“Crying is so good,” Kathryn Gallagher tells me as we sit huddled closely in a dressing room for our interview following an energetic photo shoot. Surprisingly, she speaks these words right before the pandemic forces us all indoors, on a random day in February. Both of us are laughing at the thought, nodding in agreement, naively unaware of what the future holds — lots of crying included.
At the time, the actress and singer, who, yes, is actor Peter Gallagher’s daughter, had managed to squeeze InStyle into her hectic schedule. She had been playing Bella Fox, one of the leads in Broadway’s Jagged Little Pill, a musical that explores the ripple effect of sexual assault, written by Diablo Cody with music by Alanis Morissette. While Gallagher promises there are happy moments in the dark show, her role — which earned her a 2020 Tony nomination and a 2021 Grammy nomination eight months after we first met — is draining, emotional, and raw. After giving her all on stage, the 27-year-old made it a goal to find balance throughout her day; seeing friends, taking long walks with her dog, working on her music career, and staying true to herself — activities that somehow read like foreshadowing as the year comes to a close.
“I do think that this whole time has been such an exercise in really figuring out what makes everyone happy when the rest of our obligations or go-tos are taken away,” Gallagher says in November, catching up over the phone. To be honest, it’s the third time I’ve interviewed her this year, mostly because almost immediately after we say goodbye, the world seems to change again.
The first time we spoke, at the beginning of 2020, we laughed across from each other for over an hour, half-complaining that our schedules were too busy, but feeling hopeful for the future — like our goals were right at our fingertips. Then, Broadway shut down due to COVID-19, and no one knew what the future held or when they’d be back. (Although there were murmurs of June or July reopening.) We made the decision to postpone the publication of our interview, thinking it more appropriate for a post-pandemic world. We followed up in May during the still cautious-yet-kind-of-fun phase of the pandemic, where baking and gardening seemed like the biggest life updates. Why was her basil turning yellow? Had I watched Normal People yet? These were actual topics of conversation.
But then, things got serious. The virus didn’t go away, social justice movements like Black Lives Matter became a focus, and our country stressed out about the election. In early November, at a time when the reopening of Broadway was less a question of “when” and more of an “if,” the conversation we had felt extremely different than the smiley, energetic afternoon we spent together in February. By this point, Gallagher had returned to New York from Connecticut, where she had been quarantined with family, missing the city too much to stay away. We skipped over the nonsense, discussing loss rather than Grey’s Anatomy quotes, and mentioning the people we missed instead of convincing ourselves we could be pals with Taylor Swift.
“There have been so many moments of discovery in the most minute of ways,” she tells me during our latest conversation, repeating thoughts many people have had. “Like, what do I actually like? Do I like going out with friends because I think I'm supposed to, or do I like these friends? Beginning my year in a constant cycle of emotional juggling, then going into isolation in the woods with my dog, my brother, and a lot of bears, it was like a crash course in extreme stimulus to, OK, now you're alone with your thoughts. Figure them out.”
Thankfully, Gallagher didn’t decide to completely overhaul her life, she’s just focusing more on what makes her truly happy. With the show on pause, save for an on-stage, live-streamed performance on Dec. 13, she’s managed to write, record, produce, and release two small albums worth of songs and a few catchy, feel-good singles, including “Crosslegged in the Kitchen” and “Nostalgic for the Moment,” all of which are available on Spotify. Her music is mostly pop-rock-y love songs, the type you’d listen to while lying on your bed, daydreaming about your latest crush or heartbreak. You’d play it in between ‘90s hits and Taylor Swift, and would probably hear it in the background of your favorite rom-com-y, guilty-pleasure TV show (Gallagher’s music has been on Younger, after all).
Gallgher has also spent this time perfecting her craft, taking acting and singing lessons, and hints that, following roles on shows like You and The Flash, she’ll be returning to TV soon.
“I literally never in my life, starting at age zero, had another plan,” Gallagher told me during our first chat. “It was just like, ‘Well, clearly I'll be an actor or a singer.’ I would perform in the lobby of my apartment building, and literally stand on the tables in preschool singing Annie at the top of my lungs. I was just that kid.”
Of course, one could argue that it probably didn’t hurt to see success firsthand, with a parent who played the iconic role of Sandy Cohen on The OC. And while Gallagher does find it “surreal” that these days people want to talk about her own budding career and projects instead of focusing on being Peter’s kid, she doesn’t shy away from sharing stories about her dad.
“I think what's funny is when people are like, ‘He's a cool dad.’ I'm like, ‘You don't know that!’” she jokes. “No, he is a cool dad, but I didn't know that at 13, when they said it all the time. I was like, ‘Dad, stay in the car. It's so embarrassing!’ But I'm really proud of everything he's done — he’s a brilliant actor and I've learned so much from him. Both of my parents are the greatest parents in the world, and they could not have been better examples of what love is. I'm very lucky. So, anytime anyone has anything nice to say about them, I'm like, ‘Yeah, I agree. Great guy. 10 out of 10.’”
In every conversation I’ve had with Gallagher over the course of 2020, I’ve asked her — sometimes, desperately, grasping for an ounce of hope myself — what, exactly, her future holds. And, while her resumé has only grown since our first conversation, including a stint phone banking for Joe Biden and other Democratic candidates leading up to the election, her answer has essentially remained unchanged.
“I'm obsessed with working,” she says, after repeatedly stating that she’s open to movies, TV — everything. “[Broadway is] definitely last on the list to come back, so it is exciting that there are more opportunities in different mediums.”
And yes, she’s definitely making more music. After losing her friend, 41-year-old Broadway actor Nick Cordero, to COVID-19, she isn’t being so precious with releases, realizing that tomorrow isn’t always promised.
“It just feels like a little bit of … trying to stay absolutely prepared for opportunities as they come up. I wake up and it feels like a blank slate at the beginning of the day, and then by the end of the day, as long as I've done one thing that feels like a step forward — either in my job or in my personal life — then I've done an OK job.”
Still, despite trying to keep a positive attitude, Gallagher is still pro-crying, especially as the year wraps up.
“Never be ashamed of tears,” she tells me, as we bond over the chaos of these trying times. “Tears are strong as hell. They're your body's response. They're helping you let go — that’s just emotions and thoughts flowing through you. Never be ashamed of that. Tears do not make you weak. Tears are strong. Weak is not showing up, you know? Tears are strong as hell so never, never feel bad about crying.”
Photographs by Erica Genece, assisted by Alessandro Constantino.
Styling by Samantha Sutton.
Makeup by Juliette Perreux. Hair by Patrick Kyle.
Production and art direction by Kelly Chiello.