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The Creators:

Willa Fitzgerald

Interview and photography by Emily Maye

Willa Fitzgerald is an actress, best known for her roles in Amazon's Reacher series and the BBC's adaptation of Little Women. A native of Nashville, TN, she now lives in New York, where Tracksmith met with her in the fall of 2022.

"I didn't even call myself a runner until I ran the marathon the second time... which is just so silly. Because if you run, you're a runner."

WF: I started doing anything physical very late. I was such a nerd as a kid, I had to be begged to go outside for a walk. I just wanted to study, I wanted to read books, I wanted to watch a movie. I did not want to do anything athletic. I didn't have that foundation of how to be any sort of athlete – it was completely outside of my sphere of knowledge.

I started running in my Sophomore year of college because I was stressed and I had a friend who was a runner. She was like, “Just run out for three songs and run back for two songs. And then you've done a run.” I didn’t even have running shoes. That was the beginning of running for me. I kind of ran casually in that way until probably 2015 or 2016 when I had to be a track runner for a movie. A friend of mine who was a big cyclist and runner, took me to Red Hook to do some track workouts and taught me how to stretch and everything.

I started to piece together a practice that made sense with my lifestyle and my needs. The reasons that I run are largely that it’s a practice that's meditative. It’s a great de-stressor. 

I have a really clear memory of when running shifted into something that I felt really passionately about, and that was in 2017 when I was shooting Little Women for the BBC and I was in Ireland. We were staying in this place called Dún Laoghaire, which is 45 minutes outside of Dublin. It's this beautiful town that's right on the water. I started running every day as a way of seeing more of Ireland because I was falling in love with that place. I was also in a moment where I felt like my life and my own emotional world was opening up and it was a big moment of change and evolution for me. And it coincided with this physical ability and interest in running. 

I'd never gone for a run that was longer than five miles until then. And then I started going like nine miles, 10 miles, 12 miles, just because I loved where I was. I felt really good in my body and good in who I was as a person, and running was an expression of that and a way to explore it further. 

Then, I ran the marathon for the first time. I signed up for it on a whim and while I'd already been running for six years by then, I feel like that was the point at which something shifted and it became even more consciously ‘a practice’ in a way that it hadn't been before.


WF: When I'm running, it's all kind of like a nice, gentle, stillness in the movement. There's not a lot of attention to the different thoughts. In that way it’s meditative. I went for a run the other day, after I'd done a self tape, which is where you put yourself on tape for an audition, and I often will go for a run after something like that as a way to reset and move on from the thing I just did. 

I also walk a lot. I probably walk like six miles a day. I walk so much more than anything else I do during the day. Walking for me is more the time when I'm doing active thinking, where I sort something out. And running is really a time for me where I am just focusing on the act of moving my body forward. That is why I love a long run. You get to a point where you are kind of past all thought and you are just in a flow state, running and breathing and running and breathing. Maybe you're seeing the nature around you or the people, but it is a really quiet place for me. 


WF: I feel like the thing I love most about my job is that every single thing in my life feeds into it. And every single experience I have feeds into it. Everything that I occupy my time with feeds into it. And running is one of those things. It’s something that I both use and is just there as a kind of background layer to my experience as a human.

Some jobs I feel like it's really important and wonderful to have a sort of physical practice before you go to work. When I was shooting Reacher, I ran almost every morning before work. I was getting picked up at 5:30 or 6am,  so I would literally roll out of bed, put on whatever I needed for the weather, and just go for a two mile run. Like a really short, easy, slow run. Not anything that was an athletic endeavor. But it felt really good in my body. It woke me up and it made me feel like I was in a good place to play that character. And then other jobs I don't run at all. It kind of is just whatever feels right. As a person whose schedule is largely outside of their control, it's also just a really great way of segmenting time and my days of my week. Sometimes I feel like having a long run on a Sunday, or a short run on a Sunday is just a nice way to end a week and mark the start of a new week.  


WF: I love the New York City Marathon. I mean, I love New York. And I feel like it is such an incredible celebration of New Yorkers and their energy. It’s a day in which just every single person is cheering on people at the marathon – the outpouring of love is so incredible. And in a city where normally people are like, “get away”, and suddenly, everybody has this outpouring of love for each other and for strangers. There's a saying that New Yorkers aren't nice, but they're kind and LA people are not kind, but they're nice. And I feel like the New York City Marathon you get to see the nice and the kind together. 

I ran the marathon last year, which was the return to the marathon after the COVID hiatus, and it was a really special marathon to run, because the city showed up in this whole different way. It was such an emotional experience. We all lost so much in so many different ways over the pandemic, and to see everybody together, running the race, watching the race, walking through the city on that day, it was just like an act of solidarity. It was truly so beautiful, which sounds corny to say, but it was something special.

"Walking for me is more the time when I'm doing active thinking, where I sort something out. And running is really a time where I am just focusing on the act of moving my body forward. That is why I love a long run."

WF: I didn't even call myself a runner until I ran the marathon the second time. And then I felt like maybe now is when I can use that title, which is just so silly. Because if you run, you're a runner. That's the amazing thing about running. There is the barrier to entry of like, you have to buy a pair of shoes and you want some clothes that feel comfortable for running, but really anyone can be a runner and call themselves a runner. And that's what's kind of the most beautiful thing about the sport. 


WF: Terrible runs are so interesting. I feel like it's kind of the same as a terrible audition. But obviously, the stakes are less for a terrible run. You did it, you got through it. And you did the best you could on that given day. And now it's over. You have the option to keep focusing on it and beating yourself up about it, or you can make the decision to log it and move on. And it's always the better decision to just log in and move on. It's practice for the other things in our life that challenge us in that way. 


WF: I’ve lived in NYC for almost 10 years. I almost have my New York citizenship! Which is very exciting for the younger version of myself. I just always wanted to move to New York. Artists love to live in New York and choose to live in New York for its energy. The anonymity of New York is really special. There's so many people who are just going about their daily life and they literally do not care who you are or what you do. There is just a real equalizing quality to being a New Yorker. We're all on the subway together, we're all smushed together at rush hour and there's something about just being in the slog of the streets of New York that gives you energy. There's an obstacle to overcome every day, whether you've missed three trains or there’s something that you're interacting with that's some sort of oppositional force. I find that really energizing actually, and I think that the people who stay living in New York also find that energizing not just draining.