What with her incredible resume, you’d be forgiven for thinking that actress, producer and web vlog host, Mary Kate Wiles, never sleeps. Since receiving acclaim as Lydia Bennet in the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, Mary Kate has gone on to star in – and produce – content with the best of the best in web video. Méabh McDonnell chatted to Mary Kate about the development of web video, her advice to actors and which of her characters she would take for coffee.
1. How do you feel that webvideo and webseries have changed the landscape of media production? Are there more opportunities out there for actors?
Absolutely! There’s so much original work being made, and it’s wonderful. And it’s easier to get your own work out into the world and seen by people, which is really fantastic. I’ve done six full-length independent feature films, but the work I’ve done online has gotten me more acclaim than anything, and in a lot of ways has been more fulfilling because you have a direct connection to the people watching it. You can see the impact it’s making on people and get that instant gratification of knowing your work is being enjoyed. That’s really cool.
2. You’ve played so many iconic characters, Lydia Bennett, Annabell Lee, Anne of Green Gables, have you a favourite among any of them?
I get asked a lot if I have a favourite role, and my answer is always no. They’re like my children! I love them all equally. I’m almost always challenged in some new way with every role, and I love that. I love learning new things and being stretched in ways I haven’t before. They’ve all meant very important things to me at the times in my life that I played them.
3. It’s been five years and still your performance as Lydia strikes a chord with us, bringing a vulnerable side to a character who is often portrayed as comic relief/ cautionary tale. Are you surprised by how much fans related to Lydia?
Yeah, I think I am and certainly at first, I was. I never was particularly drawn to Lydia before playing her.
4. What impact has Lydia had on you?
She helped me learn to be more slow to judge. I am not a partier. I’m not much like Lydia on the surface, and I was probably more likely to fall into the Lizzie camp of thinking when it came to girls that exhibit the sort of behavior that Lydia does. But of course, there’s more to everyone than that. I think that is one of my favorite things about acting as a medium—you just become so much more empathetic to peoples’ situations, or the things that have made them the way that they are.
5. You’ve since gone on to star in films, tv shows, musicals, audiobooks and some of our favourite webseries, including Kissing in the Rain and Poe Party – do you have a favourite medium to work in?
I don’t know that I have a favourite, no. There are things that are different and interesting about each one and I’m always excited to try new things or inhabit new characters. The internet is particularly fun because of the interactivity of it all. I’ve done films that haven’t been seen until five years after I shot them. Usually with web, the turnaround is much quicker and you get to talk to the people who are watching what you made. That’s cool.
6. For Poe Party you were both starring and producing, did you find it difficult to juggle the two responsibilities?
Oh yes. Producing is one of the most difficult things a person can do. But I think all actors should do it because it gives you such a greater respect for everything that goes into the projects you work on. Actors have it easy. You just have to show up and get into costume and sit around until it’s your time to get on set and be silly and have fun. You don’t have to think about who sets out the snacks or who takes out the trash at the end of the day. Thankfully with Shipwrecked, and with the crew of Poe Party, there are so many talented, capable people running things, so we were always in good hands, even if some of us were busy being in scenes at any given moment.
“I think that is one of my favorite things about acting as a medium—you just become so much more empathetic to peoples’ situations, or the things that have made them the way that they are.”
7. You got to work with a veritable who’s-who of webseries on Poe Party, what were some of your favourite moments?
Oh gosh, we were just such silly goons. At that point, most of them—Ashley Clements, Joey Richter, Lauren Lopez—were people I knew and considered friends. And those that I didn’t know as well, well, nothing creates fast friends like being stuck in a dusty mansion having a fake murder party together. And obviously as a huge Parks and Recreation fan, working with Jim O’Heir was a dream come true. And any day I get to do what I love with the person I love the most—Sean Persaud—is the best sort of day. Seeing Sean get to exhibit his incredible talent is one of my greatest joys.
8. You also run your own vlog – we are particular fans of Craftversations – what do you find most enjoyable about running your own webshow?
Thank you! I love Craftversations. It’s probably my favorite thing that I do on my channel. It’s nice for me to have an outlet to be creative and be putting out content when other acting work is slow. And people seem to enjoy my behind the scenes, talking about the business of acting stuff, so I’m glad I can share that.
9. If you were giving advice to budding actors what would it be?
Gosh, there’s so much advice to be given. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got that has served me well is that work begets work. Take work. Audition for stuff. Make stuff. The more work you do, the more work you’ll get. Also, it’s going to be hard. It’s going to be a thousand times harder than you think it is. As for the actual acting part, the first acting professor I had at USC told us on the first day of class the thing that I think is most important thing I’ve learned in my entire career: listen.
10. Do you feel that there is more pressure on women working in the entertainment industry and if so, how do you combat this yourself?
I don’t think there’s more. There’s always been pressure on women, and there will continue to be. Men can fail constantly and still get jobs and women don’t have that luxury, and women have a limit on their success—men can have their big breaks at 40. That doesn’t happen so much with women. It’s getting better, but it’s still a very sexist industry, obviously. And I feel pressured too, to speak out about things, to stay quiet about things, to present a certain image of myself, to be beautiful, to be sexy, but not too sexy, to be real, but not too real—it’s exhausting, and it’s something I’ve struggled with and will probably continue to struggle with.
11. If you could meet one of your characters for coffee who would it be?
Lydia. I’d love to see how she’s doing.
Photo by Eric Carroll