Actress Mary Kate Wiles is best-known for her involvement in web series. This includes the Emmy-award winning Lizzie Bennet Diaries, in which she played ‘Lydia’, the title character’s sister and School of Thrones, which featured Mary Kate Wiles as Sansa Stark. Her comedic group, Shipwrecked, is also the driving creative force between YouTube series Edgar Allan Poe’s Murder Mystery Dinner Party.
Most recently, Mary Kate Wiles stars in the lead role in another web series; Wayward Guide for The Untrained Eye, created by the Tin Can Brothers (Joey Richter, Brian Rosenthal and Cory Lubowich). The cast also includes Sean Astin, Darren Criss and Steve Zaragoza.
Mary Kate Wiles sat down for a chat with Courageous Nerd to chat all about Wayward Guide, as well as some of her past projects.
Welcome, and thank you for taking the time to do this.
Mary Kate Wiles (MKW): Absolutely, thank you for having me.
Was there ever a time that you considered pursuing anything else as a career, besides acting?
MKW: [Laughs] Well, no. Although, I feel like many actors can probably relate. There have certainly been times where it’s been very slow, dry and difficult. That has made me wonder whether I should have pursued some other skills in my life. There’s never been a time that I wanted to pursue anything else, in terms of a career.
Thankfully, I stuck on long enough through those times that were difficult and I’m still going at it.
You play the lead role ‘Artemis Schue-Horyn’ in the web series Wayward Guide for the Untrained Eye. What was it about the character and concept of the show that made you want to be involved?
MKW: Well, it wasn’t necessarily the character and the concept. Although, I love the character and the concept. The series was made by my dear friends. I am a part of a group of creative collaborator friends that are constantly making things and it’s really wonderful to be a part of. It took me a long time to find this creative community.
Anytime is making something, obviously you hope that you’ll be asked to be part of it because it is A) just fun to get to work with your friends and B) I think the work that we are all creating, I’m biased, but I think it’s pretty top notch. When my friends The Tin Can Brothers asked me if I’d like to play the lead role in this new project they were planning, of course I was so excited to. That’s all I needed, but then of course I knew a little bit about the project at that time.
Getting to read the script and the cast is filled with a lot of other people from that community. Although, also some other wonderful actors that I hadn’t worked with before like Sean Astin. Yeah, it was just a dream. It’s always fun when your friends ask you to come play, especially when the work they are putting together is of such high quality.
Wayward Guide has a strong link to StarKid Productions. Joey Richter is a co-creator, the cast includes Darren Criss and Carlos Valdes. How would you describe your professional relationship with the group?
MKW: I first met Joey Richter back in 2013, when we did a series called School of Thrones together, which was a Game of Thrones parody. It did really well, it got millions of views pretty fast because it was very topical. I really liked working with him. I, at that time, had just been in a web series that was also very popular called The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.
The Lizzie Bennet cast was going to a lot of conventions like LeakyCon and other conventions that the StarKid crew was at. Through that and me working with Joey around that time as well. Joey became one of my greatest friends and biggest collaborators. I think he and I have been a part of, I don’t know, 6-8 projects together at this point now.
He’s wonderful and I love to work with him. It’s been really nice to get to know him and the rest of that group. Obviously, they have such a rabid fan following. I didn’t know who they were or what StarKid was before I met him. They too are just raising continually mind-boggling amounts of money through Kickstarter to continue to create these original musicals. It is so interesting and so different from what a lot of other groups do. They’re great and I’m super happy to be in their creative circle.
Likewise, my group, Shipwrecked Comedy, we’ve asked a lot of them to be in our things. It’s just a really talented bunch.
Through knowing the creative team prior to Wayward Guide, would you say you had more input into your character than if they’d found an actress they hadn’t worked with before?
MKW: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think so. That’s something I’ve kind of been reflecting on recently, in terms of this project. I think when you have a familiarity with the creators, it opens up more of a collaborative process than it would be if I didn’t know them.
I did a film called The Sound and The Shadow a few years ago as well in which I didn’t know the creators at the time when I got cast. We ended up being great friends and I feel like they really did let me bring a lot to the table in terms of how I wanted to play my character in that film, Ally. That can absolutely happen. If you are starting a project just having an easy relationship with the people who are creating it, I think it automatically lends itself to more collaboration, which I really appreciate.
Many of your scenes in Wayward Guide are alongside Steve Zaragoza as Artemis’ brother, Paul. How did you find developing a sibling relationship compared to interacting with characters that Artemis had never met before?
MKW: It’s funny, I was just thinking about that this morning. I have played a lot of sisters in my career, specifically Lizzie Bennet which was about 3 sisters. I think Steve is my first fake brother that I’ve really had. I did know Steve, a little bit. He was in a series called Frankenstein MD, which was a follow-up to The Lizzie Bennet Diaries from the same company, which I wasn’t involved in. I just knew him peripherally.
We didn’t actually work together until Wayward Guide. He makes it easy. He’s just a very open, warm, fun, silly guy. His character, Paul, is perfect for him in that it’s very much like him. He’s such a genuine, happy-go-lucky sort of fellow. It was really easy to immediately have that dynamic that Artemis and Paul have in the show. And yeah, he’s a joy. I really loved working with him and would love to do it again, he’s great.
In terms of a genre, Wayward Guide combines comedy and mystery. What would be your favourite genre to work in?
MKW: That’s a great question, I don’t think I have a favourite genre to work in. Ultimately, I love to do comedy. Of course, when I graduated acting school, I thought it was dramas only. I thought I was going to be this great dramatic actress, as I think a lot of young actors do. I do love to do dramas and I think there’s so much value in each.
I will say that I’ve gotten to be part of comedies that somehow find the drama and vice versa. I think that’s an important thing to do, in terms of making your stories more human. If you’re in a comedy, adding some drama, or if you’re in a drama, finding the comedy. It’s just so much more fun to work on a comedy. It’s so nice to be in a situation where you’re laughing all day every day as opposed to crying or running through the woods screaming;
With my group Shipwrecked especially, we really like to dabble in different genres. We also like to do mysteries as well. There’s definitely something fun about doing a mystery because you get to tease your audience and bring them along on this fun thing that you hope they’ll get really into. You hope that they will enjoy trying to crack and it’s a fun challenge trying to make something that is difficult to crack. I enjoy exploring different genres with Shipwrecked and hope to continue to.
Another cast member of Wayward Guide is Sean Astin who, for the most part, is playing against type. How would you describe acting opposite a different kind of Sean Astin than fans might be used to?
MKW: I am a gigantic Lord of The Rings fan. When I say gigantic, I love The Lord of The Rings. It’s the thing that made me want to be an actor. I must have seen those movies well over a hundred times. Obviously, this was a dream come true. Sean Astin is a legend. It’s Samwise who is the most important for me. I’ve seen Rudy, The Goonies, Stranger Things. He’s been in so many truly legendary projects.
I mean, to say that I was nervous and excited is an understatement. I couldn’t believe that this was going to happen to me. That I was going to act opposite Sean Astin, truly one of my heroes. He couldn’t have made it easier – so kind, so warm, so loving, open, and excited to be there. He wanted to do everything he could to make the scenes better. He just wanted to constantly run it with us.
Not at all like… you’d hear about or work with famous actors who keep to themselves on sets, especially on smaller independent sets like this. He was not like that at all. It was incredible, I was just pinching myself all day. At the end of the day, I got a second to tell him just how much his work has meant to me. He was so open to that and appreciative. It was a dream.
You’re also known for playing ‘Lydia Bennet’ on the Emmy-award winning YouTube series, The Lizzie Bennet diaries. What memories stand out from being involved in that project?
MKW: Man, I mean, so many. It was unlike anything I’ve ever done and probably unlike anything I’ll ever do again. It was just such an interesting project to be a part of because it ran for a full year and we were essentially shooting it month-to-month. All of our characters had Twitter and Instagram. People would talk to our characters online and we could see all of that happening. That really informed the way we played those characters.
It was such an interesting and singular acting experience to be living out the journey of this show in real-time. And obviously, the journey that Lydia goes on is pretty intense for anyone who hasn’t seen it. It was so cool and I’m very proud, very thankful. From an acting perspective, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Through all that, it’s led to the work that has come since sort of indirectly comes from me being a part of it.
Between Lizzie Bennet and Edgar Allan Poe’s Murder Mystery Dinner Party, there’s a theme in your work of reinventing classic literature. How much pressure, if any, is there in adapting something so well-known?
MKW: I am lucky that I am not a writer and was not the writer for either of those projects. So, the pressure is a little off my shoulders. Although, I will say that as Lizzie Bennet progressed, I became very protective of Lydia’s character and very involved with what was happening to her. Which again, was a gift that they let me be.
I think because of Lizzie Bennet and its popularity, it became clear that there is an audience who loves classic literature and wants to consume it in new, relevant, modern ways. I got a Literature degree in college and I never could have imagined that it would be coming so in handy in my career as an actor. But I think having that appreciation of literature, of story, only makes you a better actor or a better filmmaker.
In terms of character, there are so many rich characters to play within classic literature. Just because these are stories that were told 200-400 years ago, doesn’t mean that they’re not still relevant and are such great playgrounds to do things with today. With Poe Party in particular, we really take some license with some of these literary figures so it’s nice that our audience allows us to do that, comes along with us, and suspends the belief that it needs to be completely accurate all the time.
We’ve got a lot of messages from younger viewers saying: “Oh, you helped me with this English test because I knew who George Eliot was because of Poe Party.” Which is so cool. That makes you feel you’re doing something a little more important than… not that making things isn’t important, I think Entertainment has great value. It’s cool that the art you make can help somebody discover something that they might not have known before.
Looking at your own experiences, how beneficial do you think a platform like YouTube can be to those wanting to share their content?
MKW: The whole Entertainment landscape has changed so much in the past 10-15 years and is continuing to. YouTube is so amazing in that it allows anybody to create things and find an audience. I definitely encourage people to use it. I think it also hones your skills, I guess, if you’re a person that’s making content – narrative, music, whatever. Being able to put stuff out there and have people see it, get feedback.
For us and for me, in terms of the projects I’ve been a part of… obviously an an actor, you want to work. Commercials pay the most or TV pays the best. You want to be going after those jobs but nothing you do will have quite the same effect in terms of finding an audience and having a connection with that audience as the work you do digitally
. There’s just something about that community and the fact that they can just watch your show on YouTube. Then, click over and talk to you about it on Twitter. Or, make a gift set on Tumblr. That’s so awesome and so fulfilling because when you make work, you’re making it for people to watch it. You want people to see it. That validation is such a cool experience.
Aside from the budget, how different is working on a web series compared to network TV such as The Middle or Code Black?
MKW: [Laughs], Yeah, it’s pretty different. I have worked on network TV, I haven’t had any role over a long period of time on a network TV show. I’ve popped in for episodes. My experience is a little different. There’s good and there’s bad.
I think, and this is a whole different conversation, it’s difficult for the Actor’s Union to protect actors with digital content. For a long time, Netflix was under the same contract as a YouTube show and obviously,those are very different. It’s still something that’s kind of a work in progress.
We all want to do more TV and I hope for Shipwrecked, my group, that we can make shows for Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, if not network TV. Again, I ultimately wouldn’t trade the experiences I’ve had on smaller YouTube projects for anything. It’s very similar to doing independent films which is great and awesome, but as I said, at the end of the day, it’s a lot harder for independent films to find the audience you can find by putting your content up on YouTube.
Besides Wayward Guide, are there any other projects coming up that you’d like to mention?
MKW: Unfortunately, not really just because of the pandemic. Shipwrecked had plans this year to embark on our biggest project since Edgar Allan Poe’s Murder Mystery Dinner Party. But of course, those plans got put on hold. We are still very much planning to do that project, hopefully in 2021. That’s the main thing.
I also create on my own, on Patreon, I do an Anne of Green Gables podcast that I’m continuing to work on. Just looking forward to being able to be back on set and make things again at some point, someday. I know my group and a lot of my friends in this community have a lot of projects that we’re itching to get back to work on.
During this pandemic that we’re all living in what advice would you offer to fans of your work or you personally?
MKW: I think there is a lot of content out there that they can check out. Both in terms of what I’ve done and in general. I’ve been trying in the pandemic to catch up on books and things that I maybe haven’t had the chance to do before. If they are wanting to create things, there’s still so many avenues. Obviously, audio is such a good way to be making things right now.
Part of Wayward Guide is that there’s a podcast component and we made that this summer. It’s definitely challenging but hopefully a good challenge. Hopefully, there will be a lot of art that’s still able to come out of this time.
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