Rachel Brosnahan, 23, has resorted to stealing her 14-year-old sister’s clothes. “I’ve been living out of a suitcase for the past few months,” laughs the Highland Park native, pointing to the black leggings and white T-shirt she pulled straight from her sibling’s closet. “So I don’t really have a lot of outfit options.”
Her nomadic lifestyle seems like a fair trade: The actress has given up sartorial stability for a chance at Hollywood stardom. In less than two years since graduating from NYU’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts, Brosnahan has racked up an impressive resume of stage, TV and movie credits. She’s held her own opposite Kevin Spacey as call girl Rachel Posner in the first season of the Emmy-nominated series “House of Cards,” starred alongside Emma Thompson and Jeremy Irons in last spring’s “Beautiful Creatures” and shared the Broadway stage with Bobby Cannavale in “The Big Knife,” which ended its run last month. “It’s been a complete dream come true,” she says of her burgeoning fame. “There are no words.”
Brosnahan credits much of her current success to her North Shore roots. As a teen, the aspiring actress was frustrated by the minor roles she was getting in school plays, so she turned to the Actors Training Center at the Wilmette Theatre (where former Splash cover girl and “The Bling Ring” star Katie Chang also cut her teeth). There, Executive Director Carole Dibo prepped Brosnahan for the stage and the camera, which helped her land her first gig, a small role in the 2009 horror flick “The Unborn.” “I had to lie to my parents, and I missed my AP Calc final,” says Brosnahan. “But I caught the bug.”
After booking a slew of guest spots on shows like “Gossip Girl” and “CSI: Miami” while in college, Brosnahan received a call from a casting director whom she’d previously auditioned for, inviting her to try out for “House of Cards.” “The breakdown said ‘27-year-old prostitute; please dress like a call girl,’ ” says Brosnahan. “I was like, ‘I’m never gonna get this.’ ”
But she did, and her authentic portrayal of a manipulative young woman entangled with equally dishonest politicians caught the writers’ attention — and caused them to turn her bit part into a seven-episode arc. “The character changed on the fly,” she says. “I don’t know what inspired them to keep writing it, but I’m so glad that they did.” As for whether or not Posner will show up in the second season, Brosnahan is mum.
Since her breakout turn on the series, Brosnahan has barely had a moment to catch her breath, much less put down roots. She recently sublet her LA apartment, stuffed her clothes in storage and spent several months in New Hampshire filming the indie comedy “I’m Obsessed with You (But You’ve Got To Leave Me Alone).”
This summer, she’s flying between New York, LA and Chicago for auditions, table reads and precious family time (her two younger siblings and parents still live in the house she grew up in). She admits she’s a little exhausted — not to mention lacking in the wardrobe department — but also says she’s enjoying the unencumbered life. “I feel very bohemian,” she jokes.
Despite her suitcase-based situation, Brosnahan hasn’t abandoned her longtime love of fashion. “Working on all of these different projects has influenced my style immensely,” she says. “I’m a total chameleon in each of my roles; I never look the same from project to project. So I pull a lot of inspiration from my characters.”
In fact, Brosnahan can recall almost every outfit she’s worn on screen. “ ‘Beautiful Creatures’ made me obsessed with long hair and long dresses,” she says. “On ‘House of Cards,’ Rachel has this perfect pair of brown suede, low-heeled boots from BP Nordstrom. I went online and bought them immediately. And my character in ‘I’m Obsessed with You’ is such a hippie.”
Brosnahan’s eclectic attire has been equally influenced by her bicoastal lifestyle. “My friends in California are wearing short-shorts and fedoras, and in New York, everyone’s layering everything. So my style is a mix. It’s sort of like a grandmother’s,” she laughs. “A grandmother with combat boots.”
During a recent day off from her packed schedule, Brosnahan flew into Chicago to let Splash take the style reins. We took the opportunity to dress her in looks from our favorite local boutiques — and give her a break from rifling through her sister’s drawers.
LUXURY GARAGE SALE
Roland Mouret: teal dress, $595; Giles Deacon: Green Armor dress, $1295; Thierry Mugler: vintage yellow blazer, $295; Oscar De La Renta: coral bubble dress, $1195; Youth Guild: vintage star print maxi dress, $150; Bouchra Jarrar: blue silk wrap dress, $950; Luxury Garage Sale, 1658 N. Wells; Luxurygaragesale.com
Plenty by Tracy Reese: Macaw Trellis sleeveless peasant blouse, $168; Alice and Trixie: Fontaine maxi dress, $386; Bless’ed are the Meek: Sun Rays skirt, $132; Veruca Salt, 520 N. Kingsbury; Shopverucasalt.com
Alexis: Kaden dress, $805; Sam and Lavi: Gardenia floral pant, $165; White Suede: 60’s mini dress, $445; Sam and Lavi: Sina dress, $140; Alexis: Maritza halter dress, $425; UKE: silk blouse, $280; SEN: Marlena dress, $520; Sarca; Shopsarca.com
Stylestalker: Teleportation tank dress, $169; Harlyn: wide leg trouser, $198; Hunter Dixon: Rina dress, $254; Naven: Bardot blazer, $286; Rag and Bone: Burney vest, $186; Harlyn: pleated full short, $110; Chelsea Flower: crossover halter mini dress, $328; Hunter Dixon: Odin jacket, $382; Finders Keepers: Start the Fire skirt, $130; Keepsake: Pictures in the Clouds skirt, $130; Pencey: slim pant, $198; Sofia, 100 E. Walton; Sofialivelovely.com
Story by Rachel Handler | Photos by Maria Ponce