As a Los Angelino by way of Australia, Yvonne Strahovski is pretty impressed with New Yorkers.
“They’re hardcore,” the actress tells us, referring to the wildly different seasons and life in a concrete jungle. “I always look at the older people walking around New York, and how they have a more manual lifestyle than people in Los Angeles. There’s no cars, you have to walk down the street to do anything, you have to carry everything around. I’m always fascinated by people who’ve lived there for years and years and years.”
Strahovski spent a month in the city — during December, no less — filming Manhattan Night, a noir-y throwback about Porter Wren (Adrien Brody), an old school journalist who gets involved in a case of unsolved murder. A famous but cantankerous filmmaker (Campbell Scott, seen mostly in video footage) was found dead in an abandoned factory, and his widow Caroline (Strahovski) offers to help him investigate. But soon her motives start to seem more and more suspect.
If this were a noir from the ’40s Caroline would be a femme fatale. Since this is 2016, she’s more complicated.
“She’s sexually manipulative but lonely at the same time,” Strahovski offers. “She has real feelings even though she’s manipulative. She knows what she wants from Porter, and that directly conflicts with her human side.” She has two extremes to her personality, but Strahovski’s performance makes sure they don’t seem contradictory. “We all struggle as humans with some kind of duality.”
Strahovski is no stranger to playing good and bad. She spent multiple seasons on the former side on Chuck, playing agent Sarah Walker. She chased that as a serial killer on Dexter. Going to the dark side appeals to her.
“There’s a sense of freedom in scenes that require those kinds of heightened emotions,” Strahovski says. “In our society it’s not socially acceptable to act like that. It’s always interesting to go there. It’s always interesting to think about what you would do if you found yourself in those situations.
“Daily life is always a negotiation. We’re always negotiating with ourselves and with the outside world — with our environment, our jobs, our life,” she adds. “That’s what I find fascinating about what I get to do for a living: exploring the negotiations we all endure in life.”
Strahovski has been able to mix things up, going from Dexter to the Broadway production of Clifford Odets’ Golden Boy, which she did to acclaim in 2012. Still, even for her those jobs don’t come up every day.
“It’s a little hard to find those roles,” she explains. “There’s a lot of stuff out there that’s bland, then you find these little gems, roles you can sink your teeth into and explore something interesting. I always enjoy when I get to do something different.”
Speaking of which, in Manhattan Night she shares a couple scenes with one of the screen’s most terrifying baddies: Steven Berkoff, the intense villain of Beverly Hills Cop and Rambo: First Blood Part II.
“I was terrified,” Strahovski says, laughing. They wound up sharing one particularly challenging scene. “That would have been rough with anyone involved. But he was a gentleman. He’s not that terrifying.”