Check out our interview with Award-Winning Actress & “Kidding” Star Gwen Hollander.
Hollander is best known for her role as Sheryl on the hit Showtime series Kidding. The show chronicles the life of Jeff Piccirillo, the host of the popular children’s television show Mr. Pickles’ Puppet Time. Sheryl is a puppeteer on the series who brings life to the character of Astronotter, a transgender otter who is an astronaut. The cast also includes Jim Carrey, Catherine Keener, Frank Langella, and Judy Greer.
She has also made a name for herself in the world of film with her lead role in the musical comedy short Marriage Material. The film follows Hollander’s character Leah as she embarks on a quest to make herself suitable for marriage after her boyfriend rejects her marriage proposal. It has made a name for itself on the festival circuit as a Student Academy Award finalist, earning awards for Best Musical Film at the Rhode Island International Film Festival as well as the Manhattan Film Festival. Most recently, Hollander earnedBest Actress honors at the Florida Comedy Film Festival, where the film also received accolades for Best Director, Best Cinematography, and the grand prize for Best Film of the Festival.
Follow Gwen at @gwenstagram811
Hi Gwen, please tell us a little about you?
Hi! Well, I was born and raised in Miami, FL. I started acting professionally at the age of 14. I’m obsessed with animals (ALL of them), and if I weren’t an actor, I think the only other thing I’d want to do is work with animals in some capacity. I love to sing, read, do crossword puzzles, and make crafty things! I lived in NY and focused on musical theatre for many years, but now I live in LA with my husband and our 2 dogs (Watson and Merlin).
Describe yourself in 3 words?
This question is always surprisingly difficult! If I had to choose 3 words, I think I would describe myself as silly, sensitive (sometimes overly so!), and hardworking.
Who is your role model?
My mother. She’s no longer with us, but she was the best person I’ve ever known. She was selfless and kind, but fiercely protective of her family and those she cared about. I can only hope to be half the person she was!
How did you get started into acting?
I was always into performing as a kid, whether it was dance recitals or putting on plays with my Girl Scout Troop. I used to participate in Odyssey of the Mind, which is a creative problem solving competition that has a performance component (which is also when I first learned that I love to write!). But my “aha” moment came when I went on a field trip with my 8th grade drama class to see the touring production of “Phantom of the Opera.” I was completely blown away by every aspect of the show. I couldn’t move from my seat afterward; I was just sitting there staring at the empty stage. The decision was made that night; I would do that. I started voice lessons soon after that, bugged my parents until they let me get an agent, went to a wonderful performing arts high school, and I’ve been doing it ever since!
How has this changed your life?
It’s hard to say, because at this point it’s all I know! I’ve been doing it for so long. I’ve definitely had some experiences I never would’ve had if I hadn’t chosen this career path. I’ve toured all over the country and been in almost every state. I’ve worked with SO many incredible people; every job is a new family.
What is the best and worst part of being an actress?
The best part? When I actually get to DO it! Because it’s fun! I genuinely love to perform, so I try to say yes to as many things as I can. The “business” part of “showbusiness” can be so difficult; it’s really easy to forget why you started doing it in the first place, especially if you go for a long stretch without work. When it’s all feeling hard and stressful, I always check back in with myself and ask “Do you still love this? Is this still worth it?” So far, the answer’s always been yes, but if it starts to feel like a “no,” then I’ll have some serious soul searching to do! I also love the thrill of live performance, especially making people laugh. It’s the best feeling. I love anytime I have an opportunity to connect with fans or audience members, and hear about how things moved or affected them. That’s why I started doing this, because I was so deeply moved by a theatrical experience as an audience member… it’s mind-blowing to think that I might have been a part of that experience for someone else.
The worst part? Well… it’s hard. It’s incredibly competitive, just because there are a LOT of people trying to do it! It takes a tremendous amount of self-discipline and hard work, and there’s a lot of rejection. You hear “no” a lot more than you hear “yes,” and it’s very easy to get discouraged. I also haven’t had the stability that I might have had, had I chosen a more “traditional” career path, but I’m so grateful for the adventures I’ve had. And as hard as it is to not know when or where you’ll be working next, there’s something kind of exciting about it… it could be anything. It could be a series of small things that pop up, or it could be the one big life-changing thing. I think that’s what keeps so many of us going, the idea that at any moment the opportunity you’ve been preparing for will arise, and all the hard work you’ve done will have prepared you to meet it.
Tell us about your work on hit Showtime series “Kidding?”
I play Sheryl, who is one of the puppeteers on the show within the show, Mr. Pickles’ Puppet Time. She plays Astronotter… who’s an Astronaut Otter. As Astronotter I wore a huge full body spacesuit with a tail and gloves and huge furry feet and a giant otter head inside a giant helmet. I had worked with puppets before, but I had never worn a full body costume (or what they refer to as a “walkaround puppet”). I did a lot of on-the-job learning!
What is the series about?
The show follows Jeff Piccirillo (played by Jim Carrey), the star of a beloved children’s television show called Mr. Pickles’ Puppet Time, as he struggles to pick up the pieces of his personal life after a tragic loss. The show kind of splits its focus between the real life Jeff who’s grieving and trying desperately to maintain his sanity, and his public persona of “Mr. Pickles” who is forced to wear a happy face for his young viewers.
How was working with such a talented cast?
So incredible. And surreal. To be on set with people you grew up watching is just surreal! Watching all of them work was like the craziest master class, in everything.
And about your lead role in the musical comedy short “Marriage Material?”
Marriage Material is a musical dark comedy that deals with the unrealistic expectations we have of women (and women have of themselves), and the lengths to which we will go to achieve “perfection” so that we can be worthy of love. I play Leah, a young woman who checks into a retreat that prides itself on turning women into “marriage material” after a series of failed relationships. It was an incredibly cool experience; we had a female writer/director (the amazing Oran Zegman), a largely female crew, and an almost entirely female cast, all of which is so rare. The film was acquired by Searchlight Shorts, and you can watch it through their online platforms! Here’s a link
What other projects you have been part of?
Too many to list, but I can share some favorites! I had a recurring role on Hulu’s Future Man, which is a hilarious show about time travel (the 3rd and final season drops on April 3rd!). I worked on the pilot for the Disney+ series Encore!, which was so much fun. Some of my favorite theatre roles have been Belle in Beauty and the Beast (which I’ve been lucky enough to do twice), Amy in Little Women (Broadway/National Tour), Hope in Urinetown, and Eponine in Les Miserables.
What is the most rewarding part of your work?
Like I said before, I love making people laugh. So anytime I get to perform live, hearing laughter, or any kind of reaction, is so rewarding as well as hearing about the impact a show or performance may have had. A theatrical performance changed the entire course of my life, and there have been musicals/shows/movies that I’ve seen at exactly the right moment that have changed or healed me in some way. I love knowing that I might be part of something that can do that for someone else.
What kind of roles do you like or would like to play and why?
I love comedy more than anything. As much as I love to watch drama as an actor I’m drawn to comedy. I also love musicals, so musical comedies are my favorite! I’ve never done sci-fi, but it’s one my favorite genres and I’d love to work on a sci-fi project. So, I always say a musical sci-fi comedy would be my dream project. I’ll probably have to write it myself, because I don’t know that there’s a huge demand for musical sci-fi comedy… but a girl can dream!
What is your favorite healthy food?
Fortunately, I love a lot of healthy foods, and I tend to crave them more than I crave junk food. I love all fruit, but particularly stone fruits like peaches and nectarines, and I love salad and sushi!
And your favorite cheat food?
I’m a sucker for pizza and almost all baked goods.
How would you explain your fashion style?
I think I’d describe it as eclectic, because I don’t really stick to just one style. I wear clothes that are fun, flattering, and comfortable. I love vintage clothing; it’s fun to wear things that you know are unique! And I wear a lot of color. I was singing in a concert recently and they wanted us to wear black, grey, or neutral colors, and I was like “uh-oh… I might need to go shopping!” I just always gravitate toward color; it makes it more fun to get dressed.
How would your best friend describe you?
I hope they’d say I’m funny and kind… I’m pretty positive they’d say I’m neurotic!
What’s next for Gwen Hollander in 2020?
I have no idea! I’m writing all of this from self-isolation while social distancing, so in this very moment it’s very hard to know what to expect… a lot of the stuff I had on the horizon is now canceled or postponed. It’s a strange time to be in the performing arts; everything we do is pretty dependent on being around large groups of people! The 3rd season of Future Man drops on Hulu on April 3rd, and I’ll continue to work on The Astonishing Show Show, a comedy variety show with puppetry, magic, and music that my husband and I produce with a few of our friends in Los Angeles.
What is your own definition of happiness?
Wow! I really had to think about that! It seems we’re constantly in the pursuit of it, and I don’t even really know what it means to me. I guess at the very core I’d have to say that, for me, happiness comes feeling loved, valued, and “seen.” And from loving and appreciating others.
How is a normal day in your life?
I wish there were a normal day! In this business, no 2 days are ever alike. Which, again, is part of the fun of it; it never gets boring! There are some constants: most days start with walking the dogs and COFFEE. After that, it’s anyone’s guess. It could be an audition, rehearsal, or a class. I’m completely beholden to my planner (the old-fashioned paper kind) because there’s no set routine; every day is different!
What is your idea of a perfect Sunday?
I would like to sleep in, walk the dogs to Starbucks with my husband and sit outside with our coffee, and then do something fun and chill… maybe a bike ride or a movie, or dinner and a game night with friends.
If you could meet someone living or dead, who would it be and why?
I could drive myself crazy trying to think of the best answer for this… but I’m just going to go ahead and say Tom Hanks. I really want to hang out with Tom Hanks. I mean, I’d love to work with Tom Hanks, but I’d be happy just to hang out. I can’t really say why; probably for the same reasons that he’s one of the most beloved movie stars in the world. You just want to hang out with him!
Best advice ever given?
I think all the best advice comes back to The Golden Rule. Treat others the way you’d like to be treated. If everyone truly did that, think of the difference it would make. Be kind. Tell the people you love that you love them, all the time. Practice forgiveness, of yourself and others.
Do you support any charity?
I support and have volunteered for the ASPCA and Hilarity for Charity (HFC), which raises awareness about Alzheimer’s Disease. And I’ve also been a volunteer mentor for Young Storytellers in Los Angeles!
Name 3 things you can’t live without?
1) The people/creatures I love (my husband, my family and friends, my dog)
2) Coffee (ugh, I’m such a cliché… but alas, it’s true!)
3) Crossword puzzles (could I live without them? Yes. Do I want to? No.)
Where do you see yourself and your career in 5 years from now?
I can say where I hope to be! I try not to be too time-specific about my goals because there’s so much in this business that we can’t control, but it would be very nice to be a series regular on a fun comedy! I just hope to be working steadily as an actor.
Favorite song? Why?
This feels impossible, but I think I’d say Rainbow Connection, as sung by Kermit the Frog. I walked down the aisle to this song at my wedding, and then 2 of my dearest friends sang it and led a singalong at the end of our wedding ceremony. I just love the lyrics, and the innocence of it. There’s so much nostalgia connected to that song.
What music do you like?
My first love will always be showtunes. I’m a big musical theatre nerd. I also love 80’s music and a lot of classic rock, and The Beatles, and bluegrass. I really like anything I can sing along to (and harmonize with), and these happen to be the things I most like to sing!
What do you think of Social Media?
I have such a complicated love/hate relationship with it. Like it or not (which changes for me on a daily basis), it’s a huge part of our lives and a huge part of this business. Personally, I find it a little stressful and it doesn’t come naturally for me because I didn’t really grow up with it, but I can see how useful it is, if you can find a healthy way to interact with it. I like that I’m able to follow what my friends are doing, especially those who live far away that I’m not able to talk to as much. I love animal pictures and videos (I’d say my feed is about 50% funny animal accounts). I love that it’s a place to connect with people you otherwise wouldn’t have access to, like celebrities or politicians or whatever, so you can get a little glimpse of what makes them human (if that’s what they’re choosing to share!). I personally like that people have been able to reach ME, to share their thoughts or support with regard to work I’m doing. I was doing a musical last year and there was a group of fans that found each other via social media and they were all drawing fan art for the cast and sharing it on Instagram, and their incredible support (of us and of each other) was one of the best parts of that entire experience. I’ve never loved Instagram more!
I’m wary of are the inevitable comparison of our own lives to other peoples’ (seemingly) fabulous lives. It’s so easy to forget that everyone uses social media differently, and so much of it is so carefully curated. It’s often a highlight reel. We rarely know anyone’s full story.
Where we can follow you?
Photographer: Birdie Thompson @birds_eye_photo
HMU: Lisa Truong