“You can’t do guerilla gardening in broad daylight or you’ll get spotted,” says Zelda as she throws a pair of work gloves over a shrub. She and her friend, Esther, are ditching the school dance to have an adventure — one that ultimately falls short of Zelda’s expectations.
Fayetteville local Mary Kate Wiles plays Zelda, the red-haired Argonaut of high school nerdom. Wiles, who graduated in 2005, will be turning 25 this week, but she says it’s common for actors and actresses in their 20s to play younger characters.
“What city do you want to move to after school? Where should we go?” asks Zelda.
“I don’t know, whichever college we both get into,” replies the unenthusiastic Esther.
“But where do you want to go?” Zelda asks.
In this moment, Wiles captures the essence of what it is to be a teen. The question is so big and open-ended, and her voice is small and girl-like in contrast. There is the distinct feeling that her character is emerging from childhood and has begun confronting the world with questions that can only be answered from within.
Wiles first heard of the Web series, which is called “Squaresville,” from an online casting call. She received an invitation for coffee from the show’s writer and creator Matt Enlow and was surprised when he told her that she had gotten the part.
“I thought he was going to give me some tips to improve myself,” laughs Wiles.
Wiles says she was attracted to the show because of its characters and writing.
“Zelda is a lot like me in high school. She desires so much more than her surroundings let her be. She wants to go out and change the world. She wants to be abducted by aliens. She wants to have this comic book life that she can’t have.”
“I understand that feeling completely, wanting to do more than you’re physically able to do. She doesn’t really know what she wants, but she knows that she wants something. That’s what you feel when you’re coming into yourself. Feeling trapped when you don’t have the capabilities to go out and do something. I don’t think that’s an uncommon feeling.”
Wiles traces her fascination with movies and storytelling back to the first time she watched “The Lord of the Rings.”
“When I saw that movie, that’s when I knew,” she says. “I was so swept away by it. I wanted to be a part of that adventure and that story.”
In high school, Wiles participated in the drama program, and after receiving support from her peers and mentors; she knew that moving to Los Angeles was the next step in her career.
Wiles says that she carried Fayetteville culture with her to LA. “Having a small town youth and a place where I’m coming from, I think helps keep me grounded,” she says. “Growing up in a small town taught me to be kind and generous. I like that about us, and I like that about myself. I like that people who are from other places notice that.”
The actress, who earned degrees in both literature and theater, says the art of acting appeals to her as an act of storytelling. The concept of stardom and fame associated with Hollywood is, according to Wiles, a conflicting duality.
“Nobody should know who you are,” she says and goes on to explain that her goal is to be anonymous, to disappear into each of her roles.
She says that even if she does reach a level of superstardom, she would never become a diva. “I think you absolutely have to stand up for what you want and your vision, but you can’t have an ego.”
The actress explains that an open and welcoming attitude is essential in making successful creative projects because of the amount of collaboration required to produce them.
“Squaresville” runs on a compact crew, but Wiles says there are always five to 10 people on the other end of the camera guiding production in various ways. “When you are on a set, and you see the amount of work that goes into creating thirty seconds of what goes on screen, it’s just mind blowing. Making media, it’s a family thing. You all work together to create something that people will like, and through that, you create a bond.”
Although Wiles has an extensive resume that runs the gamut from video games to full-length films, she is still in the process of “paying her dues” and has to supplement her income through baby-sitting and modeling.
“I just want to be able to make a living acting. It’s very hard, but I don’t think it’s impossible. I just want to be successful enough to continue doing what I’m doing.”
When Wiles left Fayetteville to attend USC, she expected to be a tiny fish in a gigantic pond and was surprised when she landed multiple roles and began garnering respect in LA circles. “At every turn, I continued getting green lights,” says Wiles of her early days in LA. “Here I am, still getting green lights, saying ‘You can do this,’ so I’m going to keep going.”
Photo (on Homepage) by Jon Kondrath of ReKon Productions
Mary Kate Wiles on the set of the new Web series “Squaresville.” The show offers a fresh look at growing up square and wanting more than what the status quo has to offer.