Wise, bubbly and full of laughter, Hollywood veteran Elizabeth Mitchell—known most recently for “The Purge: Election Year” and 1980s-era summer camp horror TV series “Dead of Summer”—is as gracious and level-headed as she is talented. We caught up with the Dallas native to talk about channeling her former summer camp days in the Texas Hill Country, her foray into acting and what she loves most about coming home.
The “Dead of Summer” finale airs this month on Freeform. How do you think audiences will react to the final episode?
I’m so lucky because I just finished reading episode nine—and it’s the most terrifying episode of TV: Nonstop action, twists and turns … after reading [the script] it is by far my favorite episode; it’s scary, sad and challenging because it’s like a mystery or puzzle you’re trying to figure out.
You played a villainous snow queen in “Once Upon A Time” and in “Dead of Summer,” you’re a mysterious summer camp leader with a few potential dark secrets. What interests you about these types of roles or characters?
I think I’m drawn to strong women. As my mom would say I have a “do-no-harm rule” and I try to walk softly, [but] when it comes to people [or characters] who have these obstacles or things in their lives that they can’t get out of their way—I find their drive so fascinating and interesting; I think maybe I’m [also] drawn to the adrenaline.
As a Camp Longhorn alum, did you draw upon anything from your camp experience for your role as Deb in “Dead of Summer”?
I feel like camp is such a coming-of-age thing. I don’t know if I always loved it [laughs], but it did some great things for me; at the end of it I was strong, tan and ready to take on the world! My last year I gained an understanding of leadership, which I learned from watching counselors and camp directors; [there was] no coddling, and that part was really interesting. In “Dead of Summer” I think I kind of took from that idea, but with Deb I had the obstacle of someone who is incredibly emotionally invested in the camp, which isn’t always the best because you’re thinking more about yourself and your own motives.
What’s been the best part about filming “Dead of Summer”?
Well, the 80’s are great, and so the music is great! I like the characters I’m working with; they’re neat kids and I love seeing how dedicated they are. Even the crew says they can’t wait to “be back at camp” ... Everybody gets a little bit more relaxed and people eat their lunches by the water. I find the woods really comforting. The lights they put up at night make our campsite incredibly beautiful.
At seven, you made your debut on stage at the Dallas Theater Center. What sparked your interest in acting at such an early age?
My mom was an actress when she was younger, so I think it was her love of the art form then her putting me through theater school. I was such a dorky, funny little kid, but then being on stage I felt like, 'this makes sense to me; this is a world that I understand.' I always felt at home there and was drawn to the other actors. I found the community to be so incredible—so different than the people I’d met with my parents (both are lawyers)—friendly, inclusive, creative. Eventually I’d be sneaking into shows and watching the actors work; it felt magical to me.
How would you describe the essence/culture of Dallas, and what do you love about coming back?
It’s so vibrant! My mom has a little studio and works downtown (she’s an incredible artist), and the town has really flourished and changed since I was a kid—the arts, the food. And the people are friendly and fantastic! I like the wide open streets, running at night, all the little boutique hotels ... and you get a Texas welcome!
Do you travel home to Dallas often to visit your family?
I try to come back every few months. I love seeing my parents, love to hang out in Mom and Dad’s backyard and I love to go to Javier’s, one of my all-time favorite places! (I always order the chicken nachos.) Then, I’ll usually go run White Rock Lake with my dad, who runs with these group of guys They say they’re slow so it should be easy for me to keep up, but they’re lying! I work out and run for three months beforehand ... but they’re super sweet and never call attention to it.
Javier’s is a classic. Any other restaurants you’d recommend?
You’re going to hate me [laughs], but El Fenix, On the Border (on Knox Street)...basically Tex-Mex! Also Toulouse (also on Knox) and Rockfish (in Mockingbird Station). Do you have any advice for visitors about what to do and see or where to go in the city? Go get out and get around! Go to Greenville [Avenue] and listen to live music ... [or visit] Klyde Warren Park, the Dallas Museum of Art, White Rock Lake and Deep Ellum.
How would you describe your own personal style, as well as the fashion/shopping scene here in Dallas?
I am, on most days, in boots and a belt, but I soften it a little bit with cashmere or cotton. It’s great to go to lunch at Neiman’s and watch them do their fashion shows. There’s some gorgeous fashion and great designers in Dallas that my mom knows about—RioRitz on Routh Street (the owner has great style; not horribly expensive but super cute), Asel Art Supply, E.G. Geller (shoes), NM Last Call, NorthPark Center, the “last call” sales at Stanley Korshak and The Shak in Crescent Court. Mom is a fantastic shopper and always looks amazing.
Are you working on any new or upcoming projects?
I do the strangest thing: I work for six months and then I’m a full-time mom. Given that “The Purge” and “Dead of Summer” came out at the same time, I’m probably just going to be a mom now. It’s good to have balance. I’m always grateful for work but I try to live a full, well-rounded life, as honored as I am to have had the opportunity to do this kind of work at all.