Margaret Anne Florence has never imagined being anything other than a performer, and through her laser-like focus and dedication, that is what the Charleston native has become. The classically trained singer and actress stars in CMT’s new series “Sun Records,” which was filmed in Memphis, and she couldn’t be any more engaging, honest and funny. The New York City resident and Southern girl at heart talks about her ties to the Blues capital, perseverance in “the industry,” the courage it takes to be yourself and a very awkward Papa John’s commercial she once took part in. We are delighted to introduce today’s FACE of the South, Margaret Anne Florence!
Tell us a bit about your Southern roots.
Well, I was born in Charleston, South Carolina, and my family is all from there. And my mother was born in Memphis. Actually my mother’s family was originally from Greece, and they came over to Memphis. My family had a big love of Elvis and a strong connection to Memphis. I have pictures of my grandparents having dinner at the top of the Peabody Hotel. My grandfather was a lawyer and owned a couple of restaurants in Memphis. I’ve always heard these stories of what a character he was. He had this restaurant called The Old Master Says, and he had a bust made of his head to put on top of the restaurant, which sounds ridiculous. [Laughs] The building is still there on Poplar. But, when I was working in Memphis, I went to the Greek church where I met some older people who remembered my grandparents, and they said how handsome my grandfather was. So, that was really cool to go back and hear that history through people that knew my grandparents.
When did you know you wanted to be an actress?
I always knew I really wanted to either sing or perform in some way. I remember when I was little, saying, “I’m going to be a rock star when I grow up.” I know a lot of kids say that, but I just never wanted to be anything different; it never entered my mind. So, I performed in a group called the Charleston Youth Company, starting in fifth grade, and then performed through high school and ultimately went to College of Charleston, where I studied classical voice and got a minor in theatre. And then I went on to grad school at New York University.
Any van-living or off-the-wall jobs you’ve experienced in pursuit of your dream?
I remember this one time, I did this Papa John’s pizza commercial, but they were advertising wings. And they wanted me and the guy to eat off the same wing, like biting it together at the same time, and I was thinking, “This is disgusting; this is just gross.” [Laughs] But you just smile and you get your paycheck and move on! What can you say?!
Tell us about the role of Marion Keisker, Sam Phillips’ assistant in Sun Records.
She is like every strong Southern woman that I’ve known. She reminded me of both of my grandmothers and my great-aunt, working women in that time period who were well educated and wanted to make something of themselves. And she doesn’t take any sass from anybody, and she gives a lot of sass. She’s got her vulnerabilities and her flaws, but she’s smart and she’s fun and she’s trying to make something of her life. And that’s more than you could ever hope for in a woman’s role.
How did you prepare for the role?
Being in Memphis was invaluable. We had all of that history right at our fingertips, and I spoke with some people that actually knew her. And then the people at Sun Records had some interviews that you couldn’t find anywhere else. And then, we visited basically every museum in town. There are a lot of museums in Memphis! So, it was a huge help just to be in Memphis.
What does it take to be successful in your profession?
I think more than anything you just have to keep going, to keep plugging along, no matter what happens. I mean, I’ve certainly had plenty of ups and downs. People don’t understand about this career: You’re not working all the time. You might have a job, and then it might be six months before you have another job. You just have to keep going and keep learning and practicing. I mean, I never stop taking classes. I work with coaches and take voice lessons. It’s a continuous learning process. You have to be willing to ask for help and work hard at it. I think a lot of people are just kind of waiting for things to happen, and I’m always looking for ways to push myself forward and create opportunities for myself.
If you could go back 10 years, what advice would you give yourself?
I guess I would tell myself that I’m doing the right thing, to just keep going and not doubt myself, that it is all going to turn out OK.
Do you have any mentors or role models, and if so why do you admire them or what have they taught you?
When my dad passed away a couple of years ago, we just had this huge outpouring of people who not only admired him for how talented he was as a pro golfer, but also as a person. We laugh, because we had so many people say, “Your dad was my best friend.” And we just didn’t know my dad had so many best friends! But that was a tribute to his character. He always tried to treat everyone with kindness and be a good person. I try to live by my parents’ examples and the good people that they are.
How do you like to spend your free time?
I like to go to our beach house on the Isle of Palms in Charleston. But also I love to cook, play sports, exercise, be active. I’m not good at relaxing, except at the beach. But even then, my husband will be like, “Can we just relax?” And I’m like “No! Let’s go for a walk. We could go swim. Why don’t we play paddle-ball?!” And he’s like, “Can’t we just sit here?”
Any guilty pleasures?
I want to say Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, but I shouldn’t feel guilty about that; I should just enjoy that. And at one point, I watched the Kardashians, but then it just got so disgusting, I couldn’t even watch. I used to read US Weekly, but now the whole world has just gotten so out of hand that I can’t even enjoy the simple guilty pleasures anymore. I don’t know! I need something like that.
What’s something people might be surprised to know about you?
I’m definitely afraid of birds. I do not like birds. If I got trapped in a room full of pigeons, I would probably die of a heart attack. I’d rather be trapped in a room full of snakes and rats. I don’t know why. I will cross the street in New York to avoid a flock of pigeons that look like they could easily be spooked. I just cross the road to avoid that whole situation. I don’t know what happened to me; I don’t remember any traumatizing event, but NO, I cannot do the birds. It just really scares me.
What is your favorite thing about Memphis?
We lived downtown in The Chisca, and I would go walking and running down there on the riverfront, and it was so beautiful to see the sun setting on the river. But also, the people there. There were so many nice people. For me, a Charleston girl, getting to work in Memphis was certainly like coming home, no matter what part of the South you’re in. I really loved having that sense of community of genuine, nice Southern people that really took an interest in you.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
They always tell you in acting, “Just go in there and ‘just be yourself.’ You’re bringing yourself to whatever the part is.” But it’s true. I think that is how I got this job. I put a lot of myself in there, and it takes a lot of guts to have the confidence to just be yourself, that yourself is good enough and great and all you have to be.
Name three material things you can’t live without.
My sneakers, because I gotta be able to exercise and jump around! My phone, so I can FaceTime with my family and friends who aren’t here with me. And maybe my Le Creuset dutch oven. [Laughs] I’m sure I can live without it, but that’s a good pot, though, I tell ya. I make everything in it.
And thank you to Caitlin Mitchell of Caitlin Mitchell Studio for the gorgeous images of Margaret Anne!
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