Brooke Lyons discusses her love affair with Nantucket, her life as an actress, and the unexpected path that led her to stardom.
“I like to say that I live in Los Angeles, but my soul lives on Nantucket,” says actress Brooke Lyons, one of the stars of Showtime’s Golden Globe-winning drama The Affair. “I was eight years old the first time I visited Nantucket. My aunt and uncle have had a home on island, and for as long as I can remember, we began an annual tradition of visiting.” Today, Lyons’ parents, James and Penny, live on Nantucket, and Lyons and her husband Max retreat to the island for a reprieve from the hustle and bustle of Hollywood. Before The Affair, Lyons could be seen on such hit shows as Desperate Housewives, 2 Broke Girls, and ABC Family’s Jane by Design. But despite how swiftly the thirty-five-year old’s career has progressed, Brooke Lyons says that her life as an actress was anything but rehearsed.
N MAGAZINE: Did you always dream of becoming an actress?
LYONS: No, acting wasn’t even on my radar. Ballet was my first love and my greatest passion. My parents put me in a ballet class when I was two. By the age of thirteen, I was commuting from Connecticut to Manhattan every day after school to train at the Joffrey Ballet. I spent my summers at dance intensives in New York, Boston and France. I was certain that I would become a professional dancer, but life is full of surprises. I was diagnosed with scoliosis and had to have a surgery that immobilized me for a while and greatly decreased my flexibility thereafter. This changed everything. I went to college instead of joining a company.
N MAGAZINE: So you found acting in college?
LYONS: I studied English at Yale, where they happened to have a wonderful theater program. After my spine surgery I was open to trying all sorts of new things. On a whim, I signed up to audition for a play. I had no idea what I was doing. I’d been performing my entire life, but ballet is very different from acting. In retrospect, I see that some of the best discoveries in life arise from that sort of naive readiness.
N MAGAZINE: And that’s what led you to Hollywood?
LYONS: Yes, it was the same with moving to Los Angeles. I’d never been there. I knew nothing about the entertainment industry. I just thought, I love acting, so this is what I’m going to do. I bought a one-way ticket and took a leap of faith. If I’d known anything about how difficult those first few years would be, I might not have ended up here. The challenge, now, is preserving some of that naiveté and that readiness despite knowing all that I know.
N MAGAZINE: Given all that you know now, what do you think most people don’t know about what’s happening behind the scenes?
LYONS: The creative process is messy and lengthy. The results are glittering but do not constitute the majority of the experience — not even close. There are multiple shots, angles and setups involved in capturing every scene. There are endless edits and frequent re-castings. There are deleted scenes, cancelled shows and roles that get written out in the middle of filming. There are projects that take years to get off the ground. There are a hundred rejections for a single “yes.” The unpredictability of it all can be maddening, but also exhilarating, which is why I think many of us stick with it.
N MAGAZINE: So how did you finally break in?
LYONS: In my case, small steps have amounted to big change. [The film] Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins enabled me to quit my jobs waiting tables and tutoring SAT students so that I could be a full-time actress. Playing Peach on 2 Broke Girls was my first opportunity to stick with a character for a full season. That element of continuity had a huge impact on me and, to my surprise, on viewers, which was exciting. 2 Broke Girls opened a lot of doors for me, not the least of which was a new level of confidence in my own creative capacity.
N MAGAZINE: The Affair was a huge hit — how did it impact the trajectory of your career?
LYONS: When you’re known for one thing, it can be challenging to change people’s minds. I’ve been fortunate to have a wonderful career in comedy, which has made it tricky to convince the powers that be to give me a shot at dramatic roles. The Affair opened up a whole new world. Playing Eden allowed me to embody an entirely different sort of person and to connect with viewers in new ways. Working with the cast and crew on The Affair changed me as an artist. That was my experience internally. It’s been exciting to see that mirrored externally in people’s responses to the show. In terms of the trajectory of my career, it has opened up opportunities to evolve creatively and to play characters I would never have been considered for prior to my work on the show.
N MAGAZINE: So what’s next?
LYONS: Since The Affair I’ve been focused on doing more drama. I’m drawn to characters who play at the top of their intelligence and inhabit a moral gray area. I’m excited by female roles that are defined not as “wife” or “girlfriend,” but rather as complex individuals in the world having layered experiences.
N MAGAZINE: Nantucket has become a thriving theatrical destination; would you ever consider a role at the White Heron Theatre or Theatre Workshop?
LYONS: Absolutely. It’s been a long time since I’ve done theater, and I would welcome the opportunity.
N MAGAZINE: What’s your favorite memory of coming to the island as a little girl?
LYONS: Boogie boarding all day at Cisco Beach as a kid. Spending summer nights on the strip with my cousins, who were older and cooler. Standing in line for ice cream at The Juice Bar while playing with fortune teller fish from Seven Seas. Wearing a dirty, salty rope bracelet for months afterward to remember my time on the island.
N MAGAZINE: How about today? What’s a quintessential summer day on Nantucket look like for you?
LYONS: Wake up early and get an iced coffee from The Bean while running pre-beach errands. Pick up sandwiches (and cookies, obviously) at Something Natural, and then drive out to Smith’s Point. Spend the entire day at the beach. Go swimming, read a book, eat lunch, go for a walk, watch the sunset. Once the sun has set, return home and freshen up before heading to ‘Sconset for dinner at The Summer House. Arrive early for cocktails at the Piano Bar and then request a table outside. Whatever you do with the rest of your night, be sure to go outside and look up at the stars.
N MAGAZINE: Now that you’re a star, what advice would you give the many young aspiring actresses on Nantucket?
LYONS: “Yes, and.” That’s what they say in improv. You’re confronted with a situation, and you don’t resist the situation. If you resist or negate, the bottom falls out from under you. So instead, you just say, “Yes, and.” As in when life hands you a set of circumstances you say, “Yes! Okay. Great. And I’d like to do XYZ…”