Stars of ‘Mandalorian’ and ‘The Flight Attendant’ Return to UVA

April 29, 2024 By Alice Berry, Alice Berry,

When Emily Swallow and James Seol first met during rehearsals for the University of Virginia’s production of “Into the Woods” in the late 1990s, neither of them knew they would one day be on your TV screen.

Swallow is known for her role as the Armorer in the Disney+ shows “The Mandalorian” and “The Book of Boba Fett,” as well as playing Amara in The CW’s “Supernatural.” Seol, meanwhile, has performed in Broadway shows like “Come From Away” and acted in the Max (formerly HBO Max) mini-series “The Flight Attendant.”

Swallow and Seol returned to Grounds at the end of April for an artist residency that included visits to multiple UVA Drama classes, workshops with students, and a public question-and-answer session with Virginia Theatre Festival Artistic Director Jenny Wales, who was a classmate of theirs in the UVA Drama Department. UVA Today sat down with the two alumni to learn about their UVA journeys and acting careers after graduation.

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UVA wasn’t Seol’s first choice, but when he was admitted, “there was no question” in his mind that he would attend the University. His uncles had gone to UVA, plus the in-state tuition was hard to beat. His time at UVA was formative; it set him up for his acting career, though he may not have known it at the time.

Swallow, who grew up in Virginia and Florida, cast a wide net when applying to schools. As a high schooler, she was interested in “so many things” and knew she could explore those at UVA. 

“I was so fortunate that I wound up here, because I didn’t know what a perfect fit it was,” Swallow said.

Swallow and Seol backstage during “Into the Woods” rehearsals

Seol, pictured here with Virginia Theatre Festival artistic director Jenny Wales, would later attend Julliard. (Photo courtesy of James Seol)

Both Swallow and Seol came to UVA expecting to land jobs other people might consider more practical. Swallow studied Middle Eastern affairs and even landed an internship with the State Department.

“I really thought I was going to go that route,” Swallow said. “I didn’t know anyone personally who had gone on to be a professional actor, so it just didn’t seem like a possibility to me.”

She divided her time at UVA between University Singers, the drama department and her major, including the thesis she wrote to graduate as a Distinguished Major. Even as he cajoled her to buckle down and finish her thesis, Swallow’s adviser would make a point to see her perform.

Swallow and Seol with Chelsea apartment UVA alumni roommates.

Swallow and Seol shared a Chelsea apartment with several other UVA alumni. (Photo courtesy of Emily Swallow)

“I think he sort of realized that the performing thing was winning over the foreign affairs thing,” Swallow said.

Her teachers in the drama department noticed, too. They encouraged her to pursue acting, but she wanted more training. She prepared at least a dozen monologues for auditions, eventually deciding to enroll at New York University after graduating from UVA in 2001.

Not long after moving to New York, she found a five-bedroom apartment in Chelsea. Seol, who had once coaxed her into dancing the polka in her “Into the Woods” costume, was one of her apartment mates. After a year, their apartment was broken up into condos, but the friends moved to Brooklyn together and were off-and-on roommates for about 10 years.

Seol was a class ahead of Swallow, but had spent a year in an acting internship at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C. – where Richard Warner, a longtime UVA drama professor, helped Seol get an audition – before he, too, decided he wanted more acting training. Seol enrolled at The Julliard School.

“I started to realize that this was work, and there was a way to get better,” he said.

Seol and Swallow in Brooklyn.

After their Chelsea apartment was divided into condos, Seol and Swallow moved to Brooklyn. (Photo courtesy of James Seol)

Seol had intended to study chemistry and go to medical school when he started at UVA. He quickly realized he wasn’t happy in his science classes. While receiving decent grades, he retained little information. But he shone in the drama department.

“I was doing a lot of shows, so I knew that this was a place where I could explore all of those things, and then eventually acting won out,” Seol said.

In the years since they graduated from their acting graduate programs, Swallow and Seol have booked numerous gigs on stage and screen. Swallow now lives in Los Angeles, while Seol lives in New York. They’ve been there to support each other through it all.

“To see each other’s evolution during school, after school, through literally this moment, is such a joy,” Seol said.

For any Hoos who want to follow in Seol and Swallow’s footsteps, they have two pieces of advice.

“Be as savvy as you can, with all the scaffolding to support that creativity,” Seol said.

“Know why you want to do this, and never lose sight of it,” Swallow said.

Media Contact

Alice Berry

University News Associate Office of University Communications