Lynn Cohen’s Mag-nificient Career Is Catching Fire

November 24, 2013

th-2The Hunger Games sequel, Catching Fire opened with $161.1 million at the box office, setting a record for a November opening. Now that’s exposure by any actor’s standards. But it’s all the more remarkable for one particular cast member who only got involved in film and television acting after her son left home for college.

In the film, Lynn Cohen plays an 80-year-old game contestant named Mags who has lost her voice–but whose facial expressions more than make up for the deficit. Enjoying her time on set, Lynn said of her handsome 27-year-old English co-star Sam Claflin, who plays Mag’s close allie from District 4, “I fell in love with him. One of the very first scenes that we did I was sitting next to him—and to touch his sweet face.”

Cohen was born in 1944 in Kansas City, Missouri. For about 20 years she was a prominent player on the Kansas City theater scene before she moved to New York to further her acting career, and to study acting at Michael Howard Studios in New York City.

“The story in our house is that our son went off to college and we left home.” It was at that time her husband, Ron, Missouri bureau chief for Women’s Wear Daily, was called to take over the publication’s New York bureau. “I was at the Humana Festival, doing Marsha Norman’s first play. [Ironically, it was titled Getting Out.] Ronny called and said, ‘They just offered me New York. Think we should go?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ So we packed our bags. That was [over 30] years ago.” As Cohen had clocked a couple decades worth of rep and regional theater work,  she approached the new Thespian terrain with a good dash of confidence. She says, “I walked into a world where I was auditioning against people who had been here 25 years. I had done almost every regional theatre all over the country. That’s where you learn to act. You learn to act by acting. You only get so much from acting class. You have to put your act on stage.”

Cohen’s first significant film role was Woody Allen’s 1993 comedy, Manhattan Murder Mystery. But she is best known for playing Miranda’s thorn-in-the-side Ukrainian housekeeper and nanny named Magda on Sex and the City. The experience of being on TV increased her exposure in a way that all her theater hours never did. “I had literally no lines, but I had lots of camera time so I didn’t need lines…” she once joked. Cohen’s other noteworthy performances include a recurring role as Judge Elizabeth Mizener on Law & Order, as well as playing the role of Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir in Steven Speilberg’s Munich in 2005.

Lynn credits her granddaughter and a friend for encouraging her to audition for the role of Catching Fire’s Mags. “Mags is a female to the very end, and strong and funny and crafty,” she noted in a statement from the studio. “How can you resist that? How can you resist playing such a strong woman in a film about strong women?”

But playing a strong female character is not just an act. After all, you can expect to see more of Lynn Cohen in theaters next year. Currently, she has plans to be in eight–yes, eight–other films following Catching Fire.

Lynn Cohen serves as a reminder to all actors at heart that it’s never too late to reach for your dreams. Maybe parenthood interrupted the plan to follow your craft, or an alternative career emerged that was too good to pass up, or some other bend in the road interfered with you pursuing acting. But you never know when your time is going to come. Keep in mind, what worked for Cohen was to stay active in regional theater productions, and she welcomed new challenges as they came her way. Maybe your acting career will grow better with age as well!