In the SyFy original movie Red: Werewolf Hunter, actress Felicia Day takes on her first leading role as Red, a descent of Little Red Riding Hood. When she brings her fiancé home to meet the family, he learns that the family business is werewolf hunting, but is skeptical until bitten by a werewolf, and Red tries to save him as her family insists he must be killed.
Best known for her work with Joss Whedon, as Vi on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Penny in Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog and Mag on Dollhouse, along with her original web series The Guild, now in its fourth season, Felicia Day talked to Collider for this exclusive interview. In it, she discussed the physicality involved with being a werewolf hunter and getting into the best shape of her life so that she could kick some butt, the enjoyment from the creative freedom she gets in making The Guild, having her own comic, getting to voice characters for video games, and how she owes her career to Joss Whedon. She also talked about her upcoming role on SyFy’s Eureka and expressed her desire to someday play an evil villain. Check out what she had to say after the jump:
Question: Have you always wanted to be an actress? How did that come about for you?
FELICIA DAY: I always enjoyed acting. My aunt was actually an actress. She got a degree in theater and she has a children’s theater, even now, in Alabama. She was the one who pushed me into acting and she made me audition for Scout in “To Kill A Mockingbird,” and that was the first audition I ever got. I even won an award for it, for Best Young Performer in a little theater. That was the first thing I ever did. Then, I got back into it through musicals because I was really into dance. I auditioned to be in the chorus of “Oklahoma!” and that ushered in my whole experience with theater and doing musicals.
And then, I eventually started taking singing lessons because the singers always got treated better than the dancers. I also branched out into more acting. After that, I just always kept acting, even when I was in college. It was not through the theater department because they didn’t really like film majors taking classes, but I would do local community theater, here and there, because it was so much fun. I guess I just always had this idea that I would go to Hollywood. I had the typical “get up and go” attitude that you have to have in order to make the brave step into the big city. Obviously, there were a lot of wake-up calls and situations there, but slowly but surely, I found my acting niche. But, it proved a bit too narrow, which is why I branched out from there.
How did you come to be a part of Red: Werewolf Hunter?
DAY: I believe it was a combination of SyFy and one of the producers, Angela Mancuso. She was aware of some of the things that I was doing in new media, and Syfy new me through my online activities and Dr. Horrible. When they called and said, “Would you like to do this job?,” it was exciting because that had never happened to me before on a project. It just seemed like a cool combination of all the things I love, and it seemed like it would be an awesome life experience, as well as just a really fun and wonderful acting experience. I’m always being doing everything on my sets, and I was doing a lot of my own sets, at the time. So, just the idea of being able to go away for a month and really just concentrate on the acting was just a wonderful opportunity for me.
What can you say about the film and who you’re playing in it?
DAY: It’s a movie about secrets. Basically, my character wants to be able to come clean and live a whole life. She has this secret burden of being a werewolf hunter and she has a fiancé who she wants to come clean to. It’s a very small ensemble, and it was really interesting, the way that that worked. We’re dealing with the supernatural and large fight scenes, but at the same time, it’s really just about this family, and the struggle and burden of responsibility, which seems to be a running theme in paranormal stories. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it’s nice to have it grounded underneath the storytelling, and all of the werewolves and everything. And, it is definitely fun to stab people, or pretend to stab them. I didn’t stab anyone for real.
How does it relate to the Little Red Riding Hood story? Are these characters descendants?
DAY: Yeah, it’s sort of a family legacy. It’s a legacy they have to control the wolves. It’s more driven and inspired by fairy tales. I’m a huge fan of fairy tales. I wanted to be a folklore minor in college. I’ve always been obsessed with fairy tales, just because that’s where all our storytelling comes from. So, the idea of taking these traditional stories and making something more modern out of it is a really clever idea. It’s really fun to be a part of it.
What was the work-out and training schedule like for this? How physically intense was this role for you?
DAY: I have to say that I think I was in the best shape of my life for this movie. I got really disciplined and worked out every day, starting three weeks before. It was kind of late when they called me to do it because the movie came together pretty quickly, so I just got very serious. I said, “I’m going to be in shape, I’m not going to eat carbs and I’m going to do all the girlie actress things.” Being the lead is a big responsibility. You might have the biggest trailer, but you also are in every scene, you’re first in and last out on every day, and you get paranoid about every little thing. I tried not to get too caught up in that because that’s not really the point, but at the same time, I did take getting in shape seriously because I wanted to make sure that it’s believable. I didn’t want to be huffing and puffing, every time I did a fight sequence. My character definitely needed to be in shape. It was actually a really fun challenge. I went to the location a little bit early to work with the stunt coordinator. He did a lot of Parkour moves in the fight sequences, which was very cool. It’s a lot more visceral and close than traditional fight scenes, which makes it feel more real.
DAY: I’ve always enjoyed it. I came from a dance background, so that’s what I did my whole teenage years. I was at the dance studio a lot. It just becomes your social scene and part of your life. To me, even from the beginning of my acting career, I’ve always done a lot of physical comedy. On Buffy, I had some really big moves in the finale, “Chosen.” They were like, “We’re going to put you on a wire. Are you okay with that?” And, I was like, “Bring it on!” I wish the schedule had allowed me to do even more fighting, but I got to do quite a bit. When I would go home at night, I would have bruises all over my knees and my elbows, and all my joints hurt a little bit, but it felt good. Part of acting is really grounding yourself physically, in your body, so that was really good.
Did using a gun come easy for you, or did you have to get used to that?
DAY: I grew up in Texas, so guns were not unfamiliar to me. And, for Dollhouse, I did “Epitaph One” and “Epitaph Two,” and I held a gun through most of those two episodes. They were actually really long shoots for those episodes, and they were very intense. We were shooting all the time. I was OCD about making the prop guy, the special effects guys and stunt guys instruct me on how to look good holding the gun, and I would carry it around all the time. At first, it felt foreign, but I got to the point where it became more like second nature. That was a huge advantage for me, going into this movie, having done that role on Dollhouse. After that, I actually asked my dad in Texas to take me shooting because I wanted to feel how a real gun is shot. That experience helped me understand how easy it is to actually shoot a real gun. It’s an intimidating experience, so it was good to do that under safe conditions. My dad was quite delighted that he got to show me.
Was it more exciting or nerve-wracking to take on a lead role like this? Was it something you felt you were ready to do?
DAY: I think every role is always exciting and intimidating. I’ve never had a role where I wasn’t intimidated by it. But, at the same time, there’s an Eleanor Roosevelt quote that says you should do something every day that scares you because that makes you grow. That’s what you learn from, versus the things you know you can do well. Having done The Guild, I’m the lead in that as well and, at the same time, I’m also the writer and I co-produce it, so I did feel like it was perfect timing between Season 3 and Season 4. I definitely felt like it was something that I wanted to dig my teeth into, and I felt like I was capable of doing it, considering the different kind of roles that I’ve played. I definitely think the role on Dollhouse gave me the confidence to embrace that. This is not a light movie. It has a lot of horror overtones in it, which was a change of pace and a wonderful challenge. Having great actors to work with always brings your game up, and I just really enjoyed working with this ensemble. There weren’t a lot of actors in the cast, so we were very close. It just became a relaxed and enjoyable environment to work in.
Did your involvement with SyFy for this lead to you doing Eureka?
DAY: I do a lot of conventions and I know a lot of those actors, and there are so many cross-pollenations between SyFy and me. I’m a huge sci-fi fan and I’m a fan of a lot of the stuff they do. I think Eureka was driven more by the show runner, Jaime Paglia. He’s one of the producers and he wrote the first episode that I did. I know that they were aware of my work. And, Wil Wheaton, who had been on an episode in the earlier part of Season 4, introduced me to Jaime at a convention. So, I’m not sure exactly what came first there, but I think it might have been more from the writing side. Clearly, SyFy approved me and they like the work that I do. It’s really flattering to be able to do two projects with them.
What can you say about your character and how she’ll fit into the overall story?
DAY: I play Dr. Holly Martin, and I’m an awkward scientist brought into Eureka. There’s definitely relationship juggling and introducing tension between me and Fargo (Neil Grayston) and Dr. Isaac Parrish, who’s played by Wil Wheaton. It was really fun to work with Wil again because he did my show, The Guild, the last two seasons. It’s been my longest job on one set since Buffy. I think I’m in at least eight episodes, for the back end of their season. I’ve never been on a nicer set. Everybody is so welcoming. I felt like I really am part of the family.
With as unpredictable as this business can be, does it help to step onto a show that already has established success?
DAY: Oh, yeah. It is great, but at the same time, it’s a little intimidating. This cast and crew has been working together non-stop for years. It’s always funny, when I’ve done guest appearances on different television shows. You go onto a set and you’re the new guy, and everybody else is very comfortable. It’s not like a movie where everybody is getting together for the first time. Even if you have a small part, you’re a little bit more organically part of the whole. So, sometimes you stick out and don’t feel very comfortable when you’re a guest actor on a TV show because they know you’re going to come in and then leave. I’ve been on Eureka for an extended period of time now, but at the same time, on the first day, the actors made me feel like part of the family and it made it so much more enjoyable an experience. You feel comfortable to do what you really want to do with the role, versus feeling like you’re really just a guest there.
How did you get involved with doing voices for video games?
DAY: I think that that’s part of my just being a part of the video game world. It’s definitely 100% because of The Guild and Dr. Horrible and my online life. That’s where I feel the most at home, in a sense, because that’s where I’ve really forged ahead and made my own thing. People know my work and they call up because they want to hire me for video games that I’m a huge fan of. I just had “Rock of the Dead” and “Fallout: New Vegas” come out, and I did voices in both of those projects. Those were both people who were just familiar with my work and they called to see if I was interested. In both instances, I was just so flattered and bowled over that I just became a fangirl myself when I got the call. I grew up with video games and TV on equal footing, and I think more and more people are growing up like that, so my fandom is equally as enthusiastic in both of those arenas.
What has that experience of doing the voice work been like, as an actor?
DAY: Doing voice work is new, but at the same time, you just have to learn to act in a different way, a little more demonstratively. You have to think about the fact that nobody can see your face, so you have to express yourself a lot more vocally. It’s challenging, but at the same time, it’s really, really fun. When they tell you to grunt like you’re being hit, you don’t necessarily get to do that in TV all that often.
DAY: The Guild just became a passion project for me. I’ve been an actor in Hollywood for eight or nine years now and, having found my niche, I was making a good living, but I wasn’t really creatively fulfilled. I felt like I was getting more and more pigeonholed into this one-note character, so in my off time, I decided to write something. I had just come off of a horrible “World of Warcraft” addiction, where I was playing for nine hours a day, so I realized that there was a void that needed to be filled before I went back to playing video games and I decided to write a TV pilot. They always say, “Write what you know,” so I wrote it about a group of online gamers because that’s really what I’ve done all my life. I was home-schooled, so playing with people online has been something I’ve done since I was six or seven years old. So, that just became a TV script that nobody really wanted to do because it was too niche.
And then, my producer, Kim Evey, came in and she had the idea to do it for the web as a web series. At the time, there weren’t really a lot of web series at all. There were a couple, like Lonely Girl, but other than that, it was very much more just one-offs and sketches and things like that. So, we just decided to do the first couple of episodes on our own dime. After that, we put up a PayPal button and our viewers actually got us through a whole season of episodes, which will be the thing I’m most proud of doing. People actually donated to keep us going. That’s such a gratifying way to have started all this. It just feels very authentic and real to me, and I couldn’t be more flattered.
And then, after Season 2, we got picked up by Microsoft and Sprint, who has sponsored us for three seasons now, on all the Microsoft portals. It’s one of the longest-running web series online. We have millions of views and it just keeps getting bigger and bigger. That’s the funny thing. People find things on the web when they find them, so I get more and more people every day saying, “I just discovered The Guild,” and we just celebrated our third year anniversary a month ago. It’s just amazing. To me, it’s so gratifying to be able to still have that grassroots spirit with our show, and be able to get instant feedback from people. It’s been an amazing roller coaster ride and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Has your work on The Guild given you the desire to write, produce or direct in another medium as well?
DAY: I enjoy working on a set where we have more resources, and just being an actor is great because I can focus on one thing and do it to the best of my ability, but at the same time, I know that graduating to TV as a creator would be a completely different lifestyle for me. I have complete creative control on The Guild. Microsoft and Sprint have faith in me that every season I’ll deliver something similar to the last season that’s of the same quality. They don’t really impose anything upon us, as far as creative decisions. But, once you get into TV budgets, the way that TV has generally worked is that there’s extensive development, there are a lot of people who have opinions for marketing, and there are all these other departments. It’s a lot to have to juggle.
The thing that really attracts me is inventing new ways to do things, and I think that they Internet is a place where somebody can have an idea and they can put it up online the next day. There’s no barrier there, and there’s no marginalization of characters and story. You don’t have to appeal to everyone. For me, it’s very tempting to try to be able to pay my bills better doing a TV pilot or delving into that world more, but I honestly really get a thrill when we do something that somebody has never done before.
On The Guild, every single thing that we do, nobody has ever done before. I find that to be more exciting and more inspirational. And, the fact that other people see what I’ve done and want to do it, and want to do it better, and want to invent new ways to do things as well, that’s just a better legacy, in general. It makes me prouder of what I do, every day. It would have to be a very special project that I felt could be done nowhere else. The long eye of it is that TV and film and Internet are all going to meld, so it’s really just about who’s going to invent what the standard is, and I don’t think that’s there yet. I’m ready to be a part of that part of it.
DAY: It was amazing. That was just something that I didn’t really set out to do, but I knew Scott Alley over at Dark Horse for the Dr. Horrible comic and through Joss [Whedon], and he’s the one that pursued me to do it. I know comics, but I would never call myself a comic expert. I think comic book experts are the most well-educated geeks in their area. It was almost intimidated and I didn’t even know if I wanted to try because I didn’t want to mess anything up. But, Scott persuaded me to try to do it.
Having done three issues of a prequel into the web series, he persuaded me to do five more, and I’m working on that right now, as I’m working on Eureka. It’s five stand-alones about all the other characters in The Guild. The biggest thing I’ve taken away from comic book storytelling is that you have to be brief and you also have to be visual. I don’t direct. We have amazing directors who do The Guild. And, it definitely has made me appreciate visual storytelling more, versus just thinking about the script. The comic book writer is also the D.P. and director of the art form, versus just being responsible for the script as a screenwriter. It’s definitely been a learning lesson.
With the comic book, the video games and your work on the Internet, do you feel like you have the ideal career for your own tastes?
DAY: I’m living the best life. Sometimes I get really stressed because it’s just a lot. I would be rewarded for it on a much higher level and not have to work quite as hard, if I were on the TV and movie side, so sometimes I just get a little burned out about it. But, at the same time, the cool thing is that, when I get people who like what I do, those are people I’m fans of. I’ve carved a career out for myself, where every time somebody offers me something, I’m a fan of their work. I’m exactly doing what I want to do, and I’m definitely talking to the same people who I admire. I think that’s just an honor. I feel like I’m really blessed. I don’t need to be known by every single person in the world to have a great career. I think that’s something that a lot of people should take to heart. If you’re doing something you really love, on the Internet you can find other people who love that thing as well and who will enjoy what you do, and it really is enough, in this world. The world is too big to please everybody.
At what point did you realize you were good at comedy? Did it come naturally for you?
DAY: I considered myself more dramatic and I never did any comedy until I started taking improv classes in L.A. I had a horrible experience in a scene study class, where I had a horrible, abusive teacher, so I quit acting. And then, somebody told me to take some improv, so that I could just get out of my head, and improv is the basis of everything I do now. Just being able to not ruminate or be inhibited, and really find who you are unconsciously, is all improv. Even when you’re doing drama, the root of it is improv. It’s spontaneous because, in life, we’re always doing improv. That was a huge revelation for me. I had no idea I was funny at all. It’s something I had to discover. That’s why it’s always good to try new things. I never would have done improv unless somebody had pushed me to do it. It was terrifying to me. But, most of the things that I’ve done that have terrified me have turned out to be the most amazing things in my life. It’s just overcoming fear.
What has working with Joss Whedon done for your career, and how has it enriched your acting?
DAY: I owe every single thing to Joss. My whole career is owed to Joss, and I’ll never forget that. He’s a huge hero to me, in many ways. Just the fact that I am able to work with him and call him by his first name, even, is always a constant. He is one of the people in the Hollywood machine who maintains his voice, and that’s so incredibly difficult. You have to appreciate that. Just from Buffy to everything that he’s involved me in, and just him being a mentor and a friend, I couldn’t be more privileged. I owe everything to him because his fanbase is a lot of the people who support what I do as well.
You can’t equal the Whedonverse in the world of fandom, as far as loyalty and kindness. That’s something that’s the most enjoyable and touching. You can’t really say that, on the Internet, there’s a huge group of people who can be known for kindness and support, and I think Whedon fans are those people. It constantly floors me how considerate, kind and supportive the fans are. With every single thing I get to do, I sometimes wake up and am like, “Wow, I’m really doing everything that I would be a fan of, in real life.” Now that I have so many opportunities, I have to turn down a lot of things. My bottom line is really, “Would I be a fan of this? Would I enjoy this? Is this going to be a great life experience?” The blessing of being successful is being overwhelmed a little bit, and I didn’t know that was going to happen. So, that’s my baseline for deciding what to do, every day.
Do you have any dream projects you’re hoping to do, in the future, or things you haven’t gotten to do yet, that you’d love to be able to do?
DAY: Yeah. I love fantasy and I think that there’s a lot to be done in that genre that hasn’t been done. When I see Game of Thrones being done (for HBO), I wish I were British because being in that would make me die. I’d love to be somebody evil and play a villain. I think that would be really interesting, and it’s something I’ve never done before. Those are things that are on my list of, “Hey, if nobody else writes it for me, I guess I’ll have to write it for myself.” And, I’d love to be in a spacesuit. Those are things I have on a list. I’ve already been able to kill some zombies, or zombie-like people on Dollhouse, so check on that one. And, I got to kill werewolves in Red. One of the reasons I wanted to do it was because of the werewolf hunting. I was like, “Yes, I can do that. That will be an experience.” There’s a long list of things, and I always write them down. If I can’t play them, at least one day I can write them.