Suburban 'House of Cards' star shocked by Emmy nod

  • Rachel Brosnahan, who grew up in Highland Park, was nominated for an Emmy Award for her role as Rachel Posner on "House of Cards."

    Rachel Brosnahan, who grew up in Highland Park, was nominated for an Emmy Award for her role as Rachel Posner on "House of Cards." courtesy of Netflix

  • Rachel Brosnahan, who grew up in Highland Park, was nominated for an Emmy Award for her role on "House of Cards."

    Rachel Brosnahan, who grew up in Highland Park, was nominated for an Emmy Award for her role on "House of Cards."

 
 

With no expectation of a nomination, "House of Cards" actress Rachel Brosnahan slept through the morning Emmy Award announcements.

"I was expecting to check the list later that day," she said of last month's announcements. "But I woke up to a blown-up phone. It's been such a shock, and I'm very honored. The nomination is really the cherry on top of a 30,000-calorie sundae."

That sundae was the role of Rachel Posner, a call girl with a secret on Netflix's hit drama "House of Cards." She took what was originally a small, one-episode part titled "call girl" and played it so well that they gave her a name and wrote a major story line around her. The part also earned the 25-year-old Brosnahan, who grew up in Highland Park, a 2015 Emmy nomination for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama. The awards ceremony is Sept. 20.

Brosnahan appeared in 19 episodes. She acted in almost every scene with Michael Kelly (who played presidential aide Doug Stamper), who also received an Emmy nomination.

"He is so incredible," she said. "(To play opposite him on a hit show), I think the stars aligned. It's been the gift of a lifetime. I've been very lucky in a lot of ways."

Brosnahan got her first movie role while still a student at Highland Park High School -- a small part in the 2009 horror movie "The Unborn."

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She credits, in part, her high school theater program and the "gifted, kind and talented" teachers including Tim Conway, who passed away recently, and Scott Shallenbarger.

"The two of them were an incredible team. They inspired so many," she said. "I've now realized what an incredible space and place that program is."

Another mentor, Wilmette acting coach Carole Dibo, is now her manager. They started working together when Brosnahan was 16.

"When you do this long enough, you see when someone has the 'it factor,' which she had," said Dibo, who now runs her own talent agency as well as the Actors Training Center in Wilmette. "You can have (the 'it factor'), but you also have to have a work ethic. And her work ethic is bar none. She would do an overnight shoot for 'House of Cards' and then go do other things the next day ... she worked her tail off."

Brosnahan started out acting on the main stage at the Steppenwolf Theatre before landing a part in the movie "Beautiful Creatures" with Viola Davis and Jeremy Irons. She also worked steadily while in drama school at New York University -- almost getting kicked out because she missed so much school by working. She landed a part on NBC's drama "The Blacklist" with James Spader and small, one-time roles on big shows like "Orange is the New Black," "CSI: Miami" and "Grey's Anatomy."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"House of Cards" was originally just one of those roles, too. But Brosnahan turned it into more by acting the part as a complex character rather than a stereotypical call girl.

"(Rachel Posner) saw her hopes and dreams crushed. You see her fight-or-flight response. You get to see her fall in love and make extraordinarily difficult decisions. As an actor, it's the hardest thing I've ever been asked to do, but also the most rewarding," she said.

The show's success and the Emmy nomination are making casting directors take note of Brosnhan and opening the door to more opportunities.

She recently wrapped four months of 12-hour days filming in New Mexico for a new WGN America show, "Manhattan," about the building of the nuclear bomb in 1940s, and has two movies coming out -- the Disney coast guard drama, "The Finest Hours," co-starring Chris Pine, and a family drama called "Louder than Bombs" with Jesse Eisenberg.

"This is beyond my wildest imagination," said Brosnahan, who now lives in New York. "I feel like I'm looking out from behind the curtain."

-- Jamie Sotonoff

• Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are always looking for people from the suburbs who are now working in showbiz. If you know of someone who would make an interesting feature, email them at dgire@dailyherald.com and jsotonoff@dailyherald.com.

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