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How Margarita Levieva's Unique Background Prepared Her To Play Jenny On In From The Cold - Exclusive

TV viewers love a spy, and in her new series, "In From the Cold," Margarita Levieva plays Jenny Franklin, a spy who possesses the smarts, fighting skills, and chameleon-like ability to fit in anywhere that we expect from the best espionage stories. However, this story comes with a twist: Jenny escaped to America as a young adult and hasn't used her KGB training in 20 years. Nonetheless, when her past is discovered during a vacation in Spain, she must rely on everything she learned as a Russian operative decades earlier to stop a conspiracy with global ramifications.

Levieva is a veteran of the big and small screens whose impressive career has included major roles in shows like "The Deuce" and "The Blacklist" and movies like "It Happened in L.A." and "The Lincoln Lawyer." However, she's never played a character that both challenged her as a performer and fit her unique background as perfectly as Jenny on "In From the Cold." That's because Levieva didn't just bring the breadth of her acting experience to the layered role — she also referred to her background as a Russian immigrant to America and her childhood training in rhythmic gymnastics to bring the character to life.

In an exclusive conversation with Looper about "In From the Cold," Levieva discussed why it meant so much to her to play someone whose personal history was similar to her own and how this helped her relate to Jenny.

The Past Informing the Present

Levieva was born in Russia, trained in rhythmic gymnastics there, and then moved to America. It's a path that parallels that of Jenny Franklin, and therefore granted Levieva insight into the character that American and British actors playing spies from other countries rarely possess.

As Levieva explained, "For me — and this actually makes me very emotional in thinking about it now — so much of it, my Russian background and what being trained as a rhythmic gymnast created in me and growing up in communism too, right — I came [to America] in [1991], so I came as things broke and what I grew up with and then coming to America, which for me, was the land of the free — and so this idea [in "In From the Cold"] of imprisonment versus freedom, and these two places that this character lived in, the prison of her past life, of her training of — not just physical training but the mental damage that was done to her, unfortunately — and then having to live this life now of access of opportunity of being in America and finding a new identity and a new freedom for herself. And how much of the past was still informing the present and how much of the past was still limiting the present, or how much of the past was enabling the present, just being able to explore all those questions is really intense and exciting."

Part of the reason Levieva appreciated the opportunity to explore those questions was because they spoke to her own experience since leaving Russia. "That's why I relate so much as a character," Levieva confessed. "That's something that I've explored, struggled [with], and the ride that I've been on since I've been in America."

A Russian Playing a Russian

While Levieva has played a wide variety of characters throughout her career, she was especially happy to be cast in "In From the Cold" because it meant she would be the rare actor who was born in Russia to play a Russian character on an American TV show. Her depiction of Jenny Franklin gives audiences the opportunity to see someone play a Russian spy who has an intimate understanding of their character's personal, cultural, and historical experiences.

"It's nice, so nice," Levieva stated. "I often watch stuff and I watch great actors who I respect and admire deeply, and it's sad sometimes to go, 'Oh, right. They're representing a culture and a history that they can learn about but haven't lived through.' I don't necessarily believe that an actor has to live through something to play it, but it certainly helps at times to understand."

Catch Margarita Levieva in "In From the Cold," now streaming on Netflix.