Photo by Ray Mickshaw/FX
Not every actress becomes an over night sensation, some start early and pay their dues in the dog eat dog world of school plays and local productions. Such was the case with Fiona Gubelmann. In a recent conference call interview the Wilfred star reflected on the very early days of her career.
Gubelmann recounted, “I got started in acting when I was actually in preschool. I was really into dance and performing and 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 and I didn’t quite 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.”
When it came time to go to college, she was focused on a less artistic discipline, but she still had the performing bug. “I went to UCLA, actually as pre-med, and when I was there my freshman year I auditioned for a play and got in. And I was so passionate and 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 just see what happens while nothing’s tying me down.”
Landing her first big gig didn’t take long for the young actress. As she remarked, “I’ve been fortunate since I graduated to work in the industry and keep on working.” Her early jobs include parts in Employee of the Month and Blades of Glory — and then along game Wilfred.
Gubelmann explained how she got the role on the show, “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… It was just hilarious.”
Of course, as has been the case for many people, the main concept of Wilfred didn’t click for her instantly. She recalled, “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 reread 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 and eventually did a chemistry test between me, Elijah and Jason and then tested for the part and was extremely lucky and I booked the show.”
Needless to say, getting word that she had landed the part on Wilfred was a dream come true. Fiona confessed, “Receiving the news that I had booked the part was just overwhelming and exciting and surreal. I had my final audition on Friday and I was told that I wouldn’t know until the following Friday. So over the weekend I was very anxious and stressed out, and Monday morning I was at the gym and I fell off a treadmill and just cut up my leg and I was bleeding and all embarrassed and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s the universe. It’s telling me I’m not going to get the part.’ And I was really, really upset. And I got home and it was 11:30 on Monday and, and keep in mind I wasn’t supposed to hear anything until Friday, and my agents and managers call and they were totally pretending to be upset and down and they were totally messing with me and they’re like, ‘You got the part.’ And I just fell on the floor. I fell on the floor and I was speechless and I was crying and laughing and… it was one of the most incredible moments in my life. Just utter surprise and excitement.”
Then came the task of actually going to work on her first day and filming with her blockbuster actor and series creator co-stars, Elijah Wood and Jason Gann. She had met them only once before. “The first time I actually interacted with Jason and Elijah was in a chemistry read where we worked for an hour, during the audition process, and rehearsed the scenes with the director and the show runner and kind of blocked it out for the final network test. And 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 just like asking each other questions and just having so much fun and politely teasing each other, and it was great.”
That didn’t ease her nerves any when production began. She admitted, “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 month, and then we rehearsed it in rehearsals before shooting the pilot, so we’d worked on it a bazillion times but it was so fun.”
She continued, “During the shoot we were so excited and Jason and I kept missing our marks. And it was so funny because we both had nerves and we were both excited and they kept having to reshoot this one take because we wouldn’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’ and 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.”
But mixed with all of that good energy was a lingering concern about how an audience would respond to the unusual series. “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 and brilliant, unique; unlike anything out there. And I was just drawn to it, and I just 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 have had some anxiety about and just nerves. And when you love something so much you want to see it do well.”
But she wasn’t naïve enough to not understand the risks involved with being different. She acknowledged, “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, and so I was definitely a little nervous about that.”
For now it seems Wilfred will run for a while in dog years if nothing else. But Fiona has her eyes on other Hollywood prizes, too. When asked what other parts she’d like to pursue she responded, “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 makeup, getting the costume on… So I definitely would like to play a fairy again. And just roles where I get to wear cool costumes, things like that I’m definitely excited about. And I love Game of Thrones something like that.”
Until then you can catch Fiona when Wilfred airs on Thursday nights at 10 p.m. EST/9 p.m. Central on FX.
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