Actress Grace Gummer wants to be more than Meryl Streep's daughter

Grace Gummer plays an FBI investigator in cyber-thriller Mr. Robot.
Grace Gummer plays an FBI investigator in cyber-thriller Mr. Robot.PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES

NEW YORK • The weight of a gun in her hand was unsettling.

"It's a very loaded feeling in every sense," Grace Gummer said. "It makes you stand a little straighter, walk a little taller. It makes you feel important. But, at the same time, it's terrifying."

She made a point, just the same, of getting cosy with the weapon she had been assigned for her role as the brash, intensely focused FBI investigator Dom DiPierro, a new character in Mr. Robot, the USA Network cyber-thriller.

For the show, which begins its second season on Wednesday, "I learnt to shoot," she said. "I figured I'm going to have to shoot it at some point. Still, it's not a natural movement my body would make."

Gummer, 30, set aside those qualms as she talked about fashion, family and career at the Hotel Americano in Manhattan's Chelsea neighbourhood.

She wore a freshly pressed white linen jumpsuit and a gold-tone vintage kimono that set off her loose shoulder-length hair, dyed for her role to a searing titian from its customary blond.

Her screen wardrobe, like her hair, is brazenly at odds with her personally understated leanings. But then Gummer - who studied art history at Vassar College, interned for designer Zac Posen and mostly acts as her own stylist - resists fashion typecasting.

"As a performer, I want to be mutable," she said. "I'm careful about being groomed into a fashion role."

She has appeared in fashion advertisements, but baulks at being too closely associated with high-end fashion labels.

"I don't want to be that girl from Celine or Lancome," she said.

In Mr. Robot, she wears nononsense blazers, close-fitting knits and trousers accessorised with heavy-duty black belts.

"Dom doesn't hide herself," she said. The character tempers her aggressiveness with a daft charm.

"She is sort of like a Fran McDormand in Fargo: earnest, feminine, messy and private, but tough," she said.

The actress herself has acquired a bit of toughness. She had little choice. She bears the gift, or daunting burden if you like, of being Meryl Streep's daughter.

"It used to bother me," she said. "I try not to think about it or it could really get to me."

There is also the weight of her striking resemblance to her older sister, Mamie Gummer, also an actress.

"People think Mamie and I are the same person," she said, unflappable.

To forge a distinct identity, she takes on roles "that matter to me", she said, like that of a comely but chilly reporter in the HBO series The Newsroom or as the young writer Nora Ephron in Good Girls Revolt on Amazon.

"I was trying to access what she must have been like in the late 1960s: tough, wise beyond her years, a woman who lived her work," Gummer said of Ephron.

With that, she stopped to check her phone, her features warming when she spotted a text from her friend Karline Moeller, an art curator. She promptly set off for their rendezvous at the David Zwirner Gallery.

She kept up a line of patter as she strolled along 11th Avenue, her voice rising above gusts of wind and the whoosh of passing traffic. She suggested that acting is something like journalism.

"You like the chase," she said. "You like being the one to tell the story. It's your interpretation of an event.

"I try to go into an audition room thinking, 'I'm going to do something no one else has done before.'"

Another perk?

"Acting lets you drop in on other people's worlds," she said.

Inside the gallery, Moeller and Gummer lapsed briefly into art-speak as they eyed a ribbon of blue climbing a corner wall towards the ceiling.

The two women, who have been friends since childhood, attending theatre classes and soccer practice together, shared an easy banter laced with affectionate memories.

"Did you know Grace was a docent at Dia:Beacon when she was at Vassar?" Moeller asked.

Gummer darted a grateful glance in her direction. "Karline is here to remind me of my life," she said. "It's cool to have so many years go by and pick up where you left off."

To which Moeller added: "Everything changes. But then nothing does."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 11, 2016, with the headline 'Actress Grace Gummer wants to be more than Meryl Streep's daughter'. Print Edition | Subscribe