My Journey to Finding Inspiration

Actor-producer Molly C. Quinn on how she used collaging and character journaling to deepen her performance in her new indie horror, Agnes.

When I was presented with the opportunity to write a post on Talkhouse about my experience producing and starring in my new horror-drama film Agnes, I was a little stuck. What could I discuss? What would be of interest to others?

I settled on sharing part of my actor’s process.

When I am trying to best do a character justice off the page … I go back to the page, but in a different way. I start a journal as the character I’m trying to connect to. If I can find their voice, that moment from their past that gives them action, I can connect to the character and start to feel separated from myself.

I’ve always been an avid diary enthusiast. I started keeping a personal diary when I was 10 and still continue the habit. In my mid-teens, I decided to try starting a journal for Alexis when Castle got picked up for season one. Alexis Castle was such different person from myself. I wanted to find a way to give her authenticity. Writing in her voice took some getting used to, but once I found her, the journal became my source of inspiration. A place to deepen her relationships. It gave me a resource to turn to during Alexis’ journey, always coming back to the father-daughter bond.

I’ve engaged in this method of character study ever since, even in shorter bursts for auditions! Deepening the work in this way gives me something to hold on to artistically in a world where art can get muddled by competition.

In Agnes, Father Donoghue, a veteran disillusioned priest, and a young priest in training, Benjamin, investigate rumors that the title character, a nun at an isolated convent, is possessed by a demon. The two quickly realize they’ve bitten off more than they can chew, and all who have encountered Agnes – including her closest friend, fellow nun Mary – embark on a spiritual journey in which they question the very existence of God.

While working on becoming Mary in Agnes, I felt the strongest link was the relationship Mary had to her young son, Joey, whose tragic death was the reason Mary ran away to the convent.

Below is an excerpt from Mary’s journal …

“I think about you every minute of every day … I see you fluttering on the periphery of my vision. Your curls disappearing behind a door. I used to stand up and follow you, but you were never where I thought you should be … so now, I let you run around my mind and vision wildly, it’s easier to believe you’re with me if I don’t try to make your physical body a fact.

I miss you, I feel amputated … like a part of my body is gone, but I can feel every inch of myself, hurting and tingling … but if I catch my reflection, I’m nowhere. I reject the world without you in it.

I failed you, Joeybear … Once I had you all I wanted to do was to keep you, protect you, come home to you … as your fever got worse … I thought I was doing the right thing … everyone told me I took you to the hospital too often … for silly things … so I waited this time … I’m ashamed I let other’s perception of me matter more than you … I didn’t mean it … you were just burning up … but I was too late … watching through glass … because I could contaminate the room … contaminate you … If there is a hell I deserve to burn … if there is blame for your death it is mine.

I was not a good mother.

Did you feel that I loved you? Can you feel it now? As I pour out my heart and soul to you. I’ll do whatever you want if you’d come back to me … If I could see you one more time, hold you, beg forgiveness at your tiny feet, beat myself in your presence to show how low I am before you … my most perfect love.

When I can’t fight off sleep … I’m reunited with you, you run to me, that smile … and waking up is the torture I deserve.”

Being honest about the feelings of guilt Mary has, her failures, helped me go deeper into her emotions than I’ve ever managed with another character. I realized through my journal writing that all her pain and anger hide her helplessness. Mary’s refusal to let go of her past helped me find the anger and disdain that eventually erupts from her.

I started writing character journals as a way to find clarity and separation from myself. As I’ve grown, so has the work. The focus now is on how to justify another person’s decisions. I’ve discovered that once I identify and accept the character’s flaws, I can deepen their emotions and reach new heights of artistic expression.

Molly C. Quinn (center) as Mary in Agnes.

I can’t wait to see how these journals continue to grow and how I grow from them.

Molly C. Quinn is an actress and producer living in Los Angeles. Molly stars in the new horror/drama Agnes, which premiered at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival; aside from starring in the film, Molly also executive produced the film through her production company QWGMIRE, which she formed in 2019 with Elan Gale and Matthew Welty. Molly may be best known for starring as Alexis Castle from 2009 to 2016 on the award-winning series Castle, opposite Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic, and she recently appeared in Doctor Sleep, opposite Ewan McGregor and Rebecca Ferguson. Molly currently lives in the LA area, with her fiancé and their two dogs; Piper and Pikachu. (Photo by the Riker Brothers.)