Netflix Star Victoria Pedretti on ‘Enemy of the People’ Broadway Debut

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When climate protesters disrupted a performance of the An Enemy of the People earlier this month, Victoria Pedretti seesawed between siding with the activists or the agitated audience members. The play had reached a crescendo: The town’s doctor, Dr. Stockmann, prepared to discuss a potential pathogen in the town’s ground water before a dissenting crowd, when Extinction Rebellion NYC members captured the audience’s attention crying “no theater on a dead planet.” 

Everyone stayed in character: The town’s mayor (Michael Imperioli) shooed the activist out, whereas Dr. Stockmann (Jeremy Strong) called for them to be allowed to speak. Pedretti, starring as Stockmann’s devoted daughter and schoolteacher Petra, stayed perfectly still. It’s not that she didn’t agree with the protesters’ message about the danger of climate change — she felt like that message was already there. “I don’t think that they made the play better,” Pedretti tells Rolling Stone, with a nervous laugh. 

“Our show is certainly saying something about the effects that politicians and the government have on the environment. So to me, it seems a bit of a hat on a hat.” 

In the play — written in 1882 by Henrik Ibsen, adapted by Amy Herzog and directed by Sam Gold — a small town’s doctor discovers the resort baths that power the town’s economy have become a “buffet of poison” and a health concern for tourists. The townspeople – Hovstad (Caleb Eberhardt), the editor of a newspaper; Billing (Matthew August Jeffers), a newspaper assistant; and Aslaksen (Thomas Jay Ryan), the newspaper’s printer and the chair of the property owners association – persecute Dr. Stockmann for weakening the town’s financial welfare. As the doctor’s life begins to crumble, Petra stands by her father’s side. 

“She’s managing the house, taking care of her brother, she’s taking care of her father, and he’s also taking care of her but in a different kind of way,” Pedretti says. “She’s taking care of all of the children that she teaches. She has a lot of responsibility.”

Over the past few years, Pedretti has — somewhat accidentally — played a multitude of maternal roles: a nonsense caregiver to orphaned children in The Haunting of Bly Manor, an ax-swinging mother in You, a pregnant pimp’s girlfriend in Ponyboi, and now a mother figure and daughter in An Enemy of the People. Whether her character is raising awareness around a town-wide health risk or slaying strangers for the sake of love, Pedretti pushes beyond the confines of the nurturing role — and has fun with it too. 

“I was excited for the challenge of doing theater,” Pedretti says. “I heard that Sam [Gold] likes to make bold choices. I’m not interested in doing anything safe.”

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Following Donald Trump’s election, a crop of Enemy of the People adaptations sprung up. As we enter yet another election year, Gold says the play’s immediate parallels to 21st century political polarization, tsunamis of disinformation, and climate catastrophes is evident. 

“The point to me was to take you back to a small town in Norway in the 1880s and to see that so many of the things we face in an election cycle in our country in 2024, we’re live wire issues at that moment in history,” Gold says.

In the duo’s adaptation, the town’s doctor played by Strong — known for his turn as the cutthroat Kendall Roy in Succession – expresses more compassion, rather than taking a braggadocious, know-it-all stance. (In the Ibsen original, the play concludes with the town’s doctor saying “ the strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone.”) In this rendition, the doctor’s wife, Katherine, has died, giving their daughter Petra more responsibility. To Gold, cutting Petra’s mother from the play adds greater depth and psychology to Pedretti’s performance. 

As both the mother and daughter role, Petra zips in and out of discussions, preparing a roast beef for her guests, caring for her younger brother Eilif (who is never seen in the play) and teaching lessons at a local school — Petra’s mother Katherine juggled the cooking and caretaking duties in the Nineteenth century original. When Gold was casting the role in November, he was looking for someone who could perform with both a strong moral compass and youthful exuberance to push. 

“She worked really hard in auditions and won the part for proving herself a really strong state actor who could take direction and take [it] all on her shoulders — all of these competing needs that we have for this character,” Gold says. “So it was a character we were really worried about and be really hard to cast but she came to our rescue.”

Performing alongside Imperioli and Strong, known respectively for their title roles on supernovas shows The Sopranos and Succession respectively, Pedretti says she felt lucky just to be cast. “I wasn’t super familiar with either of their work,” she says. Despite behaving as adversaries in the play — it’s Imperioli’s character, the mayor, who rallies the townspeople to retract her father’s reports — Imperioli and Pedretti learned to work together: Pedretti cuing lines whenever Imperioli forgot them and the two locking eyes to block out the 360-degree audience in the Circle in the Square theater.  

“It was panic mode for me, and when we were backstage after the first scene, we looked at each other, we’re like, ‘I’m freaking out,’ both of us were freaking out,” Imperioli says. “Usually when you’re on stage, you look at your scene partner and you see the set behind them. The audience, they’re not anywhere in proximity of you, and we both kind of bonded over the terror of that.”

Before her Broadway debut, Padretti hadn’t appeared on stage since a college production of the Three Musketeers when she was a 22-year-old drama student at Carnegie Mellon. The actress, who was raised in Pennsylvania, later transitioned to the screen. “From the moment she auditioned for the role on You, It was clear that she was always going to take the text and do something I didn’t expect with it,” show creator Sera Gamble tells Rolling Stone. 

Beth Dubber/Netflix

In Ava DuVernay’s Origin, Pedretti brought agility and vulnerability again as Irma Eckler, a jewish woman in 1930s Nazi Germany. To prepare for the January 2024 film, which connects anti-Black racism in America to a global web of caste structures, Pedretti vividly remembers watching eight and a half hours of videos featuring Holocaust survivors.

“At a certain point they walked me onto set, and set that day was a concentration camp,” says Pedretti, who is Jewish. “So I’m sitting in the other room, in a holding room just listening to people screaming for their lives but that’s what it takes to tell the story honestly.”

With several bone-chilling performances behind her, Pedretti says she’s only interested in roles that challenge her as an actress. On the horizon, Pedretti will star in psychological thriller If She Burns alongside Sex Education’s Asa Butterfield, and she just wrapped production of coming-of-age story The Book of Jobs, which follows a young girl in Silicon Valley whose ambitions and relationships are influenced by Steve Job’s return to Apple. 

“I also am ultimately in a state of play,” Pedretti says. “So, when you’re a kid and you run around, you don’t know when to stop until somebody says it’s time to take a nap.” 

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By the play’s end, an alienated Petra and Dr. Stockmann head to their new home. While Petra, her eyes red with fear, worries about the town’s future polluted (literally) with misinformation, Dr. Stockmann presents renewed optimism that the townspeople will act on the water conditions. As the play fades to black, and Pedretti and the cast take their bow, she says she feels gratitude for living out her dream. 

“What I missed so much was really being able to play with other actors so spontaneously, for it to all be captured by an audience and to feel the energy of an audience,” Pedretti says. “You just don’t get that on camera, and it’s really powerful.” 

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