The Lesbian in “Milk”: Alison Pill as Anne Kronenberg


Canadian actress Alison Pill didn’t know much about Harvey
Milk when she auditioned to play his lesbian campaign manager in Gus Van Sant’s
biopic Milk. Twenty-two years old,
she considered herself fairly informed about the history of the gay rights
movement, and yet all she knew about Harvey
was something vague about the “Twinkie defense.”

Today, Pill is one of Harvey’s
biggest fans. And she belongs to another fan club, too, one a lot of queer
women are going to be joining when they get to know Anne Kronenberg, the
curly-haired dyke-on-a-bike who ran Harvey’s
first successful campaign, played by Pill in the film.

At first glance, it’s hard to see much similarity between
the two women, although Kronenberg was also 22 years old when tapped by Milk to
run his third supervisorial campaign.

Strong, confrontational, and passionate, Anne rode a
motorcycle and wore leather jackets. She took on the cautious gay male
establishment of the times and helped Harvey
kick down some of the social and
political walls between lesbians and gay men.

Kronenberg on

Castro St.

in 1978,
from the documentary
The Times of Harvey Milk

Unlike Anne, Alison Pill is small and slight, with huge eyes
and long, straight hair. But any impression of fragility is a false one; she
comes out swinging both on screen and in person, and more than does justice to
the character she portrays.

Pill hadn’t met Anne Kronenberg when she auditioned for the
role, and didn’t meet her until several months after she was cast, although
they’d spoken on the phone. It wasn’t until the two women got together in
person that she got a feeling for who Anne is, and threw earlier ideas of how
to play her out the window.

“I met her my first day in San Francisco,” Pill said in an
exclusive interview with “It was so amazing, and
completely changed my view of what I had been planning to do with this character.”

Kronenberg is featured in the documentary The Times of Harvey Milk, but watching
it hadn’t prepared Pill for the real thing. “In the documentary, you don’t
really get a sense of her, but more of Harvey,”
she said. “Anne can control an entire room very calmly. She’s a pretty
incredible woman. You just want to listen to her, do whatever she says, and
you’re not sure how that happened…. She’s one of the strongest women I’ve ever
met, but in a really subtle, womanly way. And it was an important energy to try
to capture.”

Pill completely immersed herself in both the story and the
character. “I just started soaking up stories of the Castro, and stories
about Dick (Pavich), and Jim (Rivaldo), and meeting with Harvey in the morning before everybody else
got there during the campaign. I knew so much of the interpersonal
relationships of the campaign office by the end of it, and all the funny
stories. I soaked it up to the point of where I knew how to be in the room as
Anne, even when she had nothing to do.”

Anne Kronenberg
and Alison Pill during the filming of

The real Anne Kronenberg has nothing but praise for the
justice done to her story, and for director Gus Van Sant.

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