Heléne Yorke Gives Us a Glimpse At Her Early Acting Career

Heléne Yorke.
Photo by Paul Smith.

Heléne Yorke – I moved to the city with $3k my father lent me and about five boxes of things. I had two roommates, no furniture, and was routinely stretching $20 as far as I could.

Heléne Yorke as Jane in Masters of Sex.
Heléne as Jane in Masters of Sex.

Actress Heléne Yorke is a face you’ll recognize from Broadway, as well as television’s Masters of Sex and most recently The Good Wife spin-off called The Good Fight.

Actress Heléne Yorke didn’t just land a great job from luck.

Hard work, dedication and passion for the arts from a young age is what brought Heléne to the place she’s currently at in show business.

Heléne (possibly unknowingly, since she was a child at the time she decided to go into our field) stuck with her dream and continued to build a foundation, layer upon layer, until she reached the point where she is no longer a struggling actor.

Heléne Yorke shares her story with us, as well as gives us some great inside information regarding the audition room, voice overs and how her family reacted when she told them she was going into show business as a career.

Tell us about your family history.

My parents and I immigrated here from Canada in 1986. I was born in Vancouver British Columbia with a DIFFERENT last name. It didn’t seem like an appropriate one to use, so I called my Grandmother and did a little research on other family names so I wouldn’t stray too far from the clan. “Yorke” is my Great Grandmother’s maiden name, on my father’s side. Both of my parents were raised in Canada, my mother being the product of two German immigrants herself. Though she is fluent in German, she never raised me with it. I always mourn how useful it would have been to yell at people in German. Alas.

You’re well known for playing Jane Martin on Showtime’s Masters of Sex. What was it like working on a show that was unchartered territory at the time? Why did you accept the job?

I went to school for musical theatre, so breaking into television was a bit of a challenge. It took time for me, and a lot of patience. I listened to the advice of my long time manager and casting directors. Bernie Telsey’s office had cast me in a number of musicals, and broke me into TV on a show called A Gifted Man. When Masters of Sex came along and they were casting it, I was very thankfully invited into the room. That was a very special pilot (and show) and the character reached out to me immediately. I didn’t so much as “accept the job” as work hard to get an offer for a game changing opportunity.

Heléne Yorke and Rose Leslie in The Good Fight. Photo by Patrick Harbron. ©  2017 - CBS All Access
Heléne Yorke and Rose Leslie in The Good Fight. Photo by Patrick Harbron. © 2017 – CBS All Access

Recently you were on The Good Wife spin-off, The Good Fight. Your character, Amy Breslin, is the girlfriend of main character Maia Rindell. You knew Amy was a lesbian going into the role. What type of interaction did you have with actress Rose Leslie (who plays Maia), before filming began?

Rose Leslie is one of the loveliest people I have ever met. I have found in the now SEVERAL love scenes I’ve done, it doesn’t matter the gender, but that establishing a friendship and easy rapport is crucial in making an admittedly awkward situation so much more comfortable. When I was doing my first ever love scene with Teddy Sears on Masters, he and I just talked hockey for hours. Rose and I gabbed about our siblings and boyfriends. Anything to make it feel like just another day at work.

The Good Fight is on the CBS subscription platform, CBS All Access. How is working on a subscription platform different than working on a network show? 

I’m sure the creators could speak more to the differences there. What I will say is that working for the same producers, writers and a huge chunk of the crew that spent years together on The Good Wife was an absolute pleasure. They are such a well oiled, professional, patient and generous machine.

You were in the Broadway productions Bullets Over Broadway, American Psycho and Wicked. In Wicked, you played Glinda the Good Witch. Please share a personal story. Also, tell us about auditioning for a musical.

When I was in High School my Dad took me to the St. James Theatre to see the “show of the moment”, The Producers, which was Susan Stroman’s collaboration with Mel Brooks.  It was a game changing moment for me. One that galvanized my desire to study theatre and hopefully one day make a career of it. Then years later I’m in the same theatre, my father in the SAME SEAT as that night, seeing me in the opening night of Bullets Over Broadway, which was Susan Stroman’s collaboration with Woody Allen. It was a full circle moment that could hardly even be dreamt up and one of the proudest moments of my entire career. Theatre has a way of getting into your bones, under your skin. When you rehearse something new and dig in with the actors around you, absolutely no experience compares. You are discovering something new and learning every single day. You are failing, you are triumphant, and no matter what the outcome can be proud of how much sweat, blood and tears went into it.

Auditioning for a musical is a unique process. There is typically a pretty sizable “packet” that comes with the appointment, usually with around three scenes and two songs to learn. I always go to a coach to work the songs, as there is absolutely nothing worse than not feeling entirely on top of the material. It is truly the only thing you can control upon entering a room: how prepared you are. Typically there is an initial call and a couple of callbacks. You will see a lot of people who look like you, and maybe a couple who don’t. But the bottom line is that NO ONE is exactly like you, so that is the strongest card you have to play. When I started out, it always helped to see auditions as an opportunity to meet new people. It takes the pressure off a RESULT and creates an environment that is more like a conversation.

Heléne Yorke - In a fitting for American Psycho on Broadway.
Fitting for American Psycho on Bway.

How did you get your Equity card? How’d you feel when you got it?

I got my card after my Junior year in college working at the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera. I felt like I had entered into something I had always dreamed of being a part of. That I had joined the ranks of so many I respect. That anything was possible after that.

You’ve done voiceovers for animations such as Family Guy and American Dad! What’s the process for voiceovers?

Voiceovers for animation are a dream job. Typically I will familiarize myself with the material the night before, but not get too married to anything as you’re never sure exactly what it is they’re hoping for. In other words I like to stay loose. You’re then behind a microphone by yourself, saying each line three times in succession. Sometimes they will give you a lead in, and almost always there will be some kind of adjustment. It’s always fun to see when something works and there’s laughter on the other side of the glass.

You have a beautiful smile. Did you ever have braces?

Ohhhhhhh yes. Two years of braces and a retainer I was not diligent about.

What is it with you and cats? :)

I am VERY allergic to cats. However, if you’re around one cat enough I’ve found that you build a tolerance to them! Thank goodness as there’s a very cuddly feline in my life right now. But if that doesn’t work for you I recommend Claritin!

Are you a confident or shy? What words of wisdom do you have for actors who are shy?

I am very confident, and I come off to people as being very confident. My advice to people who are shy is to be who you are, never question it, but don’t ever let “shy” translate into not having confidence. This is a tough business, and a ton of people will tell you no and list out all the things you can’t do. But that’s not news, nor should it be a surprise. LIFE is full of “no” and things you “can’t do”. Being quiet and reserved is a quality I often envy, as you are better at observing and taking in what’s around you. Just make sure you’re not running a doubt dialogue in your head. There is no time for that.

You currently play Olivia Graves in the comedy television series Graves, which was renewed for Season Two. Will you be back for Season Two? 

You bet!

What is the most challenging thing about being an actor?

Free time between gigs. “The idle mind is the Devil’s playground” is the quote that always comes to mind. When I have time, I give room for doubt. My way of combatting it is to fill my time with positive things like friends, exercise, hobbies or even a side gig.

You’re a bit of a fashionista. How does fashion fit into your role of being an actor?

I think fashion is fun and being put together is a HUGE confidence booster. I don’t dress up every time I get a cup of coffee, but even when I’m casual I like to have a sense of style. It’s a way to show the world who you are.

Heléne Yorke - Ready for a Callback for Masters Of Sex.
Ready for a Callback for Masters Of Sex.

How does your phone help you as an actor? When you receive an audition call, is it via email or does your agent actually call you?

My phone is my lifeline. It wasn’t that way before smartphones, but when I get an appointment e-mail, it’s sometimes imperative I respond right away. I also like to know how much I have to prepare and how much time I have. It helps me stay organized.

As a now well-established actor, what do you know NOW that you wish you knew when you first started out in the business?

I was trying to think of something really poetic when I realized that isn’t very useful. I just wish I had always fully memorized my audition sides. That way if you’re flustered in the room you can always find yourself back with a brief glance. I do that now and I’m a hundred times more relaxed in the room.

You graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Michigan. What are your thoughts on people going to a four-year University to study acting vs. going to a conservatory program?

I have no idea what a conservatory would’ve been like. I just know that having gone to a big school like that and being immersed with people who WEREN’T in my major was crucial for my development as an actor and as a young woman.

What did your family say when you told them you were going into acting as a career?

I was very lucky and had their support. My parents saw the bug in me from a very young age when I was taking ballet. I can’t imagine what I would’ve done without it. But if you KNOW you have something, that you’re receiving encouragement from teachers, friends or professionals, keep pushing.

What’s it like going to a premiere party?

Premier parties are a fun way to celebrate your work with the people who worked so hard alongside you. They aren’t a requirement, but they are of course encouraged and frankly thrilling to be a part of. I like to use hair and makeup people just because they’re better at it than me, and they always know what looks best in photographs. The carpet is referred to a “step-and-repeat” because that is essentially exactly what you’re doing. You step into place and pose for the photographers in front of you, you then step over and REPEAT. When you get there, there is always a publicist from the show there to guide you down the carpet and introduce you to any press that is interested in interviewing you.

How old were you when you made the decision to go into show business full-time? What triggered you wanting to do this?

Probably four years old as a result of regular dance training. If I’m honest I think at that point I was just thrilled for attention and the sounds people made when they were pleased about what you were doing. It’s truly a drug I think.

Heléne Yorke Getting Ready for Work On Quantico.
Getting Ready for Work On Quantico.

Were you ever scared that you wouldn’t be able to pay the bills?

Yes. Very much so and I’m glad you asked the question. I moved to the city with $3k my father lent me and about five boxes of things. I had two roommates, no furniture, and was routinely stretching $20 as far as I could. It made maintaining confidence hard, but I just put my head down and worked hard. There was a spell in my mid-twenties where not very much work came at all. I was determined to break into television and I knew it was going to take time, so I got a job working the front desk at a barre studio called Physique 57. It completely turned my attitude around. I had a schedule, I was productive, I was making a little money and it kept me social. I would print my audition sides from the front desk, and get shifts covered if I had big auditions. It helped me escape the dreaded free time I was talking about. I booked Masters of Sex and Bullets Over Broadway while sitting behind that desk.

What advice do you have for people who want to go into acting as a second or third career?

I say if it’s something you’re doing for FUN, then go for it. But I wouldn’t recommend starting later in life if you don’t already have a considerable leg in.

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