Meet Margaret Anne Florence — the actress who plays Marion Keisker, Sam Phillips’ dedicated assistant in the Sun Records. Marion is strong-willed, beautiful and intelligent and struggling to be a modern woman in 1950s Memphis.
Interestingly enough, Florence was born and raised in Charleston, South Carolina, and has deep roots in Memphis as her mother grew up there in the ’50s. So you might say, this project is one dear to her heart.
CMT.com: You have such a strong connection to the South already. What drew you to this project specifically?
Florence: I’ve always had a huge affinity for the ’50s, and my mom was actually born in Memphis, so my family has a huge attachment to that. My mom was born in 1948, which is exactly in the era of when this show takes place. So, there was no question that I was interested in the project right away.
I’m also a singer, so I’ve always had an interest in music, as well. And when I was younger, I had a poster of Elvis on my wall. I love that period of history. I was also especially interested in this character. Marion was a woman ahead of her time.
Tell us more about your family ties to Memphis.
Well, my family is Greek. My grandfather was actually the first Greek-American lawyer in Memphis. He also had a few restaurants there. My uncle actually owned a diner there, and supposedly, Elvis would come in and play his own records on the jukebox there.
I also have a photo of my grandparents atop the Peabody Hotel. They would go there for dinner and dancing. We shot scenes inside that same hotel. And to think my grandparents used to have dinner there, life really came full circle. It’s very weird to have all that family history and connections there. It’s so amazing.
What surprised you most while filming in Memphis?
The whole thing was filmed in real places. The only sets we had were the interior of Sun Records and a radio station. Everything else was on location — either in Memphis or Arkansas across the river. Memphis is kind of like a time warp.
We also had a chance to tour the original Sun Records. And then that first day to get to the set where they built the studio identical to the real studio. So, to step in it and feel like you’re there — that’s awesome. And then when it’s the first time Elvis comes into play, that was a special moment filming it. To be playing the woman who helped discover Elvis, it gives me chills just thinking about it. It’s really special.
And because we were on location, the entire cast was together a lot. We basically all lived together in this apartment complex in Memphis while filming, so on Sunday nights we would all cook out together. It was like a big family. I think that makes for a good show when people spend a lot of time together and actually enjoy spending time together. It’s pretty rare to find a cast that likes each other’s company.
Oh, and our apartment was called the Chisca, which used to be the Chisca Hotel, where Dewey Phillips would broadcast his radio show.
How did you prepare for the role of Marion? Was there much research out there already?
You know, Marion was a real person. And from what’s available online and the people I talked to that knew her personally, I learned she definitely had her own radio show and was producing her own shows. She said she specifically wanted to do shows that were more about interviewing people — and not housekeeping and cooking.
It’s also rumored that Marion was actually the one that discovered Elvis, not Sam Phillips. She was the one that called Elvis to come into the studio after she had seen him record a song for his mother. Apparently Sam wasn’t that interested in him, but Marion was the one that called him back into the studio. But Sam Phillips’ family debates that, so who knows?
How did you feel about playing the other woman?
I really wanted to make her likable. She’s educated, she knows what she’s doing, but she has a love for this man and it’s kind of her Achilles heel. I think it comes from a place where she couldn’t help it because she loved him and wanted to see him succeed.
Director Roland Joffe and I were very careful about Marion and her power and how she asserted herself and the fact that she was the other woman. That for me was the biggest help. Roland took care of Marion. Because there were times where we could have taken her to being a hussy, and we fought for that. She’s too smart for that, so that was the best part of the experience. Roland had my character’s back, and he wanted to keep her integrity.
I think people will actually like Marion because she doesn’t take crap from anybody. There are a few scenes where people come into the studio and she makes it very clear that you’re not going to call her “little lady” or push her around or tell her what to do. She’s going to tell you how it is. I think people will appreciate that about her and root for her because of it.
What was it like to film opposite Chad Michael Murray?
It was a lot of cigarette smoke! Well, fake cigarette smoke, that is. Believe it or not, fake cigarette smoke is almost worse than real cigarette smoke. It’s so strong. They even pump smoke in which has its own odor.
But, yeah, it was great working with Chad. We got along great from the beginning. People always ask me if we had funny outtakes, and I’m like, not really because we were so pressed for time and every minute of every day counted from April to the beginning of July. The shenanigans were on a low.
We would sometimes do like 16-hour days. Some of those scenes you have to shoot them from so many angles in such a small space. And then when you have people playing music, there’s so many things you have to orchestrate to get the one little scene together. But it goes by so fast because you’re doing what you love. I’d much rather be working all day than sitting in my trailer.
Sun Records premieres Thursday (Feb. 23) at 10 p.m. ET/PT. Follow the conversation with #SunRecords and on Facebook.