleepover and they're upstairs doing needlepoint. You expect them to be gossiping about something frivolous, but they're discussing the Missouri compromise and using modern language. It feels like girls in an apartment in Brooklyn talking about the coming Civil War, and the parallel between 1850s and today are so compelling to me. So the closer that the show gets to the Civil War in Season 2, the richer I find it. I feel so lucky to be part of it.
Lavinia has such a rich character, and in Season 2, it's really exciting to see her explore more of her sexuality and come more into her identity. How much of yourself, if any, you see in her character?
I feel like there's probably some of me in every character, but I think especially for Lavinia, I did draw on some of those younger aspects of myself. She's so honest and wants approval, but at the same time, is just really bold and wants control of her own life. That constant flip-flopping between giving away all of your agency and wanting it all back, felt really familiar to me, but it's just a blast because she keeps changing so much.
Part of the joy of Season 2 was that I got to play a character who grew up a lot in the interim. So, you know, it's not like a sitcom format where you're playing with the same character in different situations over and over again. Alena [Smith, the show's creator,] really made a point to have all of these characters change the way that people change. I changed that much in my life.
This past year has been a lot. What did you cling to to keep you motivated?
It's been such a crazy f*cking year.
Little things have brought me a ton of a ton of peace. I really do love this thing that I use to electrocute my face. It's called a Nuface; I really feel like it works. That, and the Baby Foot peel, I could do these things for the rest of my life. They're so incredible. I definitely feel like I have had to get better about certain self-care routines, because I just feel insane a lot of the day. One of them really is, I have my kind of bath routine down to the T, which as I'm saying it, it's going to probably sound a little nuts, but I take a bath every day. I really love to use Epsom salts, just the ones from the drugstore. Then I finally found a bubble bath that doesn't irritate me, my skin, called Bubble Bear. It looks like kind of a honey jar in the shape of a bear. I really love chamomile scent [for] both of those things.
And I always bring a book or sometimes my computer and watch TV in the bath. Then really what I've perfected during quarantine is, I'll make a hot tea or watch TV, while I'm doing that I'll start running freezing cold water, splash it on my face, and do that intermittently until the bath is lukewarm. And then I get out. I don't know why, but it's like the perfect length of time. I don't feel too hot at the end. I love the cold water on my face. Weirdly, it's been such a mood stabilizer. I like knowing that I've had that to look forwards to every day.
What other products do you have in rotation typically?
I had a lot fun playing with my hair during quarantine. I got these plastic hot rollers. I think I got them from the Target website, but I would, like, fully do my hair in rollers, and then watch a movie. I had fun trying to learn to do things on my own that I never thought I would be able to master, not that I've mastered [them]. My dermatologist recommended serums from this company ISDN, and I really loved them. I use those every day, and I love the Augustinus Bader moisturizer. I have kind of naturally a little bit dry skin, and I feel really like I have finally found the right moisturizer. I also feel like I finally learned that when someone does my makeup and I love it, I can ask what products are used.
I love these Kevyn Aucoin liners; they come in a bunch of different natural shades, so they're really good. I've got to say, I'm a sucker for Chanel. I love them. I love their lip colors. I wear their perfume even when cooking, and even though no one's smelling me. I feel like it makes kind of a difference in my mood. I love the Chanel Eau de Toilette, that are really kind of great.
I'd love to talk about the work you did and do on Instagram raising awareness not only about the election, but specifically the monologue you did with Kenny Lonergan for Release Aging People from Prison. I'd love to hear about how you've navigated "doing your part," so to speak.
It's such a hard time, and I really sympathize with not knowing how to put one foot in front of the other, of how to address the moment. I think what I've tried to focus on is trying to identify where I have power and how I can exercise political power. And when I say political power, I don't even necessarily [mean] party politics. I did a bunch of fundraising for democratic candidates, but I don't even necessarily [mean] agree with or feel represented by a two-party system. But I did kind of look at the moment and realize that I had a lot of time on my hands. I knew a lot of young people who wanted to volunteer, and that was a way that I could usher energy towards a political cause that I believe in.
I think everyone feels so differently right now. I think some people are cynical and some people feel really hopeful. Ultimately, I think no matter where on the spectrum you fall in terms of how you feel, what's important is how you're organizing and the different avenues you have to organize. It could be your party politics, but it could be through your community, or your church, or through your family. I feel like the moment is really calling on all of us to try to figure out what we can do. I don't even necessarily always feel like I'm doing the right thing. I'm every day questioning if I'm using my platform the right way, if I'm using my resources the right way, but I'm definitely just trying to stay active in knowing that every one of us has power right now. It's so important that we all figure out how to use it.
And that monologue, I'm so touched that you brought that up. That monologue was a real creative high point of quarantine because you can't act alone, and that was one of those moments that I got to collaborate with truly my favorite writer and director in the world. Even though it was scrappy and I memorized it in one day and put it out there, it felt like something I would've never done outside of the context of quarantine, and it was for a cause that I never probably would have known about in a different moment. It felt a little bit like a silver lining, but I don't know. I only just have to stress that I never feel like I'm doing this quite right.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.