Mary Holland spoke with Solzy at the Movies about Self Reliance–now streaming on Hulu–Jake Johnson as a director, and improv.
Self Reliance, which premiered at SXSW last year, is a film about a man having a chance to win $1 million by participating in a dark web reality show. Assassins will chase after him for 30 days but they cannot go near him if he is not entirely alone. This leads him to recruit friends and family to say with him for his survival.
Holland stars alongside Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, Natalie Morales, Andy Samberg, GaTa, Emily Hampshire, Boban Marjanović, Christopher Lloyd, and Wayne Brady.
It’s so nice to chat with you today. How are you doing?
Mary Holland: You too. I’m great. Thanks. How are you?
Well, as we were talking before recording, it’s snowing outside.
Mary Holland: You’re snowy. Yeah, the things are snowy right now. Yeah.
What was it about the script for Self Reliance that drew you to the role?
Mary Holland: I’m a big Jake Johnson fan, always have been, and knowing that he was going to be at the helm of it—as a director and the lead of the movie—that alone was enough to have me on board. I read the script and it’s sort of a genre of its own. It’s really funny. It’s a comedy. It’s an action movie. It’s a thriller. It’s a relationship movie. It pulled from all these genres that I love so much and made its own genre and that definitely intrigued me and pulled me in.
What do you typically look for in a script when you’re deciding on a project?
Mary Holland: I just look for, Am I in it? (Laughs) Oh, gosh, I think I look for an emotional through line with the character I’m potentially going to play and if it’s clear to me who that person is and if I have ideas of how I would want to play that type of person—that gets me really excited for a project. And yeah, I think I just look for good good writing, good storytelling.
Did it ever feel like this was Jake Johnson’s directorial debut?
Mary Holland: It felt like he’s been doing this his whole life. He was really confident and really at ease with that kind of leadership role. Yeah. I never detected any nerves or any pressure that he was putting on himself from the outside. It was all very organic and very easy feeling, the whole thing, I think he had such a strong vision for it and assembled a team that really knew what that vision was. The whole thing felt really seamless.
Do you find there’s much difference or no difference between directors that come from only directing or directors that come from having a background with acting in front of the camera?
Mary Holland: Yeah, I think you just inherently—if you come from an acting background—you are able to talk to actors in a way that you like to be talked to because I think it just inevitably helps with that communication. I think there’s also a thing that Jake did really beautifully and might be because he came from an acting background where he knows how to give a note, give a direction, but inspire you as an actor to make that note or direction your own. As actors, we have such fragile egos. You get a note and this happens to me some time and I’m like, Oh, I did that wrong and I should have done it better. I sort of beat myself up about it. It all depends on how you’re approached from the director and Jake as the director was so encouraging, so inspiring, and he made his notes feel like opportunities, which was really cool.
Was there much room for improv on set?
Mary Holland: Totally, yeah, there was a lot of play, a lot of freedom. But again, he made the dynamics when we were playing so clear that improv wasn’t off the rails or sort of going in all these different directions. It was really contained and specific. And yeah, it was fun.
Speaking of improv, was there an instructor that has had a meaningful impact on your career?
Mary Holland: Oh, man. I have had so many tremendous teachers. There’s so many players that I have looked up to, especially as I was coming up through the improv community. TJ Jagodowski is one that comes to mind. Lennon Parham, Jessica St. Clair. Johnny Meeks was a teacher I had—it was fantastic Brad Morris. Yeah, there’s countless people who had a teacher-esque impact on me as an improviser.
I just saw Brad back in October.
Mary Holland: He’s so amazing. He’s so talented.
He’s the reason why I got my big break in Chicago.
Mary Holland: Oh, really? Cool.
Yeah. Back in 2009 When Joe Canale was moving to LA, I’m at one of the Uncle’s Brothers shows. Brad comes up beforehand and asked me if I want to be a part of Joe’s roast the next day and I’m like, sure.
Mary Holland: Wow. Yeah. He’s such a great guy.
What’s the most important improv lesson that you’ve taken with you throughout your career?
Mary Holland: Be in the moment. I think that’s helpful as an actor and then also just in life. Just try to try to stay as present in the moment as possible.
I know this film premiered at SXSW last year but I just saw where you’re going to be in another SXSW film, Doin’ It.
Mary Holland: Yeah. Yeah. I’m really excited about about that movie. It’s going to be a real romp. It’ll be really fun.
Yeah. Maybe you’ll be able to see TJ while you’re down there because TJ and Dave have a pilot that got selected.
Mary Holland: Really?!?
Mary Holland: That’s exciting. Okay, cool. I hope so. Yeah. Big fan of both of them.
Please send some warm weather this way. I would greatly appreciate it!
Mary Holland: I am. I’m sending it your way. I’m looking out at the sunshine. I’m sending it to Chicago.
Thank you so much. So nice to chat over Zoom.
Mary Holland: Yeah, you too. Nice to see you.
Self Reliance is now streaming on Hulu.
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