Patti Perret/CBS
Shirley Li
June 30, 2015 AT 03:04 PM EDT

Kristen Connolly is doubling down on the TV scares. On ABC’s The Whispers (Mondays at 10 p.m.), she plays a suburban mom whose daughter’s manipulated by an evil invisible entity that may be out to destroy all humans. On CBS’ Zoo (premiering June 30 at 9 p.m.), she plays a journalist who suspects that all wild and domesticated animals are turning into evil beings that may be out to destroy all humans. In other words, this summer has turned into a banner season for the 34-year-old actress who first made small-screen waves alongside Corey Stoll on Netflix’s House of Cards.

Connolly talked to EW about working on both shows and her closest encounter with a wild and moody lion cub on the CBS thriller.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You’re about to have two shows on air at the same time. How did you manage that?

KRISTEN CONNOLLY: Actually, I shot The Whispers in the fall, and then about a month later, Zoo came up. I had probably two months off between the end of The Whispers and the beginning of Zoo, and it was the holidays so it felt right. I didn’t have to be going from one set to the other, and when they announced we would be airing both in the summer, I was like, “Oh, wow! Who knew?” It was one of those things where I just got really lucky, and it happened to work out. I’m sure my parents will have a full DVR. [Laughs]

Zoo and The Whispers both fit the horror bill, and you starred in 2012’s The Cabin in the Woods. Did you always want to work in this genre?

I enjoy scary movies, but I wouldn’t say I’m an avid fan. I love both shows for different reasons, but it wasn’t a deliberate decision. As an actor just starting out, I just want to work on projects that are, hopefully, good. I had no idea it would happen, so I’m like, “Huh. I keep landing in these things! What’s up?” And The Cabin in the Woods was so much fun. That was really my first big job, and it was so challenging, and I still am dumbfounded [by it]. I smile every time I think about it.

Which show did you find more challenging to shoot: the one with the scary kids, or the one with the scary animals?

On The Whispers, I spend a lot of time in a house, shooting with Kylie Rogers, who plays my daughter, Minx. We had a lot of scenes together where we’d be done at a reasonable hour, we’re clean and dry, and we just played games and did domestic activities. Zoo is definitely much more physical for me. We pretty much run around every day, and there are moments where everybody’s like, “I’m hot. I’m sweaty.” But it’s great to be exhausted from having done your job in a good way.


What was it like working with live animals on Zoo?

It’s kind of crazy, we’ve gotten to work with tons and tons of animals. It’s astonishing when they show up on set, and you have to fully respect that this is a fully living creature. I’ve never done anything like it… Billy [Burke] and I have a scene with some cats in the pilot, where there were a lot of cats, and it was at night. There was definitely a point when we were both like, “What in the world are we doing?”

Did you get to work closely with a wild animal?

Billy [Burke] and I had a scene with a lion cub. When I read it in the script, I was like, “Aww, this is going to be so cute! I can’t wait!” And then the cub showed up on set so pissed off. They didn’t let him take a nap because he had to be awake, so when he got to set, he was making noises and scratching the trainer’s arms all bloody. [The trainers] were like, “Do you want to hold him?” And I was like, “No, thank you!” We cleared the set to let him sleep, and we had to wait and come back, and we couldn’t even do hair and makeup on set. We had to walk through the back door, and we shot the scene whispering because we didn’t want to wake him up.

Your character on Zoo, Jamie Campbell, is an intrepid journalist who keeps a blog investigating what’s going on with the animals. What’s your take on the way journalists are portrayed on TV? On House of Cards, you starred opposite Kate Mara’s journalist character Zoe Barnes, who was similarly ambitious.

I think, like with anything, there are stereotypes. I think that happens with lawyers on TV, and I think that happens with journalists, but I don’t think of Jamie [that way] at all. I think she’s really curious and really driven so that’s one of the things that I love so much about her. It’s great to not be playing a victim, to not be playing an accessory to someone else. She has her own ambitions and her own interests, and she’s going after them, and I admire that about her. There’s a curiosity and an interest level that goes beyond what maybe a normal person has.

Right, she has plenty of questions. Speaking of which…

You’re going to ask me another question, aren’t you?

Of course. Jamie’s asking so many questions because she has a wild theory about the animals’ behavior. Do you have one too?

I don’t have any, but I hope the animals just eat all of the humans. [Laughs] Then the next season would just be animals.

An edited version of this interview ran in Entertainment Weekly issue #1370, on newsstands Friday, June 26.

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