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Wingman Wednesday

Rudy Martinez

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Photo By: Ryan West

Beneath his love for acting and a talent for puppeteering, Rudy Martinez is a storyteller at his core. Whether he is giving life to characters on screen or creating them from scratch with the written word, the California native is most at home when he’s entertaining. The “Jane the Virgin” alumni can currently be seen in Season 2 of “Dear White People,” available now on Netflix.

We recently sat down with Martinez to discuss the ways his “Dear White People” experience differed from previous jobs, how he was able to play up his character’s social awkwardness, and why he’d have no problem expressing love for a kitchen glass.

TrunkSpace: You’ve worked on a lot of television in the past. Has “Dear White People” been a different experience for you when you compare it to past roles and projects?
Martinez: Yeah, definitely. This was, I want to say, the biggest project I’ve done because my character had a whole story arc and I was featured in several episodes. I really feel like I played a big part on the show. It did change some things for me. I’ve been getting a lot of messages from fans who’ve reached out, especially since the show, because it deals with a lot of various issues – I would say first and foremost race and race tensions in America and also LGBT issues. I’ve been getting a lot of people who’ve been just letting me know what the character and what the show has meant to them and that’s meant a lot to me.

TrunkSpace: The show feels very timely in that messaging as well.
Martinez: Right. I totally agree and I think that Season 2 particularly, a large chunk of the show deals with the sort of… that because of the prevalence of social media these days, there’s these sort of anonymous racist Twitter trolls and Facebook trolls who are being given a bigger platform. Season 2 takes a critical look at that.

TrunkSpace: And what’s nice about Season 2 is that it steps out from the shadow of the film that it is based on and becomes its own entity.
Martinez: That’s right, and I really love seeing the backstory of a lot of the characters and getting more in depth with that. I really love that aspect of the show.

TrunkSpace: Now, your character, Wesley, he’s a bit socially awkward. Were you able to tap into that side of him and use it to make him as likable as he ultimately became?
Martinez: You know, I definitely think that I can be socially awkward sometimes, so I was definitely able to play myself in some instances. I really feel there was a lot of the part that was just so well written and the comedy was well written also, so it was an exercise for me and a little bit of a challenge to really nail that. I put a lot of work into it and ultimately, I was unsure how it would come off on screen. Then, when I watched it I was like, “Oh, thank God that played!” (Laughter) Yeah, the sort of awkwardness helped pump up the comedy a lot.

TrunkSpace: A personality trait like that must help you find the laughs within the performance and not just the dialogue, correct?
Martinez: Yeah, exactly, which is something that I love doing. I’m a theater guy, so I do a lot of physical theater and stuff. I studied clowning in college and things like that and so I was able to make the physical stuff work, too.

TrunkSpace: Your character is also dealing with a new love and discovering another human being, which everyone can relate to. When you’re in a story arc like that, where it’s so reliant on chemistry, how do you personally go about trying to establish that on screen? Is it all about homework beforehand with your co-star?
Martinez: There’s not a lot of interaction, actually, with my co-star before we start rehearsing and shooting. The rehearsals happen on this minutes before the actual shoot, so you don’t really get a lot of time. We did do a chemistry read together and I think that the director, Justin Simien, and the producers wanted to see who had natural chemistry together and I think that’s important, too.

In terms of portraying that sort of attraction, I was joking with friends and I was telling them that I love playing smitten and in love. It’s just my favorite emotion to play. I could pretend to be in love with anything. I could grab a glass from the kitchen and just pretend I’m doing a monologue and improvise a monologue and be in love with anything. It’s just, there’s something about it. I love using that emotion in my arsenal, so I was really just glad to be able to do that.

TrunkSpace: You’ve appeared on a number of great shows over the years, some of which ended their runs prematurely. Is there something nice about being able to be on a show where the entire season is both produced and seen without having to worry about it finding its audience so you can close out your arc?
Martinez: Yeah. That was actually really nice, and not only that, I think that the show has a lot of fans that have come from the original movie and from Season 1. It’s definitely something, doing a show that, first of all, you don’t know if it’s going to get picked up. There’s that whole thing. The nerves are in high during pilot season. And then it gets picked up, and then, ultimately if you’re on a show and it gets canceled, there’s that big letdown. For this, coming off of my experience with other shows, I kind of compartmentalized what my experience would be like on “Dear White People” and thought, this could be it, it could be just this chunk of episodes. Then, it comes out and the fans come with it and there’s a lot of support. It’s definitely a great feeling.

Photo By: Ryan West

TrunkSpace: Is that part of a defense mechanism as an actor, having to not look too far into the future with a particular character or project?
Martinez: Definitely. Definitely. I think actors face that every day, whether it’s in an audition where you feel like you really nailed it and then you don’t hear back… it’s always the ones where you think you didn’t really get it or you weren’t that enthusiastic about it and then you hear that you have a call back or you book it and it’s like, “Oh wow!” You, as an actor, you do have to do that a lot. Just going from past experiences, you have to let some things go.

TrunkSpace: How do you personally handle the heartbreak of a show not being picked up or learning that a series has been canceled?
Martinez: Friends, you know? There’s always something to celebrate or commiserate and I think that you give in to it. You let yourself do what you need to do and then you pick up and move on. Then, over time, that process becomes a lot quicker. I think that your first letdown in Hollywood, it can last months, but as it goes along, you grow a thick skin and you learn to move on.

TrunkSpace: You’re also a puppeteer. Which love came first, acting or puppeteering?
Martinez: They’re a little one and the same. Maybe my first performances were when I was a child acting out puppet shows for my family. I was obsessed with “The Muppets” so I would take socks and stuff and make fake Muppets and do little performances for my family, so I think that maybe that was my first love. Underneath that is my love for telling stories and improvising and pretending and just giving voices to characters that aren’t me. In that respect, they are one and the same.

Dear White People” is available now on Netflix.

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Wingman Wednesday

Ally Maki

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Photo By: Rick Bhatia

*Feature originally ran 9/20/17

There are many things to like about the TBS comedy “Wrecked” – the humor, the life-or-death stakes, the irresistible accent of series star Rhys Darby – but there’s one piece to the stranded on a desert island puzzle that we can’t help but love – Ally Maki.

The Washington native shines on the series, consistently delivering laughs in the midst of her character Jess’ attempts to strike a balance between enduring the tortures of a survivalist lifestyle and her own personal problems, most of which involve her on-again/off-again significant other, Todd, played to great douchery by Will Greenberg.

We recently sat down with Maki to discuss mosquito scars, why she loves that Jess is such a hot mess, and how she once played a keytar without ever having actually played a keytar.

TrunkSpace: Congrats on season 3 pick up!
Maki: Thank you so much.

TrunkSpace: I hope you’re a beach person because we assume that means more sand in your future!
Maki: It does. I have so many stories about our filming on our tropical set, but overall it’s pretty wonderful to film on a beach.

TrunkSpace: The universe is going to punish you at some point. Your next job is going to be like six months in Antarctica.
Maki: You know what, I have already been punished enough by the mosquitoes, so I feel like I’ve paid my dues.

TrunkSpace: Even though you were on the same island in the show, you actually filmed the first and second season in different locations, right?
Maki: Yes. The first one was in Puerto Rico. I love Puerto Rico, but the bugs there were such an issue. I left and I had, no joke, like 250 scars on my legs. We had to do like a workers comp file because I did seven months of laser scar removal because my legs looked like insanity. I couldn’t even show them at all because you would think something was wrong with me.

TrunkSpace: Yikes. That sounds rough. And then, we’d have to imagine that the sun itself is a bit of a liability.
Maki: Oh yeah and I’m very sensitive to any sort of heat. I’m the girl that, if I take half an Advil, I’ll pass out. I’m always stressed out by the heat and I’m constantly getting dehydrated, but then you don’t want to drink too much water because then you have to go to the bathroom a lot. It’s a whole thing. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: We know a lot of people instantly connect the show to “Lost” in terms of the premise, but it’s really more of like an “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” but with life-or-death stakes.
Maki: Yeah. Absolutely. I was the only person who had never seen “Lost” when I booked the show, so I really only knew the show as its own thing, and I definitely saw it as something completely different. It’s just so wacky and zany, and fun, and weird. I appreciate that people who loved “Lost” love the show as well, but it’s definitely its own thing.

TrunkSpace: And that thing is represented in the humor. Sometimes the funniest things in life come out of those moments where the stakes are high.
Maki: Oh yeah. I mean, you’re just elevating the stakes by 1000 percent. My character, Jess, is just, she’s an all-American, modern girl. She’s going through all the things that every woman goes through – dealing with a douchey boyfriend, or relationship, sex, this and that. She’s trying to find her inner strength, but it’s hilarious when you kind of put that in a life-or-death situation because it means so much to her. It’s very fun.

TrunkSpace: We hope every woman doesn’t have to deal with a douchey boyfriend at some point in their lives. There’s got to be some who get a Get Out Of Douchey Jail Free card.
Maki: I would love to meet and talk to a woman that has not had to deal with one because I have had far too many in my life. (Laughter) I would love to give those away to other people if they would like those.

TrunkSpace: (Laughter) From a performance standpoint, what is your favorite thing about Jess that you like diving into? What about her is worth dealing with heat and the mosquitoes for?
Maki: I honestly love that she’s somewhat of a hot mess because I kind of am in my own life too. It’s fun to see her go through all of these things and she’s really just trying to find her own independence and her own voice, but she has kind of a rough time getting there. She wears her heart on her sleeve so much, and she’s constantly making mistakes, but I love that she just kind of always gets right back in the game and goes completely head strong and nose first into all of these issues. It’s so much fun to play her. She’s a total mess, but I love her.

Maki and Greenberg in season 2 of Wrecked. Photo By: Vince Valitutti

TrunkSpace: From what we read, you almost didn’t even read for Jess in the first place, right?
Maki: Yeah. I was kind of in this weird head space because I had just done this show with Nick Frost and Justin Long, and it was literally my dream project and we were on a hold for about a year. I just found out randomly that the show was not going and it was absolutely devastating for me. The audition for “Wrecked” came very soon after, so it was one of those things that I was like, “Screw it! I’m not even sure if I’m ready to get back in the game again because I’m so depressed about it.” And I also just thought, at that time in the industry, we’re in this place where I didn’t really believe that it was possible for an Asian American woman to be playing this part just based upon years and years of the roles that people would see me for and not see me for, or pity see me for. So I was kind of like, “Is this going to be a waste of my time?”

It wasn’t. It was because of our amazing casting director Julie Ashton, who’s a friend and she’s honestly the only reason why I ever worked in this business, but she was like, “Honestly, we’re going so out of the box so come in and see what happens.” It’s one of those things where I kind of just let it go, and I was just the right girl for the role. Thank God for TBS and the Shipleys and everyone because, yeah, I almost did not go in.

TrunkSpace: Life always zigs when you plan for it to zag.
Maki: Absolutely. It’s kind of funny, I always look back to the moment of my rock bottom when I was told that the Fox show wasn’t going through, and I was like, “Is it even going to happen?” I was really kind of just doubting myself in the industry and everything. I look back now and I think about all of the adventures that I’ve had and how incredibly amazing the show is. It’s just awesome. I feel so lucky.

TrunkSpace: Beyond the job and your career itself, what is one of the coolest things to come out of the opportunity “Wrecked” has provided? We know you did Conan’s show, for example, which to us, would have been an amazing chapter in our life book.
Maki: Well, Conan is like a number one bucket list thing for me, so that was another moment I was like, “I can’t even believe that this is possible!” If I had gone back to my 14-year-old self and would’ve been like, “Hey, one day you’re going to do a late night talk show,” I would have honestly just pissed my pants. It was so meaningful because I was getting so many messages from people in the Asian American community, or just young girls of color. I had this one girl who literally said she watched it and she cried because she’d never really seen someone that looked like her on a late night talk show before. It makes you feel like, “I do exist in this world, and people like me exist. Our stories matter.” It’s really a cool thing.

TrunkSpace: Here’s the thing, Ally. You’re beautiful. You’re talented. You’re funny. But quite possibly the best thing we discovered about you is that, yes, you played the keytar!
Maki: Oh my gosh!

Photo By: Francisco Roman

TrunkSpace: As far as visuals go, it really is the greatest instrument ever invented.
Maki: (Laughter) I know. One of my friends calls me Robin Sparkles. She’s like, “You’re like my own Robin Sparkles in real life.”

TrunkSpace: If you discover that there has been a big jump in viewers on the “It’s a Hair Thing” video, that’s because of us. We’ve watched it over and over and over again.
Maki: (Laughter) Oh my gosh. So hilarious. When people find out about it, I’m like, “Please don’t Google it. Please don’t Google it!” It’s so embarrassing, but you know, we all have our embarrassing stories.

TrunkSpace: Did you have to kind of rebrand yourself after that period?
Maki: Here’s the thing, that was not where I started. I actually started out always in acting. I did theater all growing up. I was scouted when I was 14. I moved out here as an actress. I started doing stuff for the Disney Channel and stuff, but the only reason why I did the girl band was, honestly, because there was such a lack of things for me to do as an Asian girl. There was just nothing. There were only things here and there, little things, so my agent was like, “I think you should go out for this girl band. They’re really interested in you and they’re looking for an Asian girl.” I was like, “Please no! I don’t want to do it!” I was classically trained as a pianist, not like the keytar or whatever. They were like, “Please just go in.” I had to learn Avril Lavigne’s “Skater Boy” and I went in and they were like, “Well, you got it!”

It’s really just this blip, and it was never what I wanted to do and never what I was supposed to do. And then one day they were like, “Hey, so we want to change it up and we want you to play the keytar.” I was like, “What?!?!” I never even learned how to play it. It was never even plugged in.

TrunkSpace: Life is all about the journey, and as far as journeys go, that’s a hell of a story to share!
Maki: I always think when I have embarrassing things, I’m like, “This will be a great story on a talk show or in an interview one day.” That helps me get through it. (Laughter)

Featured Photo By: Rick Bhatia

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Wingman Wednesday

Nia Jervier

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Photo By: Caitlin Fisher

As star of the Netflix series “Dear White People,” Nia Jervier is paving a mile wide path towards a bright and shining future. Her performance as Kelsey Phillips in the timely dramedy is a comedic coming out party for the Brooklyn native who also appeared in the film that inspired the series.

We recently sat down with Jervier to talk about her relationship with television shows, how the most popular series perfectly blend genres, and why Kelsey is a super magnified version of herself.

TrunkSpace: How has “Dear White People” changed your career thus far? Has it had an impact in terms of opening additional doors?
Jervier: It definitely has opened things up a bit more, especially with agents and casting directors who may have had interest before. I think that the show solidified my work. Work begets work, so now that “Dear White People” is buzzing, people that had interest feel justified in saying, “We really want to bring that girl in. She is great because Netflix said so.” (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: That was actually one of our questions. Is part of the buzz not only the show but the platform itself?
Jervier: Certainly. The platform does help. And it’s also a very smart show and it’s witty and it’s very stylish and sophisticated. I think that people love all of those things. It’s something very special to be a part of.

TrunkSpace: The show is all of these things… smart, witty, stylish… and they’re blended together in a way that you would not have seen on a television platform a decade or two ago. No longer is a show just one genre. In fact, it seems like shows are better served when they’re blending as many different elements as possible.
Jervier: Absolutely. I think that definitely is a new thing. I also think that it’s something that’s necessary. We’re sort of in this zone with millennials where there has to be a multifaceted aspect to it, sort of like an artistic octopus. (Laughter) That’s the only way I can describe it. It’s like Lena Dunham or the girl who created “The OA” for Netflix. She’s the creator. She’s one of the writers. She’s also starring on it. Or how Lena Dunham created “Girls” and she’s also starring on the show and producing it. Donald Glover from “Community” created “Atlanta” and he’s writing and producing it. There’s also this great British sitcom on Netflix called “Chewing Gum” and it’s the same thing where Michaela Cole is just doing everything. I think that we’re just in a time where that’s okay when it’s executed with excellence and it’s something that is revered by audiences and by your peers as an artist. I think that is being reflected in the work because if someone believes that they can be the producer and the creator and star in the show, then they will also have a similar belief in the fact that the show can be many things at one time.

TrunkSpace: So as you look forward in your career, is that something you’re interested in doing as well?
Jervier: I would love to develop and create as a creator/producer. I’m not much of a writer and I believe you should lead out with what you’re excellent at. I was just brought up that way. So I would probably partner with someone who is a close friend or a writer that I respect to carry out that writing aspect of it, but I definitely have some ideas up my sleeve. I think that it’s important to create your own content, especially as a woman.

TrunkSpace: And it does seem like that it in this day and age, wearing multiple hats on a project and creating content enables actors and actresses to fully monetize their involvement in a project.
Jervier: I think the actors matter in a different way now and I think that your opinion as an artist or as a producer matters because there’s proof in the pudding that the method of applying it to the work… it works! It just does.

But I must also emphasize that I definitely believe that people should stick to things that they’re excellent in doing. If you marry it with excellence and you follow through with that and know that it’s actually good, that’s when the magic happens and it works.

TrunkSpace: So as you look back over your time working on “Dear White People,” where do you feel like you got to stretch your acting muscles the most?
Jervier: I guess the last scene that closes out the show. My character Kelsey, she’s very crazy and neurotic. (Laughter) I’m a theater baby so transitioning into film and TV, it’s a different vehicle, so your work is a lot smaller and detailed because the camera comes to you. I think that I gave myself a bit of permission to tell her truthfully and allow my work to be a bit bigger than I normally would for film and TV work. Especially for film work… it’s even smaller than TV stuff.

I was really happy about the fact that I leaned in and allowed her to go there… allowed myself to go there FOR her… because I think the part really called for it.

TrunkSpace: So did finding who Kelsey was come easy to you?
Jervier: I read the sides for the audition and had to do a double take. I was sort of like, “This could not have been more perfectly written for me. I need to have this part.” I desperately wanted it and fell in love with her immediately. I understand who this girl is. She is an amplified version of myself in certain ways. Definitely super magnified. She’s many levels above. If I’m at a two, Kelsey is at like a 59 out of 10! (Laughter) But I definitely identify with so many aspects and layers of her life and I just turned everything up a notch and sprinkled cayenne on it. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: Did it kind of feel like “Dear White People” was more of a movie than a television show in how it was rolled out?
Jervier: That’s a really good question. I guess it did. I am an avid binge watcher. I have relationships with shows. (Laughter) And I feel like I know the characters. Before the binging culture began, I don’t think that I had the same relationship with TV. It was a little different. I loved it, but it’s a big difference and getting to be a part of that with a show that I was on, there was something very special and unique about that. I guess it did feel like a film.

There was a little bit more of an excitement attached to it because you knew that you could get it all in one fell swoop. You got to get a taste of the beginning and the end in one dose. Yeah, I enjoyed that.

TrunkSpace: And in a social media age, it must make for a different type of fan interaction when they can just gulp it down all in one evening.
Jervier: Yes. I think there is a gift in that as well. People took to Twitter and to Instagram and to social media immediately. Because of the binge culture, they fall in love with the characters. And not only fall in love with the characters, they KNOW these people in the same way that I do when I’m part of the audience or I’m the viewer. I really enjoyed that part of it. I enjoyed knowing that people would get all of this show at one time. I think it gives the show more of a chance to live and for people to have a relationship with the show and the characters because you’re getting it all at one time. Sometimes I think that some shows might have a disadvantage in people maybe not having enough time this week to catch it or from missing it. There’s more of a chance of someone falling off the wagon. (Laughter)

Photo Courtesy of Netflix

TrunkSpace: It’s true. We’re guilty as changed for putting stuff on the DVR and then never getting to it, and yet, if you start something on Netflix or another streaming platform, you just plow through it.
Jervier: Yes! It’s addictive. And there’s a commitment. You’re like, “I’m five episodes in… I’ve got to find out!” You’re already stuck. There’s a commitment and an addiction to it. It’s a commitment that’s fun and enjoyable and it’s an addiction that’s legal and people will still like you after! (Laughter) It’s perfect!

Dear White People” is available now on Netflix.

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