Canadian actress Shailene Garnett is best known for her work on The Dirties, Teenagers, and Between. Currently Shailene is playing Maureen on Freeform’s hit fantasy series Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments. Talk Nerdy With Us recently chatted with Shailene about Fuller House, Shadowhunters, 77 Days and the X-men.
Let’s start with getting to know more about you, what got you into acting to begin with?
I was three and I was watching Full House and I told my mom that I wanted to do that. It’s just something I’ve always wanted to do.
Are you extremely excited about the revival then?
Oh, my god, you have no idea! I watched the trailers and I started squealing because they’re bringing back Steve and they even called Michelle! (laughs). I kid you not, last night I had a dream about the first episode. I’ve never seen it, obviously but I had a dream that Steve actually became DJ’s stalker and they had flashbacks of their life together, how they ended up together and they didn’t want to be together in the end. (laughs). Yeah, I’m very excited.
Who was your favorite character?
It was always Michelle because I wanted to be her friend when I was three. To be honest, I don’t say this too often, but I really admire Mary Kate and Ashley, I follow their career. I was obsessed with them growing up. They have their personal issues, but who doesn’t?
Exactly. So, tell me about how you got involved with Teenagers?
It was so random. Emmanuel Kabongo contacted me on a Wednesday, I think, and he was like “hey, are you free this weekend?” I was. Then he told me that Mathew Murray, the writer, had a character for me. I got the script that Friday and learned that I was going to be playing Adele. I was like, Fantastic, that’s great, okay let’s do it. I showed up on set the next day and it just worked out so well.
Besides Emmanuel, who had you known prior to filming?
I kind of knew Raymond Ablack – Never mind the fact that I watched him on Degrassi and secretly fangirled when I first met him. (laughs). We took a class together a couple of years ago. Who else was there? Dana Jeffrey, I knew, she plays Olive. When she was taking a class I was the TA, and Allie Pratt also from a class.
It’s Mat’s passion project from school, so was it all volunteer work for you?
Yeah. I really liked the concept so I came on board. I find that you have a lot of that here, people who are eager to work. Sometimes you end up working on a really great project and yeah, it might be pro bono, but if you’re going to do a web series, for instance, and it’s being seen all across the US and Canada and winning awards, that’s pretty great project do on your downtime, right?
It’s inspiring. It’s inspiring to be around people who work so hard and who work so efficiently. As actors we encounter a lot of crappy projects as well as projects that never get completed or never get seen. Working with people who work so hard to get the final product out there and who are so motivated, it makes you want to raise the bar for yourself and hopefully inspire someone else to do the same.
Have you guys talked about a season three? Is one happening?
I spoke Mat Murray recently, but I’m not sure what his definite answer is. We did talk about the idea of maybe shopping it around to see if we can do something more with it beyond YouTube or Vimeo. I think the content is so real. We have Degrassi which is fantastic but because Degrassi was on TV I think it had to be a little bit more polished than what we had the freedom to do, being that it was online. There are some situations in Teenagers that are true to life in high schools these days that I think would be beneficial if more people got to see it. I hope something comes of it. I don’t know what can or what will but it’s done amazing for the run that it’s had.
What do you think the current status of Adele and Sara are?
That’s been the question. (laughs). Where we left off, I definitely would’ve thought that Sara and I, or Sara and Adele would have gotten together. You know, Olive was just a mess. She has her stuff that she’s dealing with but it doesn’t seem like … Sara doesn’t have any more patience for that and she finally stood her ground. It was at the point where Sara was true to her feelings, she had it figured out and Olive seemed like she was just hopping on the bandwagon to keep her friend. You know what I mean?
I think the fact Sara found Adele helped! There are scenes where we’re dancing and we’re kissing in the middle of the room in front of everyone. I feel like Adele helped Sara be a lot more comfortable with who she really is. I think they end up together. If there was a season three I would be surprised if they were not still together.
Switching gears, because you are just one busy woman, tell me about your audition for Shadowhunters?
Oh yeah, okay. Let’s talk about the first audition that I was going to have. It was in 2013, I was originally supposed to audition for the movie, the second movie that they were going to make. I was in Montreal and I got this audition and I was freaking out. We drove back home that night and I had my mom reading lines with me. I kid you not, the next day as I was walking out the door, I get an email saying that the audition has been postponed. Later I found out it was postponed indefinitely.
Then I get a call to audition for the show. I had a video audition and didn’t hear anything. I’m like, okay well obviously I didn’t get it (laughs). Then when I came back to Toronto I got called in for the same show, different character. Originally, in the audition, Maureen was Simon’s girlfriend, actual girlfriend. She walked around with a Pomeranian in her bag and was just not the person from the book and not entirely the person I play now.
It was great. I went in, I did my thing and then they called me back with a few notes. I got the call maybe two days later. I was a huge mess, I was jumping up and down. I called my mom bawling my eyes out and she couldn’t understand what I was saying because I was incoherently babbling. She was like “wait, what’s wrong? You did what? You went where?” Oh my god yeah, that was a good evening. (laughs).
Who did you audition for in the movie?
The audition was for Maia … I don’t know what their plan is with Maureen… All I know is that I was originally going to audition for Maia which made a lot of sense and then I auditioned for Maureen and I got it. I’m not in any way complaining! I’m just as curious to see where they go with it.
Apparently you were destined to be in the Simon characters orbit. (laughs). How is the Maureen we see on-screen now different from the Maureen you read in auditions? How did she change?
In my perspective of Maureen in the audition, she was more of that jealous girlfriend … She was jealous and confrontational I think is a good way to describe her in my first take. She definitely had an issue with Clary whereas now, in the series, it’s more of a trio. Simon and Clary are best friends and Maureen and Simon are as close as they are because they’re in a band together and through that she is friends with Clary despite all of the feelings involved.
There’s less bitchy drama now. Maureen is actually someone who you can like and she’s not annoying, well, I don’t think so, and she’s not high-maintenance. She’s just cool and she’s chill and she’s very awkward and very up front. She doesn’t hold back. She’s more willing to express her heart than she is to start a fight with another girl because “you took my boyfriend” kind of thing.
Did you read the books prior to the movie audition or prior to the TV show audition?
I read the series twice. When I had the first audition back in 2013, or what was to be the audition, I didn’t really know about the series. After it was postponed I was like, okay let’s see what this is about. Then, when I got call for Maureen I re-read it and thought, okay Maureen, that’s odd. But it’s great. I’m so excited!
I’m just so in awe with Cassandra Clare. To be able to even … For someone to come up with a world like that. Do you know what I mean? There’s so much detail and you really feel for these people and their world becomes so real. I just find that incredibly fascinating. I respect her so much as an author and as a creative being to come up with something like that. I don’t even know how else to describe it, she’s just fantastic.
Are we going to see more of Maureen or was the third episode your last episode this season?
You will see more of Maureen, definitely. Yes, you will. I’m very excited for the next couple of appearances.
What can you tease about her arc this season?
Based on rumors that I’ve heard, I think it’s safe to say that season one is Maureen’s introduction. I’m going to leave it at that, but for those who have read the books, I think they’ll have an appreciation for the next couple of appearances that she’ll have.
You guys are getting pretty phenomenal views, I mean rating wise a season two is likely. What would you like to see happen for Maureen in season two? Would you like it to go exactly by the book or do you want them to continue to switch up the storyline?
I feel like, just given the age difference, it’s a drastic age difference … It can only play out so much like in the book series. Literally she’s in a page and a half of the entire series so ideally I would like to have more than that. I don’t know. I’m okay with whatever the writers come up with because they’ve done such a great job of merging the novels to their own version of it. They’ve come up with some scenarios for all of the characters. One scenario, in particular, with Maureen, they came up with something that you just never would have imagined from the books. I’m open to play.
As her portrayer are you team Maureen and Simon?
Let me think through this … Yes. I’m going to say yes, but I think it’s more fun to see it not work out. It would’ve been too easy for Maureen to go to Simon and be like, “hey guess what? I like you, I want to date.” Because, then what? That would be a whole other direction for the story. I think it was for the best that Maureen was rejected by Simon, to have that realization of oh my god, the way you look at her [Clary], I’ll never get that from you. People act out on their emotions.
Do you have a musical background? What was it like singing in the pilot with Alberto Rosende?
(laughs). No. I taught myself Mary Had a Little Lamb and Bluebird on the piano when I was a kid. That took me by surprise, that whole, “yay you got the job and episode one you have to sing!” That, in all honesty, was a huge fear. I walked on set and I was freaking out on the inside. Here you have Kat and Alberto singing these musical theater songs just for fun and they’re killing it. Their voices are so good and then it’s like, ” great, Shailene now let’s go sing.”
Apparently the recording that we originally did was to clean and so they wanted us to sing live in front of everybody so it was a terrifying moment for me. I kind of felt like my back was up against the wall and I just had to face my fear and do it. You barely even hear me singing anyway.
I will say from that experience, I have now picked up the keyboard and I’m teaching myself how to actually play.
Did you and Alberto screen test or anything? What did you guys do to kind of build your relationship off set?
We had met about a week before our first shoot. We had a rehearsal together. He was learning how to play the song on guitar, I was learning on the keyboard, so we had a couple of hours together. Then he brought me over to Dom’s place to meet some of the cast.
We didn’t bond as much as I know he and Kat did. You can definitely see the on-screen relationship that Clary and Simon have, how close they are, and that comes from, I’m assuming the bonding that they did off-screen. For me to come in as Maureen, still new, essentially the third wheel and have to find my place between this duo, I think that worked.
Besides Shadowhunters, you have a new film that you’re working on, 77 Days, can you talk about that?
Okay, so that’s my project. This was a huge deal for me. I had this story and I ended up talking to Abigail Winter from Between. She took a stab at writing it and it was so great because the voice she had on paper was the voice that I had in my head. It worked so well.
I cast the film, I had the story written with specific actors in mind that I wanted to work with and they were all on board. It’s a project that was influenced by situations that are close to home. It was really cool to be able to step up and have control over a project. My own project. And to get everyone else on board and so involved. They all seem to be as invested in this as I am. It’s in post right now and it looks so good. I’m really, really excited for this. We’re going to be screening in film festivals later on this year which I’m really excited about.
It feels like a check mark off of my bucket list, direct your own thing, you know what I mean? It worked out incredibly well.
The back story is, a young mom, she leaves her infant son with her older sister because she’s on this alcoholic spiral. She’s been very inconsistent. The story takes place six years later. She’s two and a half months fresh out of rehab so 77 days out of rehab. She’s trying to put her life together and she comes back to get her kid but he has now formed a relationship with her older sister. Basically, the whole story follows her, realizing that she can’t just come and go as she pleases and expect everyone to bow down to her every whim. She has to take responsibility for her actions and really work her way back into her family.
She’s like the Tasmanian devil who unfortunately through her addiction just ripped everything apart. I thought it was really refreshing and therapeutic to be able to play this role. The character is named Shay, I didn’t have original names, I just named them after every actor. Shay, me, she is the mom and I thought it was such a cool experience to be on the other side seeking forgiveness for the damage caused by addiction.
I have addiction in my family and I only know my side of it, but to put myself in someone else’s shoes … as indirectly as it is, it’s not the exact story but to put myself in that position and to really fight for that forgiveness and to see the trouble and the damage I’ve caused to my family and want to fix it. Even the way it ends – it’s not like they live happily ever after. I wanted to make it as true to life, maybe there’s hope, maybe there’s not. It’s a day by day thing and that’s exactly what treatments work on. You take each day as it comes and that’s exactly what I wanted to emulate. I’m really, really, really excited about this project.
It gave me a lot of understanding, I guess is the best way I can say it. It’s so easy to be angry and it’s so easy to shut down. But to put yourself in that place and to realize that I’m a human being and this is my situation. I’m overcoming something. There are four sisters and the relationships that everyone has is beautifully portrayed in the film. There’s someone who is vouching for me and who really wants to be on me side. There’s someone who dismisses me, she’s just disgusted by my actions and then there’s someone who loves me so much but wants to keep their distance. It’s really complex.
I had Tamara Almeida, Nicki Whitely and Genelle Williams playing my three sisters. They each brought so much truth to their characters. It worked so well … It really developed the realism of the story. To be on this side and to confront the girl who hates me for my actions. To sit there and be like, listen, I was wrong and this is what I think, this is what I’m feeling. I feel very good about it.
I think it’s something that can resonate with a lot of people. I didn’t specify the addiction. I know what it is, it’s my story, but I didn’t specify what it was and I didn’t go into a lot of detail about the drama that she caused because I wanted it to be just vague enough so that it can be relatable. I think it is, between the four characters- the five because we have a little boy in there, but I think everyone can find someone or some situation to which they can relate.
Did you direct and produce it as well?
Yes. I executively produced it and directed it. It’s a cast of strong women so it only felt right to have women produce the film as well.
I had two. I had Stephanie Baird and Yasmine Bertew, they came in and they pulled that stuff together. I directed it and I asked Emily Piggford if she could come on set and be my eyes while I was in scenes. She’s one of my good friends, I really adore her and I trust her with my work. I told her what I was looking for and she would keep an eye out for that.
With this whole issue of diversity in film or lack thereof, it was important to me to make a film that is just a story, not necessarily a story about a specific ethnic group. Plus, I got to work with three actors that I would never have a chance to work with otherwise. Nicki and Genelle and I, to the industry, we look the same, like we’re the same person. In fact, one weekend I was trying to get in touch with Genelle but we were playing phone tag. The next day I showed up to an audition and she walked out. I’m like, this is exactly why I’m doing this!
The best thing about the project was that we all got along so well. I say this because it’s very common amongst women to be catty to one another, but especially in this industry. I met Nicki and Genelle in auditions, going out for the exact same role. There’s been times where I didn’t book a job but either Genelle or Nicki did. It was heart warming to sit there at the table, yeah we could’ve talked about the auditions that we’ve had, but there was so much more beyond that. We talked about life … We’re human beings and we don’t have to consider ourselves each others’ competition. We’re just … We can just be friends.
I feel like the industry needs a lot more of that because, at the end of the day, I don’t think it matters. If I’m going to an audition and if another girl with a similar look is going to that audition, we’re both bringing something so different into the room and we’re either right for the role or we’re not. It doesn’t make sense to hate on somebody because they have the same complexion I have or whatever.
Here’s the thing. I keep my circle of friends who are in the industry, it’s very small. I’ve noticed that every time I step out of that circle for whatever reason, I just get a bunch of these really shitty thoughts, shitty mentalities … I know a person, one time, we don’t look anything alike, we had an audition together and she’s like, “oh did you book it?” I said, no and she said, ” good because if you did then I would’ve hated you ha ha ha”. That’s the kind of stuff that we actually don’t need … We don’t need to hear that.
Oh, another example, “I hate so-and-so because he keeps booking all my jobs.” That’s not fair because this person earned that job. I don’t think it’s fair of anyone to take away that credit. We work really hard to prepare our materials for auditions and if we book it we should be happy for each other. Look, anyone else booking a job doesn’t affect me. That’s the reality of it. I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around why people are so hostile against one another. I just feel like if you are supportive and encouraging, opportunities come out of that.
That’s how it should be. It shouldn’t be such a hostile industry. How did you fund the film? You didn’t use crowd funding-
No, the cost was surprisingly low. My producers are fantastic! I had a set budget and they went under by at least 55-60 percent! We shot at my parents’ house and at my place, so locations were obviously free. Then, everyone who saw the project or who read the script, they were just so supportive. So incredibly supportive and they’ve offered their services pro bono in exchange for what’s going to be a really great final product.
The rest of it, food, gas and equipment came out of my savings.
Have you thought about doing a campaign to help with the cost of festival submissions?
Unfortunately, I find a lot of films suffer a huge delay because they rely on crowd funding. One of my criteria for this project was to make sure that it was fully funded from the jump because now, once it’s done, it’s done. If I get any money after the fact, fantastic. That will go into reimbursements.
How long has 77 Days been in development for you? How long have you had this idea? How long have you wanted to make it?
I got the idea in June and we started shooting the third week of November. It was a really quick turn around. We’re editing now. Everyone has been super on point with everything. I’m assuming it will be fully complete by March.
Wow! What have you learned from Between, Teenagers, Shadowhunters, 77 … What have you learned from them?
I think it’s extremely important to find something to keep you grounded. Unfortunately, I find that it’s not really beneficial to sit around and wait for the next project to come. Not for me, anyhow. It was really good to keep myself busy with Teenagers and 77 Days.
With 77 Days I realized that I really do enjoy the production side of things. I really, really enjoyed directing. It was a lot of fun to cast, to find the right mix of people. It gave me a lot of understanding. I take things less personally now. If I go into an audition and I really like the part but I don’t get it, I understand that from someone else’s perspective, I just wasn’t the right fit.
In the future would you like to continue with acting or is producing the route you want to take?
I will be continuing to act. That’s what I want to be doing for as long as I can. We’ll see if anything comes of 77 Days. I’m not actively seeking directing roles or anything but it’s definitely something that I want to start immersing myself into and start learning more about.
Besides all the projects that we’ve talked about, is there anything else that you’re working on?
I just finished making ‘period packs’ for women on the street. I had some friends donate extra makeup bags to add to my collection and filled them up with feminine hygiene products along with chocolate and lip balm which was donated by a local company out here.
There’s that, and I actually just became a certified open-water scuba diver, thank you very much! I’m planning a few more trips so I can get some more dives in. I’m not trying to dive in Lake Ontario. (laughs).
I just got certified in the beginning of January. It was somewhere on my bucket list but I wasn’t like, “oh my god I have to do it right away.” The opportunity presented itself and it was a very spontaneous moment, I went and I signed up for the course. I was very, very, very proud of myself. I felt very accomplished. It’s exhausting and it’s a lot of work! You don’t think it is because it looks like you’re just floating under water but you come up and you are just so exhausted. I do want to continue, I do want to get some higher levels.
I’m also working on learning the keyboard.
What are three other items on your bucket list?
Sky diving … I want to become a polyglot, someone who speaks multiple languages so that’s on my list as well. And I really want to go to Hawaii.
Since our website is called Talk Nerdy With Us, what do you nerd out about or what makes you nerdy?
Well, I’ve always been fascinated, borderline obsessed, with magical powers. (laughs). So growing up I liked Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Sailor Moon, Matilda … I’ve always really wanted magical powers, I used to always think that I had them. I’d wear these rings and be like, “I summon the powers from the sun.” Nothing would ever happen around me though. Super powers is definitely something that I secretly wish I had.
I love the X-men. That and Charmed. I also read Twitches. I was just all into that kind of stuff. I think Shadowhunters is pretty well suited for me!
Who is your favorite X-men?
Catch Shailene tonight on Shadowhunters at 9pm/8c on Freeform, and tomorrow internationally on Netflix.