There’s something about her eyes. A piercing slate blue, they’re the first thing you notice when Mireille Enos is on screen. They can steal a scene without the actress uttering a single word, the camera following her as a succession of thoughts and emotions play out from behind her gaze.
At 40, Houston-raised Enos has risen to fame portraying dark, twisty, hard-to-tame women. As observant, unemotional detective Sarah Linden on The Killing, she seemed to be in command of optical gears, which would turn as she made sense of a piece of evidence or a suspect, causing the camera to linger. Before that, in the role of Mormon fundamentalist JoDean Marquart on Big Love, she used her stare to hold everyone at a distance, conveying suspicion and, when unobserved, smirking defiance—a stark contrast to her depiction of her character’s twin sister Kathy as wide-eyed, hopeful and yearning.
Today Enos is poised for her most high-profile role yet, in ABC’s glossy thriller The Catch, which premieres on March 24. She plays fraud investigator Alice Vaughan, who discovers that her fiancé, played by Peter Krause, is a conman. It’s the latest offering from hit-making executive producer Shonda Rhimes, who’s built a powerful TV empire with Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder, launching leading ladies such as Kerry Washington and Viola Davis onto awards podiums and magazine covers in the process. Enos just may follow suit, making the move from critical darling—she was nominated for an Emmy, a Golden Globe and a Critic’s Choice Award for her work on The Killing—to household name.
“It’s a little Thomas Crown Affair, a little Romeo and Juliet,” Enos, reached over the phone in L.A. while filming the new show, told us. “Shonda really has perfected this model. She takes big, emotional stories—they’re like romance novels—and casts soulful, interesting actors that ground it. And, of course, everyone looks really beautiful, and there’s great writing, too.”
Raised in Sugar Land by a French mother and a Texan father, Enos recalls the suburb of her childhood as still a little bit wild, a far cry from the bustling township where she still has family. “I lived on a dead-end street next to another dead-end street, and next to my house it was just woods. It was kind of untouched and great—we would go and hunt for blackberries,” she said.
The painfully shy fourth child out of five, Enos was first drawn to acting as a way to stand out from her boisterous, opinionated family. As a teenager, she attended the theater program at the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, where, in her senior year, she played the title role in the class production of The Diary of Anne Frank.
“I had a profound moment in junior high when I realized that if I was doing a play, while I was up there, talking, everyone else was going to be very quiet and listen,” she said at an HSPVA Friends luncheon in 2014. The teachers she encountered there, Enos said, have been a big influence.
“When I was a junior, this wonderful acting teacher came in, Suzanne Phillips, and she kind of took that class under her wing and really changed the scenery for me,” said Enos. “Her work and her acknowledgment of us as young artists was really important to me and to my life.”
After a subsequent stint at Brigham Young University, the actress bought a one-way bus ticket to New York, a city she had never even visited. She spent the next decade working her way up in regional theater circles, in addition to taking gigs at a French restaurant and an unheated theater box office, where she’d have to wear a scarf and gloves to stay warm.
“I chose New York over Los Angeles because as a young 20-year-old I was confident about my stage work. The truth is, there’s something about a camera, and the way a camera sees everything, that was very intimidating to me at that phase of my life. I wasn’t confident revealing myself. But it was completely the right decision. I was able to work and work and work there, and then eventually get to Los Angeles,” she said.
Enos earned her SAG card after a one-line role on Sex and the City in 1999—“It’s very good,” she said in the episode, referring to a bagel. A bigger break came about a year later, when, as an understudy on a play called The Time of the Cuckoo, she performed with 20 minutes’ notice and no rehearsal, after the regular actress forgot about a Wednesday matinee.
In the end, the New York scene was good to Enos both professionally and personally. In 2005, after her Tony-nominated turn as Honey in a Broadway revival of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Enos met her husband, Alan Ruck—best known as Cameron from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off—while co-starring in the Broadway comedy Absurd Person Singular. The pair married in 2008, not long after Enos made the move to L.A. Ruck, by the way, has an arc on this season of The Catch, which will mark the first time the couple has appeared on-screen together.
From highbrow plays to television dramas to, lately, blockbuster movies—she survived a machine gun attack in Gangster Squad and kicked some zombies in the head in World War Z—Enos describes every role she takes on as a new adventure.
“Whether you’re in a 30-seat basement theater or you’re making a $200 million movie, the work is the same,” Enos told the HSPVA Friends crowd. “It’s still a group of people showing up with some words to say and trying to figure out the best way to tell a story.” In her own case, of course, it’s usually with those eyes.