Alison Sudol | Fantasy and Frenzy
In 2015, musician and actress Alison Sudol was in an audition for which there was no script given. Instead, there were a few scenes to test out, and the description of a character.
“[She was] this incredibly empathetic, warm, playful, loving, young woman,” Sudol recalls being told. “She was sort of in the position where people thought of her as a beauty, but she didn’t… There was no trace of vanity in her.”
This is where it gets exciting: “She could read minds,” Sudol continues. “She’s a magical empath. And I was like, ‘Who is this woman?’”
You may already know the answer if, like me, you are committed to fantasy (read: book nerd).
But if you haven’t guessed, the woman was Queenie Goldstein, a witch from the magical Harry Potter universe; the audition was for the movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and the graceful and talented Alison Sudol landed the role, a scene-stealing part of a lifetime.
Sudol was born in Seattle but grew up in Los Angeles. As child, she was rather quiet and a voracious reader. “Books saved my life as a kid,” she tells me. “They made me believe that life could be a lot less disappointing than what I was facing in reality.”
Though she had acting teachers as parents, and would one day be known for her role in the Fantastic Beasts series, Sudol’s original creative outlet was music. She began singing at the age of eleven, and by thirteen, she was writing her own songs. She wrote about nature and about feeling misunderstood.
“There was a force in me that made me have to sing,” Sudol tells me. “I had to make music. I doubted myself all the time, but I had to keep going. It was like breathing.”
Though, as Sudol explains, her early experience writing music was at times frustrating because she couldn’t get what she made to sound like the songs on the radio.
“And it never did,” she says. “It still doesn’t, to a degree, but as I got older, I just sort of learned that was okay. That you shouldn't sound like anyone else.”
Perhaps that’s why Sudol was so successful when she first came onto the scene under the moniker ‘A Fine Frenzy.’ You may remember her albums from the late aughts and early twenty-tens, featuring light and gentle songs like “Almost Lover” and “What I Wouldn’t Do.”
But after three albums, it was time for a change. Sudol explains, “I was just really, really lost and unhappy and uninspired. I didn’t know how I was going to make another record. So, I decided to take some time off.”
That time off led to Sudol exploring a career in acting, and after stretching her legs with a few television roles, she arrived in the audition room for Fantastic Beasts for the part of a darling woman who could read minds.
Like anyone committed to fantasy would, Sudol understood the weight behind the role. She was a fan of the Harry Potter series herself; she recalls bringing one of the later novels on tour and reading about horcruxes by flashlight when everyone else was out.
And now, she’s the beloved Queenie Goldstein, and the second of five (!) Fantastic Beasts movies, The Crimes of Grindelwald, is in theaters today. Sudol says she can feel the magic.
“In a certain sense, it becomes normal in that we’re doing our jobs and we’re making the film,” Sudol says, “but there’s always this other thing which is that this is about magic… There is a sort of magic that even the brick and mortar of the moves have.”
She goes on, “And the way the people react around the world, the way that people need these movies is also that something that I don’t really forget. I get reminded of again and again and I’m really grateful for it — I’m grateful to be apart of that special thing.”
And becoming Queenie has been a growing experience for Sudol as well. Before landing the role, she explains, “I felt very distant from my femininity and my connection with that — I don’t know — that girlish part of myself... So it was a really beautiful opportunity to like, be such a feminine character who is smart, who is layered, and who is unafraid of wearing a dress and smelling good.”
In the midst of creating Fantastic Beasts, Sudol has returned to releasing music, as well, now under her own name. Her first EP as Alison Sudol, called “Moon,” was released earlier this month, and features five dreamy and dramatic tracks that definitely don’t sound like anything on the radio -- in the most wonderful way possible.
“It’s about leaving what you’ve known, leaving a constraining world, and going out into the unknown and exploring,” Sudol says of the EP. “At that time, I was exploring my own femininity, and my connection with other women.”
It wasn’t until later that I realized the connection, the emphasis Sudol made on the power of femininity when speaking both about her new music and about Queenie. I wonder now what good the connection between these two empathetic, warm, playful, loving, women have brought each other. It’s not hard to imagine, though I guess that’s part of the magic.