“It allowed me to believe in myself in a whole new way”: Anna Uzele on Dear Edward
Dear Edward’s season finale is fast approaching on 24th March. Based on the novel of the same name by Ann Napolitano, the Apple TV series stars Taylor Schilling and Connie Britton, alongside young actors including Colin O’Brien and Khloe Bruno. It follows the story of 12-year-old Edward, who is the sole survivor of a tragic plane crash. This results in several lives becoming tangled together, as the victims’ loved ones navigate through their grief with surprising outcomes and new discoveries.
One of the actors featured is Anna Uzele. She is known for playing Catherine Parr in Broadway’s production of Six the Musical, as well as her upcoming role as Francine Evans in New York, New York: The Musical on Broadway. In Dear Edward, Uzele plays Adriana, who loses her grandmother in the plane crash. The Upcoming caught up with the actress to talk about her thoughts on the original novel, what to expect from the season finale and the similarities between the characters of Francine and Adriana.
Can you give us a brief introduction to Dear Edward and your character?
Dear Edward starts off with a very, very tragic plane crash, where everyone dies save for one young boy named Edward, who is 12 years old. The stories that you follow are of the grief of the loved ones of the plane crash [victims]. They come together and grieve the people who have passed. Adriana is one of them; she loses her grandmother in that plane crash. Her grandmother is like a mother figure to her. Adriana now has to figure out what to do with that grief. She takes that and runs for public office in her grandmother’s stead, and then she falls in love along the way.
Did you read the original novel by Ann Napolitano? And what drew you to audition for this story?
I did. I’m an audiobook girl, so I had it in my headphones. My character, Adriana, doesn’t actually exist in the book – I went to the book in order to get to know Edward because that is what the book is completely about. Adriana was actually created because Ann said to Jason Katims, “I want you to make something beautiful,” and he said, “Okay, I’m going to add Adriana, and I’m going to add Dee Dee, and I’m going to add all these different characters to make something beautiful.” That’s where Adriana came from: Jason just tried to create a tapestry of characters. But the book was so lovely in that I got to know this little boy and his story. Myself and the actor who played Edward – Colin O’Brien – didn’t get to see each other very much on-set because we were not in each other’s scenes. It was lovely to get to know him vicariously through the book.
How much creative freedom did you get in shaping Adriana’s character? How much of that was part of yourself as well?
I would say a tremendous amount, because if it doesn’t feel real for you, and it doesn’t feel authentic in your body, it’s not going to come across on-screen. Audiences are smart; you don’t have to have gone to Julliard to know that you don’t believe someone on-screen. If they don’t believe you, then it doesn’t work. It has to be real for you. Our directors were constantly trying to guide us to a place of truth to make this story actually hit people and reach people in the way that it should. I also lost my grandmother a few years ago, so I understood what that grieving process looked like. I got to, in a way, honour her by telling this story.
What other themes in Dear Edward do you resonate with the most?
It’s funny what grief will do to you, because when you lose things, you have to reckon with who you are and you have to figure out who you want to be in the world. I think there’s something about loss that makes you very brave, because you think, “Well, I’m at rock bottom. We can’t get any further than this, so I might as well go do the thing that I’ve been wanting to do my entire life.” In Adriana’s case, it’s running for public office at 26 years old, which is insane! But, also, the hope that comes from it. A lot of people have been texting me throughout the way, “Anna, you were great but, oh my gosh, this is so sad! Do I really want to continue watching it?” and I’m like, “Yes, you should.” Because life always comes from death, and that’s what’s going to happen. While everyone loses a loved one, everyone also gains a loved one by the end of the season. You get to watch love stories, you get to watch hope. I think it’s really healing for people who are grieving, and I think a lot of us know what grief feels like, especially after this pandemic that we’ve been through.
Other than Adriana, who would you say has the most interesting or impactful story in the series?
I loved Connie Britton’s character, Dee Dee, I have to say. She was one of my favourites – watching her process and the rollercoaster that she went on of not just having to grieve this loved one, but also finding out that there were lies and secrets that were hidden from her along the way. I think one of my favourite scenes is when she takes a hammer and throws it at the living room wall. I went, “Yeah!” because sometimes you feel like that. That’s what humans do. Humans are crazy and sometimes we feel things that don’t make sense and we’re going to throw… don’t throw a hammer to the wall, but if you need to, do it safely! You know what I mean? Also, Connie, as a person, watching her on-set was a masterclass. She would just provide a buffet of options. I can’t imagine what it must be like to edit her content because every take is just so rich. It was the combination of the character and the person that I fell in love with.
You sang a lot of praises for Connie, but you didn’t get to spend much time with Colin. How about Khloe Bruno? What was it like to film alongside such a young and talented actress?
I love working with children. Not a lot of actors will say that, but I genuinely love that. When I don’t have an acting job and I’m strapped for cash, I will work with children in some sort of fashion – whether I’m nannying or tutoring. I feel very, very comfortable around kids. They always tell the truth; they can’t lie to you. Even if they try to, you can read it right through them. That makes me feel so comfortable and so safe. You also never know what they’re going to do next. This was my first series regular and it came with a lot of nerves and trying to be perfect at times – whatever that means. I would get to set and be immediately put at ease when I was with Khloe because she was just free. She’s a child and she can’t be anything else than that – it reminds you to do the same. I was really grateful to spend some time with her.
Aside from Khloe, were there any other cast members you grew close to on-set?
Our plot lines were rather disjointed but any time we had grief group, that was a really special time for us because we finally got to all be on-set together! Amy Forsyth and I hit it off really, really well. Literally never in a scene together – hardly ever! But we would just be chatting for hours outside of dressing rooms, and people would be shooing us away because we had to go do things. Then, of course, Idris DeBrand: getting to work with him was so lovely. This was a first for both of us so it felt like we got to be partners in jumping into this cold plunge together of, “Let’s do a series regular together for the first time ever, and I’m going to be your friend through this, and we’re going to have an intimate scene for the first time, and we [have] both never done that before.” It was a really, really lovely space that we cultivated of trying new things and having fun.
What’s one thing you’ve taken away from your experience with Dear Edward that you’ll carry with you for the rest of your life?
I probably have said this a million times before but, in watching the show, I was, of course, proud of myself. Because I was like, “Yay, I did it! There you go little girl, you did it, hun.” But you also remember everything that you were feeling while shooting the scene. The whole time that I was watching – because you forget about some scenes because it’s been months, years in some cases – I was like, “Oh my gosh, I forgot I did that”, “I forgot I did that scene too”, “That was a really cool moment, I didn’t know I pulled that out” or “Oh cool, wow!”. I definitely surprised myself in all the different colours that I was able to play on-screen. It let me know that I could do it and that I’m capable of this, because I definitely had moments of doubt. Seeing it is really believing and it allowed me to believe in myself in a whole new way, I think.
What can viewers expect for the finale of Dear Edward?
There’s a whole lot of love. It may not look how you expect it, or it may not look the way you want it to be. I think this love story between Adrianna and Kojo is really, really beautiful. It ends in love, I will say that. So, expect love!
You’re going to be playing Francine Evans in the stage adaptation of New York, New York on Broadway. Do you feel like there are any similarities between the characters of Francine and Adriana?
They’re both kind of brave and ballsy. Adriana in the political arena: she is walking into rooms where she is the youngest adult and she’s making speeches in front of people that doubt her, and all of those things. Then Francine, I genuinely feel, is this seven-year-old version of me. She’s showing up in New York City with one suitcase; she has no family, she has no friends, she doesn’t know anybody! She just has this big old dream and a lot of people are doubting her along the way. They’re two go-getters for sure.
You’ve done theatre and TV. Do you have a preference between the two?
I think my heart is always going to be with theatre because it is my first love and I can’t deny that. They’re so different, they offer such different things and they stretch me in different ways. TV is more of a trust exercise: you relinquish your scene to the powers that be and you never see it again or practise it again. There’s something a little more gutsy about it, to me. With theatre, I get to be with my audience. I get to look them in the eyes, feel their energy, and I get to calibrate my performance based on how they’re doing. Because I can feel how they’re doing when I’m there in the room. They don’t have to talk to me, but they’re talking. But I think, at the end of the day, theatre will always have my heart.
Dear Edward is released on Apple TV+ on 3rd February 2023. Read our review here.
Watch the trailer for Dear Edward here: