A Conversation with ‘Between’ Star Jennette McCurdy

Between finally makes its debut tonight on CityTV in Canada (tomorrow on shomi) and on Netflix in the US … and we are so excited! We were fortunate enough to visit their Toronto set last winter (in fact, it was during a snowstorm) and spoke with the cast and producers.

If you don’t recall hearing about this series, check out our post from when it was announced last fall.

In the first of our on-set interviews, we chat with Between star Jennette McCurdy about the series and her character, Wiley.

Between is a different kind of show than what you’re most known for up until now, and I’m excited to see you in a genre / thriller series. Was that one of the reasons that you were interested in this project?

People keep asking if the reason I was attracted to Between was because it was so different from anything I’ve done, but really I wasn’t looking for different. I was just looking for something that excited me, that made me feel that passion and inspiration that I initially felt when I started acting. I wanted that back, that desire and that thrill, and I got that as soon as I read these scripts. I loved the characters and loved that it’s a thriller show. I loved that it was an ensemble cast that reminded me of LOST, and I loved Wiley. It was all of those things combined that just made me chase it aggressively.

From what I’ve heard so far, Wiley sounds like a phenomenal, dynamic character. When the show begins, do we get a sense of who she was before this disaster hit Pretty Lake?

Wiley definitely has an interesting arc. When we first meet her, we find that she’s got a sense of humour deep down, but she’s not going for the laughs. She’s cracking jokes because her life is a bit in the dumps, personally. She’s very cynical and rebellious. She was raised in a family that she didn’t feel she fit into. She doesn’t really have a friend group that she fits in with. To me, she’s a lost kid who’s kind of growing into a woman and doesn’t really know how to make sense of that, and doesn’t know where she stands, and is trying to find herself. It’s those core things that cause her to be so rude at times and so resentful, but I do think we see a lot of redeeming qualities in her sensitivity in certain scenes, and that’s one thing I really love about Wiley. She wasn’t a one-note, sarcastic, rude, tough, rough around the edges girl. She really is dynamic.

How does Wiley relate to the other characters on the show? Is there anyone that she forms a friendship with as a result of what’s happened that she probably wouldn’t have under normal circumstances?

Yes. I feel that her only heart-to-heart connection is, the person that she really feels she can talk to candidly is Adam. He’s very smart, they go to the same school together. Wiley’s smart in a street smart way, and Adam’s smart in an intellectual way, and I think that those two versions of intelligence balance each other very well. But ultimately, Adam’s kindness speaks to Wiley, and it also speaks to who Wiley really is on the inside. The fact that she’s gravitating toward Adam, this really soft-spoken, kind, mild-mannered, gentle guy, Wiley can’t be all bad if that’s the person that she’s choosing to spend her time with.

At another point, because Wiley is so stand alone in her life, she hops around from different groups that she tries to navigate and try to figure out where exactly she can belong. She winds up with the bad kids, the “Creekers”, the drug dealers, the burnouts, and there’s a girl, Tracy, who Wiley kind of finds a connection with because Tracy helps her when she really needs the help.

Being a pregnant teen is scary enough, but being in that situation during apocalyptic circumstances takes it to a whole other level. How does the pregnancy affect how Wiley navigates this world, since it’s just not her life in danger?

In the first episode, we see Wiley start to crumble internally. I don’t know how you couldn’t when you’re going through this. She’s got all this on her mind about having a baby and the fact that her family disapproves, but she wanted to have this baby because it’s her choice and something she can control. She’s grasping for this control, and in some way she feels that she finds it, and then — oh, disease outbreak! Everyone’s dying. Any sense of control that she felt with this move that she made in her life is now gone. The rug’s continuously getting ripped out from under Wiley’s feet and she’s grasping at walls to try and find some semblance of stability. But I think that makes Wiley interesting emotionally because she’s just a mess. There are a lot of emotional scenes where we’re just about to snap. And in the sister scenes, because Wiley’s sister is very much the opposite of her. She’s the trophy child and she’s done everything just right, she’s very studious and wonderful and lovely, and Wiley just can’t relate, and I think in some ways she’s jealous of her sister. In some ways she hates it because she feels like her sister is fake. In some ways she just wants to shake her sister and look her in the eye and say, “Can’t we just find some common ground?” Wiley just doesn’t know what to do. Wiley’s her own apocalypse.

There’s also a big mystery surrounding the fact that everyone over a certain age has succumbed to this illness. Is this a big cloud looming over everyone because they don’t know if they will automatically die when they turn 22?

Absolutely. Within the first three episodes that fact arises and everybody is discussing it because they think, “Well, how much time do we have,” “Will people under 22 start dying,” and “If that starts happening, how would we make any sense of that?” It’s one small tidbit that everybody can latch on to. What happens if that’s gone, too? It puts everyone in a headspin.

Do we get a sense at all that people are trying to protect Wiley because she’s literally holding the future of this community?

For sure. I feel that people try to protect Wiley more for her baby than for herself. She doesn’t necessarily reveal her own redeeming qualities with too many people in the first few episodes, other than with Adam. She’s very cold and can be aloof and distant and definitely has her guard up, but since she has a baby, people automatically sympathize with her, automatically feel for her, and then because so many people reach out in ways that they wouldn’t if she didn’t have a baby, that causes Wiley to soften a bit. In the long run, I really think the baby was a great thing for her because it caused her to relate to people in a way that she definitely wouldn’t have if she didn’t have that facilitator.

Would you say that this has been a physically challenging role for you, in terms of stunts or anything that you had to learn specifically to play Wiley?

The first day that I got on set, I had a meeting with Steven, our stunt coordinator, just to talk about everything I would be doing, like driving cars, or being thrown over people, or being hit, or being thrown into a pile of dead bodies. There were so many different days when I’d get home and feel battered and bruised. I’d look down at my knees and count the bruises, “Oooh, 14 today, oh 16,” but to me it was like a battle scar of sorts. I really felt like I had done something and put myself completely into the character. Only a few of us had stunt doubles, and only when it was absolutely necessary. Otherwise, we did all of our own stunts and I definitely think that adds a sense of realism. There’s nothing that takes you out of a show more than if I had been on camera and then all of a sudden a six-foot man in a wig is jumping over something and pretending that he’s me.

Was it more like combat training, or a martial arts training?

More combat stuff. The guys had some gun stuff that was very cool, but when I got in for the day, whatever stunts I was doing I would go over with Steven and he would teach me ways that would keep me safe but look very real. He’s a very talented stunt coordinator. I’ve worked with a few guys and sometimes the moves can look stilted or look a little planted, but everything Steven did felt very real. Also, I had some — I guess you could call stunt choreography with Kyle which was great and really intense and it felt so fulfilling to. It was like we were really throwing our bodies into the action. I definitely think that makes a huge difference on screen.

Any final thoughts that you’d like to leave us with?

I hope people like the show, and I think that they will. I want to say what a great experience it has been working with such a good cast and crew, and I really feel the harmony of that shows itself on screen. There’s no way this show could have turned out the way that it has if it weren’t for the team work and the combined talents of everybody.

Photo Courtesy of Netflix

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