Catching Up With The Multi-Talented Mary Kate Wiles (HEADLESS: A SLEEPY HOLLOW STORY, THE FAIRLY ODDPARENTS: FAIRLY ODDER)
Acclaimed actor/singer/podcaster/producer Mary Kate Wiles (The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, Young Sheldon, Edgar Allan Poe’s Murder Mystery Party, I Ship It) continues to build a superb track record of playing and creating memorable characters on-screen while bringing successful, independently-produced content to audiences through record crowdfunding efforts on Kickstarter and her own Patreon page, and in partnership with her collaborators in frequently honored acting troupe/production company Shipwrecked Comedy: actors/producers Sean and Sinéad Persaud and Sarah Grace Hart.
As a performer, Wiles’ versatility comes through in two of her newest projects: Nickelodeon/Paramount+’s new live-action/animated reboot of the classic toon The Fairly OddParents (titled The Fairly Oddparents: Fairly Odder), and Shipwrecked’s upcoming Headless: A Sleepy Hollow Story, which turns Washington Irving’s terrifying short story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow into a hilarious “odd couple” scenario where both the Headless Horseman and Ichabod Crane (played by Wiles’ real life fiance Sean Persaud) are suddenly forced to live with each other under the same roof.
In Headless, Wiles — who also co-produced the series and co-funded its successful Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign with the Persauds — plays the lovely farmer’s daughter Katrina “Kat” van Tassel, who suddenly becomes the top object of affection for both the easily scared science teacher Ichabod and the “dope, chill and woke” phys ed instructor Abraham “Bron Bones” van Brunt (played by Gabe Greenspan). All 10 episodes of Headless will stream on Shipwrecked’s YouTube channel (linked to below) later this year.
Fairly Odder features Wiles as a human version of FOP’s animated diabolical babysitter-turned school disciplinarian Vicky. Just as she tormented the original series’ protagonist Timmy Turner, Vicky now makes life a living hell for his cousin Viv (played by The Flight Attendant’s Audrey Grace Marshall, who, amazingly, also co-stars with Wiles in Headless) and her stepbrother Roy (Tyler Wladis).
Luckily, Timmy’s former guardians Cosmo (voiced by Daran Norris) and Wanda (voiced by Susanne Blakeslee) are there at a moment’s notice to help them fend off both Vicky and whatever enemies come their way — even if Viv and Roy’s new fairy godparents wreak a lot of havoc as they grant the two youngsters’ every wish.
Wiles lends her singing talents to Fairly Odder’s season 1 finale, which features the return of another fan favorite villain from FOP — the equally evil teacher Mr. Crocker (Carlos Alazraqui) — as he and Vicki kidnap Cosmo and Wanda and force them to join the dark side in their pursuit of fairy world domination.
Meanwhile, Headless continues Wiles’ thriving union with the history-focused Shipwrecked Comedy; a teaming that’s resulted in multitudinous skits, songs, short films and web series which have attracted over 5 million views and raised over $200,000 in production funding.
Having also struck it big with her audio adaptations of legendary author Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea, Wiles recently shared with me her recollections of the challenges and thrills of working on both Headless and Fairly Odder.
Chris Hadley: You play the evil babysitter/teacher Vicky in Nickelodeon’s new live-action/animated series The Fairly Oddparents: Fairly Odder. As both an actor and singer, what intrigued you about this role and how did you prepare for it?
Mary Kate Wiles: I’m going to be honest with you — me landing the role of Vicky happened very fast, and it wasn’t something I specifically sought out. It was just another audition that came my way from my agent. I had never seen any of the original FOP and I had no idea who Vicky was when I got the audition. I immediately Googled her, of course, and I went, “Oh, this is big,” but I didn’t have a ton of time to do much research.
I think I had a weekend to make the tape (and I had another 12 page audition to do that same weekend), turned it in on Monday, found out I got the job on Wednesday, and started on set a week later. I didn’t have a ton of time to prepare, so I just had to go with my instincts and hope that my interpretation of the role aligned with the creators’ vision. As for the singing, there was no planned singing when I auditioned. They heard me sing a little on set for episode 4, and I think that led to them deciding to give me a song in the finale.
CH: What do you feel makes your portrayal of Vicky unique from that of the original animated series’ version of that character (then performed by Grey DeLisle)?
MKW: I honestly still haven’t watched all of Vicky’s episodes from the original! There’s just so many. I didn’t have the time (to watch them) but I tried to watch as many of her episodes as I could while we were shooting just to help get her and the things that have canonically happened to her in my brain and bones.
I tried to not focus so much on exactly matching Grey DeLisle’s voice, but rather just her general vibe and mannerisms, and (I tried to) translate them to live action as best I could. I had to give up on being a perfect match of this well-established character, because I feel like that’s impossible and on a certain level would just set me up for failure.
Vicky’s older now — she’s still the same (evil) person, but her voice is a little different and her hair has changed and she maybe wants some different things. I personally love how vulnerable they let this version of Vicky be in this series — that’s so fun to play; a villain who is genuinely terrible, but you maybe feel for them a little bit. The writers gave me so many fun things to do as Vicky and I’m so grateful.
CH: What were some of your favorite aspects of playing this new version of Vicky, and what were the most challenging parts of your performance in the series?
MKW: Like I said, I love the vulnerability that they showed with her, but also (I love) that they gave me so many different sides of her to play — mean, angry, gleeful, happy, enraptured, obsessive, scheming, creepy, embarrassed, defensive, you name it. They really wrote me a playground and I’m so grateful (for the role).
I think what was most challenging was just how new the format was for me. This was my first time working on a multi-cam and they move fast — we’d get the scripts on Tuesday, rehearse Thursday and Friday, shoot Monday, Tuesday (and) Wednesday, then do it all again.
Then within that rehearsal time we were also doing wardrobe fittings, hair and makeup tests, learning choreography for dances or recording songs — it’s non-stop but it’s a very collaborative environment, and it’s all moving so fast that you don’t really have time to get in your head about anything. Once I got the hang of it, I really enjoyed it.
CH: Given that this is a hybrid live-action/animated series, how did you approach the scenes that involved interacting with the zany yet caring “oddparents” Cosmo (Daran Norris) and Wanda (Susanne Blakeslee)?
MKW: I actually don’t have too many scenes with them, so I didn’t have to worry about that too much. We had two awesome stand-ins, Dre Swain and Jen Kater, on set doing Wanda and Cosmo with little cutouts of them on the ends of sticks. I am looking forward to hopefully eventually meeting Daran and Susanne — my fiance and I are big fans of Daran from Veronica Mars!
CH: Besides Fairly Odder, you’ll be appearing in another project with your friends/longtime collaborators at Shipwrecked Comedy — the new series Headless: A Sleepy Hollow Story, where you play the main love interest to Ichabod Crane (Sean Persaud), Katrina van Tassel. What was it like working on Headless, how did you prepare yourself for playing it, and what can viewers expect from your character?
MKW: I could write for pages on the experience of making Headless. It’s the biggest project Shipwrecked’s produced yet, and it was the hardest thing any of us have ever done. Going from a Nickelodeon multi-cam to an independently produced, fairly grounded digital series, the two experiences could not have been more different, but I’m incredibly proud of Headless.
I love how Sean and Sinead (our writers) have played with this classic tale, and how they’ve updated the characters from the original — including my character, Kat — to modern times. I really loved discovering who Kat was from the inside out for this, as opposed to Vicky, who was built from the voice and movement first. Kat’s very nonchalant and witty, but there’s a lot going on with her internally, and questions she’s seeking answers to. She was a lot of fun.
CH: In what ways (if any) will you be bringing your singing and acting talents to the forefront for both Headless and Fairly Odder?
MKW: Like I mentioned before, I got to sing in Fairly Odder, which was such a surprise and a joy! While Headless is fairly musical (we have a bard character, “Diedrich Knickerbocker”, brilliantly played by Jon Cozart), I don’t do any singing in it, but that’s fine. I’ve done my fair amount of singing in other Shipwrecked projects, and both Headless and Fairly Odder had me acting in new ways I’ve never quite done before, and that’s always exciting.
CH: Headless is the latest project you’ve worked on with Shipwrecked, following your partnerships with them on shows like Edgar Allan Poe’s Murder Mystery Dinner Party and the short film The Case of the Gilded Lady. Besides the opportunity to reunite with the team responsible for those acclaimed projects, what was it about this series — and the character you played in it — that made you want to be part of the show?
MKW: With Shipwrecked, it’s never a question of whether or not I will be involved. I am a part of Shipwrecked because I passionately believe in Sean and Sinead Persaud as storytellers, and I will do whatever I have to (do) to make sure their visions come to life. Whatever roles they feel inspired to write for me — be they big or small — I am very grateful for. It’s such a joy and an honor to have a role written for you, and I don’t take it flippantly. I just always hope I can do their vision justice, and wherever they decide they want to go, project-wise, I’ll follow them there and I’ll do what I can to make it a success.
CH: In what ways is your work on Headless unique not just from your past collaborations with Shipwrecked but also your previous roles in general?
MKW: We talked about this a lot on set — Headless is Shipwrecked’s first project set in modern times, and it also is a lot more grounded in a lot of ways than projects we’ve done in the past. I mean, it’s still very zany, with some out-there characters and a Headless Horseman walking around and talking to people, for goodness’ sake, but Poe Party was this madcap murder mystery, and Gilded Lily was a very stylized send-up of film noir.
The world of Headless feels a little less heightened than those projects, and all the characters in it feel a little more like real people. I think as an actor I feel a little exposed when I don’t have big mannerisms or an accent or a specific voice to hide behind, and that was the case with Kat. So with characters like that, it becomes about trusting your instincts and digging into the relationships your character has with the other characters in the show. It was a fun challenge.
CH: Along with Sean and his sister Sinead, you’re also part of Shipwrecked’s production team, and together you’ve all run successful Kickstarter campaigns to fund the company’s many projects. Tell me more about those sides of your work, how you personally balance the responsibilities of being an actor and producer, and how that work has helped to make Headless’ production possible.
MKW: Being an actor can be very difficult because you’re constantly waiting on your next gig, auditioning for things and not getting them, and so much is out of your control. So I find producing my own or Shipwrecked’s projects sort of helps me fill that void in between acting gigs.
In terms of the (producer) role I play with Shipwrecked, I do a lot of the planning of our Kickstarters (along with the other members of the group of course), I handle most of our social media, I generally write the emails and organize all our meetings, I connect us with cast and crew. Then on set I just do everything.
I can’t always turn my brain off and let other people do their jobs. Sometimes that gets in the way, and then other times it turns out to be a good thing. Everybody is wearing many hats and there’s just always entirely too much to do at one time, so it’s good to have each other’s backs and double check each other.
CH: You’ve also got a Patreon crowdfunding page, where donors can see exclusive behind-the-scenes content from and updates on your current and future projects. How can people contribute to it, what dollar levels are available for them, and how will this funding help to make your future work possible?
MKW: Patreon has been absolutely invaluable to me over the years. It has allowed me to create things like my Anne of Green Gables radio play podcast, and it also supports me in times like now when I’m in between jobs. I do my best to be really honest with my patrons about what all my acting career entails — both the exciting and the disappointing. I’m a lot more forthcoming with them about what sort of things I’m auditioning for and what my day-to-day life behind the scenes is like.
Some of the various perks I offer are a (behind-the-scenes) Instagram, a monthly podcast where I interview my colleagues and talk in-depth about my experience on various projects, a weekly watch party of my shows, a full catalog of over 30 play readings I’ve done with my actor friends, access to the third book in my Anne series, Anne of the Island, and a detailed career log with all my meetings and auditions documented for my highest level patrons.
CH: Does any of that exclusive content pertain to Headless and Fairly Odder?
MKW: A little! Shipwrecked has its own Patreon (page) and of course Kickstarter backers of Headless get behind the scenes updates, so I want to respect that and not give too much away on my own Patreon. With Fairly Odder, I obviously couldn’t say much when we were shooting because my involvement (in the show and) Vicky as a character hadn’t even been announced yet, but if I’m on set, I usually share little sneak peeks of stuff that doesn’t give anything away when I can. I’ve been doing watch parties with my $15+ patrons of the Fairly Odder episodes so that I can provide some real-time commentary on what shooting them was like.
CH: On that note, what are some of the other creative projects that you’re working on, and what’s the status of those production-wise?
MKW: Honestly, that’s basically it for now! Shipwrecked is starting to look ahead and think about what we want to do post-Headless, so we’re in the very early stages of that. Otherwise I’m just trying to spend some time on my personal life and needs — Sean and I just got engaged, and (I’m) crossing my fingers for a Fairly Odder season 2!
Connect with Mary Kate on the web: www.marykatewiles.com
On Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/mkwiles
On Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/mkwiles
On Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/marykatewiles
Support Mary Kate’s creative work on Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/mkwiles
Shipwrecked Comedy’s web site: http://www.shipwrecked-comedy.com/