Jennette McCurdy on being ‘Between’ comedy and drama, writing and acting

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Starting this Thursday, Jennette McCurdy will officially be Between roles. That is to say, her new series, mysterious drama Between, will have its world premiere on City in Canada, capitulating her into a new stage of her career where she can move between comedic and dramatic parts, both in front of and behind the camera.

McCurdy is mainly known for her comedic acting, as she grew up starring on Nickelodeon laffers like iCarly and Sam & Cat. But starting last year, she began branching out, writing and creating semi-autobiographical series What’s Next for Sarah? for the web. And she’s heading into new territory once again with Between, playing a pregnant teen dealing with the fallout of her town, Pretty Lake, suddenly losing all of its adults to a sudden and random plague.

We got to talk to McCurdy in Toronto yesterday, and from the sounds of it, she’s going to be doing a whole lot of acting (!), writing (!!) and relaxing (!!!?) in the year to come. Read edited Q&A below to find out what we mean, as well as which fellow TV lady she’d love to work alongside in the near-ish future!

What drew you to this show aside from–I’m sure you get this a lot–it’s different than what you’ve done before and thus, a change of pace?

Jennette McCurdy: It reminded me of a younger version of Lost. That’s my favourite, one of my favourite dramas ever, so I felt like that was super intriguing to me.

And also the fact that it’s ensemble cast, which I like. It alleviates the pressure from one specific character and makes it so you’re invested in a lot of them, and also makes it so you don’t get sick of anybody in particular.

I think those are the main things. Younger version of Lost. Ensemble cast. Also, I heard that Jon Cassar was directing and I was a big 24 fan, so that was pretty cool.

It sounds like you like a lot of heavier dramas.

JM: Yeah!

Well, I love a comedy. I’m a comedy nerd. But I do love a good serial drama.

How did you approach playing Wiley? She’s got a lot of stuff going on right off the bat. I mean, aside from dealing with what’s happening to the town, she’s pregnant and there’s a whole mysterious sideplot going on there.

JM: I think each character has a subplot! It’s something that I love about the show. Even though the throughline is this big catastrophe that’s happening outside, each character is going through something inside. It’s more about following their internal arcs than watching people die all over the place.

How did you get in her mindset and her individual struggle, though?

JM: Wiley is … what is it, art imitates life? Wiley was kind of mimicking my life at the time and I found a lot of comfort through playing her. Wiley internalizes a lot of things. She can come across kind of cynical and sarcastic and I don’t think that’s a strange concept in terms of what people might think of me. [Laughs]

As the episodes unfold, we learn a little bit more about Wiley and we relate to her more and we recognize that what appears to be a certain harshness comes from a very real place of sensitivity and fragility. And I think that’s also me. Cause I’m just a baby inside. [Laughs]

Would you say that we’re going to see more of this fragility over the six episodes, or is there more to be revealed if there’s a second season?

JM: I think there are a couple key points in Wiley’s arc where we see, oh, this is why she acts this way. Oh, this is where this is coming from. If we did a Season 2, and I hope it happens, that is something that I’d really like to see more of in Wiley. Because I don’t think that being fragile or being sensitive means that you’re weak, and I don’t think Wiley’s recognized that. I think it would be really cool to see her accept that part of herself and become stronger by doing so.

I’ve noticed that you’ve done some screenwriting work in the last year or so. How has that changed your approach as an actress? Do you look at scripts differently now that you’ve been in that position?

JM: I’ve always loved writing. I wrote my first screenplay–it was terrible!–when I was 10. It was called Henry Rhodes. It was about a boy called, you guessed it, Henry Rhodes, and he and his neighbour have crushes on each other and want to be boyfriend and girlfriend–I don’t know what I was thinking–and then their parents end up falling in love and getting married. Then they’re like, ‘We can’t do this! It’s too hard on us.’ And then I cut randomly to like a Universal Studios dance scene in the middle of the script. Cause I guess I wanted to dance at Universal Studios. [Laughs]

But I always think that writing helps acting because you can relate more to where a writer’s coming from. As an actor, you can go to a selfish place where it’s ‘I want my scenes to be this, or I want my lines to this, or I want my character to do a certain thing.’ But I think writing helps you recognize that it’s about the project as a whole, the story as a whole, and whatever role your character plays in the evolution of that story is more important than what your character says about your acting skills.

Would you like to write for a show like this?

JM: Ooh, I would love to! I would love to be the writer’s room for anything.

I think I’m more inclined to write comedy, but if I had the opportunity to write a drama series like this, it would be great. I think to exchange points of views with a group of very interesting writers and sit down and hear their stories and exchange your stories and, you know, flesh out something as heavy and personal as this would be so fulfilling.

Is there a particular show you’d want to take a crack at?

JM: Okay, so House of Cards has this Sorkin-like, punctual rapidity to it, which I draw inspiration from at times.

I watched a couple of episodes of Girls on the plane yesterday. I didn’t love the first season and I watched all of it. I think maybe it was the time of my life when I saw it, but something didn’t resonate. I saw three episodes yesterday from Season 4 and I was crying on the plane. I was a mess. Things were happening.

Maybe sitting down with a person like a Lena Dunham or an Aaron Sorkin, somebody who’s been so inspirational, [would be great]. Being in their [writer’s] room in any facet–even just sitting in the corner and watching them–would be a dream come true.

Do you have anything else other than this on the go right now? What’s next for you?

JM: No. I’ve just been writing a lot and really trying to find a balance between work and life–my personal life and professional life–and finding whatever that bridge is. I think that’s something I didn’t really learn because I started acting when I was 6. So it was like, ‘Work is life! Work constantly! Every move I make must be for work!’ I actually think it’s a really modern mentality because kids start doing their work, their professions so young now.

For the last couple years–I’d say two years–I’ve been taking my friendships, my family relationships seriously and making sure I nurture them as I should be. And not wasting any time and putting real things on the back burner for career choices.

Between premieres Thursday, May 21 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on City in Canada (it will also stream on Shomi). Stateside filles can also check it out weekly on Netflix.

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