Presumably, we’re all familiar with the coined phrase, “Making it up as I go along.” Something we’ve all seemingly admitted, happens to coincide with the very definition of improvisation, something Mary Holland is well acquainted with. The multi-talented actress, writer, and comedian used the art of improv to her advantage, as she explains, “For years and years, I auditioned, and never got a single thing. I turned to the creative community I found in performing improv comedy. I loved improv and really connected with other improvisers, and I think because I was caring so much about what I was building there, it took the pressure off of auditions.” Now, with the help of improv and her unmatched talent, Mary’s career has undoubtedly skyrocketed. Along with her marvelous work in the upcoming romantic comedy, Happiest Season, premiering on Hulu and in theaters, she can be seen in Comedy Central’s, Robbie, and her upcoming film, Golden Arm. In this exclusive interview, we had the opportunity to chat with the ultra-talented actress to discuss her newest roles in her abundance of upcoming projects, an inside look into her comedy career thus far, and how improv ultimately changed her career for the better.
Megan Morgante: Did anything/anyone, in particular, inspire you to enter the entertainment industry?
Mary Holland: I’m fortunate to have a very supportive family. I knew from a young age that I wanted to be an actor, and they believed in me. I felt like acting was in my bones and I never questioned it. I also had lots of influential teachers in high school and college that encouraged me, and I think that strong support system gave me the courage I needed to move to LA and pursue a career in this industry.
MM: Can you give an overview of your background in the entertainment industry and how it led you to where you are now?
MH: When I moved to Los Angeles in 2007, I had an agent and went out on auditions, but I never booked anything. For years and years, I auditioned, and never got a single thing. I’ve actually saved every audition I ever went on (they’re all in a folder in my email), and it’s staggering to look back on the many hundreds I went out on with a batting average of zero! I turned to the creative community I found in performing improv comedy. I loved improv and really connected with other improvisers, and I think because I was caring so much about what I was building there, it took the pressure off of auditions. I was having the time of my life doing shows around Los Angeles and meeting people in the comedy scene. Eventually, I started doing better with auditions, and I was given opportunities through friends I met in comedy that kept leading to other opportunities. I really feel that I am where I am now because of the generosity of people I met, either directly or indirectly, through doing improv.
MM: You have some very exciting upcoming projects; can you give some insight into Happiest Season, premiering on Hulu and in theaters on November 25th?
MH: I am so proud to be a part of Happiest Season. Clea DuVall has created a truly moving, beautiful, hilarious movie that’s so heartwarming and fun to watch. I can’t wait for the world to see it! It’s a holiday romantic comedy that the whole family can enjoy together, and I’m thrilled that it will be available to watch on Hulu.
MM: What was your experience like co-writing this film with Clea DuVall and witnessing the overall project grow over-time?
MH: I feel honored that Clea asked me to write this movie with her. She had this idea for a Christmas movie for a long time, and it’s inspired by her experiences. We had so much fun together creating this world and fleshing out these very specific, very relatable characters. We laughed a LOT. Watching the project grow and evolve from where it started years ago has been educational and inspiring. Clea is an incredible director, and she brought her vision and point of view to the script as we were writing it. I learned a lot from being a part of that process with her, and in supporting bringing that vision to the page.
MM: Now, what about your role in Comedy Central’s, Robbie? What has your experience been like filming this project and working with the cast?
MH: Robbie was such a joy to work on! There are so many amazing people involved that I feel lucky to call my friends. We had a blast the whole time we were shooting in Atlanta. Rory Scovel, who plays Robbie, and his wife, Jordan, would have us over to their family’s home every week for Sunday dinner, and it created this intimate, familial bond between all of us. I played a pretty eccentric character, but I felt 100% supported by the cast, crew, and producers in making her the wildest and funniest she could be. It was a party the entire time, I loved it so much. Playing off fantastic actors like Rory, Sasheer Zamata, and Beau Bridges, was one of the most fun professional experiences I’ve ever had.
MM: You’re also a member of the improv comedy group, Wild Horses, and have recently been named one of Time Out Magazine’s, “Ten Comedians to Watch,” and one of Vulture’s, “50 Comedians You Should Know.” What has your journey with comedy looked like and how did your passion for the art evolve over time?
MH: I love how comedy is so collaborative. That collaborative sensibility is something I feel like I’ve carried with me into other acting and writing projects. Improv and comedy are a huge part of my life, and they bring me so much joy. They influence me greatly. I feel free and supported when I play in those comedy spaces, and I’ve been fortunate to work with many friends I’ve met through that work. I feel like I evolved into a writer through improv.
MM: Tell us about your film, Golden Arm, set to premiere in 2021.
MH: Golden Arm is another project that was a dream to work on. I’ve known Maureen Bharoocha, the director, and Betsy Sodaro, one of the leads, for many years. Golden Arm is a buddy-comedy written by Ann Marie Allison and Jenna Milly, set in the world of women’s arm wrestling. I remember Betsy, one of the funniest people alive, was set to play one of the leads, and I got to do a chemistry read with her where we just improvised, played and made each other laugh. I was over the moon to get to play her best friend in the movie. Maureen created an atmosphere that felt similar to doing live improv on stage - we played so much off each other and heightened the dynamic between these best friends. Since Betsy and I have known each other from the improv scene in LA for over a decade, we felt instantly comfortable in playing together. The movie is so fun and joyful, and it reflects how we felt while making it!
MM: If you could give a piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?
MH: Don’t be attached to results. And please start flossing.
MM: Where do you tend to draw your inspiration from when preparing for each role?
MH: I love thinking about a character’s physicality - how they carry themselves and how they behave in a space. One of the many things I love about doing live theatre is how you have to fill the space and make specific physical choices in every scene, and I try to bring that to the characters I play.
MM: Have you ever experienced any notable challenges throughout your career?
MH: Oh yes, many. There’s a massive overall challenge in maintaining an ongoing hope, an unwavering belief that I can do what I dream of doing, in the face of overwhelming rejection. I have to keep getting up after being knocked down. Yes, I am quoting, “Tub-thumper.”
MM: Aside from acting, what would you say your other passions are?
MH: I have a deep, abiding passion for escape rooms.
MM: Do you feel you have a social responsibility with your growing platform?
MH: I’ve learned so much over the past year from activists and community organizers who have worked tirelessly to make this country a place that is truly equal for all. I am aware that as a straight, white, cisgender woman, I come from immense privilege. I feel that I have a responsibility to share what I’m learning and contribute to the conversation, and to use the platform I have to spread the important messages from those whose words need to be heard.
MM: What would you say your personal style is like?
MH: All over the place. I love fashion and am inspired by lots of different styles and looks. I have a hard time committing to a specific style, so I’d say my closet is a Frankenstein of different looks and vibes.
MM: Who is your ultimate style icon?
MH: This is a tough one! I don’t think I have one ultimate style icon, but Chloë Sevigny is someone whose fashion sensibility I’ve always admired. She’s bold and expressive with her clothes. Her looks are intentional and detailed and playful.
Photography by: Krystena Patton