PASADENA, Calif. -- Actress Emma Greenwell was born on Friday the 13th. She figures that made her especially lucky. It doesn't sound so lucky.
Greenwell, who was born in America but brought up in England, decided as a teenager that she wanted to be an actress. It was a foreign concept to her British father and French mother.
"My parents very much didn't want that to be my career but I was a stubborn 17-year-old and I was like, 'I want to apply to drama school and I want to give this a shot.' So I did. And I ended up going a year at LAMDA (the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts), which was amazing. And then I worked in a restaurant for almost two years," she laughs.
She landed at the restaurant, she later admits, because she was rejected by LAMDA for their following three-year course. "I was young and didn't have enough life experience," she shakes her head.
"But I think it was the best thing ever. I was very good at school, found academics very easy, very good at sports. I had friends. I wanted for nothing. I led this charmed life. There wasn't anything I had to overcome. And that was the first time I was like, 'OK, I'm NOT good enough. I'm not what they want.'
"And I think it was an incredible learning curve where I was like, 'That's OK. That doesn't define me.' I remember I was crying my eyes out, but I realized this isn't easy. And that's better."
At first she felt sorry for herself. "Then I said, 'Are you crazy? It doesn't mean it's always going to be a "no." I think I just have to pick myself up.' I was learning about self-reliance and that moment was about realizing that I'm not in control most of the time, but I am in control in that sense: I can either feel sorry for myself or better myself and try again."
That mulish determination eventually led to a role in "Shameless," where she was signed for only three episodes, but the part grew into a recurring role. And that evolved into a juicy turn as a drug addict in "The Path."
With her latest role in Starz's spy thriller, "The Rook," premiering Sunday, Greenwell is the bona fide star. She plays a young woman who suffers from amnesia but soon discovers she works for a secret British agency and is endowed with special supernatural abilities.
In spite of her feeling lucky, the journey hasn't been easy. Greenwell came to Los Angeles as a tenderfoot. "I was so naive, I had no idea what to expect," she says. "I'd never been to Los Angeles. I had to Google what 'pilot season' was. I didn't want my agent to know I didn't know what she was talking about. I was totally clueless. I was very naive. So, why not? Let's just go. So I found a place on Craigslist, got a cab at the airport, and said 'Here I am!'"