FAST CHAT: Ellen Muth
In Showtime's bittersweet black comedy "Dead Like Me," which starts its second season next Sunday night at 10, Ellen Muth stars as Georgia "George" Lass, a prototypically bored teen whose studied annoyance with life is rudely interrupted by falling space-station debris (a toilet seat, to be specific). George's demise doesn't lead to heaven, hell or even purgatory, however. She finds herself conscripted into the ranks of the reapers, not-so grim folks who won't receive a permanent destination until they put in an indefinite amount of time collecting the souls of people whose numbers are about to be up. George, ghost-like, is also able to observe the family she previously couldn't bear. Muth was decidely more motivated than her character. At 23, she's already had more than a decade of experience as an actress. An optician's daughter from Milford, Conn., she started acting studies at age 10 and by 14 landed her first big role, playing Jennifer Jason Leigh's younger self in the feature film "Dolores Claiborne." Since then she's done everything from indy films to Off-Broadway theater to a stint on "All My Children." Newsday TV critic Noel Holston talked to Muth (pronounced "Mewth") at a small Greenwich Village hotel just before she flew back to Vancouver, Canada, where "Dead Like Me" is filmed, after an East Coast trip to visit her family.
Interviewer ...I'm told that you research your roles extensively. Did you have to research sullen teenager?
Muth Response ... No, I went through that phase. But it's different for George because we have different family dynamics. Her background is really different from mine.
Interviewer ... You seem to have extremely supportive parents.
Muth Response ... Yeah, I do. And she completely isolated herself from her family her whole life. This season, we actually get into why that happened.
Interviewer ... Your mother schlepped you around to auditions?
Muth Response ... Oh, she didn't schlep me. I schlepped her, actually. I was the one who wanted to be an actress. It was something she didn't want me to do because she thought the rejection would ruin my self-esteem. My father was, like, "If she wants to try it, let her try it."
Interviewer ... Did you, in fact, have to contend with rejection?
Muth Response ... There were times when there were parts that I was sure I got and then I didn't, and I did get upset. But at this point, it doesn't affect me in the least because I know how the business works. Oh, she just happened to be a friend of the producer's. Or, oh, they've been trying to get her from the beginning and she just had a spot open up. Or, she had blue eyes and the mother had blue eyes and Ellen had brown eyes. There are always little loopholes, so I don't take anything personally anymore.
Interviewer ... How did you come to choose an actor's life?
Muth Response ... Ever since I was a little kid, whenever my parents would have company over, I would put on shows, whether they would be magic shows, singing shows, dancing shows, little skits. I would do improv. And then I started making my own movies. I was so demanding and so aggressive with all my friends: "No, you need to be lying in this position so I can get your legs in the shot." I needed it perfectly filmed the way I envisioned it.
Interviewer ... So, is directing your ultimate goal.
Muth Response ... If I did anything "next," I would do writing.
Interviewer ... What about racing? I read something about you racing bikes.
Muth Response ... No, actually, I race cars. I went to the Skip Barber school. I've been into cars since I was about 13, but I never went to school for it until a year and a half ago. I do the Formula 3s with the Dodge engine.
Interviewer ... I also read that you're a member of Mensa.
Muth Response ... Yeah.
Interviewer ... What's you're IQ?
Muth Response ... Do I have to say that?
Interviewer ... Yes, you're under oath.
Muth Response ... [Laughs.] Well, I prefer not to say the score, but I'm also a member of Intertel, which is one step above Mensa.
Interviewer ... How does that square with acting as a profession? Do you find actors as a rule to be more intellectual or intuitive?
Muth Response ... I find that the majority of the actors I've worked with are extremely sensitive people and very spontaneous people. That's why I always say I'll never date an actor, because they're in love with you one day and the next day they're not.
Interviewer ... Amber Tamblyn ("Joan of Arcadia") told me she gets bombarded with spirituality questions. Do you get...?
Muth Response ... "What do you really think happens after you die?" That's the question that everyone, everyone, everyone asks. And I'm so sick of it. But my true answer is, I don't know. And there's no way I'm going to find out 'til it happens.