Story By: Aisling O’Leary
Photographs By: Sergio Kurhajec
“I feel lucky to be an actor because ultimately it’s the exploration of being a human being and what it’s like to be on this earth and have this body and get through however many years you’re lucky to be here.”
Elisabeth Rohm is known for portraying strong, independent women; characters who stand up for themselves and what they believe in. This doesn’t differ from who Rohm is off the camera. Working consistently as an actor since she was fresh out of college, with the exception of a brief stint at a casting agency, her commitment to the craft fuels her zest for what can otherwise be a grueling business. In fact, she credits her experience as an agent’s assistant with giving her the thick skin needed to survive, witnessing behind the scenes how it’s all just a business and nothing is personal.
Widely recognized for her role as Serena Southerlyn on the TV series Law & Order, Rohm’s job title has since expanded to incorporate writer, philanthropist and now fashion designer. She is currently starring in Sony Crackle’s ‘The Oath’, a new series exploring a criminal gang made up of select police officers. Based on true stories from the show’s creator, Joe Halpin, who was previously an undercover cop himself, Rohm plays Aria Price, a senior FBI Agent. Catching Rohm on her way back from a road trip with her daughter, we discuss her career, how she got her start as well as her pledge to remove the stigma from infertility.
Imagista: You grew up in New York, went to boarding school in Tennessee and then went on to Sarah Lawrence.
Elisabeth Rohm: I did. Tennessee had a big influence on me in the sense that it connected me more to nature. But by the time I was eighteen it was in my rearview mirror – I was heading back to New York. I went to Sarah Lawrence to be a writer but ended up majoring in history. One of the great things about the liberal arts is that you have the opportunity to try different things. I don’t think at that age you have to necessarily know what your path is going to look like but you have to excite your mind and your heart and I think the liberal arts offers that.
(Dress, coat and belts, Victoria Hayes. Shoes, Guess. Earrings, Adrianna Papell. Bracelets: Julie Vos. Ring: A.JAFFE.)
Imagista: What kind of writer did you want to be?
Elisabeth Rohm: At the time I was thinking I might get a job at a newspaper and write novels. That was quite a traditional path at that time. It was a very noble and real option to work as a journalist and write books on the side.
Imagista: Your mother was a scriptwriter. Did this have an impact on you?
Yeah she was always giving me books. When I was young she gave me ‘Letters to a Young Poet’. I knew I was an artist by the time I was fourteen through the material she gave me, I just didn’t know what kind. But this is probably why I love the whole process of making a movie. I recognize it as being part of the character’s process too because ultimately it always comes down to story and script. That was absolutely deeply influenced by my mom. So I think that those that write and those that act are trying to explore the same questions of how we love, how we hurt, how we can accept one another and what motivates us among so many other questions!
Imagista: Do you still write now? Would you ever write your own TV show or film?
Elisabeth Rohm: I think screenwriting is so different from the format of novel or short story but it’s definitely something that I’ve considered. I’ve written a novel called ‘Nerissa’ which is self-published. Apart from that, I’m more in the process now of producing and developing projects with other writers. For example, I co-wrote my memoir ‘Baby Steps’ with Eve Adamson.
(Blouse, Genny. Earrings, AnaKatarina.)
Imagista: How was that process?
Elisabeth Rohm: It was really amazing because Eve is such a great writer and collaborator. I couldn’t have found a better person to work with. We have very similar voices so there weren’t a lot of conflicts. We kind of became one during that process, it was very harmonious.
Imagista: As someone who has experienced infertility issues, this book came from rather a personal place didn’t it?
Elisabeth Rohm: Well, I had a very interesting experience writing a blog for People magazine on motherhood. When I blogged about infertility the outpouring from that particular post was staggering. The connection I had with women through the blog and the honesty and vulnerability that I had created with all of these strangers became extremely empowering and exciting. I then pursued writing a book about infertility because I felt the need to create a higher consciousness concerning our discomfort in discussing this issue.
(Dress, AUDRA. Coat, Genny. Earrings, AnaKatarina.)
Imagista: A noble effort – not many people would have the courage to detail their struggle.
Elisabeth Rohm: I think things that create shame should be brought into the light so that we can deal with it together and remove the stigma. Sharing becomes empowering for others – the more information we have the better. So I became pretty vocal about my journey with infertility. The fact that I had to do IVF at thirty-four years old was rather unusual as that is quite young.
I just felt very blindsided by this fantasy being portrayed in society that it’s normal for a 40-year-old woman to have a child. For some strange reason I felt disappointed with women who would talk about their new child with such gratitude but would not reveal that they most likely had medical help. The likelihood is that your chances to have a child naturally become slimmer as you get into your late 30s and early 40s. I really wanted to create a dialogue among women, to advocate for each other and I want the younger, reproductive generation to be informed.
Imagista: What was the moment when you realized acting was your path?
In your senior year in college you have to make choices. I don’t know if I knew then that this was my path but I definitely thought that acting was something I was good at. I knew that if I didn’t try then when I was young with nothing to lose that I would never do it. I got a job as an assistant to a casting agent because I thought that that would be a good way to learn the business. I also started to study with Uta Hagen at HB studio and also did the Meisner technique at Carnegie Hall. After a year working as an assistant, I knew I wanted to give acting a real shot so I quit my job to audition full-time. I lived very small at that point! I think I greatly protected myself, though, by learning the behind the scenes first before stepping into the emotional journey as the actor. I think having a real sense of the business of the art protected me in an emotional sense – I knew that none of the it was personal.
Imagista: Was it easy for you to find an agent?
Elisabeth Rohm: I was lucky, I met an agent who worked in the daytime world. He sent me for an audition of ‘One Life to Live’ and I got the part, leading to a 3 year contract. So when I left the soap opera I already had auditions lined up. I was flown out to LA for a screen test, auditioned for a pilot that Dick Wolf was producing and thus began my long term working relationship with Dick.
Imagista: Have you ever considered theatre?
I have. In fact, I’m coming to New York soon to explore theatre there. It’s nothing I’ve done before so it’s a challenge I’m willing to take.
Imagista: Up until now you’ve done quite a few TV series. Is there a project in particular that you hold close to your heart?
I think coming to New York for Law & Order. It wasn’t just getting any show. It’s such a staple and means so much to New Yorkers. Also, I went through 9/11 right after I joined Law & Order. The struggle of the community to get through that horrific attack and then being on this iconic New York show strengthened my bond with the city. That time gave me a deep love and respect for New Yorkers in general. It was also right around then that I started working with the American Red Cross. This period opened my eyes philanthropically.
Imagista: Yes, I noticed on your Instagram page that you have a link to fund cancer research.
I have two really good friends who are survivors. It has just touched my life a lot in the last year. So it was really about them. I pray to God it never touches me. The more we give to research than the more we can give to fighting this terrible disease.
Imagista: For Serena Sutherland how did you get into that character and what did you learn from her?
I think the thing I loved about Serena was her real enthusiasm and idealism for humanity. I think I brought that to the character because I think I tend to be a glass-half-full person. She was full of outrage and heartbreak when justice wasn’t served. To prepare for that role, I went to the court and frequently watched Judge Torres in his courtroom. Understanding the sense of place was really important because the courthouse in New York is a very specific feeling. In addition to that, my bookshelf is full of law books.
Imagista: What was it like working with David O’Russell?
David came into my life when I was really ready to take all the information I had learned and bring it to the next level. I remember when I auditioned for ‘American Hustle’ I had a very strong sense of that character – the accent, where she came from in New Jersey, the whole feel of that time. But when I arrived in Boston David was like ‘you know, you were great but this woman is like 50 years old, we’re going to have to age you up!’ So I went through a week of hair and make-up, wardrobe, screen tests. It was so fascinating! It reminded me of that Charlie Chaplin movie where he goes into this wardrobe and he doesn’t know who he is yet but then he finds this cane and his hat and his shoes and suddenly out comes this character. And that’s what working with David was like. You can barely recognize me in the movie – the wig, the clothes, her mannerisms. Everything became very alive during wardrobe process. You never stop acting, you never stop being in the moment because of how David shoots. It’s really electric. It took me to a place where I became so much more committed to the acting process than ever before. It’s like you’re awake in a dream with David.
Imagista: What are you working on now and what’s next in store for you?
Right now I’m working on the new TV series called ‘The Oath’ which is streaming on Sony Crackle. I also have a few movies coming out this summer, one called ‘Adolescence’ and another called ‘Will Gardner’. In addition to all that, I’m starting a fashion company that will make dresses for the real woman and the fuller figure.
Imagista: The female characters you portray are strong independent women. Is that what you look for in a role?
I think it’s more what they’re going through and what they’re overcoming. But maybe because of who I am naturally perhaps directors are drawn to me to play these roles. I feel lucky to be an actor because ultimately it’s the exploration of being a human being and what it’s like to be on this earth and have this body and get through however many years you’re lucky to be here. I’ve a very strong pull to connect to people and to celebrate women especially. To empower women and be empowered by those relationships. It’s an exciting time to be a woman. I want to advocate for equal pay, I feel women are still needing to kick that glass ceiling and shatter it completely. I’d like to imagine a world where my daughter doesn’t even need to think about that.
(Dress, Victoria Hayes. Jewelry, Paula Mendoza. Wrap belt, Sara Roka.)
Elisabeth Röhm Social Media Credits
Talent: Elisabeth Röhm- @elisabethrohm
Photographer: Sergio Kurhajec – @sergiokurhajec
Stylist: Christina Pacelli – @christinajpacelli / Represented by TheOnly.Agency
Stylist Assistants: Nick Browne – @nickb83 / Taurie Small – @t.a.u.r.i.e./Aric Johnson – @aricjohn
Hair: Liam Dunn – @liamhairmakeup for Oribe Professional @oribe @oribeprofessional/ Represented by Bernstein & Andriulli
Makeup: Liam Dunn – @liamhairmakeup for Chanel @welovecoco / Reppresented by Bernstein & Andriulli
Digital Tech:Lucien Sims – @luciensims
Photographer’s Assistant: Jacob Wayler – @jacobnewyork
Studio: Ten Ton Studio – @tentonstudio
Fashion Social Media Credits
@audra_official @helen_yarmak @officina_bernardi @vincecamuto @victoriahayescollection @guess @adriannapapell @julievos @gennyofficial @anakatarinadesign @parkersmithjeans @anakatarinadesign @paulamendozajewelry @sararokaofficial @rinatbrodach @a.jaffe @alexxbrownsworld @jameschan_official @rushjewelrydesign @swatidhanak @ladygreyjewelry