Photos by Jonny Marlow
Midori Francis has probably made you laugh.
Maybe it was on Grey’s Anatomy as scrappy intern Mika Yasuda or maybe it was as Alicia on HBO Max’s laugh-out-loud comedy series, The Sex Lives of College Girls. It also likely could have been as Lily, the high school teen nemesis of the BFF trio (Jacob Tremblay, Brady Noon, Keith L. Williams) at the heart of Good Boys.
“I think that when you can make people laugh as an actor, that is sort of similar to making them happy because for those brief moments, they're not really thinking about anything else,” Francis tells Los Angeles Confidential. “They're just releasing into that moment and releasing into laughter and I know when someone can give me that gift, it is so needed. It's the most precious thing in the world in a way because I don't know where I would be without that or where any of us would be without that.”
Even in her recent movie, Unseen, she found a way to inspire laughs. In the Blumhouse-MGM Plus thriller, Francis’ Emily is on the run from her ex-boyfriend after he abducts and attempts to kill her. In her struggle to escape, Emily breaks her glasses, which she is nearly blind without. To make it to safety, she relies on Sam (Jolene Purdy), a depressed gas station clerk who happened to be the last person to call Emily. Unseen captures how one person’s phone call typo transforms into a journey of survival with Sam as Emily’s eyes via video call.
“I do hope to be a portal for [people] to see themselves,” Francis adds. “I hope to be truthful in my actions and characters that I play and to make people feel something and to certainly feel engaged and to check out of life and see themselves through the performance in some way. And I can't really control that, but I can just try and be as truthful as possible. And hopefully that reveals something to someone else.”
Read more from Francis below about Unseen, Grey’s Anatomy and more.
What first excited you about the role of Emily?
I opened the script and I saw that I was going to be physically and emotionally challenged to the max with this role. I could just tell that it required great physical stamina, a big emotional range and that I was going to have to go to a lot of dark places. And I was dying to do that. Not to make a pun on words because Emily might die, but I really was trying to do it. I could not have been more ready and more excited to just have that opportunity to to get to go to those places and to explore those things and to be pushed in that way.
I think that it's amazing to be able to make people laugh and to be able to do rom-coms and to bring joy, but there's something so cool and also that I got to be the lead and take up that space. I've been the lead before, obviously with Dash & Lily, but this is like an action hero-y-type person. So I was really excited. And then also, when I read this script, the character of Emily basically loses her glasses and she can't see and that's something that I [relate to]. I have terrible vision. I have very bad eyesight. I can't really drive without my contacts. And it's something I've been scared of. I always think when they ask you that question about getting stranded on an island: “What would you do? What would you bring?” Always, one of the first things I think about is like, “Oh my gosh, I would run out of contacts because I wear dailies, and then I would not be able to see.” And so it's just the thing that's always on the back of my mind of [being] without my contacts and being helpless or just navigating the world in a different way.
Then the fact that it was two women— me and Sam. Although it was a thriller, it wasn't really horror and at the crux of this was this cool friendship. And then when I saw Yoko Okumura was directing, that pushed it over the edge for me. I had met Yoko in a panel before and I was really excited to work with her.
From Emily’s escape from her ex-boyfriend/abductor to her trek through the woods, she physically endures a lot, which is topped by an intense finale fight scene. What was that like to film— did you actually film it toward the end of the shoot?
We luckily shot in some sort of order, which is amazing and not at all how this works a lot of times, especially with TV. Sometimes you're starting at the last scene of the episode. We started in the cabin, and we kind of worked in sequential order, and by the time we got to that barn scene, I had already had a relationship with Michael [Patrick Lane, who played ex-boyfriend Charlie]. I already had obviously pretend built-up anger towards the character. I was physically exhausted. I had felt like I had been dragged through the woods in a way because it was such a short shooting period. So I had all of that to use.
I think I was in that fierce, feral mode of just whatever needs to get done has to get done. And the cool thing is when you're watching that fight, Michael was working with a stunt actor and I was working with a stunt actor, so it was quite amazing at how talented they are because some artists can do all of the technical things really well. And it allowed, I think, me and Michael to safely perform, while also staying safe. I think if we had done all of that fighting together at that level, we could have made a mistake or something. So that's the interesting fact about how that all worked out. At that time, I felt very much ready to knock that character over the bannister.
The Grey's Anatomy season finale is next month. How do you think audiences will feel at the end of the episode?
I have no idea what's in the finale. We have some sense of where our characters are headed and right now we're doing our table read for episode 19, so I really don't know. I have some sense.
Has being part of network drama been a unique experience from your other TV work?
Absolutely. I think I'm so in it right now that it's difficult to take a step back really and articulate how and why that is. It's like nothing I've done before, for sure. First of all, doing 20 episodes— I think I did 10 with Dash & Lily, The Sex Lives of College Girls is a 10 episode. A lot of these streaming shows tend to be a smaller episode count. So first of all, the stamina of what's required to stay in something for that long. And then you have the fact that it's been on the air for so long. So it's this family unit that's already established and you're coming into. It's definitely different than anything that I have done before. And there's a lot of positives to that too.
I think I was definitely looking for some sense of stability and structure at the time of accepting this offer. It's nice, you go in and it feels like in a way clocking into a nine to five, although it’s never nine to five. More like 5:45 a.m., whatever. But there's an element of that like coming into your office, which is your trailer, and I've gotten so close to the other interns and it feels like they're your workmates and you see them every day and you get to have that sense of home and structure. And there's a lot of I think muscle focus that is challenged in a job like this, which is really cool to step into that.
What is your favorite thing about your Mika Yasuda?
I love her scrappiness. I love it. It's like she's operating from something deep down that is just gonna spring to action in a way, and I love that about her. She's gonna do what she needs to do, and in the process, I think there's some messiness there. But I love that about her.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Photography by: Jonny Marlow