On the FX dark comedy Wilfred, actress Fiona Gubelmann plays Jenna, Wilfred’s owner and the next-door neighbor of Ryan (Elijah Wood). She works as a local news producer and, even though Ryan sees Wilfred (Jason Gann) as a crude Australian man in a cheap dog suit, to Jenna, Wilfred is simply her lovable pet canine.
During a recent interview to promote the unusual, quirky and hilarious series, Fiona Gubelmann talked about how she got involved with the project, what appealed to her about the show and character, what viewers can expect from the remainder of the season, how she thinks her character might react if she could ever see Wilfred the way that Ryan does, how excited she is to hear from the fans at Comic-Con this year, her desire to work with Guillermo del Toro and J.J. Abrams, and her secret wish to play Wonder Woman. Check out what she had to say after the jump:
Question: How did you get involved with this project? What was the audition process like?
FIONA GUBELMANN: I got involved through my agents. They actually sent me the audition appointment. So, it was just a regular audition, and the night before my audition, when I first read the script, I just absolutely fell in love with it. I thought it was just hilarious. I didn’t quite get the whole guy in the dog suit thing, so I went online and watched some of the Australian version of the show, and then I was like, “Oh my God, this is amazing!” So, I went back and re-read the script, and then the next day went in and had my first audition, and over the period of about three and a half weeks, I kept going back and auditioning. I eventually did a chemistry test between me, Elijah [Wood] and Jason [Gann], and then tested for the part. I was extremely lucky, and I booked the show.
How did you get started in acting?
GUBELMANN: I actually got started in acting when I was in pre-school. I was really into dance and performing, so my mom had me in dance classes, and then I got involved in a local theater company. My first play was The Cabbage Patch Kids, and it was a play/ballet. I didn’t do much there, but I grew up doing community theater and doing drama camp in the summers and being active in the drama department at my school. And then, I went to UCLA as pre-med. When I was there my freshman year, I auditioned for a play and got it, and I was so passionate. I just loved acting so much that I decided to switch majors and pursue acting. I was young, not married, didn’t have kids and I was like, “Why not just try for something now and see what happens while nothing’s tying me down?” And, I’ve been fortunate, since I graduated, to work in the industry and keep on working.
What do you find most challenging about your role?
GUBELMANN: What I find most challenging about my role is just making sure that I’m aware of my relationship to Wilfred, and that I am treating him like an actual dog. At first, it was difficult because I had to tune out Jason [Gann], not hear what he was saying, and just keep focused on Elijah [Wood] and our conversation. But, as the season progressed, we would all become such good friends that it was so hard to keep a straight face and not crack up when Jason is trying to distract me or he’s asking questions. I would definitely say that would be the most challenging part.
Having worked in comedy and drama, do you prefer one over the other?
GUBELMANN: That’s a tough one. I definitely prefer working in comedy over drama, but at the same time, when it comes to comedy, I tend to prefer comedies that have a great sense of truth to them and that come from an honest place. I have a dark sense of humor, so I definitely like to work on stuff like that. I do enjoy working in comedies where I can create a fun and broad character. But, as far as a job that I like to do over a long period of time, I tend to prefer the comedy. One of my favorite comedies is Groundhog Day and Scrooged. I love Bill Murray and I think he’s a great example of an actor who is funny.
Will viewers see a romantic relationship develop between Jenna and Ryan?
GUBELMANN: Yes, you definitely will see a relationship forming between Ryan and Jenna. There’s definitely chemistry there. But, I think part of Jenna’s journey, throughout the series, is that she has everything together in her professional life and she’s very focused on what she wants, but when it comes to her personal life, she has some growing to do, and she really has some decisions to make and things to figure out.
What is Jason Gann’s sense of humor like? How was he to work with?
GUBELMANN: Jason is a very fascinating person. He’s a creative genius and a complete goofball. When I first met him, we instantly hit it off. We have a lot in common. We both work with cat rescue and we both have a dark sense of humor, so we quickly became good friends. It instantly felt comfortable. There’s a lot of banter between us and he’s very witty. He’s constantly being silly and making jokes, but at the same time, he’s a really, really good person. He’s got a great heart and he cares a lot about people, so it’s so much fun getting to work with him and just getting to hang out with him, too. He’s got a lot of sides to him. He likes going hiking. He loves to go out dancing. He’s got a lot of interests and a lot of passions, and I’ve learned a lot from him, in that respect. I think our chemistry really shows, in the relationship between Jenna and Wilfred. He calls me his older little sister, and we definitely have fun messing with each other on set. Between him, me and Elijah, there’s a lot of banter on set. I never had brothers growing up, but I feel like Jason and Elijah are my brothers.
What’s going to happen with the little love triangle that’s happened with Jenna, Drew (Chris Klein) and Ryan?
GUBELMANN: Without giving too much away, I can say that there’s going to be a lot of funny interactions between Drew and Ryan. There’s definitely going to be some competition going on and some fun things that are going to happen, as a result of that. I think you’re also going to see Jenna realizing that she doesn’t quite know what she wants, and she doesn’t quite have as good of a grasp on her personal life as she thought she had. She’s going to have to make some tough decisions, and whether or not she makes the right decisions is really yet to be seen.
Were you concerned, early on, that maybe people wouldn’t get this show and its unique concept?
GUBELMANN: Yes, I was definitely nervous. I was very excited and anxious to see how people would react to Wilfred. When I first read the script, I thought it was amazing. I thought it was hilarious, brilliant, unique and unlike anything out there. I was just drawn to it, and I was very curious to see how people reacted to it because I love it. When I saw the pilot, I couldn’t stop laughing and I knew we had created something incredible, but at the same time, how that would be received was something that I definitely had some anxiety and nerves about. When you love something so much, you want to see it do well, and sometimes the most incredible shows don’t do well because they’re ahead of their time or people just don’t get into it quickly enough. Arrested Development was one of my favorite shows, and that only lasted three seasons, so I was definitely a little nervous about that. But, it’s also been really exciting. I love seeing how people react to the show, and I love seeing their excitement and curiosity. It’s so much fun relating to people on Twitter because I get to really interact with people, right as they’re watching it, and I get to see the lines and the moments that they find funny. It’s also interesting when people are like, “I don’t get it.” My only advice to people is just don’t take it too seriously.
With so many amazing guest stars, who have been some of your favorites?
GUBELMANN: First of all, we have to have Matt Damon on the show. I am a huge fan of his, and I have told the writers and producers if they want to bring Matt Damon on as a love interest for Jenna, I am totally willing to take one for the team and do it. I’m just a huge fan of his and it would be incredible to have him on the show. I’ve enjoyed watching him on 30 Rock this past year, so I definitely think Matt Damon on Wilfred is a must. But, we have been so incredibly lucky with our guest cast. We have had just a tremendous amount of talented, funny, kind people on the show, and we all have been like, “We want everyone back.” But, I would definitely say, in terms of my favorites, or just the people that I’ve gotten to know the best, I really enjoyed working with Chris Klein. He’s an incredible guy, who’s very funny and very sweet, and we definitely crack each other up, all the time. And, Mary Steenburgen is an incredible woman. She is extremely talented, she’s got a huge heart, and she still keeps in touch with us, so that’s been really fun. I also loved meeting Rashida Jones. I was blown away by meeting her. She’s incredibly intelligent. She grew up in the industry and is so kind, and there’s just no airs about her. She’s just such a humble, beautiful person, inside and out, and I really admire her as an actress. Those are probably the three that stand out in my mind.
Did you watch any of the Australian Wilfred?
GUBELMANN: You know I actually haven’t seen much of the Australian show. We’re trying to create a completely different show, and we didn’t want to be influenced by the Australian version. I wanted to wait until I finished shooting the first season to watch it because our show is very different and we knew we were creating something very different. That being said, I do know that the Australian version focuses on the relationship of the Wilfred/Ryan/Jenna characters, while the American one is more of a buddy comedy between Wilfred and Ryan, so that’s a difference.
GUBELMANN: Well, I think what’s really incredible about the show is that, at first glance, you thank that it’s a silly comedy. There is a guy in a dog suit with witty lines being thrown about. But, what’s really neat is that every episode has its own lesson. And, I love how, at the beginning of each episode, there is a quote, and then it fades away and there’s one word that that episode focuses on. I think the overall lesson, or thing that can be learned from the show, is just about pursuing what you love in life, pursuing your dreams and really living life to the fullest. That’s something that I strongly live my life by. I was raised to pursue my passions and pursue the things that I love, and to just live life to the fullest. I think that that is a very prominent message throughout the show, and throughout the season.
What have you learned from working with Elijah Wood? Does he have any qualities, as an actor, that you admire?
GUBELMANN: Elijah is a brilliant and radiant human being. I have learned countless lessons from him, not only as an actor, but as a human being, and just as a leader on set. He has so much grace, and he handles tough situations beautifully. He has patience with people. He’s so funny. He always brings this great sense of life, energy and excitement to set. On a professional level, he has worked a ton, so when we rehearse, he fully commits to the rehearsal and takes it as an opportunity to try out things. That way, when we’re ready to shoot, he’s ready to go. So, I learned a lot from him, in that respect, and it’s great. Everyone is working long hours and we’re tired, and the lead actor, who is just as exhausted, is being positive all the time and taking the time to learn everyone’s name, that really set this incredible tone on set. Every day was just a joy, working with him.
Since Jason Gann created the original Australian Wilfred, does he ever try to give you pointers on your characters, or do you go to him for any advice?
GUBELMANN: I wouldn’t say that he tries to give me pointers, in the sense that he’s like, “Well, this is how we did it before, on the other show,” because he really is trying to create something different here. But, we all collaborate on set. I grew up doing theater, so I’m used to working with people where you can definitely ask another person a question or advice or say, “Hey, let’s try it this way,” or “What do you think if I did it this way?” So, I definitely feel like I can run things by him. I really look up to him. I think he’s an incredible artist. He’s so funny. I definitely will ask him stuff, in terms of, “How do you think this plays?” Or, if I’m struggling with something, I’ll definitely feel like I can turn to him. But, he never bosses me around or tells me what to do. He’s there when I need him for that stuff, so it’s great.
Were you given a lot of freedom shaping who Jenna is, or was she pretty much fleshed out in the script?
GUBELMANN: No, I definitely feel like I was given a lot of freedom in creating Jenna. My take on Jenna was different than what they originally wanted, and throughout the audition process, they ended up changing certain lines and phrasing for me in particular, so I know they ended up changing where my character was from. It was great because I had the show-runner and the director, and I was working with them, and they really liked my take on her. I know that when it came down to the final testing between me and Dorian [Brown] for the part of Jenna, we were very, very different. We had two completely different takes. I was definitely given a lot of freedom in creating Jenna.
How challenging is it to maintain that fine balance between humor and darkness with this show?
GUBELMANN: If you look at a really well written drama, three-quarters of it is funny because then, when you have the dark moments and the hard times, they’re even more powerful. Jenna is a perfect foil to Ryan. She’s pursuing her passions, she’s excited, she’s effervescent, she’s full of life. In terms of certain aspects, she really knows what she wants, and that really helps add a lightness to the show because otherwise it would be too dark. There’s darkness in the humor, but there’s also darkness in the depths of what people are going through, and I think that the balance between the humor and the darkness is just brilliantly crafted by our writers. We are so lucky to have such talented and brilliant writers on staff.
What’s it like to be the main female on this show?
GUBELMANN: There’s definitely a camaraderie and a lot of banter between the three of us. Jenna adds a very feminine quality to their raunchy male adventures, and I definitely feel like I’m the sister on set with the guys. We have a lot of fun playing together. It’s like the yin and the yang.
Will viewers ever see Jenna go towards that dark and vulgar side?
GUBELMANN: I definitely have a dark sense of humor, so I wouldn’t be opposed to it, but I don’t think that’s her tendency. I think she could have moments where she could get easily frazzled by situations, and she can get frustrated, and you could see little glimpses or moments of it, but I don’t think that’s her tendency, as a character. I think her humor comes from her lightness and her excitement. The relationship between her and her dog, and just the freedom she has with talking to him and being silly, is where a lot of her humor comes from. I love playing and finding different unique ways to relate to Wilfred as Jenna because I personally am like that with my animals. I enjoy watching the way that people react to the show, when they’re like, “Oh my God, that’s how I am with my dog,” or “That’s how I am with my cat.” That’s where a lot of her humor comes from.
What was it like to film your first scenes with Elijah Wood and Jason Gann?
GUBELMANN: Well, the first time I actually interacted with Jason and Elijah was in a chemistry read, during the audition process, where we worked for an hour and rehearsed the scenes with the director and the show-runner, and blocked it out for the final network test. I was really nervous before I got there, but Jason and Elijah were so kind and so helpful that my nerves just went away, and there was such a great sense of play and fun. It felt like little kids on the first day of school. We were asking each other questions and having so much fun and politely teasing each other. It was great. So, the first day of shooting, I was terrified. I still couldn’t believe that I had booked the show and that it was all really happening, but at the same time, it was so much fun. And, the scene we shot was one of my audition scenes that I had worked on for a months. We rehearsed it before shooting the pilot, so we’d worked on it a bazillion times. And, during the shoot, we were so excited that Jason and I kept missing our marks. It was so funny because we both had nerves and we were both excited. They kept having to re-shoot this one scene because we couldn’t hit our lines, and then we would just start cracking each other up. After we finished that scene, I just had this overwhelming wave of excitement and I was like, “This is real. This is really happening.” That was probably my favorite scene to shoot, and it was my favorite day of shooting, because everything felt real and like this was really happening.
When you’re dealing with the dog, is there anything that you do to really imagine him as the dog and bypass the human being?
GUBELMANN: When working with Jason, I really have to avoid looking him in the eyes because we’ve become such good friends that sometimes I’ll look at him and start cracking up, or I’ll start relating to him like my friend. So, whenever I get the script and I have interactions with Wilfred, what I do is think, “Okay, in this situation, what’s going to work best? Do I hear Wilfred? Is he barking? Is he panting? Is he whining? What is he doing when he’s speaking?” I have to know what I see in the reality, first and foremost, and what’s going to help with the scene that’s not going to kill the timing. Whenever I’m not sure, I can easily ask Randall [Einhorn], our director, or sometimes I’ll talk to Jason about it, and we’ll play around. And then, the other thing I do is that I look at each situation and think about how I really interact with my own pets. How am I with my cats, or my family’s dogs, in those situations? I just try to find truth in those moments, and then bring that to how I interact with Wilfred. I really do sing to my animals and talk to them and have conversations with them.
Do you think Jenna would react the same way as Ryan, if she could hear Wilfred talk?
GUBELMANN: I think Jenna would react differently than Ryan to Wilfred, if she could actually hear what Wilfred is saying. Jenna was raised with a bunch of brothers, so she definitely has a no-nonsense attitude. When Wilfred is acting like a baby or is being a little bit of a snot, I think she would whip him into shape. She definitely worries about him, and he is her baby, but she definitely has some no-nonsense sensibilities to her, so I think she would put Wilfred in his place.
With as vulgar and raunchy as Wilfred is, do you think Jenna would keep him, if she could hear him?
GUBELMANN: If Jenna could hear Wilfred’s thoughts, she’d probably wash out his mouth with some soap. And, she’d probably laugh at some of it, too.
What is your favorite Wilfred wisdom? Are there ones that resonate the most with you?
GUBELMANN: Carne diem. You’ve got to seize the day. You really do. That’s something I really believe. You only have today, and you really have to live it to your fullest, and you can’t hold back. That’s something I try to remember, each and every day. But, I’m a vegetarian, so I don’t know if it would be carne diem. Maybe carrot diem?
Is there a particularly funny moment or prank that happened while you were working?
GUBELMANN: I’d say there’s two particularly funny moments, and they’re related. On April Fool’s Day, I brought this plastic dog poo to the set and taped it to the back of Jason because I thought that was really funny, and we were all laughing. In relation to that, and Jason says this is my karma, when I was getting the sticky tape from wardrobe, I actually fell off the wardrobe stairs and ended up bruising the entire left side of my bum. It turned black and was really badly bruised, and a few days later I had to shoot a scene in a bikini. Make-up couldn’t even cover it, it was that bad. And, everyone on set just thought it was hilarious, so it was my karma, according to Jason, for trying to put dog poo on his suit.
What have you learned about yourself since you starting filming the series?
GUBELMANN: What I’ve learned about myself is just how much I love acting. I thought I loved it before, but I am so happy, each and every day that I come to set. Some days, I’ll be there 12 hours, and it feels like five minutes have gone by. I’ve also learned the importance of speaking up for myself and voicing my opinions and my ideas. I’m definitely a shy person. Working with Elijah, who has years and years and years of experience, and is an actor that I’ve always admired, and having Jason, who also has years of experience, and who created the show and the character in Australia, and has been working on it for 10 years, I would sometimes be nervous to voice an idea for a joke or for a way we should do a scene. Through watching the way they interacted, and their support and encouragement, I have learned to be more vocal, when it comes to my ideas and my choices, as an artist.
Are you looking forward to going to Comic-Con and getting to meet and interact with the fans?
GUBELMANN: I am so excited to be going to Comic-Con. I cannot wait to meet the fans of the show. It was so neat getting to meet a few of the fans at the premiere. That was really exciting. I love interacting with fans and followers on Facebook and Twitter because it’s so exciting to see what they love about the show – the moments and the lines. It’s fun to see when people are like, “I just watched this for the first time and I caught this moment,” or “I just saw that.” I love seeing the lines that people are tweeting from the show. It’s so great. So far, I’ve had such a great time interacting with people, and I can’t wait to meet people down at Comic-Con and just see their excitement. It’s exciting to me to meet people that are as passionate about the show as I am.
Would you ever be interested in doing a superhero movie?
GUBELMANN: I would definitely be interested in doing a superhero movie. I love comedy. I like dark comedy. I also love fantasy and science fiction. Some of my favorite directors are Guillermo del Toro, J.J. Abrams and Tim Burton. I love projects that are just out there and unique and where unexpected things happen, so I definitely love superhero stuff. I just saw the new X-Men and it was amazing. It was so much fun.
If you had the option to just play absolutely any super-heroine that you wanted, who would it be?
GUBELMANN: If I could play any superhero, I’d probably want to play Wonder Woman. She’s pretty awesome.
Is there any specific type of role, besides superheroes, that you’d love to play, or is there anyone you’d really love to work with?
GUBELMANN: Well, I would love to work with Guillermo del Toro and J.J. Abrams. I think they are creative geniuses that are constantly producing great work, and they’re two people that I would just love to work with. In terms of a character, I would love to play a fairy. I think that would be really fun. I got to play a woodland fairy for a brief second in Blades of Glory, and I had so much fun getting in hair and make-up, and getting the costume on. I definitely would like to play a fairy again. I’m definitely excited about roles where I get to wear cool costumes. I love Game of Thrones, and would love to do something like that. I’m totally a dork.
Would you ever be interested in doing something behind the scenes, like writing or directing, or are you only interested in acting?
GUBELMANN: Acting is where my heart is. I love acting. Maybe down the road, I can see myself being part of the creative process, but acting is definitely my first and true love.