By Molly Watson
Photography: Nathan Johnson
“… each step of the way I think it was a combination of luck, (because in this industry that is like winning the lottery), but I think that it was a combination of being very scrappy and very determined and continuing to hammer at every little crevice I could get into.”
I’m fascinated by the background during my Zoom interview with Midori Francis. Beautiful colors, stunning artwork that shows me I’m dealing with someone who has layers. A Picasso print, some paintings from Capetown from an installation. “Every artist got to have their own block and kind of do their own showcase. So I bought three of them.
Can we see all three of them?
“Sure you can. This was from a wall of, I don’t know the lighting is making it. Then there’s this woman who is either being eaten by the wolves or what, I think that’s up to interpretation. Then there’s this woman who I love up here. I don’t know if you can see her.”
I can see a little bit of it, the lighting was awkward, but that’s okay. I’m talking to a New Yorker now, someone with a very impressive resume. And here she is…
Midori Francis is a Drama Desk and Obie Award recipient for her work in the play The Wolves. She received another Drama Desk nomination for her critically acclaimed performance in Usual Girls. After breaking out in the summer blockbuster Good Boys, she soared on the small screen as Lily in Netflix’s Dash and Lily garnering her an Emmy nomination. She currently stars in Netflix’s Afterlife of the Party and the Mindy Kaling HBO MAX series The Sex Lives of College Girls.
Francis is from the theater world, that much is true. For as long as Francis can remember, she’s been around theater. Living in London as a child she would go see shows in the West End and watch all those older actors who had careers there and it was so appealing to her. Francis made her way to the Mason Gross School for the arts at Rutgers University in New Jersey. She obviously has a lot of friends in theater and theater people are, well, her type of people—go-getters, survivors. “These are people who are paying their bills from theater [work] which is almost an impossible thing to do. That to me is far superior to television and film actors, that you’re able to just work that way. I have so much empathy and compassion for that experience. I think that anyone who’s been able to work in TV and film should count themselves as extremely lucky and appreciate that which I try to remind myself of—a lot of people haven’t been able to work.”
For Francis, breaking into the theater industry wasn’t a smash rather a tiny little hammer that broke apart little things all at once. “I was outside on the street, knocking on doors. So, for me it was starting, trying to get a job in regional theater and then from regional theater trying to get Off Off-Broadway and getting Off-Broadway then TV and film. It was auditioning for a year and a half and not getting any jobs. And then getting two lines and then getting five lines then having a supporting role and then having a lead role. Each step of the way I think it was a combination of I will always say luck, because in an industry that is like winning the lottery you can’t deny that, but I think that it was a combination of being very scrappy and very determined and continuing to hammer at every little crevice I could get into.”
Her latest project is the Mindy Kaling HBO MAX series The Sex Lives of College Girls. Although she’s not on a first name basis with Ms. Kaling just yet, Francis ois on her show and that’s the only thing that counts. Last January Francis was up for a few projects at once. The showrunner for Sex Lives, Justin Noble, approached her via Zoom and pitched her the role. Noble mentioned that Alicia, the character she plays, was one of his favorite roles and that he really wanted to tell this sort of queer love story in a way that was authentic and not pushed to the side. “It was one of those cases where I believed him and his passion and I felt this was the right job for me and this was the right opportunity,” insists Francis. “Paired with the fact that I had been an admirer of Mindy Kaling and the empire she built for herself and the storytelling that she does. It felt right.”
Coming from Dash & Lily, Francis was involved in every step of the [production] process. This was different for Francis because she hopped in on Episode 3 and everyone had already developed their own rhythm and she felt like it was a factory that she was just visiting. By episode 4, Francis was doing her own thing and felt right at home.
The role of Alicia is extremely important to Francis, a story to tell around a gay character coming out. As a queer person herself, Francis can relate to the character’s struggles. “As an actor I always like to look at the story I’m in, not just about me, it’s about my role in the story that this writer has told,” says Francis. “So it was very apparent to me that my character is a device for Leighton [her love interest played by Reneé Rapp] to come out. But the how of how I choose to do that, that is up to me and the creator and that’s where the creativity comes in. And so I think for me I was like alright, my character is here to help Leighton come out of the closet but how. And who is this character and how can we make her interesting. I can’t just be there to help Leighton come out, I have to have a reason for being. So these are all the questions that I was asking myself.”
Francis remembered when she was a sophomore in college and had her first experience in love over a six-month period, but it was fast for her. It was dramatic but to Francis it felt so real and it felt so long and so she remembered how that felt and then gave the character of Alicia and Leighton the same respect. For them, even though they’d been dating for three months within the scope of the show, for Francis that first heartbreak is so real and it feels like the whole world is falling down because you have nothing else to compare it to. “So when it ends it’s crushing. I tried really hard to always give the characters the benefit of the doubt.
“…you really can’t be at the level you want to be unless you’re surrounded by other people who are at that level and when you are, you really want to bring your A-game.”
“I think that the amazing thing about Gen Z is they have their finger on the pulse of the current political climate, and I think have more knowledge of how to navigate gender identity and sexuality and have a discussion about race. In a way that is really cool and inspiring, but as Mindy proves it can also be hilarious, but also sometimes everyone is getting it wrong and it’s messy and I think seeing that in the context of college is all the more interesting.”
One of the most meaningful projects Francis ever worked on was her Drama Desk-nominated role in Usual Girls by the Roundabout Theatre Company in New York City. It was playwright Ming Peiffer putting this play out there that the city seemed to really respond to, the theater city, and Francis actually made that connection with Peiffer through Facebook. “She [Peiffer] found me on Facebook and was like, ‘hey I met you at this Asian theater event, do you want to be the lead of my play because I don’t know too many other half-Asian actresses.’ This tiny little thing turned into not only being an important career opportunity for me, but also something of meaning.”
On Netflix’s Dash & Lily, Francis feels the show — which aired for one season ending in october 2021 — was a prime example of writing that knew what genre it was in, and did it really really well. “The cinematography, the direction, you know it was in my opinion everybody that I worked with did the best version of the thing they were trying to do. And so yeah, getting to step into that. As an actor there’s only so much you can do. So you really can’t be at the level you want to be unless you’re surrounded by other people who are at that level and when you are, you really want to bring your A game.”
Stylist: Sarah Slutsky
Mara Hoffman top
Tory Burch Jeans
Adeam blouse and skirt
Janessa Leone hat
Dolls Kill tights