FYIG Chats With Actress Gwen Hollander

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Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I was born and raised in Miami, Florida with one older brother. I started doing musical theatre semi-professionally at the age of 14 at the local children’s theatre and started working in TV when I was 16. I moved to NY after school where I worked as a musical theatre performer for many years, and then made the move to LA to branch out into TV and film! I live here with my husband Ben, who is also an actor, and our dogs Watson and Merlin. I’m obsessed with animals, and if I weren’t an actor I’d want to be working with animals in some capacity. I’m also obsessed with crossword puzzles; I’ve done the daily New York Times puzzle every day for five years and have also gone back into the archives in the app on my phone. My “stats” tell me I’ve solved over 5,600 puzzles, and I’m both proud and deeply embarrassed!

How did you get your start as an actress?

I started off doing school plays in middle school, and then at age 14 I started doing children’s theatre locally (for the Christmas show and in the Summer they would cast young actors to perform alongside the adult professional actors). I studied musical theatre at an amazing performing arts high school (New World School of the Arts), and while I was in high school I got my first agent and started auditioning for some TV shows that filmed locally in Florida. That’s when I did Mystery Files of Shelby Woo and From the Earth to the Moon. When I moved to NY after school, it took about a year to book my first big job, which was a production of Footloose in Atlantic City. From there, I just kept on going!

You play Sheryl in the Showtime show, “Kidding” alongside Jim Carrey and Catherine Keener. What can you tell us about this show and your role?

The show follows Jeff Piccirillo (played by Jim Carrey), the star of a beloved children’s television show called Mr. Pickles’ Puppet Time, as he struggles to pick up the pieces of his personal life after a tragic loss. The show kind of splits its focus between the real-life Jeff who’s grieving and trying desperately to maintain his sanity, and his public persona of “Mr. Pickles” who is forced to wear a happy face for his young viewers. I play Sheryl, who plays Astronotter (one of the puppets on Puppet Time), an astronaut otter who speaks in a sort of “beep boop” language and feels misunderstood and is easily frustrated!

What can audiences expect from season 2?

A wild ride! A lot of music, some amazing guest stars (including NBA All-Star Blake Griffin and Ariana Grande!), and just some really beautiful storytelling. The second season is incredible; I knew it would be while we were shooting but seeing it all come together on my television was so magical. I laughed and cried throughout the whole thing. I hope everyone has a chance to watch it!

You’ve appeared in multiple musicals like “Little Women”, “Titanic”, and “101 Dalmatians”. to name a few. How do you approach a live role like that versus a film/tv role?

For me, the main difference is the preparation. I’d spent my entire life in the theatre, where you usually rehearse for at least two weeks (and sometimes more than a month, depending on the scale of the project). I was accustomed to having all that time to explore and let things get messy before it was “go time,” and I grew to really love that process. It’s very collaborative; so much of the discovery comes from working on the material with your fellow actors and spending so much time with the director and creative team. For TV/Film, the timeline is usually much more condensed. I might audition for something and then be on set shooting the very next day. Sometimes it’s the same day! That’s never happened to me, but it does happen! So not only is the process very quick, but the preparation is usually done alone…or at least it’s probably not done with the actual actors you’re going to be working with. TV/Film is still very collaborative, but from an acting standpoint, it manifests differently. I’m learning to love that process, but it takes some getting used to. At the end of the day, acting is acting; I’ve just had to learn the discipline of preparing on my own!

You play Young Diane, Young Vanessa, and Diane in Hulu’s Future Man. What’s in store for season 3?

So much time travel. Lots of fun “cameos” from throughout history (in a very Bill and Ted’s sort of way!). Lots of laughs, and a lovely ending to the series. This show is so hilarious; much like Kidding, I’d be a huge fan of this show even if I had nothing to do with it whatsoever.

You’re also the lead role in the musical comedy short “Marriage Material”. How did that opportunity come about and what stands out about this short?

This was just meant to be, I think. A friend of mine met with the writer/director of the project (Oran Zegman, who’s brilliant and is going to be a huge star) about the role, and they realized she wasn’t quite the right type for it. This friend said “Yeah, but I think I know the girl you’re looking for…” (which is amazing and beautiful and unheard of), and that was that! I went in to audition and it seemed like we all knew right away. The role is semi-autobiographical, and not only are we very similar, but I also happen to look like Oran (people see the movie and think it’s her!). Everything about this short was special. It was almost an entirely female cast and a largely female crew, which is really rare. Everyone involved was so talented and dedicated and gave everything they had to the process. The message is also just very powerful and really resonated with so many people, particularly with women (the film explores the way we tend to make little changes in ourselves in order to be more appealing, and how far we’re willing to go to do that).

How have you evolved as an actress since “The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo”?

In every possible way… I was just a kid; I didn’t really know what I was doing! I was really going purely on instinct at that point… which is actually really wonderful because I wasn’t overthinking anything. I wish I could’ve held onto a little bit of that freedom as I continued to learn because I still worry that I don’t know what I’m doing, but now the stakes feel higher. Every role is so different, and every time I embark on something new there’s a feeling of “Ok, well, here goes nothing! Let’s see if I actually know how to do this!” There’s always a tiny fear that maybe I don’t, and maybe this will be the moment in which I reveal myself as a fraud who’s just been getting lucky and fooling everyone all this time… I think this is a pretty common feeling for artists. I know it’s a constant struggle for me to quiet that voice in my head! 

What’s next for your career?

Well, at the moment, I really have no idea! Right now the business is pretty much on hold until it’s safe to get things moving again. While in quarantine I’ve been making some fun videos and posting them online, which has helped to pass the time and helped me to feel productive. But I really don’t know what’s next!

What advice would you have for aspiring actors/actresses?

Work hard. Your work is never done! There’s always more to learn. Be curious, about everything. Be kind to everyone, that’s advice for all human beings, but I’ll throw it in here!. Have other things in your life that you love; it’ll not only keep you sane, but it will actually make you a better and more interesting actor. Take risks. This is so hard and so scary, but I’m really realizing lately how much time I’ve wasted throughout my career being scared. Scared of what? I make a conscious decision every day to NOT be scared. I hope aspiring actors can learn to trust themselves and be brave! Do the work, be prepared, and there’s nothing to be scared of!

Your Twitter bio says that you’re a bagel enthusiast so we have to ask, what’s your go-to bagel?

I’m a purist. I like a fresh plain bagel. And I’m very particular about the way I eat it; it must be cut in half and I eat it untoasted and plain, with no butter or cream cheese. I know it sounds weird. But that’s the sign of a great bagel, if you can eat it plain like that! That being said, I will eat any traditional bagel (I’m not really into these artisan/gourmet bagels, with melted cheese on them and stuff like that). Maybe I should change my Twitter bio to “bagel purist…?” Wow, aren’t you sorry you asked? I just went deep on bagels!

What’s your life like off-set/stage?

Pretty normal, standard stuff! I’m a homebody, so I like to just hang out with my husband and our dogs…this quarantine hasn’t been so hard for me in that respect. I love game nights with our friends (we’ve been having some game nights over Zoom for the past month, which has been really fun!). I do a bunch of the aforementioned crossword puzzles, and I love to read!

Let the readers know where to find you online.

Instagram: @gwenstagram811

Twitter: @gwennyh811