Before being cast on Showtime’s House of Lies, Dawn Olivieri had recurring roles on genre shows Heroes and The Vampire Diaries, and guest-starred on comedies including How I Met Your Mother, Californication and Entourage. On House of Lies, she plays Monica Talbot, the ex-wife of main character Marty Kaan (Don Cheadle). The ruthless Monica works for the top management-consulting firm in the country and takes pleasure in undermining her ex, although she also frequently ends up in bed with him. Here Olivieri talks about playing such a nasty character, dealing with frequent nude scenes, and what she hopes for the future of the show.
What drew you to the part of Monica?
I can really appreciate her. I don’t think of her the way she’s written, which is as a psychopath. I think she has those tendencies, but it’s my job as an actress to define why those tendencies are there. So I get it. Maybe because there’s a lot more of her in me than I’d like to admit.
Do you have fun playing the psychopathic side, or do you try to strike a balance?
Well, that’s the thing. I think the psychopathic side -- there is no side. It is what you are. You lack compassion and a conscience for other people. But I think that makes for a pretty blissful existence. There’s no guilt. What riddles you? Nothing. You go through life just swindling, but you have an excuse for it all. You just want to win. It’s all about the game. And when you win a lot, it’s a pretty good life.
How do you see Monica’s relationship to her son? Is it just as ruthless?
I think that she’s learned how to mimic compassion, because that’s what you do when you’re a sociopath or psychopath. And I think that she loves him in the way that she knows how to love things, which is the same way she loves a good business deal, which is the same way she loves a brand new Maserati. It’s different. It’s a business transaction. I think she loves the fact that she has this living thing and therefore has a grip on Marty for the rest of his life. I think she loves him for that. It’s a different kind of love. It’s still a version of love, but it’s not maybe the same that you or I would consider true love.
Will we see more of Monica’s work life?
I think that the show actually -- Monica’s purpose in the show is not necessarily to show her at work all the time. I think that she offers up a different storyline which the show is in desperate need of, which is that family element. It brings in the relationship to the family, and that’s her purpose as far as this season is concerned. As it progresses to the end of the season, you see a little bit of a change, as far as where we see Monica, what the landscape looks like. As far as Season 1 is concerned, she brings forth the family element more so than the work element. Because you have this [management consulting] pod -- you’re chasing this pod around from city to city, and you get a ton of that satisfied, the business side of it. Whereas I think we need Monica to kind of bring up the homefront a little bit. I think that she’s essential for that story to be brought around.