Rising Star Maureen Mizener: “Nervousness is simply energy waiting for somewhere to go; Think of it as potential energy you can use it to further your action”
Nervousness is simply energy waiting for somewhere to go. Trying to put a lid on nerves is like trying to fix your hair in a tornado — it never works. So, instead of thinking of nerves as anxiety, think of it as potential energy you can use it to further your action, your character’s inner-life, your character’s relationships with others, etc., rather than ignore it.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Maureen Mizener. Maureen is a Chicago based actor and graduate of The Theatre School at DePaul’s MFA Acting program. Since her graduation Maureen has worked on NBC’s Chicago Fire, as well as a number of independent projects such as Other People’s Heads, Spoiled Fruit, Not a Superhero, Psychomanteum, and Love & Zombies — which landed her a nomination for Best Actress in a Horror Short at the Chicago Horror Film Festival, among others.
Thank you so much for joining us Maureen! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
There’s never been anything else I’ve wanted to do. Well, that’s not entirely true… Growing up I wanted to be and do all the things. I wanted to be a ballet dancer. I wanted to be a scientist. I wanted to be a professional fencer. I wanted to be an astronaut — I was lucky enough to meet Sally Ride during that phase… but no matter what I never strayed too far from the stage. I was always a pretty dramatic child putting on shows, playing dress-up, singing all the time. I think somehow, even then, I always knew this is where I would end up. I mean, my mom was referring to me as Sarah Berhardt by the time I was three, so… yea. It was meant to be.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
I was on set for Chicago Fire. It was my last day, sometime around 5 or 6 a.m., and I wanted to get my sides signed by the cast — yes, I know, ameture hour, right? So I walked up to a group of the guys, held out my sides, started to ask my question when something hit me on my head… I looked up and saw David Eigenberg smiling sheepishly. He had been playing with a plastic fire truck that slipped out of his hand and hit me! It was so early in the morning that I couldn’t help but laugh, and suddenly everyone’s laughing… it was such a great feeling. And when Joe Minoso handed me back my pages, he looked at me, smiled and said, “I remember what it was like to be where you are.” But the best part was getting to be on set with my old acting coach, Monica Raymund who I now have the privilege to call my friend.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Funniest mistake… That’s kind of a hard one. I don’t know how funny this is but, honestly, I wouldn’t be here had even one thing in my life had played out differently. In order to explain this I need to go back to High School. If my HS theatre teacher hadn’t been the way she was I would never have been kicked out of her program and started doing community theatre. If I hadn’t started community theatre I never would have decided to go to school for this. If I hadn’t decided to go to school for this I would never have auditioned for and been accepted to NSULA*. If I hadn’t been accepted to NSULA (double majoring in Music and Theatre — they didn’t have a Musical Theatre degree) I would never have met Dr. Chris Gilliam. If I hadn’t met Dr. Gilliam, I never would have realised that I was big fish in a very small pond. If I hadn’t made that realisation I never would have transferred to SHSU**. If I hadn’t transferred to SHSU I never would have attended the Broadway Theatre Project. If I hadn’t attended BTP I never would have met Monica Raymund. If I hadn’t met Monica I never would have come to the conclusion that I really needed more training to make my career a success. If I hadn’t come to that conclusion I never would have auditioned for The Theatre School at DePaul, I never would have moved to Chicago and I wouldn’t be here, doing this interview today. Looking back on it now, over 10 years later, I see the lesson I was being taught. I know this is what I want to do, I know I’m going to get there, and no matter how many times I hear the word “no,” I don’t listen. Without even knowing it I gave myself the confidence to refuse to go away. To quote one of my favourite actresses, Lauren Bacall, “I am not a has-been. I am a will be.”
*Northwestern State University of Natchitoches Louisiana
**Sam Houston State University
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’m putting together a podcast that’s about pretty much everything and yet nothing, haha! But I’m most excited about this show treatment I’m working on that follows a star ship’s damage control team — think, Sirens. Now, I’ve always been a huuuuge nerd. I mean you name it, I’ve probably been obsessed with it at some point. A few years ago my fiance re-introduced me to Star Trek. Since then Discovery has come out, as well as Seth MacFarlane’s parody The Orville — which is what sparked the idea for this concept.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
Let’s see if I can remember: Frank Wildhorn, Monica Raymund, Matthew Miller, Susan Misner, Jordan Belfi, Patrick Heusinger, Nancy Dussault, Josh Cooke, Valentine Mayer, Dexter Bullard, Terrence Mann, Dave Clemmons, Mary Walkley, Zane Booker, Grady Bowman, Darren Gibson, Rick and Tammy Pessagno, Patrick Wilson, Susan Blackwell… but I would have to say that working with Ben Vereen was a real life-changing experience. That man, for the three-weeks I attended BTP, was my Yoda. He is still my most intense memory from BTP. Now, I’ve always had this weird thing about people sitting behind me, so I used to sit in the back of the classroom and this day was no different. Basically, I was as far away from Ben as I could possibly be while still sitting in the designated student seating area. It was a ‘raise-your-hand-if-you-want-to-work’ day and I, for the first time, raised my hand thinking, “He’ll never see me so it doesn’t matter anyway…” Then I heard a voice call out, “Yes. You! You there in the back.” And the next thing I knew I was standing in front of a group of clearly jealous students singing for Ben f***ing Vereen! At first I thought I was going to throw up, but I picked my song (“I’m Not That Girl” from Wicked), shoved those nauseous feelings to the back of my brain and started singing. Two, maybe three, words in he told me to stop. “Stop acting,” he said, then he pointed to the accompanist and I started singing again. Again he stopped me. “Stop. Acting.” He said. Again he pointed to the piano, the piano started, I started, he stopped me. Again. By that point I was freaking out wondering what the hell was wrong with me, my brain was telling me that I had to be stupid, or that he was about to tell me to give up but he simply asked, “Why did you pick this song?” “Because I love it.” I said. “But, why?” He asked. That’s when it dawned on me that, well, it was because I’m not that girl. I’ve never been that girl, and as I was explaining this to Ben pointed to the piano, and told me to start “from there” with those things in mind. I did, and everything changed, the music felt heavier and the lyrics more devastating and I started crying. He got up and walked over to me, put his left arm around me, put his right hand on my solar plexus, “Do you feel that?” he asked, I tearfully nodded, he leaned in a little closer and whispered in my ear: SET. HER. FREE. I will never, ever forget that and I will never ever forget him for giving me that gift.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Get a therapist! Hahaha! There’s just so much of ourselves we put out into the world only for it to be judged by people who, 60–65% of the time, don’t know what they’re doing, or don’t understand what life is like on our side of the table. It can be very disheartening. Having someone to talk to about everything, who you know will never judge you, helps alleviate a lot of anxiety.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
A complete and total overhaul of the Department of Education. I don’t know how it can be done, I just know that it needs to happen.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Take what works for you and throw away the rest. I came hurtling out of class one day my first year of grad school — in the middle of class. Like, I stormed out because I was just so frustrated that I couldn’t figure it out, y’know? Luckily, I ran into a friend in the stairwell and after I told him what had happened he said, “Then don’t do it. You don’t like it? Don’t do it. It doesn’t work for you? Don’t use it. Take what works for you and throw the rest away.” It completely changed the way I looked at my classes from that day on.
- Nervousness is simply energy waiting for somewhere to go.Trying to put a lid on nerves is like trying to fix your hair in a tornado — it never works. So, instead of thinking of nerves as anxiety but potential energy you can use it to further your action, your character’s inner-life, your character’s relationships with others, etc., rather than ignore it.
- Set it and forget it. You’ve done your homework, now trust the work you’ve done and let your preparation meet the moments.
- Don’t apologise. Ever. For anything. Never apologise for being yourself, mistakes and all. So you goofed up your monologue. So what? You’re the only one who knows, but the minute you apologise for it everyone knows. What you bring in is how you will be received. Don’t be sorry you’re there.
- “Do you have any questions?” Is a fancy way of saying, “Are you ready?”If you hear that in an audition room, only ask questions you truly need answered. YOU ARE NOT REQUIRED TO HAVE ONE! They can tell when you’re fishing.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I recently watched an interview with Tim Blake Nelson (one of my favourite character actors) in which he said, “have the confidence to refuse to go away.” If I had a nickel for every time someone has told me “No” since I started, I would be swimming in a Scrooge McDuck-ian pool of nickels! But I’m still here, and I am not going anywhere.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Wow, this is a lot harder to answer than I thought it would be… There are two, actually, that come to mind. First, Dr. Christopher Gilliam. He saw what it was about singing that really spoke to me and helped me find it myself. I can’t listen to classical music anymore without thinking about Dr. Gilliam and no matter what it is, the music will always bring a smile to my face. The second, because I’m counting them as a single entity, my parents. I will never be able to repay my parents for what they’ve done for me: the money they’ve spent, the tears they’ve dried, the truths they’ve spoken, the love, confidence, and belief they cultivated in me… But especially the times they’ve hugged me, then looked me in the eye and said, “Dammit, stop. You’re better than this. Pull yourself together and get back out there.”
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
JOSS WHEDON!! Absolutely Joss Whedon! I have been an über-fan of his since Firefly!! I’ve seen all his shows and movies, he even introduced me to some of my favourite actors: Gina Torres, Nathan Fillion, Summer Glau, Adam Baldwin, Amy Acker… I also hear he does weekly Shakespeare readings at his house! I want to read Shakespeare with Joss Whedon and Nathan Fillion!! It would be a dream come true! But a major contributing factor is that he gets it. He’s constantly asked by reporters and journalists and people at comic cons, “Why do you write such strong female characters?” His response: Because you’re still asking me that question. The minute I heard him say that in a comic con panel video I watched I just knew that we’d be friends if ever given the opportunity to meet.
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