Haley Strode 'Wendell & Vinnie' Interview With Kam Williams
By Kam Williams
Establishing Rapport with "The Girl Next-Door"Haley Strode has proven her skills on both screen and stage, effortlessly executing dramatic and comedic roles for which she has received significant praise. With charm, sharp intelligence and a vibrant personality, Haley is a multitalented actress who has showcased her talent across the board.
She was last seen onscreen co-starring as Marcia Keeler in Gangster Squad where she shared the screen with Josh Brolin, Giovanni Ribisi, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn and Emma Stone. And her impressive list of television appearances includes a recurring role on Important Things with Demetri Martin as well as guest appearances on Mind of Mencia, Lewis Black's: Root of All Evil, Pack of Wolves, CSI: NY, Castle, Whitney, Vegas, L.A. Noir and The New Normal.
Bringing her charisma to the theatre stage, Haley received rave reviews for her performance in the Katselas Theatre Company's production of Le Ronde de Lunch. The comedy, written by Peter Lefcourt, was awarded Stage Scene L.A.'s Best Production for 2009-2010. Her previous theatre credits include Oxford Shakespeare's Twelfth Night as Viola, A Midsummer Night's Dream as Hippolyta, Othello as Desdemona, Romeo and Juliet as Juliet, A Streetcar Named Desire as Stella, Noises Off! as Brooke, and The Importance of Being Earnest as Cecily.
Here, Haley talks about her new sitcom, Wendell & Vinnie where she plays a next-door neighbor named Taryn opposite Jerry Trainor and Buddy Handleson. The show is set to premiere on Nick at Nite on Saturday, February 16 at 8 PM ET/PT. (Check local listings)
Kam Williams: Hi, Haley, thanks for the time.
Haley Strode: Of course, Kam!
KW: What interested you in Wendell & Vinnie?
HS: Taryn is the kind of role I've always wanted to play: the eternal optimist, sweet and thoughtful, but fiery when she needs to be. She's got it all, and then some. I was enamored, and after reading the entire script, I fell in love. It's classic sitcom through and through. One thing I absolutely loved about the show from the beginning was that not only are the characters hilarious, but they're also incredibly relatable. When a poignant moment unfolds, as it does in every episode thus far, it has the ability to pull on your heartstrings. It'll make you laugh and cry, and it's one of that kind of show that I love and grew up watching, like Cheers, Friends, and Frasier. A lot of our writers actually worked on and have won Emmys on those shows.
KW: Tell me a little about the sitcom?
HS: The show revolves around a 30 year-old man-child, Vinnie Basset [played by Jerry Trainor], who is living the bachelor's life in L.A., when he suddenly becomes the prime caretaker of his bookworm, brainiac nephew, Wendell [played by Buddy Handleson]. The two form a sort of odd couple duo, being that Wendell, on many occasions, can be more discerning and responsible than his uncle. And with the help of their next-door neighbor my character, Taryn, and Vinnie's sister, Wilma [played by Nicole Sullivan], a support unit is formed to help raise Wendell... and sometimes Vinnie. [Laughs]
KW: How would you describe your character, Taryn?
HS: As I said, Taryn is the kind of girl that has it all. She's the quintessential girl next-door. In the pilot episode, we see her struggling with a new town and existence really, because she's newly divorced. There's definitely a vulnerability there, mixed with the fire she possesses to turn down Vinnie's advances from the beginning. But once she meets Wendell, and sees how much Vinnie loves his nephew and wants to be a good parent, the side of her that wears her heart on her sleeve becomes intertwined in the family unit.
KW: What message do you think the show is trying to deliver?
HS: I think ultimately the message is that no matter what life throws at us, no matter what our circumstances are, surrounding ourselves with people who love and support us is the key to leading a happy and fulfilled life. Family doesn't have to be conventional; it just has to have love and laughter at its core.
KW: You recently played a serious role in Gangster Squad where your husband [Giovanni Ribisi] dies, leaving you a single-mom. Which do you prefer, drama or comedy?
HS: This is a great question, I'm asked this a lot. While I love working on dramatic characters and stories, it's comedy that I love the most. For me, it's incredibly rewarding to make a person laugh. Laughter is one of the greatest parts of life.
KW: What was it like working with such an accomplished cast that included not only Giovanni Ribisi, but Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, Josh Brolin, Nick Nolte, Anthony Mackie, Michael Pena and Robert Patrick?
HS: It was truly an incredible experience. I've been a huge fan of Giovanni's for a long time; he's such a chameleon. It was an honor to work with him, as well as the rest of this stellar cast. Being that it was male dominated, it was often fun feeling like a part of the 'boys club' that took place on set. Such a talented, fun and luckily for me, welcoming group of men that made the entire experience a memorable one. Our director Ruben Fleischer, was the most welcoming of them all. I can't say enough about how wonderful it was to work with him and watch him work.
KW: What would be your dream role?
HS: I've often tried to imagine my dream role and what that would truly mean. I'm not sure I've reached a clear picture of it yet, but I have always said the reason I wanted to act was ultimately to develop characters that evoke emotion and consequently change lives. So many incredible actors do that for me. It's something I've known about myself for as long as I can remember.
KW: What directors would you like to work with?
HS: Cameron Crowe, Michel Gondry, Charlie Kaufman, Wes Anderson, Jonathan Dayton, Rob Reiner and many, many more.
KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
HS: I wish someone would ask me about my big brothers so I could talk about how proud of them I am and all their accomplishments. My oldest brother owns and operates our family's fifth generation farm alongside my father, and is a member of the Kentucky Agriculture Leadership Development Program. Only 22 are chosen to travel worldwide to study and teach different methods of farming. They'll be heading to Washington, DC in the fall to speak to legislators about how to improve methods of agriculture in our country. My other brother, Matthew, is a general surgeon in Georgia, halfway through his residency and working on research that will hopefully be used to help children with specific deficiencies. This month he'll be presenting a paper he wrote on this at a national surgical conference. My brothers are incredible and I couldn't be more proud of them.
KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
HS: Yes, but I always manage to rework my fear into drive.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
HS: Extraordinarily so!
KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?
HS: Today, on set. There has not been one day I've left without my cheeks and stomach hurting from laughing so hard. It's the greatest workout routine ever.
KW: What is your guiltiest pleasure?
HS: A badass pair of heels, and cookie dough ice cream
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
HS: The last book I read was a reread. Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises." It's one of my favorite books, and has one of my favorite characters: Lady Brett Ashley.
KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What was the last song you listened to?
HS: Cheap and Cheerful from The Kills' Midnight Boom album.
KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
HS: I make a mean apple pie and, if I'm feeling really wild, with cheddar cut into the crust.
KW: The Sanaa Lathan question: What excites you?
HS: As cheesy and melodramatic as it might sound, it's very simple: Love excites me more than anything... in all its forms.
KW: The Uduak Oduok question: Who is your favorite clothes designer?
HS: I love so many, but my favorites are the classics: Dolce and Gabbana, Chanel, Dior and Chloe.
KW: Dante Lee, author of "Black Business Secrets," asks: What was the best business decision you ever made, and what was the worst?
HS: The best? Working with my longtime manager, David Rhee. The worst? I've grown from every mistake, so there is no 'worst' decision.
KW: The Michael Ealy question: If you could meet any historical figure, who would it be?
HS: There are many life stories I've heard that are so inspiring, that leave me with such cognizance of myself and the level of work that I want to reach. Mary Cassatt comes to mind as one the most attractive historical figures for a meeting, because her life story, to me, always sounded remarkable in every sense. She overcame the difficulties of having parents that loved her, but did not support her passions. She was a female artist at a time when women were meant to be married, have children and almost forbidden to have a job. She saw her passion clearly, and unapologetically went for it. I love and admire that great amount of gumption that it must have taken. I also read a quote of hers once about how she learned so much from her mentor and, later, best friend, Henry Matisse. She said "I used to go and flatten my nose against that window and absorb all I could of his art." I love this quote because I think this is how every artist feels while pursuing their art. We all want to scour what inspires us, and learn from and build on it.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
HS: A work in progress
KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
HS: That my family and friends would be protected from harm always.
KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
HS: My dad coming home from the farm, spinning me around, and dancing with me. It was my favorite time of day. *
KW: The Jamie Foxx question: If you only had 24 hours to live, what would you do? Would you do the bad stuff, you never got a chance to do, or would you do good stuff to make sure you make it into heaven?
HS: I'd gather with family and friends to tell stories and laugh over a bottle of my favorite bourbon.
KW: The Kerry Washington question: If you were an animal, what animal would you be?
HS: I would love be a bunny, but I'm clearly a golden retriever.
KW: The Pastor Alex Kendrick question: When do you feel the most content?
HS: After a live studio audience show. Nothing feels better than working in front of an audience. I grew up in theatre, so it's really my heaven. I feel exhausted from hard work and give myself time to acknowledge what I've done before I move on to the next episode. I think it's important to celebrate the strides we make.
KW: The Toure question: Who is the person who led you to become the person you are today?
HS: My mom
KW: The Judyth Piazza question: What key quality do you believe all successful people share?
HS: I would say that all successful people are "fighters." They're passionate and determined. They see not only what they want out of life, but what they were built for, and fight for it.
KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
HS: My advice would be to enjoy every moment and to take the time to learn from every mistake.
KW: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?
HS: I want to be remembered as a passionate professional and compassionate human being.
KW: Thanks again for the time, Haley, and best of luck with the show.
HS: Thank you so much, Kam!
To see a trailer for Wendell & Vinnie:
Kam Williams is a syndicated film and book critic who writes for 100+ publications. He is a member of the New York Film Critics Online, the African-American Film Critics Association, and the NAACP Image Awards Nominating Committee. Contact him through NewsBlaze. Read more reviews by Kam Williams.
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