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'Homeland' actress Morgan Saylor corners the moody teen market, next with 'When We Were Young and Unafraid'

Morgan Saylor at The Collective and Gibson Lounge

Morgan Saylor at The Collective and Gibson Lounge Powered by CEG, during the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah on Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014. Credit: AP / Victoria Will

Morgan Saylor knows a thing or two about being a moody teenager. Or at least playing one. The young actress is best known for playing Dana, the teenage daughter of is-he-or-isn't-he-a-terrorist Nicholas Brody on "Homeland" -- and her character was so lifelike (brooding and annoying as teens can be) that she sparked a hate campaign on social media sites.

The haters will, we hope, lay off for her latest role, as (yes, another) angsty teen in Sarah Treem's new play, "When We Were Young and Unafraid," a Manhattan Theatre Club production at New York City Center running through Aug. 10.

Saylor, 19, plays Penny, a smart, rule-following high school student and good girl (for the most part) who in 1972 dreams of going off to college -- and somehow snaring her high school's Big Man on Campus. This might seem typical, but her household is anything but, what with mom (Tony winner Cherry Jones) running a secret battered-women's shelter in their home.

You'll also soon be able to catch Saylor on film, as an offbeat teen who discovers a classmate's corpse in "Jamie Marks Is Dead" (out in August), and as Kevin Costner's daughter in the true-sports drama "McFarland" (November). She recently chatted with Newsday contributor Joseph V. Amodio.

It seems you're the go-to gal for angsty teens. Are you pulling from experience, or were you more chill as a teen?

I was more chill. I was busy working. I'm still a teenager, actually -- I've three months left. I turn 20 in October.

What intrigued you about this play?

I graduated high school and moved to Brooklyn last August. I knew that theater was an option here, of course. When I was little, I used to visit my grandmother every year -- she lives in Amity Harbor.

Oh, so you're not new to the region.

Oh, no. My mom went to Hicksville High. And my grandma lived on the same street as the "Amityville Horror" house.

Really? Would you drive by?

All the time. It was a big, cool, scary thing. My grandma had a little beach backyard. We'd hang out or go to the city sometimes and see shows. I didn't know a lot about theater but thought it might be something I'd get into eventually. This play is the first script I read with the thought of really pursuing it. I loved it immediately. But it took three auditions. They weren't sure. So I worked with a vocal coach, learned how to pronounce my words. Eventually I convinced them.

What's it like working with a critically acclaimed Broadway star like Cherry Jones?

Magical. Watching her during rehearsals, she's so natural. She's very encouraging, loving, motherly. We have a good time. I give her a foot massage during intermission. She likes that. She loves my boyfriend, too. He's a rock-climbing coach and goes to school. As kids, we were both on climbing teams in Atlanta.

So you're sporty.

When I'm not working, I like to climb. Or ride my bike around Brooklyn.

It's funny to look back at the 1970s, when this play is set. Women were just starting to realize they could do whatever they wanted. Rock-climbing, even. Weird, huh?

Yeah. You couldn't get a credit card or a loan without your father or husband signing. You couldn't get an abortion without a man standing by your side. Crazy. So many older women are so happy to see the show, because there haven't been a lot, if any, plays about being a woman in that time.

Do you think there are still big double standards? Recently Anna Gunn wrote an op-ed about her character on "Breaking Bad," and yours on "Homeland," and all the flak you've both gotten from haters on social media. She thinks if you were guys, people would accept your moody, broody characters more.

I don't know. Both "Breaking Bad" and "Homeland" are about anti-heroes, so maybe the reason our characters weren't as liked is because we were going against the anti-heroes. I can see her argument, but I don't know if it's a gender thing.

You're not going back for season four of "Homeland."

Yeah. They're starting to shoot in South Africa. When I last talked to the creator, he said he thought it'd be great for Dana to come back and have some closure or conversation with Carrie. But who knows? We'll see.

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