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Why Ethel From The Underground Railroad Looks So Familiar

Amazon's adaptation of Colson Whitehead's novel "The Underground Railroad” is set to premiere on May 15, 2021. The historical fiction drama series stars Thuso Mbedu as Cora, a young woman enslaved in the American South during the 19th century. With the help of her companion Caesar (Aaron Pierre), Cora escapes from her captors, and the two set out on a journey to freedom via the historic Underground Railroad — which, thanks to Whitehead's imagining, consists of an actual subterranean railway system, as well as safe houses.

At one point, Cora ends up in North Carolina, where she's given refuge by a couple named Martin (Damon Herriman) and his reluctant wife Ethel. They hide Cora in their attic for several months, with Ethel hesitantly providing care for Cora's illness. While she isn't a major character, Ethel provides another look at the kinds of people who may have had a hand in the actual Underground Railroad. The actor playing Ethel also happens to be a prolific actress that has probably graced your screen on more than one occasion. Here's where you may have seen her before.

Lily Rabe had her start on the stage

Lily Rabe, while successful in her own right, is the daughter of the Tony Award-winning playwright David Rabe and Oscar-nominated actress Jill Clayburgh. Though Rabe has spoken about her parents' hesitation to involve her in the world of acting, Rabe actually got her start on the stage alongside her mother. The pair appeared in a pair of one-act plays together: "Speaking Well of the Dead" and "The Crazy Girl."

Of her theater debut, Rabe told Boston, "I'm so grateful that we did those plays together. It's sort of scary to work with your parents when you're in the same business. But there was something so very safe about that. Acting with her was just like working with a wonderful actress who just happens to be my best friend and also my mother."

Since then, Rabe has had a successful stage career, starring in productions like "Steel Magnolias," "Crimes of the Heart," and "As You Like It." Rabe has also received several award nominations for her stage roles, including a Drama Desk and Tony Award nomination for her role as Portia in "The Merchant of Venice," which was described by the New York Times as "a smashing break-out performance."

She had small parts in several big movies

Before she became a leading lady, Rabe landed supporting roles in several big-name productions. She played the part of an unnamed art history student in "Mona Lisa Smile" starring Julia Roberts, she was a snarky waitress in "No Reservations" with Catherine Zeta-Jones, and she played Bobby Fischer (Toby Maguire)'s sister Joan in the biopic "Pawn Sacrifice."

In 2010, Rabe was in the crime drama "All Good Things," starring Ryan Gosling as David Marks and Kirsten Dunst as Katie Marks. Rabe played Deborah Lehrman, the best friend of David, and supports him through his wife's disappearance. In an interview with Vulture, Rabe described her role that was based on a real person: "The woman my character is based on was this sort of Jewish, mafia princess — her dad was a total mobster, one of the founders of Las Vegas. During the process, I met this man who had been her roommate and best friend — another one of her best friends — and saw great footage of her. She was quite a personality, and people sort of came out of the woodwork to tell me stories about her."

Lily Rabe starred in The Whispers

One of Rabe's most well-known roles was in the ABC sci-fi show "The Whispers." She plays FBI Agent Claire Bennigan, who is tasked with investigating a mysterious connection between children, but seems to be manipulated by an invisible entity named Drill. The show only lasted for one season, but it received mostly positive reviews and still holds a 71% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Rabe described the creepy show to Access Hollywood; specifically, the idea of children being able to interact with an invisible force: "It's so terrifying and it's so delicate because you want your kids to have imaginary friends if they have imaginary friends. You want them to have – it's the most incredible thing about what it is to be a child and sort of what we're chasing all the time as actors too, but if then... if you realize that what's getting [in] is threatening your child, that's a whole other thing."

She had a touching role in Miss Stevens

In 2016, Rabe played the titular role in the dramedy "Miss Stevens" with Timothée Chalamet, Lili Reinhart, and Anthony Quintal. The heartwarming movie centered on Miss Stevens, a passionate teacher in the midst of personal heartbreak who chaperones her high school students to a drama competition. Rabe won a Special Jury Award for Best Actress in a Narrative Feature at the South by Southwest Film Festival for her role.

While Rabe is widely known for her time on "American Horror Story" (more on that later), her role as Miss Stevens was much more understated. When The Lamplight Review asked if it was refreshing to play a more toned-down character, Rabe confessed, "But what I can say is at this point in my life, as an actress, I'm really chomping at the bit to find stories where I get to carry the thing on my back. I want to be doing that, and I've gotten to do that in the theater so often – which has been an amazing privilege – but being able to do it in a film like this, a human story that is really relationship-based and is so beautifully articulated by Julia's script... yes. The answer is yes [laughs]."

Lily Rabe is an American Horror Story icon

FX's horror anthology "American Horror Story" made Rabe a household name. She's appeared in every season except one, portraying iconic characters like Nora Montgomery, Sister Mary Eunice, and Misty Day. According to Entertainment Online, "American Horror Story" creator Ryan Murphy wrote the role of Misty Day specifically for Rabe, which is further proof of her talent.

With Season 10 of "American Horror Story" in the works, Forbes recently sat down with Rabe and asked for her thoughts on the upcoming season. "I can't believe this is season ten," she gushed. "I think the fact we get to have so many of the same people returning this season, there is this feeling of coming home. You get to tell a new story, play a new part, but the backbone of the thing is solid. It is wonderful getting into the sandbox again and have Ryan at the helm. I'm excited about this season, and I'm not alone in that. You can feel the energy on set. It's just like it felt on season one."

While we don't yet know what the next season of "American Horror Story" will bring, we're sure Rabe will absolutely crush any role she's given.