Actor Christina Anthony is a classic case of “overnight success” after putting in years of work in (and before) her arrival to Hollywood. Anthony cut her teeth in Second City Improv in Chicago.
She has since landed the role of Detective Lane opposite Kristen Bell in Netflix’s series, The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window, that dropped Friday, January 28th.
Her Detective Lane is professional and no-nonsense as she investigates an alleged murder that Kristen Bell’s character thinks she witnessed. The yarn is dead serious until strange visual cues and events turn the tides of the story.
Also a singer and a writer, Christina has an extensive background in theatre and comedy. However, her training as an alum of the Second City, Chicago, where she co-wrote three award-nominated sketch revues and performed thousands of shows, was the right path to where she has landed in Hollywood.
Anthony is also a cast regular on ABC’s Mixed-ish as Bow’s auntie, “Denise.” This multi-hyphenate talent credits her success to her training as an alum of the esteemed Second City Improv in Chicago.
She co-wrote three award-nominated sketch revues and performed thousands of shows for Chicago audiences. As Denise in Mixed-ish, she made a funny video with castmate Gary Cole, who plays Harrison Jackson in the ensemble.
Anthony made the jump from Chicago to Los Angeles, but it would be near nine years before she got her first break in the hit comedy, Mixed-ish. Additionally, she has appeared on Key & Peele as well as the Seeso show Bajillion Dollar Properties.
Exclusive interview with Christina Anthony
Monsters & Critics: Let’s talk about the new Netflix series. It has a Brian DePalma vibe, a twisted mystery. How did you want to portray your character, Detective Lane?
Christina Anthony: It’s very different from what I’ve done on stage or screen in the past. Rachel Ramras, one of the showrunners creators, and writers of the show, we met on the set of Mixed-ish, through her coming to work on the show, and we got along great.
We had common friends through the improv community. She is a Groundling and a vet in the sketch and improv community. And she said, ‘I’m working on this show. I’ll call you.’ And that was two years ago.
You never know if people are going to call you. And then I got a call for this crazy murder mystery; maybe it is a comedy, perhaps it’s not. So that was amazing. From the beginning, I loved [the script] this long, slow burn of a joke. I’ve never done anything like this. Can I do it? And just from day one, it was amazing.
It was a very serious set. We did not play it super funny and we didn’t laugh; we were subtle. So you have to be watching a lot of the jokes are sight gags. Your scene partner is usually Kristen Bell and a glass of wine.
So that’s how it came to me. And I’m happy I said yes to it. And when I read it, I did not know who the killer was, and I tried to guess, and I couldn’t figure it out. And I was like, this is going to be great.
M&C: Plus that Massacre Mike scene, talk about that element?
Christina Anthony: So the person playing Massacre Mike, he’s a friend. [During that scene] I was breaking up laughing again. There were just so many elements that I found funny. And then when it was time actually to shoot them, there was no laughing, and it was a serious set.
For the most part, everybody in it has a comedy background or had been in a hilarious summer rom-com or funny movie. Then, of course, it’s Kristen Bell and Will Ferrell’s companies producing, and then you have a few folks from the Groundlings.
Like any comedian that’s asked to be a part of this is like, of course, is going to say yes, but I think when we all got there, we were like, do not be funny. And I remember meeting our director, Michael Lehmann, [who was] also the director of Heathers, and I’m thinking, how will this work? And he was so reassuring, and all of my scenes were Kristen. And she was just so great.
M&C: Your character starts to think there’s some fire with the smoke that Bell’s character is raising.
Christina Anthony: Yes, [my character] is just trying to establish what is going on, like ‘are you just a crazy lady that called the police for no reason? Right.’ Or is this going to be legitimate?
M&C: You hail from Chicago, you were involved in Second City, talk about the importance of that Chicago experience and what it gave you?
Christina Anthony: Yes. My time at the Second City was so invaluable. I think Stephen Colbert said, ‘It’s the graduate school of comedy.’ Dramatic actors go to Juilliard. So if you are a comedian and want to hone your comedy skills, going to Second City for comedy training is paramount. It is the next step.
And so that was great. I was doing eight shows a week there, six nights a week. It taught me how to trust my gut. What I thought was funny, would it resonate with a live audience of anywhere from 300 to, sometimes when you’re on the road, a thousand people in a performing arts center? They are quick to let you know if something doesn’t land as funny.
So I think that was valuable to me.
And on this project, Woman in the House, it was important, and the way that Michael Lehmann directed us, we would play it quite seriously. And I think even particularly this character, the detective, even if everyone else knows they’re in this crazy murder mystery movie, she does not know that. I think she believes, ‘I’m here to figure out what happened.’
And for me, as a performer, that was important since you weren’t going to be getting laughs. The set was silent and grave, And I had to use instincts to say, yes, I’m doing this right. So that was important. And then I think the other great thing I learned after Second City is the gift of ensemble and playing well with others.
This series is such a big ensemble of people. So instead of a TV show [schedule] every week, we completed one episode and then moved on to the next; the next week, we just jumped around all over the place.
And so it was great to get to hang out with Kristen, Tom, and Cameron and get to see Mary Holland, who I also know from the improv community. And though we didn’t always have scenes together, we still tried to build that kind of ensemble feel.
M&C: What gave you the confidence to leave Chicago in 2011 and move to Los Angeles? What was the circumstance?
Christina Anthony: Well quite honestly, there wasn’t a good opportunity. I wanted an experience that was challenging. So everyone was auditioning, and when I say everyone in the category of black women, ages 20 to 40, auditioning to be on SNL.
Lorne Michaels had come to Second City to see a show I was in. I was going to get a phone call that they were like, ‘Hey, he wants you to come and audition.’ And not only did I NOT book SNL, but I also could not even get an audition.
And I think I felt like, well, where to next? I mean, you can’t just keep doing comedy. And a friend said to go to LA, that I could do it. And so, I decided yes, I’m going to go to Los Angeles, and I’ll be on a TV show, like pretty much the next day. And it’ll be great.
I was not on a TV show the next day. I started doing some plays in New York, flying back and forth, doing off-Broadway plays with some friends in New York.
I had a day job, working customer service on a website, and I didn’t break through in LA and start working on television until 2019 when I booked Mixed-ish on ABC.
M&C: How did that feel after the audition and you got that call. What happened?
Christina Anthony: I still remember when my agents called me to this day. And sometimes they will call to say, ‘we did want to call and tell you XYZ network let us know they liked you and to thank you so much, but they’re going to pick someone else.’
And I remember the last couple of times they did that. So I was like, please stop calling me to say that; it hurts my feelings.
So when they called that particular time after the Mixed-ish audition, I answered the phone saying, ‘Oh my goodness, please don’t do this.’
And, right away, I remember my agent and manager were both on the phone, which was strange. Because they usually don’t call together at the same time. And they said, ‘Everyone’s on the phone.’ So I’m like, ‘who is everyone?’
And they said that I got the part, that I had booked Mixed-ish.
And because I had had so much rejection over the last eight to nine years in LA. So I didn’t know what to do.
So I just hung up the phone because I had not prepared for a ‘yes.’ I got myself together. I called my mom and dad, my husband—who was my boyfriend at the time, and then my manager called back and she was like, ‘What is going on with you? Did you hang up?’
I said, ‘Yes, I hung up. What is going on now?’ And she said, ‘It starts today. And you hung up before we could tell you, there’s a table read, and you need to go meet everybody.’
And so I race raced over to Disney Studios in Burbank and was a little late, but they excused it. And talk about your Chicago training coming back to you. I sat down; there was no pomp and circumstance. They were like, ‘All right, let’s get started.’
I remember sitting next to Gary Cole, who’s also from Chicago, and we’re starting right away. I was just so nervous. And he said, ‘You’re from Chicago. Right?’ He gave me a fist bump and was like, ‘You’ll get it done. You’re fine.’ And, oh my gosh, booking a job on the same day and starting the same day. This is crazy!
M&C: I was wondering, considering Black History Month is here, and you’re on this incredible show on Netflix and Mixed-ish, if you want to share that story for readers about your late grandmother, Ernestine Weddle?
Christina Anthony: Oh yes, her trip to Washington DC. Yeah, my grandmother, I believe it was in the late seventies. The Smithsonian was doing a project with cultural home remedies and folklore. And all these traditions we have in the black community of home remedies. For example, if you get a cut, you can put hot sauce on [it], how to cure a snake wound, all kinds of things.
And these things came out of the inability to go to hospitals and clinics in the area because of Jim Crow segregation. And so, there was a need for the remedies. So she kept that tradition alive through her childbearing years. And she was honored at the Smithsonian.
They brought her and her neighbor, Mrs. Darden, to Washington DC, and it was a beautiful experience. Our family keeps those photographs still, and there’s a certificate of honor there from the Smithsonian.
But the remedies are on display right there, along with so many recipes and home remedies that many times were passed down from, from traditions, from slavery, and the proper people were never accredited.
So it was great that that happened and that they gave her credit and honor for that. And, it has been a big deal in our family for a long time. But, unfortunately, she’s since passed on. But, she would often talk about the time they brought her to Washington DC.
The Woman in the House Across the Street From the Girl in the Window is currently streaming on Netflix.