Meet The Next Generation Of Hollywood Royalty

Hollywood has no shortage of brightly shining, IMDB-dominating, insanely high-net-worth stars. They win awards, headline marquees, and have instant name-recognition the world over. But, these aren't necessarily the industry pros we find most fascinating. For us, it's the ladies still forging their paths and making every break bigger than the last who we really gravitate toward. Case in point: the eight exceptionally talented women ahead, who are standing on the precipice of major stardom, poised to change the industry forever.
Among the pack is a fearless debut director who's refreshingly uncensored, an agent who's booking A-listers you already obsess (from Miley Cyrus to Demi Moore), a YouTuber who just landed a Bravo show, and a comedian who's leaving SNL for even bigger opportunities. And, they all have one thing in common: They're totally unstoppable. We're banking on these women because they're challenging all of our preconceived notions about what success in Hollywood should look like. Plus, they're funny. Like, pee-your-pants-a-little funny.
Since these captivating and crazy-creative ladies are skyrocketing ahead at lightning speed, we're pretty confident that the best is still ahead of them. Which is great, because if there's anything we love more than a success story, it's being able to say "we knew her when…"
Photographed by Rene & Radka.
For most comedians, landing a coveted spot on SNL is basically the holy grail of casting wins. But, this is not a story about getting the dream job; it's a story about leaving it. Last season, after five years of bringing memorable characters like Arianna Huffington and Kim Kardashian to our Saturday nights, Nasim Pedrad high-tailed it out of 30 Rockefeller. Her next move was basically fated, and with her star turn in the soon-to-debut sitcom Mulaney generating loads of critical acclaim (in the form of Seinfeld comparisons), it may also be a career-making one.
When Mulaney debuts on October 5, Pedrad will introduce us to Jane, the female lead. But, the show still stays close to her roots: It stars and is written by former SNL writer John Mulaney, and is executive produced by Lorne Michaels. "It feels very much like it’s in the family still," she told us. And, the members of this family seriously have each other's backs. In fact, it was Tina Fey who first suggested Pedrad get invited to audition for SNL after seeing her one-woman show, Me, Myself, and Iran at the Groundlings theater. Much like Fey’s own departure from SNL, Nasim's next step is looking like it could catapult this funny lady into a whole new stratosphere of stardom.
When was the first time you realized you were funny?
“I was in elementary school and, as a way of fitting in, I sort of stumbled upon the currency of telling jokes."
When did you realize that this could be a career? Something you could pursue for the long term?
"When I started doing improv after college; and then at the Groundlings I also started to write more. That was instrumental in my trajectory, because I realized the value in creating opportunities for myself as an actor instead of waiting around for the right audition to come along that I’m then competing with all these other people for. So, I began writing there, and I wrote a one-woman show called Me, Myself, and Iran, and that’s sort of what led to the whole process of getting to SNL.”
What was the audition like?
“It wasn’t lost on me that it was an incredible opportunity, even just to get the audition itself. And, it’s so hard even just to get those five minutes on that stage in front of those people, that even getting through it feels like an accomplishment in and of itself, because there’s only one show like that, you know? So, then to prepare for it and go there and get through it, you’re kind of like, whatever happens happens. I auditioned the first time with five or six different characters and impressions. And, then I found out they wanted to see me again in a couple weeks, and went back and did a completely new audition with different characters and impressions. And then, after that they said, ‘okay Lorne wants to meet with you.’”
Photographed by Rene & Radka.
So, how did you finally hear the news?
“I was wandering in Midtown, and then my phone died. I went to a store to charge it, and when I turned it on I had like, five voicemails. It was really exciting. I was very grateful to Tina Fey; she saw my one-woman show and suggested to them that I get the opportunity to audition."
How did you come to the decision to leave the show? What was that feeling like?
“Everyone knows there’s nothing like SNL, so I [didn’t] think it would ever be an easy departure, but I knew I couldn’t pass on this opportunity to play Jane. I got five years there; that’s pretty great.”
Which characters will you miss playing most?
Shallon and Heshy were two characters I played last season. Shallon was really fun to play this last season, because she was just a full idiot, and we were able to really have fun writing that one.”
None of us have seen Mulaney yet. So, give us a preview of Jane. What do we have to look forward to?
“She is a character I think a lot of women can relate to. John [Mulaney, the show’s writer and star] jokes that she’s obsessed with justice but has zero jurisdiction whatsoever over anything that happens in her life. And, she lives with these two stand-up comedians whose profession she could care less about. When John and I were trying to figure out who the character was, when he was writing the pilot for Fox, we had a two-hour discussion about this Huffington Post article that talked about using the word 'crazy' to describe a woman and the implications of that. And, it ended up making it into the pilot — Jane's first line in the entire show is, 'I am not crazy.' I think what some people call crazy can also just be having a dynamic personality. A lot of girls that get called crazy are just some of the most dynamic women out there.
“It cracks me up, because my guy friends will want to date dynamic women, and sometimes they’ll be like, 'That girl, I can’t. She was just so crazy.' Well, was she crazy or was she just interesting and dynamic? Also, you wouldn’t want to be with someone not that way. You never hear a guy say, 'Oh my God, I’m so into this chick. She’s like so moderate.’”
Photographed by Rene & Radka.
Great point. What kind of similarities do you and Jane share?
“She’s very vocal and says a lot of the things that most people would self-edit. I’m not the best at bottling things up inside. In some ways it’s healthy, in other ways I guess it can terrify people at times. But, you know, she’s not passive-aggressive — she’s just aggressive. She’ll tell you exactly what’s on her mind, sometimes loudly and in a room full of people. But, you can trust that she’ll call people out on their shit. And, she has zero tolerance for idiots.”
Looking at the entertainment industry as a whole, what's your current perception of women in the space?
“I’m almost surprised people are still talking about it like it’s this novel, new thing. I grew up, borderline learned English, watching I Love Lucy. So, that was my example of just a funny person. She happened to be a woman, and was doing things that no one else had done at that time. But, first and foremost she was just an incredible performer and comedian.”
What makes you excited about the future of female comedians and female writers?
“The thing I’m most excited about is women in comedy being such a normal thing that no one’s surprised by it anymore. And, I feel like we’re way past needing to prove that that can be done. Obviously, in the last few years, there have been movies and TV shows that have shown that they can also be commercially successful.”
Do you recall any lessons that you picked up from a co-worker, from SNL or elsewhere, that helped your process?
“I remember [Will] Forte telling me — telling Jenny [Slate] and me when we started SNL — that that particular job, try to think of that job as a marathon and not a sprint. Because, it’s obviously so physically and emotionally taxing, you have to be able to last. In a lot of ways it’s a game of survival.”
Photographed by Rene & Radka.
What’s the absolute best piece of advice you could give to someone who wants to have a career like yours?
“I think if you’re interested in comedy, the best thing you could do is to put yourself in a school like the Groundlings or UCB, and provide yourself with that structure of taking classes, performing, learning, growing, even failing sometimes, and growing from that. You have to just do it. And, that’s one way to do it — to sign up for classes and immerse yourself in a community of other people that also love to perform.
“Another piece of advice: I remember our first day in the theater department at UCLA, they told us, 'If there’s anything else you’d be happy doing in your life, do it, because this is not an easy industry.' And, on some level, that’s true. You really have to love it and not be able to live without it — you’d be crazy doing this without absolutely loving it.”
Your parents brought your family here from Iran when you were three. What do they think about your success as a comedy actress?
“What’s really cool is that they were always incredibly supportive, even though I’m sure on the inside they were shitting their pants that they immigrated here and that their daughter, with a four-year degree, decided to pursue comedy. I’m not sure they even knew what that meant or was going to look like. But, that’s what makes me even more grateful that they were supportive of it. And, then my little sister also went into comedy, and at that point they were just like, 'What happened? How did this happen?'"
Since you have so much experience with improv and live performance, any advice for thinking on your toes?
“I remember my first show on SNL. I got a card from Kristen Wiig. I opened it, and on the inside it just said, 'Have fun.' It’s so simple, but an incredibly easy thing to forget when you’re in a pressure cooker like that. I’m so grateful to have been reminded to do that, because I think when you’re having fun, especially in comedy, it really shows.”
Hair by Bethany Brill; Makeup by Riku ; Styled by Emily Holland ; Photographed by Rene & Radka.
Look 1: Apiece Apart shirt and pants; Topshop coat; Italia Independent sunglasses; Alexis Bittar rings.
Look 2: Chadwick Bell dress; American Apparel T-shirt; Adidas sneakers.
The Actress: Tessa Thompson
Photographed by Rene & Radka.
Tessa Thompson walked onto our set dressed in jeans and a tee, warding away the L.A. heat with a paper fan. When we first sat down to chat, she happily jumped into conversation about how she's learning to take care of a collection of succulents she was recently gifted from her sister. It's this cool, casual, and easy-to-befriend attitude that could almost make you forget the blockbuster success that no doubt is coming for the actress. But, that would be a mistake. Expect to hear some very real Oscar buzz around her in the next few months — or expect to be caught sleeping.
With past credits including Tyler Perry's For Colored Girls and the cult TV show Veronica Mars, Thompson's face is likely already familiar to most. In the Sundance hit Dear White People, in wide release this October, we’ll see the 30-year-old in a brand new light. She plays Sam White, the fiery lead. "For me, it’s been characters that are a bit more vulnerable and going through crisis and people that are a bit softer," she says of her former roles, "And, Sam White is none of those things."
Of course, like any star on the rise, the best way to follow up one hit is with another. And, for Thompson, that means the Oprah and Brad Pitt-produced MLK, Jr. biopic, Selma due out in early 2015. Once again, she's taking on a powerful woman, portraying a young Diane Nash — a formidable member of the sit-in movement of the '60s. But, none of this seems to phase her. Thompson talks about the months ahead with a cool, calm, clear-headed approach. She's just riding this exciting wave and soaking in every possible experience along the way. Right into awards season, we suspect.
Professional actors are essentially professional auditioners. So, what do you think makes for a perfect audition?
“If I leave the room feeling like I had an actual experience, then it doesn’t matter if I get it or anything. Also, I think an audition is — and, it’s kind of cliché — it’s kind of like a first date. Everyone’s just trying to fall in love. And, you’re trying to fall in love with that experience and inhabiting this person and what it feels like on you — and they’re trying to fall in love with you. Beyond that, you’re really inviting someone into how you work, and that’s a really personal thing."
Tell me about Dear White People. Why is this project special to you?
"I just fell in love with it when I read. I hadn’t had that experience in a long time, of reading something and feeling like in my stomach that it was something that I would feel a pang of regret if I didn’t get to do. That’s exciting. Just to be a part of a project that has something to say or at least has some questions to ask. Also, as a woman, it’s hard to find characters that are not just the object of the narrative, but the subject of the narrative in a way. And, the character that I get to play in Dear White People, Sam White, is definitely that. That happening in Hollywood more and more is important, because it just changes the climate.”
How do you identify with Sam White? What did it take to prepare?
“That process was so fun, but also very scary. I had never worked on satire, and I haven’t done a lot of comedy. She, in her own way, is having an existential crisis, but would never tell anybody that that’s the case. She’s very rough around the edges, certainly an axe to grind and a chip on her shoulder. So, that was really fun. And, she’s really funny: She’s wry and biting. Then, also, I think as far as the iconography of the film, she’s just fun fashion-wise. She’s just really bold and has this crazy, really vertical, structural hair. So, it was fun as far as the process of finding her, to find her voice and how she sits and how she feels about things. But, also, just inhabit this person that had such a clear style and persona. And, the people that I love, like Mae West and Eartha Kitt and people that really live in that space of being — of having this persona which in some ways is created — it was fun to do that with Sam White.”
Photographed by Rene & Radka.
Were there any specific parts of her that really felt personal to you?
“Totally. The movie is about race in America, but it’s also just about identity. And, I think sometimes where identity intersects with race or conflicts with race, sometimes you have things that are true about yourself that you think can’t reconcile with how society sees you or what their expectation is. I definitely went through a period in high school where I couldn’t sort out, I think, because I’m multiracial, but also couldn’t sort out because I’m multifaceted — how some things that I dug could exist with other things that I liked. I really liked Wu-Tang, for example, but I also really liked Joni Mitchell, and I somehow thought that those were in conflict. I couldn’t figure out how to be fluid about my identity, and I think a lot of that has to do with the personal identity thing, but also with race. So, I definitely shared that with Sam White. The movie isn’t even out, but I’ve had so many people, especially young women, come up to me and be like, 'I’m so excited for your movie.' And, I think that’s what they’re looking for. They’re looking for a story that speaks to them, that tells their story.”
Who do you go to for advice? Do you have a mentor?
“The first professional play I ever did was a production of Romeo and Juliet, and I met my best friend, Ryan Spahn. He was across the table from me at the table read, wearing a shirt that said, ‘When do we get to have sex?’ And, he’s just incredible. He just graduated from Juilliard. He’s an actor, but he also writes. He and his partner Michael Urie and I (among others) produced a film together two summers ago, called Grantham and Rose. He’s just been my friend now for forever. He’s the person I go, 'Am I crazy? Do you like this? Is this good?' And, make audition tapes with him. Yeah, he’s my guy.”
Has there been a specific nugget of wisdom from him that stands out?
“I’m someone that’s really obsessed with the word ‘yes’ as a concept — I’m incredibly yes-oriented. I think that’s my next tattoo, somewhere on my body. But, I have a harder time with the word ‘no,’ and he’s helped me understand that there’s nothing wrong with the world ‘no,’ and that the word ‘no’ doesn’t stop anything from happening — sometimes, it allows other things to happen. So, I guess I’ve been in the middle of a ‘no’ year, and he’s been really useful — just realizing that, as much as you’re defined by the things that you do, you’re defined by the things that you don’t.”
Photographed by Rene & Radka.
What’s important to you about finding stories and roles that have a larger message about society as a whole? Is that something you look for in your work?
“It’s paramount. There are certainly actors that I admire and that I look at and go, 'Wow, you have in your way changed the world.' Like, Robin Williams. 'You showed us about humanity, about how fragile and how ugly it is, and that is incredible.' For most people, even to be a working actor is a gift, and you don’t necessarily get to affect people’s lives in that way, in the way Robin Williams did. So, for me, I was like, 'Well, what can I do that I know will have an effect on the world?' For me, it was, well, go into politics. Or, do something like urban planning, or become a lawyer or doctor. You do something where you get to contribute. So, when I decided to pursue acting, I had some issue with that — with the sustainability. If at one point I would feel like, 'What am I really doing?' So, I guess these sorts of projects — like Dear White People, or the last movie I just did, called Selma, about the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — I mean, to look at these images from Ferguson and some of the images, just a still from our movie, and see the parallel is so striking. So, I feel a great sense of gratitude for being able to work on projects that I think have something to say and to offer to us now. I never even thought of the idea of legacy, but regardless of what we do, we’re here and we leave our mark on the world around us.”
What attracted you most to Selma?
“So many things attracted me to the project. I mean, Ava DuVernay — I’ve just been a fan from afar. She’s a woman that started out in publicity and wanted to make movies, and penned her first two scripts — again, stories with strong, central female characters, and also give voice to people that don’t necessarily have it. Then, she wrote this really beautiful script that tells a story that we all think we’re familiar with, of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the historical events during the Civil Rights Movement. But, she tells them in a way that’s incredibly personal and deconstructs King in a way that you really get to see him as a human, and in a way that you realize that these people are not heroes. None of them were born heroes. They’re people that looked at what was happening around them and felt compelled to action, and through their combined efforts changed the world. And, to be in a movie that’s produced by Brad Pitt and Oprah is not too shabby. Basically, I was like, 'I’ll do anything. I’ll be a tree in this movie. Whatever you need';"
Photographed by Rene & Radka.
How are you preparing, with two movies out so soon, to be in the spotlight? This is going to be a huge season for you.
“Now you made me nervous, because I’m not doing anything to prepare for it.”
Have you not thought about it?
“I try not to. First off, I haven’t seen Selma, so I cannot wait to see what it amounts to. And, Dear White People, I’m just so interested in what the real audience, not the festival audience, makes of it. So, in that way, I’m really excited for both things. But, as far as anticipating how it’ll go, I try not to think all that far ahead. But, you just reminded me, as far as preparing for this busy time, I should get a full-length mirror. I don’t own a full-length mirror, and I go through periods where I’ll just dress myself sometimes, and I make very impulsive decisions. It’s been brought to my attention, by myself, because I had to look at some photographs of myself, and I was like, 'Huh, my shoes. Everything’s good until the shoes.' I think that might be because I don’t have a full-length mirror. So, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Hair by Bethany Brill; Makeup by Riku ; Styled by Emily Holland ; Photographed by Rene & Radka.
Look 1: Karen Walker top; Jil Sander skirt; Acne boots; Alexis Bittar cuff.
Look 2: H&M blouse and skirt; Topshop heels; Italia Independent Sunglasses.
The Writer: Erica Oyama
Photographed by Rene & Radka.
"I am going to be Miss Saigon on Broadway," Erica Oyama recalls saying to herself as a kid. "As an Asian in Alabama, that was my best way out." But, for this 33-year-old comedy writer, the real story of her big break turned out to be quite different.
Oyama's not exactly a household name just yet, but the people who she writes for are recognized as some of the funniest characters in Hollywood today. Michael Cera, Kristen Bell, Adam Scott, and Ken Marino (who also happens to be Oyama's husband) are just a few members of she ensemble cast of Oyama's hilarious and super-successful Yahoo Screen parody of The Bachelor, aptly named Burning Love. In it, the writer recreated some of the most outlandish can't-believe-these-are-real-people characters and flawlessly skewered the hate-to-love-it, love-to-hate-it appeal of reality TV.
But, it's her next move that’s got us all aflutter. Oyama's currently in the process of adapting White Girl Problems for the big screen. Oh, and she also sold a feature film to Universal; Me Time, which she wrote with her husband. Between dealing with a cast of characters at work and being a mother of two, you'd think this writer on the rise might not have time for much else. And, you'd be correct. But, feel free to invite Oyama to karaoke. Chances are, she won't turn you down.
When was the first time you realized your writing was funny? How did you build confidence in your material?
“I think a moment that made me feel good was when I was in a sketch writing class at Improv Olympic and they let us submit to this weekly sketch show that was sort of news-based. I wrote a sketch that was about a fake commercial for a dating agency that was called 'Lady Killers.' It was Scott Peterson and O.J. Seeing that onstage with this really funny actress, Artemis Pebdani — she’s now in movies and TV shows and such — it was so exciting to see her bring this thing to life that I wrote. I was like, 'This is such a great feeling. I want to keep doing this.'”
What do you consider to be your first big break?
“My first big break was probably Children’s Hospital. I had a unique situation as a writer in that I’m married to a writer/actor. So, we worked together for a long time before that happened. And, my husband, Ken Marino, and his partner, David Wain — did a couple of big studio movies, and I got to kind of help out behind the scenes and do some punch-up work. I really got to see how that whole thing worked, with the studios and the movies and that side of the writing, which you don’t really learn about in school — you know, the practical side of it. When Children’s Hospital got picked up to TV, my husband was on the show and David was a producer, and they assigned Ken and I a script for the first season it was on TV. So, that was the first thing that was produced in a big way that started it all.”
Photographed by Rene & Radka.
Tell us about the process of creating Burning Love. How do you create a show based on "reality?"
“Really, Burning Love was the big break where people got to know me as a writer. I had been watching The Bachelor for a long time and was obsessed with it — even really embarrassed myself by going up to Jake and Vienna at The Grove once, and crawling through the bushes where they were eating lunch, and came up and tried to take a picture of them with my kids. Jake was terrified. So, I was really on board with the show, knowing that it was ridiculous. We were going to do a short. So, I wrote after Jake’s finale, where there was the sweetest girl ever and then Vienna, who was portrayed as a monster on the show, and took that idea and did a finale of Burning Love. Then, Ken was the one who said, 'I think we should do a whole season.' So, it went from there. It was really fun because there was so much inspiration to draw from the original show."
There are a number of pretty crazy characters on there. Which archetype did you have the most fun bringing to life?
“In the first season, we really tried to shine the light of the idea of what’s so great about this guy that all these women are losing their minds and going crazy and sabotaging each other over this person. If you’re just walking down the street, nobody would care. So, Mark Orlando in the first season was so fun because he just kept saying things that just offended people — so rude, and yet everyone was just giving him a pass because this show has made him this prize. Then, in the second season, Julie Gristlewhite, played by June Raphael, was so fun because we flipped it. Because, on the real show, it’s the woman that spirals out of control a little bit if things aren’t going the way she wants. I like to play with how the woman handles that kind of pressure, as opposed to how the guy feels like he deserves it.”
We hear you’re adapting White Girl Problems for the screen. So, for starters, what's your most ridiculous white-girl problem?
"I can give you one from my life that makes me feel like a terrible person. We were about to go on this vacation with the kids, and you’ve got to have the iPad with the stuff on it for the five-hour plane ride. And, mine is from four years ago and was not cutting it. So, I was really busy, and went, 'Ugh, I just don’t have time to get a new iPad.' I heard myself say it out loud and thought, 'Ugh. I’m the worst.' But, it all worked out.”
I hear you. So, what attracted you to this project?
“I guess in Burning Love, all the characters are ridiculous but we try to really approach them as real people and have the actors play them sincerely. That’s, to me, my favorite kind of comedy. With White Girl Problems, I was sent the book by Elizabeth Banks and Max Handelman, who I knew before just as friends. So, I read it and thought it was really ridiculous. Just the character of Babewalker was so rich and so funny — rich in monetary wealth and rich in possibilities. So, I just loved the idea of an updated Clueless/Legally Blonde type character for the next generation. Babewalker is just this really funny, flawed character. And, in this age where so many people are so narcissistic with selfies, technology, Instagram, Facebook, this is the ultimate version of that. She’s got to learn to be a good person. Still working on it, so...”
Where you are in the process?
“My second draft is kind of going up the chain at the studio.”
You mentioned your first big break was Children’s Hospital with your husband. What's your working relationship like with Ken? How do you manage working together as partners and also as husband and wife?
“It’s definitely challenging because there’s so much going on in work that sometimes we don’t have time to really talk to each other as people. So, we have to carve out time to really talk to each other. But, it’s been great because he is just the most supportive partner in the world. The most satisfying thing is when we’re out in public and someone recognizes him from Burning Love, and then he’ll point to me and be like, 'She wrote it!'"
Do you do anything special to nurture and recharge yourself and your relationships?
“I have to say that karaoke is very restorative for us. It’s very cathartic. We really bonded over karaoke. I used to host it when I was in college, as like a part-time job. So, I got Ken into it. I would say that our favorite thing to do to blow off steam or just to be with our friends is we go to Little Tokyo and we really just ‘roke it out."
Favorite karaoke song?
“Lately, we’ve been singing 'The Prayer,' which is this duet between Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli. It goes so theatrical.”
Photographed by Rene & Radka.
Speaking of female-centered comedies, what’s your outlook right now on funny women in entertainment?
“It’s just so funny to hear, 'female comedies are so hot right now,' because, of course, they’re just comedies that have females in them. I guess it’s just encouraging that everyone’s sort of like, 'Yes, these women are hilarious, and we should be watching them as much as we’re watching these guys be ridiculous, too.' I hope it keeps going. I want to be a part of it, of writing it. Obviously, women are just as funny — it’s such a silly discussion that people are still having.”
Do you have any advice for young writers who are looking to have a career in comedy?
“My biggest advice is just be patient with yourself, and know that even if you go for a job and it doesn’t work out, it’s a long road, and you’ll be running into the same people again and again. You never know when that person’s going to come back into your life and open up another door.”
What's your own personal mantra that you live by?
“Lately, I’ve been remembering something that my great grandmother said: 'Do something even if it’s wrong.' You can be crippled by what to do next, and as a writer, sitting down and putting something down on the page can be the hardest part. I try to remember that and just be active and take that next step.”
Hair by Bethany Brill; Makeup by Riku ; Styled by Emily Holland ; Photographed by Rene & Radka.
Look 1: BCBG dress; Lacoste shoes.
Look 2: A.L.C. jumpsuit; Oscar de la Renta shoes; Alexis Bittar cuffs.
The YouTube Sensation: Rachel Bloom
Photographed by Rene & Radka.
There are few sci-fi writers who received a birthday gift like the one Rachel Bloom gave Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451, Something Wicked This Way Comes) in 2010. Of course, this present was also the best thing the NYU Tisch grad could have done for her career; the musical comedy video, "Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury" is still the actress' biggest YouTube hit to date. It’s also the one that put her on the map and earned her professional representation.
However, Bloom does not stand out because she propositioned her literary crush on the Internet, but rather because her entire YouTube channel is filled with the same kind of bawdy, timely, somewhat ridiculous, and endlessly entertaining videos that blend comedy and music in a way that few modern-day musicals can. "I Steal Pets," "I Was A Mermaid Now I'm A Pop Star," and "You Can Touch My Boobies" are just a few examples. But, it's not Broadway that Bloom, 27, is headed for (at least, not now). She just began filming Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, a musical comedy that Showtime has picked up for a pilot. (She plays the lead.) This could be the Cali native's major breakout role, transitioning her from the computer screen to the silver screen and bringing her own unique and unapologetically truthful brand of musical theater to a platform much bigger than any stage.
You've written some pretty risky lyrics. Do you ever second-guess anything? How does your filter work?
“Oh, I second-guess all the time. All the time. Generally, stuff will come to me very impulsively, in a moment where I’ll be like, 'That was great!' Then, a day later, I’ll be like, 'Is that great?' The stuff that I second-guess is the stuff that is almost too simple. I’m a little afraid of simplicity because it’s so simple that it’s like, If you don’t like this joke then you don’t like this song. Actually, I had this song I was working on for the past year about obsessive compulsive disorder, and for a long time I thought I was afraid to do it because I thought I was making fun of OCD. And, I finally started doing it onstage, prefacing it with the fact that when I was a kid, I developed OCD. And, the song kills. It does so well. So, for the longest time, I second-guessed that song, because I was like, 'Does this seem like I’m poking fun at OCD for no reason?' Then, I started to second-guess everything about it, so I think if anything, I second-guess overall ideas, not as much jokes. Jokes you can tell if it’s good easier, for whatever reason. But, the song idea, you’re like, 'I think this is funny. Does anyone else think this is funny?' Premises are scarier.”
Photographed by Rene & Radka.
How much of your work is autobiographical? And, which of your songs represent you best?
“Much of it is autobiographical. ‘Pictures of Your Dick’ — it’s about a girl who posts pictures of her ex-boyfriend’s dick on the internet — that one is emotionally very autobiographical. That song is a revenge fantasy on some of my ex-boyfriends. The emotion of that is very true to me, where I’m like, 'I just want to be petty.' But, I’ve never actually had the balls to do that. ‘I Steal Pets’ — that was based on my middle school experience. I didn’t actually steal pets. The video is about a girl that steals pets from popular kids and dresses them up. And, I didn’t do that, but the motivation for the video was I saw the video 'Friday,' and what struck me about the video was how derivative it was of all of these sort of pre-teen videos where it’s like, 'I’m 12. Life is great!' And, I’m like, when I was 12, life was horrible, and I wasn’t going to parties at all and I wasn’t having all these fun times. So, all videos come from some aspect of myself, but those two really especially stick out.”
Congrats on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend getting picked up for a pilot! What do we have to look forward to?
“So, I teamed up with this woman, Aline Brosh McKenna, who’s this amazing screenwriter — she wrote The Devil Wears Prada and she has the new Annie movie coming out, and she’s great. She just saw my videos online. It was just random. She saw my videos online, and said, 'I want to create a TV show with her.' And, she’d been wanting to write a movie called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. She’s like, What if that’s our TV show? I’m really excited about it. I play a girl who’s very unhappy with her life and runs into her ex-boyfriend from high school. It’s in a moment in her life where she’s already having a nervous breakdown, and [she] realizes that he’s the key to all [her] problems. So, she drops everything and very foolishly moves to where he is to try to win him back, which is this place called West Covina, which is just like a fairly regular suburb of Los Angeles. It’s like the New Jersey of Los Angeles. And, it’s a fucked up romantic comedy, because it’s giving up everything for love, when it’s in fact the wrong decision."
Photographed by Rene & Radka.
So, it’s not exactly an autobiographical for you this time. How do you connect to it?
“It’s emotionally autobiographical. The thing that’s very autobiographical about it for me is getting lost in the fantasy of love. So, I think this is imagining if I were in a situation where not only was I emotionally unhappy — and I’ve had problems with depression and anxiety, so I connect with some of the roots of her unhappiness in this. This is pushing all of my natural emotions to extremes. So, even though I’ve never been in this situation, it feels very real to me. Very true.”
What's the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever been given?
“Laziness is a form of fear.”
And, who told you that?
"I want to say a teacher said, 'Laziness is a form of fear,' but that’s a quote from someone else. And, I always think about that.”
Because you’re in the musical comedy space, what part do you think you play in the future of your genre or musical theatre in general? What's your hope for the future of this art form?
“My hopes for the musical theater space are that independent, truly original content is encouraged a bit more. Right now, Broadway is just a sea of stuff adapted from movies, or jukebox musicals, because that’s what people that come to Broadway want to see. But, I feel like in the golden age of musical theater, that didn’t use to be the case. And, that’s partially because musical theater songs were somewhat synonymous with pop songs, so I hope that the world of musical theater and just everyone else tries to grow into each other a little bit more, because right now it’s separate. I think Glee actually has helped that a little. But, I would love to see the worlds interacting a bit more.”
Photographed by Rene & Radka.
Hair by Bethany Brill; Makeup by Riku ; Styled by Emily Holland ; Photographed by Rene & Radka.
Look 1: Preen coat; Topshop shoes.
Look 2: Creatures of Comfort sweater; Delfina Balda poncho; Luxury Rebel booties.
The Agent: Jaime Feld
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Some careers are formed with careful steps, while others are propelled by enthusiastic — albeit slightly blind — leaps forward. For Jaime Feld, it was the latter. It’s been more than a dozen years since she cold-called Kevin Huvane, managing partner of Creative Artist Agency, and asked him for a job. Repeatedly. And, it was likely that her inability to accept "no" that not only got her in the door, but also her combination of fearlessness with real talent that eventually lead her to become agent to some of the brightest young things in Hollywood. Actually, you already know their names quite well: Miley Cyrus, Mamie Gummer, and Jordana Brewster. Not to mention other mega-talents like Chelsea Handler, Sofia Vergara, and Demi Moore.
But, to truly recognize Feld’s hard work and incredible talent, you should actually look at the success of others. We’re talking about the young actors who are just beginning to make their marks in the industry. These are the 35-year-old New York native's favorite kind of clients. When they land an exciting audition or are offered a leading role, they have Feld to thank for it. That’s what really and truly motivates her. And, for those rising stars — as well as the luminaries who rely on her — this year is shaping up to be a big one.
Fill us in. How did you break into the industry?
“I actually was a teacher when I graduated from college, for sixth, seventh, and eighth graders with emotional problems and learning disabilities. This is 12-plus years ago, so there was no Google or any search engines, and CAA didn’t exist in New York. I had a friend that worked at CAA, and she told me that this desk was open, and this agent represented Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, and all of these amazing actors, and I thought, 'Well, I should just go work for him. That’s like the perfect job. I love entertainment and I love movies.' And, naively, I just called HR and said, 'I’m going to move to L.A. and I want to work for this agent, Kevin Huvane,' and I didn’t know he was the owner of the company. They kind of blew me off and said, 'Call us when you get here.' So, I kept calling them every time I looked for apartments and flew out here. Basically, I called his office directly, and said, 'I know someone who works there, and it’s been two months and you haven’t filled this position. Meet me for a drink, and if you hate me, you never have to see me again.' Shockingly, they did. And, I got hired the next day by Kevin, which is totally crazy. I think it’s better that I didn’t know exactly who he was at the time, because I probably wouldn’t have been as persistent as I was. It was almost ‘ignorance is bliss’ in that case.”
So, once your foot was in the door, what were the next steps to become an agent?
“I kind of had a very unconventional path. I’m actually one of the only people to have never been to the mailroom. I worked for the owner of the company for almost eight years. And, finally, I decided that I was going to give being an agent a try, even though I had told everyone I ever met that I would never be an agent.”
Photographed by Rene & Radka.
What pushed you to make that change in your career?
“My boss, actually. I was very much like, 'I’m a woman, and I want to have kids, and I can’t balance all those things.' He said something insightful and yet very simple, which was, 'Do you have any?' I said no, and he said, 'Well, why don’t you worry about it when you do,' which hadn’t occurred to me. Like, that it was a possibility, to A. have both, and B. that I could be 10 years away from having a child. It just had never occurred to me that I wasn’t going to have a baby the next day. It’s very poignant advice. That’s sort of when I decided to make the move.”
What’s your day-to-day workday look like? What are some big projects you work on year-to-year?
“Always changing, because the business is always changing. Negotiating deals, making calls, trying to get jobs for my clients. CAA is very team-oriented, so we sort of get credit for getting other people’s clients [work], too, so you’re compensated for all of it. There’s no internal conflict because everyone’s compensated for helping everybody else. There’s no two days alike — fortunately and unfortunately.”
What makes a very successful relationship between your clients and you? What qualities do you have that make you successful in this industry?
“I’ve got like a New York, ‘no one’s gonna tell me no’ attitude. If you tell me no, I have you on the phone. I’m going to get it done. So, I sort of just don’t take no for an answer. If I have to go around and about, I’ll figure out how to do it. I fight for my clients. I believe in them and am passionate about them, and so it’s easy to fight the fight. I really think I work harder than a lot of people, which I think gives me an advantage. I really try to get ingrained in their lives because really, at this point, I only sign people I believe in and am really passionate about, so it’s really easy to get ingrained in their lives. It’s a relationship. My husband’s an actor, so I get what that relationship’s supposed to look like, and I take it almost too personally sometimes. But, it’s very personal to me, their failures and their successes.”
Photographed by Rene & Radka.
When you’re looking to work with new clients, what makes you see possibility in an unknown actor? What qualities do you look for?
“It can’t be qualified. It’s sort of an indescribable trait. I’m not always right. But, for the people I’ve signed, I’ve seen something they’ve done, and I saw ‘it’ — whatever ‘it’ is. It’s sort of different for everybody, what that ‘it’ is, but something draws me. And, I’m a pretty harsh critic, so if something’s drawing me, there’s something to it. I trust my gut.”
It’s not an easy thing to do.
“It’s not, believe me. And, I’ve been wrong. I’ve been wrong almost as many times as I’ve been right. But, that’s the nature of the business. Sometimes, I think I’m right and the business just hasn’t caught up yet. It’s a race, not a sprint. So, when I sign someone, I’m in it for the long haul. I’m not in it for the job in six months — I’m looking to be with them for 60 years. It’s more about the long-term play.”
Do you have any advice for young people looking to become agents?
“It’s definitely a lifestyle. It’s 24/7, for the most part. But, I would say, if that’s your dream, follow it. It’s so much fun. As far as getting to work with the people I admire, it’s amazing. I got turned down 15 times. So, keep plowing away. It’s an incredibly rewarding job.”
Photographed by Rene & Radka.
Have there been any memorable people that you’ve worked with?
"I really love everyone that I work with. Everyone’s different, everyone has a different style and personality, and that’s sort of the fun of it, navigating it. I get to be really bossy and crass with Chelsea Handler, who I adore, love, and has been amazing to me, and Miley Cyrus, I get to be [different] — I get to be different ways with different people, and that’s fun.”
Hair by Bethany Brill; Makeup by Riku ; Styled by Emily Holland ; Photographed by Rene & Radka.
Look 1: American Apparel turtleneck; Chadwick Bell top; Zara hat; Vince shoes.
Look 2: Margaux Lonnberg dress; Topshop shoes; Alexis Bittar cuff.
The HBO Breakout Star: Amanda Crew
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She describes it as the "swan effect" — the process of going through hair, makeup, and wardrobe to eventually emerge as Monica, the assistant to fictional billionaire Peter Gregory on Silicon Valley. But, when we met Amanda Crew, it became apparent that the 28-year-old actress — and only female series regular on Mike Judge's breakout HBO show — is selling herself short with that description. The British Columbia-born brunette was quick to identify herself as awkward, kind of goofy, and one of the guys, but sit down for a few minutes with her (or watch her pose in Marissa Webb or Edun for the camera) and it becomes clear that there's a whole other side to her as well.
Relatively speaking, Crew has only been L.A. for a short time, moving here about six years ago to pursue bigger acting roles. And, while she's appeared across screens for more than a decade now (you'll perhaps recall her roles in Final Destination 3, Sex Drive, Charlie St. Cloud, or Whistler for any fans of Canadian team dramas) it's her latest work in the Emmy-nominated HBO comedy that's placed her on Hollywood's radar like never before. But, don't even think about writing off her success as a bit of makeup magic. This star has got the chops — and the infectious charm — to keep her success story soaring.
What are some things you've learned about acting since you've started doing it professionally?
“It’s so easy to focus on what you haven’t achieved, what you haven’t accomplished, and just get frustrated when you’re not getting those things. You never take the moment to stop and be like, 'You did it!' It’s always like, 'What’s next?' So, that’s something I’m trying to teach myself more, to have that balance of perspective, of what you’ve accomplished and healthy goals."
Let's talk about Silicon Valley. Congratulations on its success! How did you come to learn about the project?
“During pilot season a few of my friends had mentioned the show. So, when I finally got the audition and got to see the script and see who was involved — I mean, Mike Judge, he’s the god of comedy — I was excited just about that. And, the script was really cool. It’s not a very exciting story, I auditioned for it [and] I remember tripping on the way out of the room on my heels. But, it went well, and I ended up testing. I was really, obviously excited to get the job, especially as the cast started rounding up. Then, as we started shooting, you realize even more how special this project was, and the caliber of talent on this show. I mean, those guys are insanely talented and hilarious.”
Is it intimidating to be the only girl in the cast?
“Not to be the only girl on the cast — that’s not intimidating to me. To be with those guys is intimidating because, whether they’re in standup or improv or sketch, they all have such street cred in the comedy world. Plus, they’re all so sweet and so nice and so welcoming and encouraging and supportive.”
Photographed by Rene & Radka.
What prep did you do to play Monica?
“We started filming and realizing how true this world was to Mike Judge and Alec Berg, who’s the showrunner, as they were doing their research and writing it. I started reading more about these women — the Sheryl Sandbergs and Marissa Mayers — who are top of the totem pole in a world that’s dominated by men. And, I was seeing how they navigate through. I think Mike and Alec did a really good job of writing that, because when we did the premiere in Silicon Valley, a bunch of different women came up to me and told me, 'My job is exactly what you’re doing, and you nailed it to a T.' I don’t take that as a compliment for myself. Mike and Alec should be humbled by that, because they did so much research and obviously they did it correctly.”
What’s the biggest difference between you and Monica? And, what’s the biggest similarity?
“I’d say that she’s much more put-together than I am. It’s like a swan effect when I go through hair and makeup. I get 10 pounds of extra hair and a pencil skirt and beautiful makeup. Whereas I'm a jeans-and-T-shirt kind of girl, so that’s different. I think she’s really well-spoken and assertive and doesn’t get flustered easily, where I’m the opposite. I’m awkward and say the wrong thing at the wrong time and am more of a tomboy. But, I think I felt connected to her sense of humor. I feel connected to her drive. I just love that she’s a respected woman in her field and really competent. I feel we all have that strong, driven side of ourselves.”
This year, your cast and crew suffered the huge loss with the passing of Christopher Evan Welch, who played your boss. As a cast, how do you cope?
“Obviously, we were all devastated. I was completely gutted by it. Most of my scenes were with him, if not all of my stuff up to that point. He is such an amazing human being and I learned so much from him. I’m so grateful that I appreciated him as a person and as an actor while I was working with him, as opposed to looking back at it after. You kind of band together, and Mike and Alec I think dealt with it perfectly as far as the writing goes. They’re definitely going to be dealing with it and addressing it in the second season. I don’t know to what extent, because it’s not in my hands, but I know whatever they do, it will be tasteful and also, I’m sure, in connection with his family."
What's been your a-ha moment in your career thus far?
“For so long — and still sometimes — I found myself in that trap of trying to figure out the recipe for success in this industry. You slowly learn that there is no magic formula. Unfortunately, it’s not like if you want to be a lawyer, and you go to college, then [law school], and then you get to the law firm. It’s not painted out like that. There’s not a structure to it like that. So, I’ve just learned to let go of trying to figure it out and just keep your eye on yourself and think, 'Am I happy? Am I doing work that I’m happy with? Am I proud of myself? Cool, keep doing that.' Even if you failed at that audition, what did you learn from it? That’s all you can hope for.”
Photographed by Rene & Radka.
Are there any projects coming up that you’re super excited for? You've just shot Age of Adeline with Harrison Ford and Blake Lively!
“Yeah, I filmed that a couple of months ago. It’s coming out in January, which is crazy fast turnaround. It was so cool because getting to meet Harrison Ford was the best. He’s the coolest guy ever and he’s such a pro. He’s always just game to play. He’s being doing it forever, he should be laissez-faire about it, but he just loves what he does.”
Do you find that inspiring as an actor?
“Oh my God, it was so inspiring. I was just like, 'Okay, it can exist, that you don’t lose that spark and that you still treat people with respect. That you can be a professional and still have that joy and fly in a helicopter to set,' something I aspire to, also. So crazy — he just flies his helicopter to set. Like, landed his helicopter right by my trailer.
“Then, I just finished another movie. it’s called Race. It’s the true story about Jesse Owens, who is the African-American runner who competed in the Berlin Olympics at the cusp of World War II. And, that was an exciting one, because I got to work with Jason Sudeikis, who also is a delight."
What kind of potential do you see in yourself that your fans haven’t seen yet? What projects do you want to work on in the future?
“I would love to do more comedy and show that goofier side of myself, because I think people judge you by your outsides, and I think I’m so opposite. People are sometimes surprised by my personality. Growing up, I felt like kind of a weirdo, because the idea of what was cool — you know, being like Britney Spears or that kind of cool — I couldn’t identify with that. Whereas like Avril Lavigne was someone I took comfort in growing up, so I would love if a younger generation took comfort in my personality and what I’m putting out there."
Photographed by Rene & Radka.
What's a mantra you live by?
“Actually, one of my almost last Instagrams was of this great company called good hYOUman. The guy that started it, his dad died of cancer and he wanted to do something with his story. Basically the whole concept behind the clothing line is, we all have a story. The shirt that I got was the one that says, 'Fuck being perfect.' It’s kind of like owning who you are and saying 'fuck it.' For so long, I struggled with being secure with who I was. Even in acting, for a while there I was like, 'Actors wear oversized sunglasses and carry big cups of Starbucks and gigantic purses. That’s what I’m supposed to look like and dress like this.' For a little bit I felt like I had to be like that. But, as you get more secure with yourself, you’re like, 'This is so not me. I feel like a sheep. So, take it or leave it, this is who I am.' At the end of the day, you’re going to be in your own mind. Your happiness is on yourself.”
Hair by Bethany Brill; Makeup by Riku ; Styled by Emily Holland ; Photographed by Rene & Radka.
Look 1: Jil Stuart coat; Marissa Webb sweater; ETRO trousers; Freda Salvador shoes.
Look 2: Edun sweater tunic and skirt; Topshop boots; Alexis Bittar rings.
The Director: Gren Wells
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Gren Wells just made her directorial debut with the indie flick The Road Within. And, the most instantly compelling thing she told us about when we sat down together was something her mentor, Bruce Gilbert, described as the "fuck pass." As the pastel-haired Wells tells us, "if the script can live without cursing, then it should be PG-13, and you should take the curse words out. But, if [curse words are] required to actually tell the story and be true to the characters and all that, then it should be R." And, with that, consider our interview suitable for mature audiences only.
However, the 43-year-old writer-director is about a lot more than just colorful language and colorful hair. For her, work has always been about the story. About letting the world know exactly what her viewpoint is. It is this kind of drive that inspired her to leave a job on Wall Street to head to Hollywood and then, to try her hand at directing after years of being a successful TV writer for networks such as HBO, Showtime, and NBC. And, with Well Go USA recently picking up the distribution rights for The Road Within — a coming-of-age story featuring an incredible cast of characters facing personal emotional hardships, including Zoe Kravitz and Dev Patel — it's clear that we’ll be hearing many more of Wells’ stories in the coming days. But, naturally, only the uncensored ones.*
What has the road leading up to this point in your career looked like? What are the highlights?
“I worked on Wall Street because I didn’t want to do the starving artist route. Then, after like five years I wanted to kill myself, because I just had no creative outlet in my life. So, I gave that up and started acting in some indie films in New York. I always knew I wanted to write and direct, I just wasn’t sure how to get into it. One of the movies that I did ended up winning Best Short at Sundance. And, I had a movie at Slamdance that same year, so I was like, 'Oh, great, I’m ready for L.A.!' Then I get out here and realize no one gives a fuck about indie film. So, I started doing stand up comedy. I had a meeting with CBS, and the first thing they say to me is, 'You’re here because we love you, but we don’t know what to do with you, because you say c*** 47 times in your show.' So, I literally went home and wrote my first script, which was called Earthbound.
"It took a long time to get made, but it turned into the film starring Kate Hudson [called A Little Bit Of Heaven]. I was going to direct that one, but then, it was one of those things where, my agent said, 'You have two options. Door #1 is, you sell the script, get your foot in the door, and start to have a writing career. Or, you can keep it and it may or may never get made.' So, obviously, I chose Door #1, which was fantastic. I tried to get things together over the years directing-wise, but they didn’t come together, either — cast-wise, script-wise, money-wise — until The Road Within.”
Photographed by Rene & Radka.
So, then why directing? What's the attraction?
“Being in control. Not gonna lie. Here’s the thing: Being a feature writer, no one cares about what your thoughts are. They just want you to write the script and walk out the door and let it hit you on the way out. Obviously there are a few writers that command more attention and more of their viewpoint, but it’s not much. It’s a director’s medium. Obviously, TV writing is the writer’s medium, which is why I do TV, as well. It was also being able to see my viewpoint from beginning to end, so that it didn’t get changed. That’s what every writer bitches about. But, that’s the nature of the beast.”
Did/do you have any fears about working in the entertainment industry?
“I don’t like being driven by fear in any way. So many people asked me, leading up to my directorial debut, 'Are you scared?' No, I’m excited. I feel fear paralyzes people so much. Not to say I don’t get nervous. Obviously, that first day of calling 'action' was a huge moment. But, I changed it to excitement, so that I didn’t get stuck in any kind of fear moment.”
How much do you see yourself in the characters you create? Do you pull inspiration from your own life?
“I definitely steal from my friends. No one is safe around me. They all know that. You know, truth is stranger than fiction. When someone says something among my friends, I’m in the corner writing it down. But, also, in terms of my sense of humor, I do feel like I look at things in an 'off' way. It’s not so much I put myself into it — I put my sense of humor into it, and how I look at the world."
What's been the hardest part about directing for the first time? What kind of lessons have you learned?
“I love the movie that we made. Especially for the amount of money we made it for — which I’m not allowed to say, but, it wasn’t a lot and money provides time. And, that’s one of the things that everybody wants: more time to do more with it. It was a valuable lesson to learn about budgets and money. You need that time to do it right."
Do you have any mentors that you’ve worked with in the industry?
“Bruce Gilbert. He is everything. He produced On Golden Pond, The China Syndrome, Coming Home, Nine to Five. The man is just a genius, and I worship him. He truly taught me how to write a script. And, the only thing he asked in return is that I teach someone else, so that these lessons wouldn’t be lost. "
Photographed by Rene & Radka.
What's the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
“Stay true to your voice.”
And, who told you that?
“Bruce. And, also, turn a scene. The scene should not be in a script if it doesn’t turn in some way — for the characters, for the story — and that was something invaluable. I look through every script. And, also, do a fuck pass."
People kind of view 40 as being a milestone age. And, you essentially took on a huge career challenge during this time. What can you say to women who want to do the same?
“Age is a number. It doesn’t matter. Honestly, I feel better now than I did when I was younger, just because I’m happier, I’m more in my own skin. I think the 20s are highly overrated. I just read this amazing book written by Annabelle Gurwitch called I See You Made an Effort, and it’s all about approaching 50 years old, and the indignities that she goes through and stuff. And, one of the quotes is, 'Everyone’s always saying, 40 is the new 30, and 50 is the new 40.' And, she goes, 'You know what? 50 is fucking 50.' It was really interesting, because she was just, 'This is who we are and you've accumulated life lessons that 20-year-olds don’t have.”
Any advice you'd give to your younger self, then?
“Start drinking good wine. Don’t drink crap. The hangovers are not worth it.”
*Since this story published last month, Gren has attended the Rome Film Festival where she took home the award for Best Film in the Alice Nella Citta section. And, what's more remarkable is that the jury members were all between the ages of 15 and 21. Looks like some of our favorite new names in Hollywood are not exactly "on the verge" anymore. Congrats, Gren!
Photographed by Rene & Radka.
Hair by Bethany Brill; Makeup by Riku ; Styled by Emily Holland ; Photographed by Rene & Radka.
Look 1: Adeam dress; Steve Madden shoes; Alexis Bittar cuff.
Look 2: A.L.C. dress; BCBG belt; Kate Spade New York shoes.
The Executive: Stephanie Herman
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Stephanie Herman is the lady most likely to invite you to a dinner party, introduce you to your new best friend, and clue you in to the TV show you're going to obsess over next (or, at the very least, spend an entire weekend binge-watching). But, the 30-year-old is much more than just a natural-born host — she's also the VP of Casting at Twentieth Century Fox. Meaning? Connecting people isn't just her gift, it's her job.
Of course, Herman has plenty of other admirable qualities that have served her well in her professional career. For starters: loyalty. She’s been a part of the Twentieth Century family since graduating college. And, during her tenure at the entertainment powerhouse, she's not only been able to climb the ranks; she's also brought several hit TV shows with her. Modern Family, How I Met Your Mother, and Don’t Trust the B In Apartment 23 have all been projects with the young executive's name attached — not to mention the fact that she earned a coveted spot on Forbes' 30 Under 30 list earlier this year. And, while her next major career hit may still be in the making, you'll know it's arrived once you start hearing about it at your dinner table. And, everywhere else you go.
Okay, to start out, what exactly does a VP of Casting do?
“I have two different jobs, depending on where the show's life is. So, for a show like Modern Family, every week we have guests [to] cast. So, we hire a casting director, and that casting director reads a bunch of talented actresses and actors, sends choices to the studio, and we make sure that [they] feel like the best thing for the show from where we’re sitting. Then we send them to the network for approval, and then they get cast. For pilots at the bigger-picture level and for scripts in development, what I try to do is package in talent. So, I’ll introduce [them to] the creators of whatever show it is. I’ll be like, 'You need to sit down with this actor. She’s very talented, she’s right up your alley for this idea you have.' Essentially, I’m a connector.
"We’ll have cable shows we know are in development, we’ll have network shows we know are in development — my job is to know what each talent is looking for. If I know Rose Byrne wants to do television — she doesn’t, but if I knew that she did — and I know that Kurt Sutter, who created Sons of Anarchy, has a new show coming out and he’s looking for this kind of person, I can connect them together. So, it’s making those talent deals and being a connector and using my relationships to contribute to that and be more efficient at my job."
Who have been some of the most influential mentors you've had in the industry?
“I would say Dana Walden, Gary Newman, Sharon Klein. Those three have been instrumental to me in allowing me to learn from them, make mistakes, be accountable for them, and move forward. You know, I’ve messed up. Everyone does. You make mistakes. You think something’s right and it’s not, and that’s okay. [They've created] a great environment to work in, where you can do that. And, they’ve helped me, they trust my taste, and they give me freedom and support, and that’s something that I think every job environment needs to have. They keep us accountable for our choices and our tastes, and they trust us with some of their most valuable relationships with the studios — you know, with Howard Gordon, who created 24; Steve Levitan, who created Modern Family; Ryan Murphy, who created Glee. I don’t think you stay somewhere for that long if you don’t feel you’re being challenged and a lot is being asked of you. And, they give you that feeling, and that’s a really big deal.”
In terms of mistakes, do you have any memorable ones?
“When we were casting Don’t Trust the B In Apartment 23, I remember my boss saying to me, 'Do you really think that this is for James Van Der Beek? Do you really believe in it? I’m going to trust you.' Because it was a different part — him playing himself — it hadn’t been done before. And, that worked out very well for me. Being able to make those decisions and have them work out — and being able to make those decisions and having them not necessarily work out — is worth it."
What are some of the basic things that every casting agent looks for when spotting talent that could be the next big thing?
“I think there’s a presence. There’s a little bit of a force field with actors like that. There is an ‘I can’t take my eyes off of you.’ It doesn’t matter what you look like, it’s how you carry yourself and what you bring to the table. And, I think having an opinion, having a point of view, and not being afraid to announce that you feel that way, all contributes to this little force field. I love [when] actors come in and they see the character in a completely different way than we did."
Photographed by Rene & Radka.
Who's been a recent example that you've felt that way about?
“Dakota Johnson [on Ben & Kate]. There was something about her that I was so intrigued by. I just thought she was really special. I didn’t know what she was going to do or anything, but she was great for us on the comedy front. Now, she’s doing drama. And, Jenna Dewan. She never ceases to amaze me as an actress. We had her in American Horror Story and then she ended up doing a Lifetime show for us, Witches of East End. She has that little star quality that’s hard to find.”
What’s the most exciting news you have coming up that you’re excited to share?
“I’m excited to cast Kurt Sutter’s new show. We don’t have a script yet, but it's called The Bastard Executioner. It’s a drama for FX. And, right now, we’re just selling pitches to network, so we’re in development. It’s always fun to be there in the beginning, just have the idea, see it on the page, see it shot and cast, and see it from beginning to end is just very exciting.”
How do you measure your own level of success? Does it come at awards season? Premiere time?
“I measure success of a television show not from awards, just from it being something that [people say] at a dinner table, 'I love that show.' I get excited when people are like, 'I love that,' or 'This made me laugh,' or 'Did you see that episode?' I like [shows being] dinner table conversation. I think [television] also is a great equalizer. If you don’t know somebody and you’re meeting them for the first time, you [can] talk about the shows you like or the books you’ve read or the movies you’ve seen. It’s nice to be in that category."
Hair by Bethany Brill; Makeup by Riku ; Styled by Emily Holland ; Photographed by Rene & Radka.
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