A Candid Conversation with THE L.A. COMPLEX Star Jewel Staite

Forget everything you thought you knew about Jewel Staite. No, really. Take every ounce of adorkableness that you once associated with her (Fun Fact: With apologies to NEW GIRL Zooey Deschanel, Staite was there first!) and put it out of your mind because starting tonight, the former FIREFLY actress will be stepping into the stilettos of a character that’s light years away from Kaylee Frye.

Manipulative, duplicitous and willing to do virtually anything — not to mention anyone — for a second shot at stardom, Staite shines as the L.A. COMPLEX’s resident bad girl Raquel in this sexy new series chronicling the salacious and sordid lives of a a group of twenty-somethings living in the same apartment complex trying to make it in Hollywood. And for good reason, the actress is relishing every minute of it.

Or at least that was the distinct impression we were left with during a recent set visit that afforded theTVaddict.com with a one-on-one that touches on everything from Staite’s own struggles starting out in a strikingly similar complex for Hollywood wannabes to her latest role in this exciting new series. See for yourself, after the jump.

Perhaps you can start out by telling audiences a little bit about your character.
Jewel Staite: I play Raquel who is the veteran of the group. She’s been in the industry since she was a kid and used to have a hit show that she still gets recognized for. Unfortunately, her fame is long gone and she’s trying desperately to get it back. She’s very manipulative, cut throat and is kind of used to getting what she wants in life.

Okay, I’m not going to be able to let that pass… ‘used to have a hit show that you’re recognized for!’ I imagine that aspect of Raquel’s character wasn’t very hard to relate to?
Listen, there are a lot of scary similarities going on here! There’s not a whole lot of acting involved a lot of the time, so yeah I can definitely understand her frustration. She’s had a lot of bad years and she really just needs someone to give her a break.

Going back to your character’s once hit show, please tell me it wasn’t somewhat science fiction in nature?!
[Laughs] It was called TEENAGE WASTELAND. It was her and a bunch of moody teenagers going about their lives, kind of like THE REAL WORLD, but fictional. Everyone knows about it and she gets recognized all the time but instead of being excited about it, she’s just sort of embarrassed and frustrated that she’s still where she’s at and she’s broke and living at this terrible hotel. She just desperately wants to move on.

Was a complete 180 degree turn from the type of characters you’re used to playing part of the appeal of joining this show?
That’s what I love about her most. She was a complete departure from almost anything I had ever played before and playing the manipulative, nasty, moody, kind of character is sooooo much fun. There’s a lot of comedy involved, she kind of snaps on a dime, interacting with all these other characters that are such dreamers who just want their big break so bad. She’s had that, she’s like get out of my way, I just need to make some money, move into a mansion and buy some diamonds, it’s hysterical.

Thinking back to your time as an unknown struggling actor, would it be safe to assume that you’ve met a lot of characters akin to Raquel?
Totally! LA is one of those places that has this glamorous stigma attached to it and it’s not glamorous at all. It’s a tough city, tough to succeed in and most of the time you don’t. It’s a struggle and you see it all the time. Most definitely more than any success stories.

Before you got cast in FIREFLY did you have these types of struggles?
Oh definitely, and even after that, there is nothing more frustrating then loving a character, loving a cast and loving a show that you’re on only to have it get yanked out from under you. You lose your job, for one thing which is not a good thing for anyone, but at the same time you’ve just become so emotionally invested in something and to have that snatched away from you is really tough. Even after that there were years where I wondered, ‘Am I cut out for this and can I kind of pick myself up and dust myself off yet again?’ Because it’s inevitable. And that’s just the nature of the beast, the entertainment industry is fickle and jobs come and go all the time. There are good years and not so good years and you just kind of have to stick it through and tough it out. It’s hard on anybody really.

What kept you going during the low points in your careers?
For one thing I don’t have any other special skills, this is kind of all I can do! And also, I think I equate it to a high, when you finally get a great job that you’re proud of and you love doing, and you’re on set and you’re working in that character every day, it’s an indescribable feeling. It’s a high and it’s so addictive that I just can’t imagine not having that in my life. I just can’t imagine not having that. You become a junky for that feeling of success and creative fulfilment and there’s nothing like that. To get paid to do what you’re so passionate about, that’s your true passion, is the best. I could never give that up.

If this whole acting thing didn’t work out as well at is has, what do you think you’d be doing with your life?
This is obscure, but I always thought I’d make a really good wedding planner. I’m a very good list maker and I’m very organized and people make fun of me for it but that’s the way I live my life. So I would say some sort of event planner, I think I’d be really good at that.

When you first moved to LA, did you stay at a place comparable to the apartment complex in the show?
There are several places like the “Lux” in LA. There’s one called the Oakwoods that everyone stayed at and I used to go down every pilot season and stay with my mom and Jessica Biel was there, all the kids from HOME IMPROVEMENT, there were struggling musicians, it was a fascinating place to live. Not so grimy as the “Lux,” which is the bottom of the barrel so to speak.

Thinking back to your time at the Oakwoods, what was it like when one of your neighbors got that big break?
I think on one side of the spectrum you’re really happy for them and you’re also really motivated that that could actually happen to you and you’re not just there wasting your time. All it takes is that one audition and that one job offer. But at the same time when people are succeeding all around you and getting these amazing Network shows and you’re still auditioning for procedural cops shows and hospitals stuff it’s kind of like, “Oh God when is this going to happen.” It’s really frustrating.

Do you remember where you were when you got your big break, the news that you had been cast in FIREFLY?
Well I had put myself on tape for that role from Vancouver and I didn’t think anything of it and didn’t think I would ever hear until I got a call asking me to fly to LA and test with a bunch of girls for the role. So I flew down, met with Joss Whedon before hand and had a private audition with him where he kind of coached me and told me what it was going to be like to test in front of a Network. He said, “It’s really tough and you’re going to get nervous but just look at me and I’ll be right there in the front row.” I said okay, went in, was totally petrified and did the audition and Joss winked at me and I walked out and half an hour later my phone rang.

So you knew going in that you were Joss’ girl so to speak?
Oh I knew. I had a good feeling and just talking with him I knew as long as went in there and held it together and didn’t throw up in the audition room out of sheer panic I was going to get that role.

in terms of THE L.A. COMPLEX, can you talk a bit as to the lengths audiences might see Raquel go to in order to reclaim her fifteen minutes of fame?
One of her pastimes is going to AA meetings just to network. She’ll go and just try and network with whatever producers and directors she can find there and she meet someone and he’s a really sweet man who has a lot of money. She has this script that she wants to get made and star in and she start to con him into falling in love with her and there’s a whole arc which all of course goes terribly wrong.

What are you most excited for your fans to see from you in this show, because it is a complete departure for you?
It really is, I hope they’ll embrace this big change. I know a lot of them are used to seeing me a certain way. So I hope they’ll have a lot of fun in seeing me have fun and kind of go crazy and out on a limb. I hope that they’ll have fun watching that as much as I’ve had doing this.

THE L.A. COMPLEX premieres Tuesday at 9PM on MuchMusic and CTV in Canada before moving to its regular Tuesday at 9PM on MuchMusic. Alas, American audiences will have to wait until the Spring to catch the series.

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