On hit show “Underground,” Theatre UAB alumna Andrea Frankle plays Suzanna Macon, character fans love to hate

Chosen by a scout from the UAB Department of Theatre for a scholarship, Frankle says the lessons she learned as a young actor from UAB faculty and the Tour Groups program stick with her still today.

andrea frankleAndrea Frankle as Suzanna Macon.On the hit WGN America show “Underground,” few characters can make the blood run cold like Suzanna Macon, portrayed by 1998 University of Alabama at Birmingham graduate Andrea Frankle, who credits the College of Arts and SciencesDepartment of Theatre and her graduate school training for preparing her for her acting career.

“Underground” is the action-packed story of a group of slaves in 1857 who plan a daring escape from the plantation to cross 600 miles to freedom, fighting to survive all the way. Frankle is part of an outstanding ensemble cast; her character Suzanna is the merciless mistress of the Macon plantation, and her steely malevolence is a marvel of dramatic skill. She governs the big house, and while her appearances are brief, she inspires terror in viewers as she holds life and death over the slaves. As head house slave Ernestine, played by Amirah Vann, says, “You can’t trust nothing that woman says.”

The DVD of the binge-worthy first season was released June 14, and season two is coming in 2017. John Legend is executive producer, and he handles the compelling modern score, which includes songs like “Black Skinhead” by Kanye West along with spirituals and folk songs, which amplify the action on-screen. Misha Green and Joe Pokaski write “Underground.” The show is important, timely and extraordinarily written, Frankle says.

“The language, the imagery, the mastery of the production is awe-inspiring,” she said. “I was there, and when I watch it, I forget about all the wizards behind the curtain and I just get lost in it, like everyone else. The performances by the actors are truly outstanding. As for what is next for the story, there is a certain character we meet at the end of season one who may play a larger role in guiding our heroes on their paths to freedom.”

Folks are tight-lipped when it comes to this show, Frankle says, and it pays off, because every episode keeps viewers on the edge of their seats.

Her advice for theater students

“Read, watch and learn everything you can about plays, theater and acting. Love school, enjoy your training, and if you hunger for more, go out and see live theater, watch live actors, talk to writers, get yourself to the movies, or enjoy the fruits of online streaming and watch classic film, television and the shows people are talking about. Once you get yourself a solid foundation and learn about the amount of work, the physically exhausting, mentally challenging, ensemble-building WORK it is to be an actor, you will learn either one of two things: that you can’t live without it or that you can’t live with it. Either answer is a gift.”

Frankle earned her master’s degree from Louisiana State University, and cut her teeth on character parts in New Orleans. She worked with actors including Hilary Swank and learned how to work on camera, which differs from stage acting in that many performers often prefer to work unrehearsed. Her “hard-core theater training” got her physically through it, and still does, she says.

She guest-starred in season one of “True Detective,” and played a “really gritty character.”

“I absolutely love it when people say, ‘Wait, that was you?’” Frankle said. “I have day-played on a few television movies, guest-starred on some television series, and had some walk-on parts which were super fun, like in ‘21 Jump Street.’ I had a few small recurring characters, such as in ‘The Riches.’” The show ran for a few seasons on the FX channel and starred Minnie Driver and Eddie Izzard. Frankle says she got to do an RV highway chase for that show. Her thoughts while filming?

“This is too much fun, and it’s my job right now,” she said.

Frankle is originally from Montgomery, where her mother was a musical theater actress. She got her start acting with her mother in community theater when she was just age 8. At age 17, a friend convinced her to audition for Birmingham Summerfest, even though technically she was too young. Luckily, there was a scout from the UAB Department of Theatre who convinced her to come in and audition for a scholarship. She says she gained a tremendous amount of knowledge and experience from her education there.

“They prepared me so well,” Frankle said. “I was actually nominated for an Irene Ryan Award for a role I had done in one of their productions, and it was during that competition that I auditioned for several graduate schools, and ultimately decided on LSU.”

One of her favorite aspects of her experience with Theatre UAB, which she feels shaped her as a performer, was performing in the department’s Tour Groups program, visiting schools every Friday, which also provided part of her stipend. The program is still thriving and providing young actors with performance opportunities and audiences with a chance to see live theater in action.

“We did children’s theater, Shakespeare for high schools, really all ages,” she said. “We performed in gyms, libraries, outdoors, classrooms — you name it, three, sometimes four shows a day. It was hard work, but was also the best lesson I have ever learned. Children and young audiences never lie. They let you know how it’s going and if they are getting it or not. And it stayed with me.”