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Mr Robot

The Featured Presentation

Ashlie Atkinson

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Photographer: Emily Assiran/Makeup: Tommy Napoli/Hair: Ben Martin/Stylist: Lisa Tinglum

Even with her recent roles as Janice on the immensely-popular series Mr. Robot and as Peggy in the upcoming season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Ashlie Atkinson is not willing to jump into the future to see where it all leads, but she’s certainly looking forward to living it it. The Arkansas native hopes to direct episodes of a series she is a regular on while also lending her creative insight to a writer’s room on a project she created, but until then, she’s going to enjoy the ride her career has taken her on thus far.

It’s been straight highlights for years now,” she said in an exclusive interview with TrunkSpace. “I hope it lasts.”

We recently sat down with Atkinson to discuss being the “new roommate” on Mr. Robot, internal poodle discovery, and the project with a stacked cast that we would have all sat down to watch.

TrunkSpace: Is there a level of nervousness involved for you when joining a series that already has an established on-set tone? Do you feel a bit like the new kid at school who has joined the graduating class in its final year?
Atkinson: That’s a really good analogy! The one I’ve been using is, “the new roommate” because it’s not about a fear of being bullied, like at school or anything, but definitely is a big decisive movement into an atmosphere that the other people have come to think of as a second home, right? And you’re, like, all up in their scenes and their work friendships and asking where the toilet paper gets kept and what day the trash goes out. And, of course, I can’t ignore that I’m moving into Bobby Cannavale’s old room, and he’s genuinely one of the best actors of my generation and yes, now that I think of it I probably should have been more nervous!!!!

TrunkSpace: Mr. Robot is such a critically-acclaimed series. When appearing in a project like this, with so many eyes on it, does it feel like a “game changer” moment? If work begets work in this industry, does the bigger the project lead to even bigger projects?
Atkinson: I meeeeean, we’ll see? Of course, yeah in some ways I’m doing things I’ve always wanted to do in Mr. Robot, and it is a big splashy exciting series, and I would *love* for it to lead to other opportunities to work with more folks I admire on impactful, cool work. But as far as any concept of “making it”, I’ve never really felt like that was a real journey I would take as a character actor, y’know? I’ve been acting for 15 years, and I have had peaks and valleys and right now is definitely one of the most exciting times of my career, and it’d be great if it could stay busy and exciting, I’d love that! But I can’t get too spun out about “staying relevant” or anything buzzy like that.

TrunkSpace: Walk us through what your first day on set was like for Mr. Robot. Was it a whirlwind, or did you take time to savor the moment?
Atkinson: Well, I had costume fittings and table reads and camera tests to see how Janice’s look worked, so I got to meet folks beforehand and have some casual contact without the pressure of shooting. But my first day of shooting was for the dinner scene with Dom and her mom, and then the crazy reveal outside the house, and it was SO. COLD. It was 2 o’clock in the morning and we’re outside, and there’s a huge crane, and my nose is running like I’m a third-grader, and Grace Gummer is making me laugh, and there’s just no time to overthink it. It was heavenly.

TrunkSpace: Your character is described as a “chatty taxidermist.” When we hear “chatty,” we think, “That probably means a lot of dialogue to remember!” What did your pages look like and how did you prepare to bring Janice to life?
Atkinson: What was new for me was how many scenes were me on a phone, talking to Dom as I did taxidermy. In the table reads, there were stage directions in those scenes that were literally “Janice up to her elbows in a poodle.” And I got super excited about the idea of learning that stuff, so my manager arranged for me to meet a taxidermist and work through the steps of the process. It feels so good to do scenes as a character and be able to perform the specific action the character is doing with even a small amount of ability.

TrunkSpace: For fans, the final product of a film or series is always the most memorable part, but for those involved in a project, we’d imagine it goes much deeper than that. For you, what is something about your time working on Mr. Robot that you’ll carry with you through the course of your life/career?
Atkinson: I’m gonna play pretty close to the vest here and just say that the conversations I had with Grace, with Rami, with Sam, with John Lenic, with Jeff Muhlstock… I learned a lot about what goes into making a show this rare, this special. Sam was kind enough to let me shadow him on some days where I didn’t have to act, and I got to really focus on his process and the collaboration between him and Tod and the crew and the actors. It was priceless.

TrunkSpace: You have appeared in so many memorable series over the years. Which for you was the most special in terms of an experience that you’ll never forget?
Atkinson: God, okay, a series. I mean, can I narrow it down to three? Rescue Me was special because it was my first recurring, and I made my first “camp friends” there – meaning the folks you meet on a job who you may or may not keep up with after it’s all over, but who you will always love. Then there’s Us & Them, my greatest heartbreak: the US remake of Gavin & Stacey, which Fox ordered 13 episodes of and then buried before we could ever air in this country. The cast was comprised of the nicest, funniest people to populate a prime time cast: Jason Ritter, Alexis Bledel, Dustin Ybarra, Jane Kaczmarek, Kerri Kenney, Michael Ian Black, and Kurt Fuller! It was RIDICULOUS, the talent. I’m still mad about that one. And finally, One Dollar on CBS All-Access, where I got to reunite with one of my favorite directors (and really good friends) Craig Zobel and go to Pittsburgh for five months in the summer with a rambunctious cast of collaborative character actor types and make a drama about the death of the American Dream. We shot it in 2018, and I’m still talking with most of those folks at least once a week!

Photographer: Emily Assiran/Makeup: Tommy Napoli/Hair: Ben Martin/Stylist: Lisa Tinglum

TrunkSpace: Is there a character you had previously spent time with – even in a guest role capacity – that you wished you had more time to explore, and if so, why that person?
Atkinson: There’s that old saying: “Give an actor a week, they’ll take a week; give them a year, they’ll take a year.” I don’t think there has been a single role that I have ever been like “Okay, nailed it, moving on.” If I had to pick one to go back to, it would be a stage role — IMOGEN in IMOGEN SAYS NOTHING, a play I did at Yale Rep. She’s a bear masquerading as a human prostitute in Shakespearean England, and I would kill to get to inhabit her for a little while longer.

TrunkSpace: Beyond acting, you’re also a writer and producer. In the BEST best case scenario, what would your career look like moving forward? If you could greenlight your own future in the way you wanted it to play out, how would you split your time between acting, writing and producing?
Atkinson: I’d love to direct episodes of a show for which I am a series regular. I’d love to be in a writer’s room for a show I created. I have three films I’m working on developing, a jukebox musical concept based on an ‘80s movie that I am obSESSed with writing, and I want to keep directing plays. I’m writing a web series with my friend – I think having any super-detailed idea of how things are going to progress will only keep me from enjoying how things are actually progressing.

TrunkSpace: What has been the highlight of your career thus far?
Atkinson: Oh man. That’s too hard. I have been given a ridiculous number of high points in this life. BlacKkKlansman was one, getting to work on Mr. Robot with Sam was another, working on One Dollar with my friends was another. I made a bunch of rap videos for MTV as “Chunky Pam,” that’s another. I went back to my alma mater to direct a verse play about lesbian pirates, for God’s sake. I’ve been the lead, I’ve been the love interest, I’ve been the villain, I’ve been the comic relief. It’s been straight highlights for years now. I hope it lasts.

TrunkSpace: Time machine question. If you could jump ahead 10 years and get a glimpse of what your career looks like a decade from now, would you take that journey? If not, why?
Atkinson: No way. I think I’ll just let the mystery be. Also, how self-absorbed would I have to be to be like, “I have access to an honest to god time machine, so obviously my first priority is going into the future to see if I ever get to direct for TV” or whatever?

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The Featured Presentation

Michael Maize

MichaelMaize_Wingman_wednesday

With a new season underway and Dr. Jonathan Crane bringing terror to all of those he faces, the inhabitants of “Gotham’s” fantastical world are finding themselves once again wondering why they have yet to relocate to a less chaotic city. Smack dab in the middle of the mayhem is new cast member Michael Maize, whose interaction with Crane’s Scarecrow in the first episode of the season helped set the stage for the frights and fights to come.

We recently sat down with Maize to discuss how much he enjoys playing in the comic book sandbox, the fun of exaggerated performance, and why he still talks about his demon-horned past.

TrunkSpace: Generally anything comic book related comes with a rabid fandom. Are you prepared for whatever the “Gotham” fandom will throw at you now that you’re a part of the universe?
Maize: Yes, I love it. I’m ready for that. I wasn’t into comic books per se growing up, but I was a huge comic book film fan growing up. I loved the whole Superman series, and then I loved the original Batman trilogy from “Batman,” “Batman Returns,” and “Batman Forever.” I was a huge fan of that, and I always had a great love for the high concept that went into those films, which then started to get carried over into the television stratosphere within the last decade. So, it’s really exciting, and after doing “Iron Fist” last year, I was always hoping I would somehow get involved in “Gotham.”

TrunkSpace: You mentioned some of the earlier films from the super hero genre and what’s so great about “Gotham” is that it is a bit of a throwback and feels more like those than the grittier, hyper-realistic adaptations of today.
Maize: Yes, I completely agree, and I actually feel that, in general, that has been the atmosphere of where the films have been going with the last Batman movies and some of the newer Marvel movies. And, in my heart, I really love the high concept comic book entertainment that really pushes the edge of reality, and pushes the edge visually and takes you to a whole other realm. Like, for instance, “Iron Fist” was very grounded, cool, real, and it was great to jump into that realm, but from the first second that I stepped onto the “Gotham” set, there was an immediate difference with, just, the colors and the energy. You’ll see where my first scene is and where that takes place, and you just feel all of a sudden that you’re inside of this crazy universe. And it was really easy as an actor to tap into that energy and then use it for my performance.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned the colors and energy you felt stepping onto the “Gotham” set, but we have to imagine that Scarecrow costume helped set the stage as well. We’ve seen lots of iterations of the character on screen over the years, but this one in particular seems to hit the terrifying mark.
Maize: It does. The first second that he walked on set, I was definitely terrified. That’s a super-cool scene. I was so happy they used that in the trailer because you’ll see in the episode that everything goes off into very exaggerated realities, as we’ve been talking about, and then when you finally get to that scene, it’s just really grounded in the truth of, “Oh my God, what is really happening here? This villain is greater than I thought he was!”

Maize in Gotham with Ben McKenzie and Donal Logue.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned the exaggerated reality of “Gotham.” Does that allow you as an actor to take a different approach to performance than you would in something like “Iron Fist” or “Mr. Robot,” which are both more grounded in reality?
Maize: For sure, and I would say the extreme of that would be “Mr. Robot” where I walked onto that set and there was a very obvious mood and energy going on, which was extremely understated and, yes, based in reality. I had watched season 1, and I was in love with season 1. I thought that it was one of the best pilots I had ever seen, and I loved that mood. I loved the tone. It was almost flaccid, then there was this energetic heartbeat under it all that kept it going. So, I really tried, with that role, to stay completely understated, but always have this drive underneath me that was bigger than what was on the surface.

With “Gotham,” I’m a fan of the show, so I know the contents of the show and I know that it is more outside-the-box. Like I said, when I walked on the set there was that energy and you could immediately see the conceptual style in front of you, and it did really drive me. It was so much fun because, although I love playing many different characters, and I love diving into the skin of very reality-based characters and how they think and feel and not having to show too much but just be in that moment, I very rarely get to push the realms toward big, or bigger than life. With “Gotham” I really felt like it was no-holds-barred and I could just go and be a little more exaggerated and play with the tone, and play with the beat, and play with the people in my scene. I really enjoyed it.

TrunkSpace: Without giving too much away, can you tell people about where your character Grady falls into things?
Maize: He is part of Merton’s gang. Merton is the leader of the gang and I’m his right-hand man. Grady has a past connection to Jonathan Crane, a.k.a. the Scarecrow, and that connection is what propels us forward into the next episode. It’s the encounter with the Scarecrow that moves me forward as a character more than anything else.

TrunkSpace: You have appeared on many shows that have pretty incredible fandoms, but what people may not know is that you were a part of one of the original modern day television fandoms, the Buffyverse.
Maize: I was. I was in “Angel,” which I still talk about today because I wore this crazy prosthetic piece that covered from my forehead up, and I had two horns. That character was named Artode and he was a crazy lizard man of sorts. That was a super-fun and exciting show to do.

And I was in “True Blood” for a bit and that also had a wonderful, big fan base. And actually, “Power Rangers in Space.” We’re going way back in my resume now.

Maize can be seen next in Syfy’s “Happy” with Christopher Meloni.

Gotham” airs Thursdays on FOX.

Featured image by: Michael Becker

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