Mae Whitman is a versatile actress in both film and television. Whitman starred as Amber Holt, the bright, but rebellious daughter of Sarah Braverman (Lauren Graham) in NBC’s drama series “Parenthood.” For her role, she won a Gracie Award for Outstanding Female Actor in a Breakthrough Role and earned a Critics’ Choice Television Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series. She starred in CBS Films’ comedy “The DUFF” and appeared in the critically acclaimed film “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” starring opposite Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller. She also let her comedic chops shine, reprising her role as Ann Veal in the Emmy Award winning “Arrested Development” on Netflix. A talented voiceover actress, Whitman is the voice of Tinker Bell in the hugely successful Disney Fairies franchise. She also voices the character of April O’Neil in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” on Nickelodeon and Amity in “The Owl House.” She recently starred as Annie Marks in NBC’s “Good Girls.” Whitman also co-hosts with Zach Gilford and Scott Porter an exclusive “Friday Night Lights” podcast called “It’s Not Only Football: Friday Night Lights and Beyond,” available via PodcastOne, and wherever podcasts are heard.
Tara Karajica talks to Mae Whitman about her new series “Up Here” streaming now on Hulu, women in film and what she is up to next.
What made you want to become an actress?
Mae Whitman: I started when I was three years old, so I wasn’t that conscious of what I was doing. But I was always really social. I loved being around people, I loved learning things, and I loved like learning about people and understanding people. And, I think growing up on a set, you really create a family and you create a space of joy, trust and love and I just feel the safest on a movie set. It’s where I feel the most like myself and so, I just kept growing and kept wanting to be in those places. And, luckily, people kept hiring me, thank God!
How did you get on board Up Here?
M.W.: Up Here came along and I felt like it was the culmination of my entire career and it was all leading me here and it just felt like the right next step because I love the character, I love the journey, I love the time period, I love the writing and then, on top of it all, you get to do music and sing. Even though I was terrified to do that, I think it ultimately is something that I really value – trying to face the things that absolutely terrify you. So, the fact that I did it and the fact that I was able to be successful at it gives you something to carry with you for the rest of your life.
Can you get a bit more into details about the singing aspect of the series?
M.W.: I think the cool thing about this show is that the songs are all really interior; they’re not wild and wacky lyrics about big crazy stuff. The’re all about the tiny little minutiae of your life and the tiny struggles that you go through on a daily basis. I mean, think about all the thoughts you have in your head as you go about your day. There’s just millions of them and so, imagine if you could hear or see those and what they would look like. I feel like that’s a really amazing concept and the fact that I got to be a part of it and be in the recording booth with two of the most talented people in this business was life-changing. I still sometimes can’t even believe that it was me that got to do it. So, it’s definitely something I’m incredibly proud of.
How do you see your character, Lindsey?
M.W.: I think she’s someone who has had her whole life laid out in front of her. There is no mystery, there’s no surprise, there’s no growth, there’s no change really allowed. And, I think she is more than that. I think, for some people, that is very comfortable. Like Ned – he wants that for the rest of his life. But she is someone who needs growth, change, creativity and imagination in her life to feel happy. And, I think she’s really brave. She makes a choice. She makes a bold choice and she throws her whole life away and jumps into the unknown headfirst.
She also someone who is insecure. Would you agree with that assumption?
M.W.: I think Lindsay was shamed when she was little for being who she was, for being different, for being interesting, for being a little weird. And, I think she immediately stopped at that point, and all of our tendencies in that area now come with this disclaimer of being like: “Okay, you can do that, but people are gonna think you’re a freak, you’re gonna fail, you’re wrong, you’re bad.” And I think a lot of us carry around a lot of shame, guilt and insecurity. I have it constantly, at all times; these are defense mechanisms that are trying to keep us safe. They’re trying to avoid hurt the best way that they know how, but they don’t have the full perspective on who you are. And so, trying to say: “Thank you for coming, I don’t need you right now. I appreciate that. You’re trying to keep me safe, but it’s not valid right now” is a practice that I’ve really been trying to implement in my own life. And, I think Lindsey starts to understand how to drive her own boss instead of letting all these other characters drive it.
Can you touch upon the difference between dating now and back in the ‘90s, like it is in Up Here?
M.W.: Dating is always a nightmare. Let’s be honest, it’s a disaster! It’s horrible! But I don’t know how these kids are doing it on the apps and the screens. Oh my God! I’m like: “No, thank you! That’s a nightmare.” But I think the cool thing about this show is that there are no phones and there’s mystery. It’s not like you can Instagram stalk someone and try to figure out everything about them before you even go on your first date. You sort of have to listen to your intuition and listen to them. There’s a lot more listening and understanding going on. So, I feel like it makes for a more special love story.
How do you pick your projects?
M.W.: Because I’ve been doing it for so long, something I really value is a good set. I love a good project and the script is important and all that, but to me, the people who are in power of setting the tone on a set and the process of what they believe in and what they prioritize is really important to me. And, respect, trust and love from everybody, the entire team, is the most important thing to me. I was just blessed that along with it being such an unbelievable script, such an unbelievable musical, it was just the perfect project for me and I think, mixed with the fact that I was doing something that really scared me, was exciting. It made me feel passionate about it, it made me sort of feel less disillusioned with the concept. So, that’s what led me here.
Do you have a favorite role among the ones you’ve played so far? And, one that really changed you or your worldview?
M.W.: Honestly, it’s hard to say because every single project I’ve done ever since I was a little kid has given me something that I would never trade for the entire world and has really affected me deeply. Parenthood – I met my best friends on that. I learned how to improvise. I learned how to be vulnerable. And, Arrested Development – I laughed until I cried every single day in my life. Scott Pilgrim – I got to go work outside the box and work with my favorite director. Even all the voiceover I’ve done. I will say that I’m someone who really gleans a lot from every experience in my life and I take it with me. I’m very much a patchwork quilt. And, I feel like this project so far has been so epic in my life and has changed my entire life and encouraged me along the path of vulnerability, compassion, kindness, being brave, taking leaps into the unknown and trusting other people, trusting the process, trusting myself that I’ll be able to handle it. So, honestly, this one is very up there as far as life-changing goes.
What is your take on the situation of women in film and TV today?
M.W.: My take on women in film today is I’m generally like: “Women are preferable.” I’m like: “If we ran the world, it would be really great.” And so, having a lot more women entering the film industry and being heard and having everybody’s voices being amplified of all the groups that have not had a chance to have their voices be heard, I think, is changing the entire landscape of art and one thing that I really feel is this leaning towards compassion, tenderness, vulnerability and kindness. That’s something that we really need, that I feel like we’ve completely forgotten about as humans.
Do you have a favorite female filmmaker, and a favorite film by a female filmmaker?
M.W.: Meryl Streep is my hero. Everybody says that, but it’s true. I recently actually was watching Point Break, which is directed by a woman – Kathryn Bigelow – and the movie is such a bro intense machismo action film, and the camerawork is brilliant. It’s huge! The stunts and the explosions! And, it’s directed by a woman back in the ‘90s and I just was like: “Hell, yes!” getting in there glowing: “Shut up!” and being like: “F*ck you! I’m a woman. I’m gonna make the most amazing action movie of all time and showing all the men who’ve been doing the most boring action movies like: ‘Hi, I can do this better than you and succeeding’” I think that’s really chic.
Definitely! I couldn’t agree more! And, last question – what are your next projects?
M.W.: God help me! My next projects! I have not really started anything. I have a lot of voiceover things going on, which I’m really excited about because I love being a part of cartoons, books and narration, especially as I’m easing back into society. You just dedicate your entire life to a project like this. You have nothing. You’re an empty shell. So, I think it’s really cool as I sort of reintegrate into society and try to remember how to be a normal person again, that I get to have this sort of place of expression when it comes to voiceover specifically. I can’t really remember any because I don’t have any coffee left, but I know it’s out there. Stick with me and I will definitely keep you posted!
Photo credits: Courtesy of Hulu/Disney.