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A Chat with Mary Kate Wiles – Her Path to Digital Fame

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Actress, producer, and creative Mary Kate Wiles is no stranger to digital fame. Over the past decade Wiles has been featured in a number of successful web series. Wiles stared in the groundbreaking Emmy award winning YouTube series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (2012), Squaresville (2012), and now Wayward Guide for the Untrained Eye (2020). Additionally, Wiles is a member of “Shipwrecked Comedy”, a Los Angeles based comedy production group. And, gifted with a divine voice for storytelling, Wiles produces a Podcast series, Anne of Green Gables, that features the classic tales of Lucy Maud Montgomery. Wiles does it all – but she knows all too well the hustle it takes to make it as an actress. In this interview, she discusses her background in english literature, her beauty routine, what she wishes she knew earlier, and how Quibi quickly failed to follow YouTube as a web series platform.

Q. Which of your characters do you most relate to? Do you take roles where the character is a lot like you, or do you prefer characters that are very different from you?

A. Oh wow. Well, in the past few years I feel like I’ve gotten used to playing characters that are very stylized – characters who have a very distinct voice, or accent, or way of carrying themselves which is very different from mine, and that’s made playing characters that are closer to me – like Artemis in Wayward Guide, who is fairly like me in voice and mannerisms – a lot more uncomfortable in some ways. I’ve found I have to trust myself and my instincts more when I don’t have a super character-y character to hide behind. But as far as which of my characters I relate to most, probably Zelda from Squaresville. She’s a teen and she just so desperately wants to get out of her town and do something big with her life, and that was very much me when I was a teen as well. She also holds everyone around her to an impossibly high standard, and I am kind of guilty of that, too. 

Q. How did your formal education at USC prepare you for your acting endeavors? Do you think it is a path more aspiring actors / actresses should consider?

A. I definitely wouldn’t change it – my time at USC was invaluable just in terms of the growing and learning and practicing my craft (as silly as that sounds) that I did. I do wish I had learned more about the actual business of acting – the day-to-day real life things you experience as an actor. Getting representation, working side jobs, doing taxes – all that. I didn’t really learn any of that in school and I think I would have benefited a lot if I had been able to learn those things ahead of time rather than spend the first few years of my career figuring them out on my own. But I think college is hugely important and I am glad I went to USC – I had a blast and I made connections with other alumni and professors that will last a lifetime. And I also studied English Literature and in a lot of ways I think that helped me become a better actor just as much as acting classes did. 

Q. Is there something that you know now that you wish you knew earlier in your acting career?

A. A lot of things, haha. Like I hinted at before, I wish someone had walked me through the whole process with agents and managers. I’m so, so happy with my agent now, but I spent a lot of time with agents who weren’t really doing anything for me and I didn’t realize that I could demand better from them. I wish I had had that confidence.

Q. Who has been the biggest motivator of your acting career?

A. This is sooooo cheesy, but…me. You can’t keep doing this career if you don’t get up every single day and want it. And there have been a lot of times for me that were really, really difficult. But at the end of the day, I keep going, because there’s nothing else I want to do with my life. Don’t get me wrong, I have a ton of support around me and I’m so thankful. My dad is a creative soul and I think he’s proud of me for embarking on this as a career. My mom took a little more time to warm up to the idea, but now she’s very supportive. And for the past (nearly) seven years my partner Sean has supported me and I have supported him, and we get a lot of joy out of helping each other succeed. But yeah, when it all comes down to it, it’s up to you. You’re the one who has to want it the most.  

Q. What is your beauty routine? What are the products that you cannot live without?

A. Oooh. Well, I love makeup and I always have. I used to experiment with a ton of looks, but now I’ve kind of settled into a routine. I’m a big fan of L’Oreal True Match foundation.  I love Maybelline’s Age Rewind Concealer, and I always always always have to fill in my brows with a Rimmel brow pencil, because my hair is naturally blonde and my eyebrows are too. I’m constantly trying out different skin products, but CeraVe moisturizer has been my best friend recently.

As for my beauty routine, if I have to see people I will put on a full face of makeup. I always have – my features are very light and I feel like I disappear without makeup. If I’m in a hurry I whittle it down to just concealer, eyebrow pencil, mascara and lip balm. But most days I do the whole thing. It’s also, like, part of my routine – listening to the news while I put makeup on, getting ready for my day. I also do masks a couple times a week and steam my face at home. Trying to use this at-home time during the pandemic to nurture my skin as much as possible!

Q. In your new Podcast, Anne of Green Gables, you read the classic tales of Lucy Maud Montgomery. How did you come up with the idea to start this podcast? 

A. Yeah! Well, this idea was born out of my Patreon – I have a Patreon (and have had for over six years), which is a way that people who like my work can support me as an actor and also become a part of my community. Since I’m not a writer and it’s very hard to creating “acting” work in a vaccuum without other filmmaking artists, it’s been a challenge for me to figure out what sort of thing I can offer as a perk. Musicians can write songs; artists can draw – there’s only so many monologues one can do. So, considering that a lot of the work I’ve done has been based on classic literature – The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, Edgar Allan Poe’s Murder Mystery Dinner Party – I started to think about that and realized that I could read a book, and bring in other actor friends to read the different characters, and add sound effects, etc. And classic literature is in the public domain so it’s all fair game. My patrons actually voted on Anne of Green Gables – I gave them a few different books to choose from – and I’m so glad they did. It’s been such a fun project and I’ve so enjoyed experiencing the story again in this way. 

Q. The Lizzie Bennet DiariesSquaresville, and Wayward Guide for the Untrained Eye have garnered lots of views. How do you think YouTube has evolved as a format for episodic TV?

A. You know, when Quibi was announced it kept being advertised as “quick bites” and this revolutionary way of storytelling, myself and all the digital creators I know just had to roll our eyes because, come on. We’ve been doing this for YEARS. The internet has made our attention spans very short! And I think digital storytellers have found ways of telling some truly compelling narratives over a series of short episodes. That said, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is actually the longest adaptation of Pride & Prejudice ever made at over eight hours long – but told over many, many five minute episodes. I think it’s clear that digital storytelling is having an impact and traditional networks are starting to realize and try and copy this format. My only hope is that they would – instead of trying to do it themselves – start hiring some of these YouTube writers/creators that have been making content in the digital space for the past ten years, because we understand it. We’ve proved it over and over again – The Lizzie Bennet Diaries won an Emmy, for goodness sakes! Felicia Day, like, pioneered webseries with The Guild! And she recently tweeted that Quibi wouldn’t even take a meeting with her. I just thought that was the stupidest thing. Lots of cool and engaging stories are being told via YouTube series and I hope traditional networks – or digital networks like Amazon and Netflix – will take more notice. 

Q. In these different YouTube projects that you have been a part of, how much creative control were you given? Was the creative process fluid or traditional? 

A. I mean, it’s a case by case basis, but I have found that no matter the project, if I have a good relationship with the director/writer/creator, it just inherently becomes collaborative. I took that a step further with Shipwrecked Comedy when I came on as a producer for Edgar Allan Poe’s Murder Mystery Dinner Party – and have gone on to produce many projects with them. But even with projects that I wasn’t producing on, like The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, I think when you’re all in the trenches together creating low-budget narratives, it just can’t help but become collaborative. Or maybe it is for me because I care so much, haha. I may be just an actor, but I want to do everything I can to help make the project the best it can be. And I have wonderful collaborative creator friends who are kind enough to let me chime in every now and again.

Q. You’ve tackled Theater, YouTube series, Podcasts, Production; what would you like to do next? 

A. Oh man. Well, I wouldn’t say no to more steady TV work. And I’ve really loved recording the podcast for Wayward Guide – I’d love to do more VO/audio acting in the future. And Shipwrecked has a lot of big ideas for big budget series – I hope we get to make them someday. 

Q. Do you have any upcoming projects that you can tell us about? Where should we look forward to seeing you?

A. We haven’t announced what it is yet, but Shipwrecked had plans to do another big multi-episode series this year, but of course the pandemic put that on hold. But we’re still planning on crowdfunding in early 2021 and hopefully will be able to shoot and start releasing next year as well. It’ll be a return to our roots in some ways, but also something new and completely different than anything we’ve done before, and I’m very excited about it. Other than that, I’ll be continuing to release Anne of Green Gables episodes for the foreseeable future. And just waiting for the next big adventure! 

Be sure to check out Mary Kate’s Instagram, YouTube, and Webpage to keep up with her ongoing and upcoming projects! 

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Images provided by Christopher Higgins and Eric Carroll