Within seconds of the Thursday night premiere of The Catch, Mireille Enos does something that will shock the hell out of anyone who has followed the actress’s career: She smiles.
The star, whose first name is pronounced mee-ray, is best known to TV audiences as The Killing’s Sarah Linden, the grim, stone-faced detective with an exhaustive wardrobe of drab raincoats (giving new meaning to 50 shades of grey) and a talent for stoically investigating grotesque crimes in the ceaseless rain of Seattle.
As Alice Vaughn, a private investigator in Los Angeles, Enos, yes, smiles. She wears clothes that would have Kerry Washington’s Olivia Pope side-eyeing in envy. She kicks ass, takes names, and is disarming every single TV reporter who had their own preconceived notions of what Enos would be like based on her glamour-free, impressively dour work on The Killing.
“Who knew?” seems to be a running theme of Enos’s press tour for The Catch, which could potentially make for a frustrating experience for someone as sunny and vivacious as the 40-year-old actress. But when asked about it, Enos disarms again.
“It’s fun to be surprising,” she tells me over the phone, her voice silky and poised—and clearly delighting in raising a few eyebrows at this point in her career.
“Especially when I meet people in person and I walk in the room, they’re like, ‘Who are you?’” she laughs.
That perception, of course, will change when people watch her join Thursday’s all-Shonda, all-night lineup alongside Grey’s Anatomy’s Ellen Pompeo and Scandal’s Washington. (The Catch, which Rhimes executive-produces alongside Allen Heinberg, airs in the time slot vacated by How to Get Away With Murder, which just wrapped its second season.)
“But it’s definitely been one of the funny things over the years, getting to meet people and shock them by being such a different girl,” she says. “It’s so fun.”
Taking a break from the bleak, The Catch finds Enos strutting through Los Angeles as Alice, a confident, sexy, flawed, empowered, vulnerable, messy, and wonderful leading lady in the grand Shonda Rhimes tradition. She’s an investigator for an elite L.A. private investigation agency.
When we meet Alice, she’s hot on the trail of a Mr. X, a high-stakes crook who is stealing from her clients. Mr. X narrowly evades her. When Alice heads to her Nancy Meyers-approved sleek L.A. home, exasperated over her failed pursuit, we’re introduced to her hunky fiancé in the shower, Christopher. Of course, this is Shondaland, so there’s a—ahem—catch: Christopher is also Mr. X.
Turns out Christopher isn’t just conning Alice’s clients. He’s conning her. With a tinge of guilt in his eye—he’s played by the infallibly adorable Peter Krause (Parenthood), after all—Christopher drains Alice’s bank account, packs up his bags, and leaves her high and dry… the same day they made plans to elope.
It’s not all heartbreak and tears. There’s a slickness and a sexiness to The Catch, and certainly to Alice, who charges into figuring out who the hell Christopher really is and how this could happen to her with Bond-ian gusto, and a Bond Girl-ian wardrobe.
If you’re familiar with Enos from her Emmy-nominated work in The Killing or for starring opposite Brad Pitt in the zombie apocalypse blockbuster World War Z, this new peppy shade of her repertoire is revelatory.
“In the back of my mind I was hoping to do something lighter,” she says when I ask if she was looking for a tonal about-face after four seasons of dreariness on The Killing. “I didn’t know what package it was going to come in. I did not expect it to be the lead in the next Shondaland show.”
That, she says, came out of the blue. “I was like, how does Shonda even know about me, and how does she imagine that I would even look good in a pencil skirt?”
Though she was thrilled to do it, slipping into the pencil skirt did take a little getting used to.
For many reasons, adjusting to the rhythm of The Killing came naturally for Enos. Part of it had to do with creator Veena Sud’s exceptionally descriptive writing. But the look of the show and Sarah’s muted, meditative countenance struck a chord with Enos, too.
“When you take away the beauty part of it, you get to just be schlubby if you want to,” she says. “There’s an easiness to that. Changing gears for The Catch, I’m also serving the clothes and thinking about the angles of my hair. All of that stuff… it takes a minute to get into.”
What she seamlessly embraced, however, was being part of the Shondaland universe, and the reputation that precedes it. Much is made—and rightfully so—about the significance of the strong female characters on Grey’s, Scandal, and How to Get Away With Murder. They’re flawed and not always likable, and that makes them heroic and cool as much their intelligence and power does.
The situation we encounter Alice in—an independent, successful career woman who gave in to the fairy tale of love, only to get burned by it—sets her up perfectly to fit in with that community of women.
“If someone found themselves on the doorstep of their wedding and that falls apart, and the man was a liar, and everything you knew had blown up, I think most girlfriends would advise you to walk away as quickly as possible,” Enos says. “Alice is incapable of doing that. She has to have answers about who he is and how much of it was true or not true. Almost to a fault.”
This isn’t a cautionary tale to strong women to be wary of love that seems good to be true, either—as much as the show balks at the cliché that women need to “have it all” to be happy. Even if there’s no happily ever after, there are lessons to be learned from the story along the way.
“My personal opinion is that love, when true, makes your life richer,” Enos says. “You can’t always be safe about it. Sometimes life requires you to make a leap of faith and follow your heart and all of those phrases that we hear. Ultimately, nothing risked means nothing gained. I applaud Alice for taking risks.”
The most profitable export of Shondaland has always been relatability. The messiness of Alice’s situation rings as true—albeit in a grander, more severe context—as anything that befalls Olivia Pope or Meredith Grey. Even Enos found herself suffering from a bit of relationship PTSD, much as viewers will, when thinking about Alice’s situation.
“I fell hard for someone who was, from his mouth, at the end of something,” she says. “It had been a long relationship and ‘it was done tomorrow.’ I trusted that. ‘Here we go. You’re my guy. Our love is undeniable.’ And then ultimately he didn’t sort that out and he was with both of us. I had to exit at some point, but I don’t think it was wrong to trust a person. I think it’s the right choice to think of the best of someone until there’s enough information that it’s not what you should do anymore.”
Again, The Catch isn’t solely concerned with cleaning up the shards of a broken heart. There is bountiful badassery as well, with producers taking full of advantage of the black belt that Enos has in taekwondo during Alice’s fight scenes.
It’s another talent she honed in her rise from New York theater—she earned a Tony nod for her work in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?—to seeing the sun through The Killing’s memeworthy rain and starring in the new Shondaland series.
To an outsider, Enos’s career may even seem charmed. Her major motion picture debut was as Brad Pitt’s wife in a $190 million blockbuster. She moves from award nominations in The Killing to Shondaland. Even her time on HBO’s Big Love could support the theory. When her character was killed off because of budget constraints, writers slyly wrote her back on as her evil twin.
“I work really hard and I’m the luckiest person in the world,” Enos summarizes, when asked to navel-gaze. “It didn’t happen overnight. There are a lot of people who are ready to step into their careers in their twenties. I needed a little more time.”
I mention that, on the afternoon that we talked, I was watching a rerun of Sex and the City and, in the strangest of coincidences, she happened to be in the episode that was airing.
The episode was “Shortcomings,” the one where Carrie dates Justin Theroux and strikes a friendship with his mother, played by Valerie Harper. Enos plays the girlfriend of Theroux’s sister. She eats a bagel.
“That was my first job that I booked in New York City!” she says. It got her a SAG/AFTRA card. “They kept saying that I had to join the union before I accepted that, but I was broke. I was living in NYC. I had no money. I had money wire transferred to me from my parents so I could pay my union dues. It was a whole big, huge drama for one line.”
Of all shows to have that one line, though, Sex and the City ain’t half bad.
Embodying some of Alice’s assured sultriness, she doesn’t skip a beat. “It’s pretty hot. I know.”