ELYSIAN’S 22 Questions with Gwen Hollander

by ELYSIAN Magazine
Gwen Hollander

1. What is one thing you can’t live without? 

Oh no! Only 1 thing? Well, aside from my husband and my dogs (who aren’t “things,” so I guess they don’t count), I’m going to have to be that girl and say coffee. My body doesn’t function without it. I’ve tried many times to give it up or replace it with other “healthier” options, and nothing has worked. I only need one a day, but my day doesn’t really start until I’ve had it.

2. Why is it important for women to support women? 

Well, I think everyone should support everyone. But it is especially important for women to support women, because there’s this idea (which I suspect originated from the male perspective) that women are competitive and “out to get” each other. I used to be very scared of other girls when I was a kid; I thought girls were mean. I was told that girls were mean, and it just takes a few “mean girl” encounters in elementary school to cement that point of view. But we’re not in competition; we need to support each other! Because only women truly know what it’s like to be a woman. We need to lift each other up!

3. If you could spend the day with anyone living or dead, who would it be and why?

My mother. She passed away almost 10 years ago, and I would do absolutely anything to spend another day with her at her healthiest. I have so many questions I’d like to ask her, but more than anything, I’d just like to be able to remember her healthy. I hate that my most vivid memories of her are sad; they feel like memories of someone else. I would also just like to tell her that I love her as many times as I could; I’d just say it constantly throughout the entire day.

4. What has been the most rewarding project of your career?

Everything is rewarding for different reasons. I’ve learned so much on every project I’ve ever worked on. But I guess I’d have to say that the most rewarding projects are the ones that I’ve created myself, because as much as I learn and grow from just performing in a project, it can’t even begin to compare to the experience of making something of my own. Last year I created a Disney Parody for International Women’s Day that I’m extremely proud of, and I just finished a series of videos called Avenue Q(uarantine) (which I’ll talk about more in a moment). I’m also a writer/performer/producer for The Astonishing Show Show, which is a live show in Los Angeles featuring puppets and magic. All of these projects have made me want to pull my hair out and filled me with fear, and made me say to myself “Who do you think you are? You have no idea what you’re doing!” Nothing has been more rewarding than pushing through those feelings, doing the work, and having a finished product that I’m proud of.

5. When were you happiest?

I feel like this is going to sound crazy, but the time when I remember being happiest, in the very purest sense of the word, was middle school. I know this is the most nightmarish time for so many people, but it’s the last time I remember feeling so safe and so certain of my place in the world. I had a wonderful group of friends, I loved my school, I loved my teachers. I discovered my love of theatre in middle school. High school brought so much social anxiety and so much uncertainty, and I suddenly became very concerned with fitting in, looking a certain way, dressing a certain way. That awareness, those insecurities, have stuck with me to some degree ever since. I’ve had many happy times since then, obviously; they’ve just been more complex. Because life became more complex! The innocence and simplicity of that time, before “life” and “reality” crept in, is so beautiful to me.

6. What is the worst job you’ve done?

When I first moved to New York I got a job handing out flyers at the TKTS booth in Times Square, the booth where people can buy discounted tickets for Broadway and Off-Broadway shows. It was the dead of winter, my first winter ever since I grew up in Miami, and I was standing outside for about four hours telling people to buy tickets for Kiss Me, Kate. Which was a really great show, so at least there was that! But no one is really interested in being sold on a show while they’re in that line; they typically got into that line to try for tickets to a particular show. So in addition to freezing (and still learning how to dress appropriately for cold weather, which was completely new to me), I also just felt like an annoyance to the people standing in line. I’m not cut out for sales; I’m too scared of bothering people!

7. Where is one place in the world you would love to visit next?

Well, as I sit on my couch (where I’ve been for months as we’ve been practicing social distancing), I would honestly be thrilled to travel 10 miles in any direction. Beyond that, there are so many places I’d love to see, but have definitely been dreaming of Bali, Greece, and Japan. When it’s safe to travel again, I think we’ll make a it a priority to go explore; it’s so easy to put it off because of work or any number of things, but this health crisis has put a lot of things in perspective… no more waiting!

8. How do you relax?

I love to read and do crossword puzzles. Those are the two things that really let me escape from my conscious “spinning” brain! I do the New York Times crossword puzzle every day on the app, and I look forward to it all day long (the next day’s puzzle comes out on the app at 7pm PST every day); it’s my “me” time! And then I read myself to sleep every night in bed, which I also look forward to all day!

9. What is your daily skincare routine?

I use a cleanser, a toner, and then any number of serums/creams/masks. I use different products depending on what my skin is doing (if it’s dry, oily, irritated, breaking out, etc). I use some stuff by iS Clinical, some Rodan & Fields, and a few other random lines here and there. I also just got one of those high frequency wands; I have no idea if it’s doing anything, but it’s crazy looking and feels very high tech and I’m just going to pretend that it’s miraculous.

10. What is your most cherished beauty product?

My Rodan & Fields Lash Boost Serum. I had gotten eyelash extensions right before my wedding, thinking it would just be a one-time thing. But then when they started to fall out, I was like “I’m a hideous monster! I need extra eyelashes!” So I maintained them for about a year. Then I was afraid to stop getting them, because I figured my natural lashes were probably destroyed. I started using this serum around the time that I stopped getting extensions, and within weeks my natural eyelashes looked just like the extensions. People ask me if my eyelashes are fake all the time! And, I mean, they kind of are…my natural lashes certainly don’t look anything like this. But it’s definitely cheaper than getting extensions, and I hated the process of getting them done! Laying there for an hour with my eyes taped shut while someone glues tiny fibers to my eyelids is not something I miss.

Photographer: Birdie Thompson Hair and Makeup: Lisa Truong

11. Favorite accessory and why? 

I’m not really an accessory person, but lately I’ve been very into the scrunchies with the little bows on them! I never wear my hair down; it’s always in a bun or a ponytail. These little scrunchies make it look like a choice, instead of laziness, which is what it is! I never thought I’d be happy to see scrunchies make a comeback, but they’re so much gentler on the hair. 

12. What is your favorite high-end brand to splurge on?

I’m a real bargain-hunter so I rarely splurge, but there was a time when I would spend more money on jeans. I’ve always had a hard time finding jeans that fit really well, so I went through a phase where I was willing to buy a pair of designer jeans and pay to have them altered so they fit perfectly, but I don’t really do that anymore because styles (and my body) are constantly changing. I did once spend a LOT of money (for me) on a pair of Frye boots. I’ve had them for almost 10 years and they’ve never even needed to be re-soled or repaired in any way. That was a great investment!

13. What is the biggest misconception about your profession?

That it’s easy, glamorous, and always fun! It’s work. And there’s so much more to the business than the actual job, where you get to do the thing that you love doing. The self-promotion aspect of it is its own full-time job and one that makes me deeply uncomfortable. I’m constantly working to be better at that piece. But also, the actual work can be tedious and challenging. And scary, sometimes! I’ve sat almost naked on a tree stump at the tail end of a 14-hour day, playing the guitar in 40-degree weather (freezing for my Miami blood), and done a “rain scene” in the freezing cold. I feel very fortunate when I get to do what I love for my job, but…it’s still a job. 

14. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

I tend to say that a lot of things are “brilliant,” “genius,” and “amazing.”  I also LOVE an adverb. So you’re going to hear a lot of “amazingly brilliant” and “insanely charming” and stuff like that. I’m sure I overused a bunch of these just in this interview! Which reminds me, I also overuse exclamation points! And semicolons; I love a semicolon.

15. What trait do you most admire in others?

I’m so in awe of people with a healthy amount of confidence. I think I’ve always been afraid of appearing “confident,” because I confused it with being stuck up or arrogant. I imagine that a lot of women probably feel that way. I’ve always led with self-deprecation; it has become part of who I am. So when I see people, particularly women, who exude effortless confidence and have an ability to stand up for themselves and set boundaries in a way that doesn’t seem haughty or superior… I’m always just so impressed. I aspire to have that kind of comfort in confidence!

16. Who would play you in the film of your life?

Hopefully ME! I’d be pretty bummed if I heard they were looking for “a Gwen Hollander type” and then was told that I’m “not quite right for the role!” I mean, in the realm of “does anyone ever tell that you look like ___,” I usually get Jessica Chastain, which is very flattering. So, I guess if I’m unavailable to play myself, I’d be okay with that!

17. How would you like to be remembered?

I’d hope that people would remember me as kind and funny!

18. What was it like working with Jim Carrey and the talented cast on the TV show Kidding? Can you tell us about your character Astronotter?

It was incredible, and surreal. It’s so crazy to be on set working alongside people you grew up idolizing onscreen. Just watching them work is such a master class, in everything! Astronotter is one of the Puppet Pals on Mr. Pickles’ Puppet Time, which is the show-within-the-show on Kidding. She’s an astronaut otter (you know, pretty standard stuff), who is very easily frustrated and often feels misunderstood. She doesn’t speak English; she speaks a made-up “beep boop” otter language. But Jeff Pickles understands her, and helps her navigate those feelings, which in turn helps his young audience to navigate similar feelings. He’s always reminding Astronotter to take a “calm me down breath!”

19. You recently produced a mini-series Avenue Q(uarantine). How did that project come about?

It began as an idle thought I had in the first few days of quarantine! Everyone was filming song parodies, and I was just casually thinking of things that might be fun, and it occurred to me that “For Now” from Avenue Q would be really apropos for this moment. Then I started to think about the other songs in the show, and I realized that ALL of them were actually pretty perfect for addressing different aspects of what we’re all collectively going through. At first I thought I’d just make one video of one song, then I thought I’d make one longer video with little snippets of a few different songs, and then it ended up being a series of 10 videos! I’m very lucky to have some incredibly talented and generous friends who were willing to work on it with me (many of whom were in the Broadway company of the show), and it somehow just came together. I never imagined that it would have the impact that it did, and we also managed to raise a decent amount of money for The Actors Fund, which is a wonderful organization that’s currently providing relief to many of the artists who have found themselves out of work as a result of the health crisis. I loved working on it so much and am so proud of what we created!

Photographer: Birdie Thompson Hair and Makeup: Lisa Truong

20. What has been your favorite role to date and why?

Oh, that’s so hard to answer! Every role is special for so many reasons… but I think I’d have to say Belle in Beauty and the Beast, which I’ve been fortunate enough to play twice! First of all, it’s a dream to play a Disney princess, and she’s always been my favorite. A “weird” girl who loves to read? Sign me up! It’s my favorite Disney movie, and I just adore the stage musical. It was my dream role. I love the message of this story; I love how singular she is as a character and how unafraid she is to be herself. Plus, the music is gorgeous, and I got to wear the most beautiful costumes! Oh, and the children. The little girls who would come to the show dressed as Belle, and then hide behind their parents during a meet and greet because they’re too shy, and the parents say “I don’t get it! It’s all she’s been talking about for weeks!” It made my heart explode, every single time. The first time I did the show we also did character brunches at a nearby hotel to promote the show, and that was adorable. I also got to visit the children’s hospital dressed as Belle, and I got to visit some schools to read to children in underserved areas. I loved getting to do that kind of outreach and see how special it was for those kids to be visited by a character they knew and loved.

21. Can you tell us about any new projects that you are working on next? 

I wish I could, but I have no idea what’s next! Everything’s been shut down for three months now, so your guess is as good as mine. The group of us that produces The Astonishing Show Show is in talks to start working on a couple of different educational initiatives, creating content with music and puppets. It’s still in the very early stages, but if it all works out that will be very exciting to work on. Otherwise, I’m ready for anything! I’m looking forward to creating in any capacity!

22. If you had to pick one creative outlet what would it be?

I think it would be singing. I love every aspect of what I do, but I love the way singing feels. Even when I’m singing by myself in the car or in the shower.  Music is so powerful, and I love singing in performance, but the fact that I also love it when no one else is around makes it extra special.

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