FYIG recently had the chance to talk to actress/writer Michelle Alexander about her experiences in the acting world and the comedy-horror series she wrote called Fatal Murder Mystery. If that’s not enough, Michelle goes through a frantic day in her acting life!
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I have a deep love of shoes and tacos, I can be regularly found in coffee shops around Toronto and LA talking to myself and staring intensely into thin air (aka. memorizing lines in public) and I can triple jump like a boss.
Those are the important things, right? 🙂
I also grew up on Vancouver Island in a tiny seaside town called Mill Bay, I have two brothers, 0% of the rest of my family is in ‘the biz’ but 100% of my family is supportive.
How did you get your start as an actress? Was it something you always aspired to be or did it evolve into that over time?
Acting is something I’ve always aspired to do, so much so that I can’t remember when it started. Seriously – when I was in preschool we had to fill out those ‘What I Want to Be When I Grow Up’ questionnaires and I wrote ‘Actor’. So it might be safe to say from birth?
I was always dressing up in costumes just because or making up stories to tell my family and friends (whether they wanted to hear them or not) so it was a natural evolution you could say.
My first “legit” show was a kids touring production of Tom Sawyer when I was 9. I played Becky Thatcher and got to kiss the kid playing Tom (who, for the record, was WAY less into the kiss than me).
The first time I felt like it was a viable career was when I played the title role of Rosalind in a summer rep production of As You Like It. I was twenty-one and terrified. For most of the rehearsal process I felt in over my head, but once we had our opening night and the laughs came I knew I was hooked on this being my career.
You played lead roles in many different theatre productions before making the transition to film and television. What did you learn from playing those roles that helped you as you made that transition?
Playing a lead role in a theatre production teaches you a million lessons – how to listen and stay engaged with your fellow actors, how to pace your energy throughout a show, how to deal with the pressure of carrying a whole show, honestly the list is endless. There’s a sense of ‘I can do anything’ after you’ve led a two-hour theatre performance and done it well.
So when you come from theatre and start working in film and tv there’s a bit of naive confidence that exists, like, “we’re only filming two pages at a time?! This is nothing!” Then, of course, you learn a million new lessons that you don’t get in theatre, like – think it, don’t show it, how to keep a scene fresh take after take….film and tv has its own endless list of lessons.
What are some of the similarities and differences working a live stage show versus a television show or a film?
I would say the pressure, at least for me, is almost greater in film and TV. There’s a lot of money riding on every production and because of that time is always limited. It’s easy to be overcome with the stress of nailing every take rather than connecting with your partner and telling the story.
In theatre, and maybe this comes from being a confident improviser, it’s almost fun when things go wrong, the audience loves when mistakes happen. Every stage performance feels like something you can salvage even at the worst of times (famous last words).
Also, in Film/TV, a lot of stuff is thrown at you on ‘the day’. With the long rehearsal process of theatre you know every single prop you’ll use, every line you’ll say and every set and costume piece in the show. In Film/TV you could arrive having prepared one thing and discover they’re now shooting the scene in a new location or the producer thinks it would be hilarious if you wore a straightjacket throughout the scene while drinking tea using just your mouth or the entire script is changed so “if you could learn your new lines in the next half hour that would be great!” Sounds extreme, but you would be surprised! Buuuut, that constant every changing system is also what I love Film/TV. Every day is new, it is a living breathing creative process.
Tell us about the comedy horror series that you co-wrote called Fatal Murder Mystery.
It’s a comedy-horror-mystery series currently in development with Shaftesbury Films that Sophia Fabiilli and I co-wrote and star in. Essentially it’s Clue meets The Evil Dead, so, in my biased opinion, the best idea ever!
It takes place at an office murder mystery party organized by a neurotic young woman. When people start getting hacked to death for real a tenacious (and somewhat suspicious) stranger arrives out of the blue to help her suss out the murderer among them.
I’m especially excited about it because I get to play the ‘suspicious stranger’ – she’s very Nancy Drew if Nancy Drew was slightly nuts.
Talk about your experience as Alison in the Netflix horror series
It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my career thus far. The character has one of the most extreme series arcs I have ever seen – she essentially goes from the most innocent, straight-edge, somewhat terrified human being to a malevolent, Dexter-esque serial killer.
There are a few episodes where she gets to flip between the two personas and those were the most fun. You knew you did a good take when they call cut and the entire crew looks a little creeped out by you. One guest star we had on the show actually still gets scared when he sees me in person… I’ve decided to take that as a compliment.
How surreal is it to look back on working with Meghan Markle in Suits now knowing that she is the Duchess of Sussex?
Well, I surprised even myself by waking up at 4 am to watch the Royal Wedding and it was pretty surreal seeing someone I filmed a show with ride through the streets of London in a horse-drawn carriage. It was a huge reminder that you never know where this life will take you. But I can say, from my experience, she is one of the sweetest, most genuine and giving people I have worked with, just one of those incredible humans that make you feel better about life just by being around them. Between takes, she could have gone back to her trailer, but instead sat with me in the giant empty ballroom in this hotel we were filming in. The whole experience on that show was a pleasure, great team of people.
What’s next for your career? What goals have you set for yourself?
This question makes me feel like I’m in the career counselor’s office in high school. Oh, the possibilities! Currently, the goal is to star in a show that I also write. My idols are people like Mindy Kaling, Phoebe Waller-Bridge or Issa Rae – incredible ladies doing it for themselves. Other goals include working with people I admire a stupid amount like Noah Hawley or Damon Lindelof – just next level creatives.
Next up in my career that I can talk about without getting in trouble (I hope) is rolling out a new series that revolves around the game Magic: The Gathering, you can also catch me in the new series of Private Eyes!
What advice would you have for aspiring actors/actresses?
Be Proactive! Just do it do it do it.
The rules have changed for actors: Just taking classes, getting great headshots and signing with a top agency isn’t enough anymore. The world is starting to celebrate artists that wear many hats and who get sh*t done.
If you don’t see the perfect role for you out there, write a screenplay that does!
If you feel like no one is seeing your work, make a short film and invite everyone to the screening!
Honestly, I would say if you feel like you’re not having the career you want you’re not being creative enough with how to make it happen.
Don’t get me wrong everyone hits roadblocks and experiences setbacks but its how you deal with them that counts: When you meet challenges you can either learn a lesson and move forward, or let it derail you and get jaded. I don’t know about you, but I know which one I would rather be.
Oh, and stay positive. Positive, positive. Not to get all woo woo on you but I firmly believe like attracts like, if the energy you are putting out is ‘this is never going to happen, I’ll never book the role I want’, chances are, you won’t.
Disclaimer: This is all my own personal opinion, and at the end of the day you do you.
What a typical day off from the acting world like for you?
I actually laughed out loud when I read ‘typical day’. I feel like there are no typical days as an actor. But let me give you a rundown of what usually happens at least once a week:
- 6:30 am Michelle wakes up expecting a somewhat relaxing, slow day.
- 7:30 am Michelle heads to the coffee shop like it’s her office to learn lines or write, then she plans to run errands and go for a long run.
- 9:30 am Michelle gets an email alert that she has a same-day audition across town. Crap. Michelle scraps the rest of her morning plans.
- 10:30 am Michelle frantically learning lines for her audition
- 11:00 am Michelle finally feels ready for her audish when she gets another email alert: it’s a self-tape request and its due by EOD… today! Crap. Michelle now starts learning lines for the self-tape.
- 12:30 pm Michelle is driving dangerously across town to her audition while trying to learn lines for the self-tape and find a friend who’s free to come over and be her reader/camera person.
- 3 pm audition done and Michelle found a reader for the self-tape! Now she just has to get back across town in rush hour… when she gets another email alert: It’s her writing partner, they unexpectedly have a draft due tomorrow. Crap. Michelle bumps up the self-tape by an hour to fit in the writing.
- 5 pm Michelle gets home and eats peanut butter out of the jar while setting up lights and a camera and does her makeup for the 3rd time today
- 5:30 pm Michelle starts to film her self-tape when construction sounds start filtering in the window. They wait for the sound to stop.
- 6 pm the construction finally stops. Hurray! But now the camera battery is dead.
- 6:30 pm New camera battery from 7-11 in the camera and they finally do the tape.
- 8 pm After countless upload problems Michelle finally gets her tape sent off. Phew! She starts writing that new draft when she gets an email alert: she has been requested for an early morning audition tomorrow at 8 am. Crap.
- 9:30 pm the new draft is finally done and can be sent off
- 10:30 pm Michelle settles in to eat pickles out of the jar and learn her lines for the morning audition – oh wait, she didn’t notice they need an Australian accent which she has never done!
- 10:35 Michelle furiously YouTubes Nicole Kidman and every accent tape ever.
- 1 am The work is finally done. Michelle flops into bed after watching Legion, The Leftovers, or The Great British Baking Show.
Don’t get me wrong there are quiet days, but honestly its a life of being thrown endless curveballs and needing to adjust. But I wouldn’t have life any other way.
Tell the readers where to find you online:
Facebook: Michelle Alexander