Three Great Things: Mireille Enos

The sought-after actress, currently starring in season three of Hanna, on her children's laughter, great books and taekwondo.

Three Great Things is Talkhouse’s series in which artists tell us about three things they absolutely love. To mark the third season of Amazon Prime’s action thriller series Hanna, starring Esmé Creed-Miles, Mireille Enos, Dermot Mulroney and Ray Liotta, Enos shares some of the things she loves most dearly in life. — N.D

The Sound of My Children’s Laughter
I think maybe my favorite sound in the world is my children’s laughter. Different things make them laugh, so it’s like a puzzle figuring out how I can get to hear those delicious sounds. My seven-year-old son loves to be tickled, so that’s a really easy one in a pinch, but he also has a really funny sense of humor, so trying to come up with a good joke that’s going to hit his funny bone is extremely pleasurable. (The latest joke that really made him laugh was, “What’s the difference between a turkey and a chicken? Chickens celebrate Thanksgiving.”) My daughter is older, and she’s very elegant. Most of the time she carries herself with great dignity, but she has a funny wackadoodle sense of humor too. It’s not easy to get her to the place where she loosens up and will really laugh her freest laugh, but you feel like such a success once you get there! And it’s a funny thing, because these creatures, your children, only exist in this small package for a finite amount of time, and then they disappear forever, so trying to hold the sound of their laughter in your ear is kind of an extraordinary experience.

Me and my husband Alan are funny in different ways and we have different relationships with our kids, so it’s different things that make them laugh. It’s really great when Alan is in the pocket and it’s all working and I can really just sit back and observe. But maybe the best thing ever – and this is rare for my kids, who are now seven and 11, respectively – is when they’re having a private child’s moment and we’re not involved and they make each other laugh. It’s bliss. Alan and I will clutch at each other under the table, listening to them. It’s so good!

A Good Book
It’s actually been a while since I found a book that has really transported me, as I essentially stopped reading when I had kids. But I love when I find a book that just takes me and captures me in the web of its words. Some writers paint pictures, but I admire so much when a writer has the skill of using language to elicit feeling in your body – that combination of being stimulated intellectually and also having your heart feel really alive too. It’s been a very long time since I’ve read it, but Gabriel García Márquez’s A Hundred Years of Solitude is a great example of that. It was my introduction to magic realism. There’s a character in it who inexplicably is always followed by yellow butterflies and I remember being so taken by that. The time just disappears when you step into this alternate world.

I loved the Harry Potter series, which I read when it came out a million years ago, but I also read the entire series out loud to my daughter when she was seven. It was wonderful having that collective experience with her. There’s a scene at the end of Book Three where there’s an incredibly tense rescue attempt. As we read, my daughter Vesper and I were squeezed onto a couch, our backs against the side of the couch, our legs stretched out and the book between us. When the rescue was successful, we sat there together in a moment of reverent silence. And then she just said, very quietly, “That was amazing.” It was awesome.

I just finished reading all the Roald Dahl books with my son. We went through the entire canon. Dahl’s work is very interesting, because he’s a children’s writer but his characters are going through very real and dangerous experiences. In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie’s family is literally starving, and Matilda is living in an abusive home. There’s a dark reality and there’s also a magic that goes hand in hand with it. For example, in James and the Giant Peach, James meets these enormous oversized insects, who provide a family life for him. It’s been really interesting seeing these stories through the lens of a seven-year-old, talking about things that are actually scary for children, and then asking him, say, “How real is magic? And how can we spin magic in our own lives?”

I love taekwondo. It’s such a funny thing to love, because I came to it late. I grew up in dance rooms, doing ballet and modern dance, and doing random gym workouts. I didn’t find taekwondo until I was 30, but now I’m a second-degree black belt and it’s an incredibly important part of my life. People think martial arts and doing TV shows where there’s an action element is cool, but the thing I love most about taekwondo is the relaxation that I find in it. I used to carry a lot of tension in my life. I was a shy girl growing up. I found myself being tense in situations, not having a voice, and there’s something about the practice of taekwondo which invites relaxation, invites openness. It reminds you where your center is, and it’s like a metaphor for everything – for your intelligence, for your voice, for your heart, for your breath, for how you are powerful as an individual.

Taekwondo is also an exercise in patience with yourself. It’s goal-based and you mark your progress, but there are always going to be days when your legs don’t work right or you’re impatient or frustrated, so it’s as good as any therapy session. You have to live with yourself and say, “Today, I am not awesome, but that’s OK. It’s part of the journey. Tomorrow will be different.” Everything you do is something done. There are so many lessons to be learned on the mat.

I think the practice of taekwondo has shaped the career I have now, even though I didn’t directly use taekwondo for a lot of my roles. Before I started training, I was doing more character parts and theatre work. When I moved to Los Angeles, I needed something else, something transformative; I understood my place in New York, but Los Angeles was more enigmatic. Finding the practice of taekwondo, doing something that had nothing to do with acting and that only had to do with me – who I am in a room – has absolutely corresponded to the way that doors have opened for me in Los Angeles.

Mireille Enos can currently be seen in the third season of Amazon Prime’s action-thriller series, Hanna, opposite Esmé Creed-Miles, Dermot Mulroney and Ray Liotta. She is best known for her role opposite Brad Pitt in World War Z and for her acclaimed role as Detective Sarah Linden on The Killing. Her other TV credits include Good Omens, opposite Jon Hamm, Michael Sheen and David Tennant, Shonda Rhimes’ The Catch, and HBO’s Big Love, in which she played the breakthrough double role of twins JoDean and Kathy Marquart. Her film work includes the Blumhouse-produced The Lie, opposite Peter Sarsgaard and Joey King, Gangster Squad opposite Josh Brolin, the thriller Never Here, opposite the late Sam Shepard, and Atom Egoyan’s The Captive, starring Ryan Reynolds. She was Tony nominated for her role in the Broadway revival of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, opposite Bill Irwin and Kathleen Turner. She currently lives in Los Angeles with her family.