Ann Dowd, Stephen Colbert
Screenshot: The Late Show With Stephen Colbert

Ann Dowd may not yet be as meme-worthy as “character actress Margo Martindale,” but she and Martindale undoubtedly get sent a lot of the “deceptively terrifying lady who looks like your third grade teacher” scripts. On The Leftovers and The Handmaid’s Tale, Dowd has at least nosed into a tie with The Americans and Justified scene-stealer Martindale as woman you do not want to fuck with, ever. So it was especially lovely—not to say something of a relief for those traumatized by Aunt Lydia’s cattle prod and eye work—to see the Emmy-winner so genuinely moved by The Late Show audience’s effusive applause on what she confessed to host Stephen Colbert was her very first late-night interview.

Naturally, anyone who caught Dowd’s endearingly baffled reaction to her Emmy win ought to have expected the actress to be similarly delightful. But Colbert clearly found Dowd’s tales of unexpected acting success—she trained to be a surgeon before disappointing her no-nonsense mom by going in for that frivolous acting—so charming that he let the actress take her time while they both enjoyed the moment. (It sounded like bandleader Jon Batiste struck a tentative piano chord at one point, but Colbert breezed past it, leaving announced third guest H. Jon Benjamin to presumably get bumped in favor of a short filmed piece to end the show.) And if Dowd didn’t delve into the inescapably relevant misogynist dystopian themes of The Handmaid’s Tale in her extended spot, her lovingly told story of abandoning a medical career in favor of following an impractical dream carried empowerment aplenty. Her pre-med realization “You’re doing well and you’re unhappy” turned out to be, in Dowd’s example, as life-affirming a mantra as it gets.

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