JNL Media chats it up with actress Maggie Wagner.
JNL: When did you first realize that you wanted to be an actress?
MAGGIE: I first felt the urge to be an actress at a very young age.. I think I was about seven. But I didn’t start any training until I was about 11, at the Neighborhood Playhouse youth program in New York City. I hated it at first because the teachers wouldn’t let us do plays. We were made to do these silly “exercises” that were totally boring! So I quit! But I kept wanting to act, and one day (at age 12) I saw a screening of Funny Girl. I was so inspired by Barbra Steisands performance that I literally ran out of the building. Feeling like I had been overcome by some strange force of nature, I started to run really fast down broadway…weeping with excitement…I knew what my destiny was to be (years later i would meet her !!!). My aunt was a professional actress and my uncle was an actor at that time (On As the World Turns) but I didn’t know them that well… yet.. because they lived in California. Of course later they would be both be huge champions of my talent.
JNL: A lot of actors/actresses started off doing background work, did you do that route as well?
MAGGIE: I started off in the early eighties in New York doing extra work in movies. My first job was on a film called “Model Behavior”, an awful movie about the modeling world. I was soooo excited to be “in a movie” that I must of called all my friends and bragged!! I thought I had really broken into the biz. I totally believe in doing background work, not only does it pay the bills, but you have the possibility of being upgraded to a speaking role and this had happened to me 3 or 4 times. Plus, you meet people and network and you never know who the next director will be!! My famous extra work story is on the movie “Working Girl” where I was originally chosen to be one of Melanie Griffiths “friends” as a background extra. However, Mike Nichols, the director, made 4 of us weekly principals!! I’ve earned close to $17,000.00 from those 3 days!!!
JNL: You’ve been in the industry for awhile, and have quite an impressive resume. How hard is it to remain a WORKING actress in Hollywood?
MAGGIE: It’s incredibly difficult to keep working after a certain age if you haven’t made it. So I recommend wearing several hats. Writing your stuff, teaching, taking classes, going to as many events as you can, film festivals, screening etc… To meeet as many people and develop as many “fans” as possible. I have done so many films that many directors will use me three and four times. It’s best to establish yourself in your twenties, or else it’s really tough. You need to be creative, start to see who you are and what you have to offer that is unique. Otherwise you will literally be trampled by the competition, which just keeps coming. i joined the Actors Studio in 2004 and it has literally saved my life. My advice is to look at yourself in the mirror and decide if what you see is sooo special that the world just HAS TO HAVE IT! And you need to feel that way about yourself. You NEED to feel that you are the best . Even if you blow an audition and have an off day…if “they” only knew how great you really are.. you could win an Oscar… I’m serious!!
JNL: You did a film with quite a few family members, how was that experience? Would you do it again?
MAGGIE: In 2004 my brother Andrew Wagner said that he had an idea. It was something about doing a family movie where we would all play ourselves. Mom and Dad, me and Emily(my sister who is on ER). I was completely horrified and begged him not to do this. I thought it would be a huge embarrassment and just plain mean! And I certainly did not want to be Maggie Wagner in a family movie. I mean it sounded like my worst nightmare. Well he convinced us all to do it and we did! And it literally turned my life around, it made me a known entity (in some industry circles) and made my brother and parents STARS!! It generally helped us all to move to the next level. It was a crazy experience and I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone… but we had a lot of shit to work out… and in some ways it really worked!!
JNL: The film also made it to the coveted Sundance Film Festival, can you talk about going to the festival and did it help your career at all?
MAGGIE: The movie The Talent Given Us got into the Sundaance Film Festival 2005. The whole experience from beginning to end was like a dream come true. Nothing in my life had come close to the kind of recognition (Sidney Poitier told me I was excellent!!) I was getting at that Festival. Okay, the gift bags were great too!! I highly recommend starring in a film at Sundance…you will literally have the time of your life. It’s non stop photo shoots, shmoozing, parties, screenings and Q&A’s. It’s so exhausting! I think I got a few films project directly from meetings that I had there!! And Im still getting them. Since Sundance I have been involved in one way or another in twenty films.
JNL: People in Hollywood use the saying all the time “It’s not about what you know, but WHO you know”.You have a somewhat famous uncle, Mark Rydell, how would you respond to that saying?
MAGGIE: It does help to be the niece of Mark Rydell. He is one of the most well respected people in Hollywood. I would be lying to you if I said that it hadn’t helped me. In fact it’s probably helped me more times than I know. When I met Sally Kirkland in 1986 she immediately embraced me and became my stage mother. She had seen me work at The Actors Studio (when I was still an observer) and she helped me to get an agent and my first sag film “Anna” which she was nominated for. It was the first of approximately 8 films that she put me in that she was starring in. I also studied with her for years.
JNL: What projects are you working on currently?
MAGGIE: I just finished working on the film “American Cowslip”, as Val Kilmers dead sister Delores!. It was directed by Mark David and also stars Diane Ladd. I am reading scripts now so if there are any filmmakers out there I woulod love to meet them!
JNL: What do you think of when you hear that women make up less than %15 of Filmmakers in Hollywood?
MAGGIE: I think it sucks that women make up only 15 percent of filmmakers. It is not representative of the world.
JNL: What would you like to see from women in the film industry?
MAGGIE: I would like to see more roles for women in their late 30’s and 40’s .. we are sexy!!