Somewhere, a forensic-accounting fraud specialist who spent time illuminating actress Mireille Enos about the tools of his arcane trade is going to turn on the new ABC series “The Catch” when the first episode airs on Thursday, and get something of a shock.
Enos is no longer playing Alice Vaughan, a Chicago-based crime-solving auditor with a sketchy past — her character in the original pilot — but a different Alice Vaughan, now Los Angeles’ most elite private investigator. “He said there’s a forensic accountant club, and they were all so excited to be represented,” Enos said earnestly. “I hope they’re not too sad.”
“The Catch” — from Shonda Rhimes and Betsy Beers, the producers of “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal” and “How to Get Away With Murder” — also went from a moody thriller to what Enos called “lighthearted,” a caper in the vein of “Ocean’s Eleven.” According to Allan Heinberg, an alumnus of “Scandal” who was tapped to replace the previous showrunner on “The Catch,” Alice’s personality was also given an overhaul. A key subplot of the series remains: When she’s not cracking cases, Alice is on the trail of her fiancé (Peter Krause), who conned her out of her life savings, then vanished. But instead of being what Heinberg called “a very guarded, lacquered ’50s-era Hitchcock presence,” Alice is peppier, a life-lover with mascaraed lashes and a closet filled with Bond girl minidresses. “Now she’s sexier, more free.”
Being the glamorous one, albeit also smart and tough, has been a change of pace for Enos, who is perhaps best known as Sarah Linden, the plain-faced, troubled cop at the center of the dark procedural “The Killing,” a remake of a popular Danish series. “I rarely get asked to play The Dress-Up Girl,” said Enos, adding that there’s been a learning curve. “With Sarah, there was absolutely no beauty requirement; I never thought about what my face or my body was doing. If it was ugly, that was great. With this though, along with ‘What’s the scene?’ I have to think, ‘Am I serving the wardrobe?’”
In truth, Enos, 40, has already seen firsthand how the unpredictability of series television might work in an actor’s favor. Back in 2007, when she was a rising star on Broadway but a relative Hollywood unknown, she was hired for two episodes of HBO’s polygamist drama “Big Love” as Kathy Marquart, a sweet-tempered widow. “It was a small part; she had, like, four lines. We thought, What do we have to lose?” said Will Scheffer, who created the series with Mark V. Olsen. “But you couldn’t take your eyes off her; she just glowed.”
Scheffer and Olsen wrote Enos’ character into more episodes, then turned her into a series regular. When HBO asked for a cast reduction, the two men even devised a way to fire Enos and still keep her on the show. They killed off Kathy then rehired Enos as a guest star to play Kathy’s frowning identical sister, JoDean. “She created this totally different character — very noir, kind of deadpan funny,” Scheffer said. “Some of our main actresses were even kind of jealous. They were like, ‘Oh, she gets this great exit, and then she gets to come back as her evil twin?’”
Enos used “Big Love” to educate herself in the art of television acting. By the time she auditioned for “The Killing,” she knew how to add extra layers. “The moment we saw Mireille, we knew she was the one,” said Veena Sud, the show’s creator. “She brought a light, a sense of hope, that helped Linden not be morose or unbearable.” As bleak as Linden could be, Sud added, Enos was never a grim set presence. “She’d be so convincing as this sad character who doesn’t show joy, then every single time the director yelled, ‘Cut!’ Mireille would smile. That’s just her nature. She’s vivacious.”
Indeed, on a recent afternoon, Enos bounced into a coffee house on Sunset Boulevard dressed in bluejeans, a pale sweater and high wedge sandals. It was hard not to notice that, for someone known for bringing mesmerizing stillness to her unhappy characters, in person, she was animated, quick to laugh and was decidedly easygoing when it comes to how her first name is pronounced (for the record, it’s mee-RAY). As for her hands, they seldom stop moving. “Onstage, I use my whole body more,” she said almost apologetically. “Part of it is, I’m never asked to do comedy on camera; it’s usually drama.”
Her attraction to the performing arts stretches back to her Sugar Land, Texas, upbringing, when she saw her oldest brother —she’s the fourth of five children —– in a high school play. “It seemed like the most magical thing ever,” said Enos, whose mother, Monique, enrolled her in a special performing arts magnet middle school. She attended Houston’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts and was a theater major at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.
She moved back to Houston after college, and an old friend offered her a role in a Strindberg play he was directing off-Broadway. She packed a bag and bought a one-way bus ticket to New York. When her money ran out, Enos could be found outfitted in a woolen scarf and fingerless gloves at her hastily acquired second job, selling tickets in the unheated Playwrights Horizons’ box office. “I was working there during the day and doing my play at night; it was wonderful!” Enos said. “It felt very ‘La Bohème.’”
Someday, when Enos’ two young children ask Mommy to tell them about her starving-artist days, story time won’t last long. A gig as understudy in a production of “Time of the Cuckoo” led to an unexpected Lincoln Center debut when a cast member simply forgot to show up on the day after opening night. “They shoved me onstage, and I was thinking: I’m calm! I’m good! Then I went to pick up my glass, and my hands were shaking. So I thought, OK, don’t touch the props, and you’ll be fine!”
She was repaid for her show-must-go-on pluck when, a year later, she was brought back for Tom Stoppard’s “The Invention of Love.” Soon she was a self-supporting stage actress with a Tony nomination for her role as the woozy Honey in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” a Broadway production that traveled to London. She had moved to Los Angeles, hankering to play someone different, when “Big Love” came calling.
No one can say that “The Catch” has been boring: As part of the retooling, Heinberg began borrowing from Enos, herself, taking advantage of her black belt in Taekwondo by writing in scenes where Alice brings down towering thugs with high jumps and well-placed kicks. As for the actor who makes a three-episode appearance as Alice’s colleague’s soon-to-be ex, that would be Alan Ruck (“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”), Enos’ husband of eight years and her favorite reality check.
“I’d been whining to him, ‘I can’t seem to crack the film thing,’” Enos said, remembering a period a couple of years ago where she was landing television roles, but her big-screen career consisted mostly of ancillary characters. “Then my first big movie was playing Brad Pitt’s wife in this giant tent pole (“World War Z”). And he was like, ‘I don’t want to hear another word out of you.’”
Where to watch
“The Catch” will premiere at 9 p.m. Thursday on ABC.