The Maroon sat down with Emmy-nominated actress Anna Chlumsky (A.B. ’02) to discuss her experience as an undergraduate student at the University of Chicago and how her pursuit of acting following graduation ultimately led to her leading role as the high-strung vice-presidential aide Amy Brookheimer on the HBO comedy Veep.
Chlumsky landed her first major role in the 1991 film My Girl, in addition to a few smaller films and television series during her teenage years. Upon graduating high school, Chlumsky applied to UChicago in order to take some time off from acting and study paleontology. Chlumsky explained that she learned about the University because of her admiration for the work of Paul Sereno, a professor in the Department of Organismal Biology & Anatomy, and became engrossed with paleontology during her internship at the Field Museum.
Initially intimidated by her classmates who had graduated from rigorous high schools like the Latin School of Chicago or St. Ignatius College Prep, Chlumsky admitted that it took time to adjust to her new academic setting.
“Slowly, I think as I would get my As and B+s on my papers, I started to realize it’s not about the stuff you already know but it’s about if you can make an argument and if you can pay attention to what you’re reading and make sense of it,” Chlumsky said. “I think I gained the confidence that you need in your own brain, in your own ability to learn.”
Chlumsky was a resident of the recently retired Maclean House and was involved in University Theater, acting in such shows as "Words, Words, Words," "Into the Woods," "Orestes" and "Nine.” Setting aside her interest in paleontology, Chlumsky declared a major in International Studies with a focus in politics. Chlumsky toyed with the idea of pursuing a career in government, but ultimately decided against it.
“I had the foreign service study guide on my desk that last year as I was writing my thesis. I would look at that study guide and man, you couldn’t procrastinate something more. I would always find a reason not to look through that guide. I think it’s one of those things where it’s like ‘oh I don’t want to do this, I actually really don’t want to take this test.’ That showed me that I really didn’t want to work at the State Department either,” she said.
Chlumsky remembers her undergraduate experience fondly. Noting that she met her husband at Summer Breeze when rapper Eminem was the headliner, Chlumsky joked that it was one of the few UChicago parties worth attending. As her fourth year came to an end and her graduation approached, Chlumsky recalled not feeling ready to graduate.
“From my memory, I swiftly found a home and I was definitely one of those who graduated kicking and screaming. I remember going up to the gate in our processional, and somebody next to me was like ‘haven’t you dreamt of this day ever since you got here?’ I was like ‘no, I haven’t!’ I felt like I had just arrived and I was going to be there for the rest of my life,” Chlumsky said.
After working as a fact checker for Zagat Survey and an editorial assistant at a publishing company, Chlumsky eventually joined the Atlantic Acting School in New York to pursue her passion for acting. When asked if she regretted not immediately attending a conservatory after high school, Chlumsky explained that her experience at UChicago was still immensely valuable.
“I’m a big believer in [the idea that] everything you learn is worth it,” Chlumsky said. “The marketing of schools is to convince people that it’s about their career, but it’s not. It’s about learning and it’s about becoming a person and…knowing how to look at the world from all angles and figure out your place in fitting in that. That’s really what school is.”
“More often than not, you’ll run into people who are doing something completely different than what they studied in school, and yet it makes complete sense,” Chlumsky added.
Chlumsky noted that she doesn’t visit Chicago as often as she would like to, but always tries to dine at Medici on 57th when she’s back in town.