Exclusive Interview: QUARTERLIFE Star Maite Schwartz

Maite Schwartz quarterlife
By: Amrie Cunningham [My Take on TV]

I say this all the time, but seriously, one of the greatest things about being a part of thetvaddict.com, besides the ability to have an excuse to watch hours upon hours of TV during any given week, is the really wonderful interviews I get to do. Last week, I had the chance to talk to Maite Schwartz, who plays Lisa on Quarterlife. From the creators of My So Called Life, the internet-based show follows 20-some-things interacting, loving, hating, learning, growing, etc., in 8-10 minute increments on a bi-weekly basis. As the show readies itself for a February premiere on NBC, Maite (who I’m sure is poised to become a serious household name) and I chatted for a bit about why she wanted to play Lisa, why acting has had such an amazing impact on her life, and why guys who play with food for a living are pretty awesome.

I’m completely addicted to Quarterlife. Seriously, when I know there’s going to be a new episode, I jump on the computer to make sure I catch it. I think it’s really gotten that way for a lot of viewers.
Maite Schwartz:
My sisters are in college and a bunch of my friends who were like yeah I’m not going to get into it, a bunch of them are like, yeah, I’m addicted to it. It’s also cool, because you get the snippets that make you want more.

You only have 8-9 minutes of these people you get invested in; it’s a lot easier to say “I need to see more.”
Exactly. As much as I love watching a full hour episode, sometimes it’s like all at once, and then you’re like damn, I have to wait for the rest of the week and it’s just nice that you can get two shots a week. And I like that they have all the message boards and people can talk amongst themselves about that, so it’s pretty cool.

maite Schwartz quarterlife

What about Quarterlife made you interested in being a part of it?
I auditioned for it a long time ago. I actually auditioned for the original pilot, then 3 years later I heard about it again, and they said, do you want to go in, it’s an internet pilot but it’s Bedford Falls and Marshall Herskovitz. Obviously, you’re going to jump on the chance to work with Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick. For me, My So Called Life was super formative in my high school, when I was in high school. My parents didn’t allow me to watch much television but that was the one show I was allowed to watch. So to even go in an audition for people who had done something that to me was one of the few shows that I found really had a voice that I associated with when I was in high school, I was really excited. After reading the script, what was really cool about it, it was one of the few scripts I’d seen in a long time that had really interesting characters instead of caricatures. The second or third time I met with Marshall and he started working with me during the call backs, it was really exciting to see that he really was exploring real people, and the humanity in people instead of the stereotypical ideas of what these caricatures should be to make a story go. It was just really nice to work with somebody, to think about being part of a project where you get to play around and work. The second call back, I worked with Marshall, and it was literally, I walked out and I’m like, wow, I haven’t worked with a director for 25 minutes on an audition just to fool around and see what happens in a really long time, so it was really exciting to think that I could be a part of a project that was really kind of theatrical in a the way that they dealt with the characters and the actors. It was also exciting to think about being a part of something on the internet…back then, everybody thought cable was like “whatever, there’s nothing on cable” and now everyone is dying to be on shows that are HBO and Showtime, so I thought, you can never lose something from a good script, but you can always gain something.

That’s a very good point – I was talking with thetvaddict today, and he brought up, ya know, is this where we’re headed, is internet TV the new wave?
I think it really is because people are getting so used to it. We’re such an instant gratification society now with cell phones and email and TiVo and like everything we want, we want it on demand when we want it. I was thinking about this with my [three] sisters and their schedules are so off that they only way they watch television is by watching it online. I was talking about it with my sister and was like, would you consider doing this? And she said that’s how she watches Grey’s Anatomy, that’s how she watches the other shows that she watches. She said “I always watch them online, I always watch movies online because I can do it when I want it.” To me it was like yeah, let’s jump on the bandwagon now, and at least be there at the inception of a new way of getting media.

What does somebody need to know about your character, Lisa, before watching the show?
That’s been really interesting. When I first looked at the script, I didn’t identify with Lisa that much. Even Marshall said it. She was the character that had the least structure. When we first started talking about her, it was written that she was kind of the stereotypical ditzy blonde or bombshell or playboy bunny and I didn’t really see myself in that and I started talking to Marshall about it and I said, I don’t really know what you want from that, and he said, what’s more interesting – a stereotype of a dumb slut or really examining why this girl is self destructive. It’s because she’s the one character in the show, her entire self worth has been built on her looks. She kind of comes off at first seeming maybe conceited or seeming like totally enraptured with her looks and she is this self destructive girl because she has not sense of worth except for the attention she gets from men and women. And I think that she’s afraid of life, or afraid of the fact that she hasn’t really done anything or made any stamp on life yet. Because she only feels that people appreciate her because of the way she looks and she feels like she’s getting older, she’s really terrified that she’s going to be a fading beauty and no know where to go in her life, so she drinks to have fun and party and forget about it, and then she sleeps around. She feels terribly guilty because she’s not doing actions that are fulfilling to your soul. Also the one thing that’s interesting about her in contrast to the other characters – as much as she destroys herself, she’s also very joyful. She lives life to both extremes. She can be totally self destructive, but also she just loves life and sees the beauty in life and enjoying herself. She has the highs and lows a lot more at first than some of the other characters. Basically trying to find a character instead of a caricature. I keep saying that…

It makes perfect sense.
It’s finding the character and the soul of the girl instead of a caricature of a struggling bimbo actress blonde.

It could have very easily been a simple one note part, but the way it’s written, and the way it’s acted, it’s not.
Yeah, and on paper, it could seem simple, but it’s discovering the little quirks in Lisa and discovering quirks in the writing that allow you to grow and create these characters. As the show progressed, we realized she’s kind of funny. Like she has a really weird sense of humor, and as much as she counts her sense of worth by feeling attractive, she glorifies by being kind of tomboyish at times. It’s been really interesting.

What’s coming up for Lisa? Either in the area of John and the band, or as the show progresses?
She’s going to continue exploring singing. And she’s going continue exploring understanding herself. In the beginning of the show and as my relationship is growing with the rest of the members of the cast, especially with John coming up, she’s really starting to discover that the real part of her is more powerful and more beautiful and more sexy than the images that she was being told to perpetuate. She’s really starting to feel more comfortable in her skin. After Jed showed her that video, and really spoke with her about understanding her own power, she’s really discovering that, and becoming stronger in her own self, and her own self worth. We’ll see more about singing, why she left, why it scares her. She’s starting to rebuild herself as a human being instead of just a pinup girl. Trying to find herself as a woman instead of a girl….There are 36 mini episodes. That will make for six 1hour long episodes.

Are there plans to go beyond that at any point?
We’re all hoping to go beyond that. That’s Marshall and Ed. That’s up to them. We ask them and they give us a Cheshire Cat smile. We’re all hoping that we go along further, but I don’t know.

Is everybody excited about being on NBC?
We’re so excited. I’m over the moon. They told us right before Christmas. I auditioned for the show last year before Christmas, and went home over Christmas like “I don’t know if I got it”, and was like well, whatever, and then this year, right before Thanksgiving, we were told that we were going to be moving to NBC. It was so neat to see the cyclical thing that has happened in a year. When my manager first told me, I tried calling my mom and I couldn’t catch my breath. She thought I was in the hospital. It hasn’t hit the reality yet. It hasn’t been until I’ve seen things on NBC.com and I saw something on us in US Weekly. It’s just started to hit me. It’s every actresses dream to get a show on a primetime television network. It’s also really cool that it’s going to be such a huge platform for something that I think is so good. As much as I remember My So Called Life being so formative for me, I’m standing here going, “Oh my god, this could be so formative for other young actresses or teenagers or something.” You just realize that it’s so much bigger than you at that point.

It’s a show people I identify with. I’m right there with what everyone’s going through, I’m in my mid twenties, unsure of what I’m doing.
What’s really cool about the show that I’ve noticed – when I was 16 or 17, I kind of thought that in your mid twenties you had it figured out. It was like, oh I’ll be totally engaged, and I’ll have the best job and my life will be perfect. As your mid twenties start hitting you and you realize that you don’t have it all figured out, and you’re still struggling, it can be really lonely. What’s so nice about this show is that it’s given a break to that sense of loneliness and fear of I’m not living up to expectations that I had when I was 16. You see that there are a lot of other people in the same boat. Especially having the quarterlife.com because I go on there, and read other people blogs and stuff like that, you really see that you’re not totally alone in that sense of trying to figure out what it’s like to be an adult, because we’re just now trying to figure out what being an adult means. When [I was] a teenager, I just assumed that I would magically know how to be an adult when I turned 25. That day came and I still didn’t know.

When did you know you wanted to be an actor?
I have been doing theater since I was a kid. My mom said that when I was like 8 or 9, I told her that I wanted to take acting classes. I grew up in Dallas and they have a great theatre program for kids. I was talking to my mom one day and I was like, I want to be an actress. She said why do you want to be an actress, thinking I would say that I wanted to be famous. I just look at her, and go “when you’re an actor or an actress, when you’re on stage, you can do things that you can’t do in real life, and it’s safe to play people and things that you might be scared to do in real life and you can be angry and you can be mean, and it’s safe because it’s just pretend.” I was like, you can be as many different people as you want to be in the world. She just kind of looked at me and was like, okay, we’ll stick her in an acting class. And I was always in class and I was in touring companies. I saw so many great plays as a kid. I remember seeing films, seeing What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? There were a couple others that I saw and said I need to do this. I wanted to be able to entertain people. There is such a neat feeling, at least when I go out in theatre, where you know that people are walking in and they’re going to suspend their belief and watch a play, and I’m entertaining them. There’s something so amazing that I get paid to play pretend. Once it’s done at the end of the day, I’m taking somebody away for an hour or an hour and a half or 2 hours and I’m entertaining them. For that moment in their life, if they’re enjoying it, it takes away stress. The entertainment in the end can start changing people’s ideas and it can give a voice to people. People can see you playing out fantasies or your demons, anything that you have, that some people are scared to admit to in yourselves. As an actor, you get to play that out, and let them go away with that for a while. It’s amazing that so many people can have such a visceral reaction and it can affect them on a deeper level.

A good role can change someone’s life.
It can change somebody’s life. I remember doing a play in high school about an anorexic ballerina. This girl had written the play about an anorexic. I just remember, one day I was leaving school late, and a couple of the dancers were leaving school late. This one girl that I’d never spoken with before came up and just burst into tears. She was like, “I was finally admitted to myself that I was destroying my body, after seeing the play. I wouldn’t admit to myself that it’s what I was doing.” There was a scene where I was convincing myself that saltines and something else was a proper diet. She was like, “I was basically doing the same thing.” My character talked about eating cotton balls to feel full, and she was like, “I’m doing the same thing and I wouldn’t even admit to myself that I had a problem. To see it on stage, I finally admitted that I had a problem.” It was just kind of shocking that I was able to affect somebody and help somebody.

That’s a great story. It really makes you think.
Yeah, it’s unbelievable. And I know people who have seen films who have gone and done a lot of charity work afterwards. I have a friend who after she saw Hotel Rwanda was so paralyzed with emotion that she started doing a lot of work with refugee groups. It’s amazing that something that’s on screen, something that’s not living, can actually help people and live their lives more fully.

Who are you dying to work with? What actors and actresses are your favorites?
I know he doesn’t do movies that much anymore, but I’ve always wanted to work with Paul Newman. Michael Caine. Emma Thompson.

She’s a running theme in my interviews.
Oh I love her! I saw Stranger Than Fiction again and I was just like “God she’s a genius.” And so was Will Ferrell and Maggie Gyllenhaal. Meryl Streep. Bill Murray, Jeff Daniels, Cate Blanchett, Kate Winslet. I just watched The Last King of Scotland. Forrest Whitaker and James McAvoy.

That is a mind blowing film.
Mind boggling! And you watch those people, and those are people I want to work with because I just want to sit and watch them work. It’s like free acting class. There are two people that I really respect who balance what they do acting wise with being very prominent in the public eye and that’s Don Cheadle and Angelina Jolie. I know some people have issues with Angelina Jolie but I’m really in awe of people who are such talented actors and do such good work. And directors, like Wes Anderson, Christopher Guest, Michel Gondry. Lots of people who have crazy ideas.

Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years?
I’ve always looked up to Kate Winslet, Rachel Weisz, Julianne Moore, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Connelly. All of those women, they do such a broad base of work. I really admire the fact that it seems as if they have worked so much, they’ve gained so much respect that they can pick and choose what they want to do. And a lot of them have families, too. In 5 years, I hope we’ve done a couple more seasons, obviously, of Quarterlife. I would love to do that, and do some films. In 10 years, I have a dream that I will be like one of those moms like Kate Winslet and Angelina Jolie and Julianne Moore, actresses who have kids and a family but are able to do films and even bring their kids on set, travel the world, and give their kids a view of the world that is more than just going to school. It’s my dream that I’ll be able to do film and family.

What shows do you watch when you get time to sit and watch TV?
I actually have not watched a lot of television in the past. Along with the show, I was finishing culinary school at night for the past year and a half. I love Top Chef, I’m obsessed with the Food Network. I want to be a guest judge on Iron Chef. That’s a goal in life. Project Runway. My new biggest favorite is the Biggest Loser. Every time I watch it, I’m like, “oh I have to go to the gym tomorrow.” If these people are doing it, then I can do it. I’m a Discovery Channel junkie.

Is there anything else that you want readers to know about you, or you want to say to viewers of the show?
Just to really enjoy it. There’s nothing else out there like that, like our show right now. Just enjoy that the show is about the real struggle of people. I just try to make it work. I love what I do. I’m blessed to be able to work with a great group of people. I feel really, really lucky right now. Oh and I’m a darn good cook!

What’s your favorite thing to make?
My mom is French, so I love making traditional delicious French food. I’ve also started getting obsessed with the whole group of people called the molecular gastronomists. They’re the guys who figured out how to make foams or how to make an essence of something and suspend it in its own skin so it looks like caviar. Things like that where they basically play with food. It’s really fun. You just kind of do wild and crazy experiments. For the most soul satisfying, I just love traditional French. I made my boyfriend a roast chicken and salad and steamed potatoes and I forgot how good the truly simple dishes are.

Do yourself a favor and head over to quarterlife.com to check out the parts that have been shown so far. Catch up in time to watch the new one (Part 24 goes live Sunday).