Sunday, August 20, 2006

Looking To The Stars: Looking To The Stars – Monkeying Around with Mary Votava

Earlier in the week, we made history by performing the first comic-fandom magazine interview of a “real” superhero. Today, we further push the envelope of what a little mom-and-pop website by the fans, for the fans can do by providing you with another interview – this time with an actress who played a superhero!

Cut from competition in one of the most controversial rounds of Who Wants To Be A Superhero?, she is even now a fan favorite whose elimination prompted a exodus of fanboys who refused to watch a show without a Monkey Woman. It gives me great pleasure to present the woman behind the fur bikini – Mary Votava!

Starman: Where are you from originally?

Mary: Seattle, WA

Starman: Tell us, as much as you are comfortable, about your early life.

Mary: I was the youngest of four and had a very creative childhood. My mom limited my TV watching, so I spent most of my play time making mazes from cardboard boxes, throwing rabbit food from tree forts (to protect from an enemy invasion), building sprawling pinecone metropolises in my sandbox, and things of that nature. I was quite a tomboy; my family called me their “little monkey” because I was so good at climbing trees.

My biggest frustration was not being able to keep up with my sisters and brothers, because they were so much older than me (the next closest in age is my sister Michelle, who is eight years older than me). But it had its’ benefits too – lots of love, lots of support! They all came to my swim meets and school events, and later when I started singing, my recitals and theater productions. I remember my childhood very fondly, and am sometimes irked that I ever turned into a “grown up.” I will always be a kid at heart.

Starman: What are your favorite colors?

Mary: Red, blue, shiny silver

Starman: How did you decide to break into show business?

Mary: It’s been my dream since I was about 5 years old and my sisters pushed me onstage before the performance of “Gypsy” that they were in at our local church. They gave me a cane and a hat and told me to go out, twirl around, tip the hat, and come back. I was shy and didn’t want to do it, but they badgered me into it.

There were quite a few people in the audience at the time, and I’ll never forget that feeling of losing all my inhibitions as I walked out and did my little monkey dance, and heard (to my surprise) the laughter and applause from the people watching. I made so many people smile that day. The rest was history.

Starman: How did your first try-out session for the show go?

Mary: The people doing casting for the show were EXTREMELY supportive and helpful. I was still developing my character as Monkey Woman and hadn’t quite perfected my “shtick” yet. But they saw my potential and helped me work through the snags and put together a great audition tape for the producers.

Starman: Just how padded were those costumes used for the challenge with the guard dogs? It looked like they bit through at some points during the second episode.

Mary: The suits were quite thick. It was hard to move just with them on, let alone with two attack dogs attached. The dogs never bit through the fabric itself to break skin, but the pressure and pinching of their bites left funny “nip marks” all over my body for a couple weeks. Small price to pay for such a unique and exhilarating experience…

Starman: How did you go about creating your character?

Mary: It was pretty much a natural evolution. I’ve had the nickname “Monkey Woman” since I was 17, and thought it would be a fun name for a comedic superheroine a couple years after that.

The idea for a banana-flinging crime-fighter lived on in the back of my mind for several years, until I saw the casting notice for “Who Wants to be a Superhero?” and jumped out of my chair at the opportunity to finally develop Monkey Woman into something tangible. I didn’t think it stood much of a chance, since she’s really such a silly character, and not terribly original…I mean, she’s basically a female Batman with a much fuzzier costume and bananas.

Starman: On that note, are you a big fan of the old jungle-girl comics and movies? (Sheena the Jungle Queen, Shanna The She-Devil, etc?)

Mary: I’m afraid I never saw them, but Sheena and Shanna sound simply smashing!

Starman: Did you make your own costume? If so, do you do a lot of costume design?

Mary: I did make my own costume. My mom helped me procure all the materials, pin the top together to get it to fit correctly, and wrap floral tape around the rope to make the vine…. I’ve been sewing my own clothes and costumes since I was a kid, but really only devote time to it when I have something coming up, such as Halloween or a reality TV show.

Starman: What is the oddest experience you’ve ever had as an actress? Playing Monkey Woman or not.

Mary: One of my first experiences that I’ll never forget was playing a giant singing mosquito at the Seattle Opera’s production of “The Cunning Little Vixen.” I got to stage-stab the lead baritone with my 2-foot long proboscis. Banana-utility-belt notwithstanding, it doesn’t get much odder than that.

Starman: You do a wonderful monkey noise. Do you make any other animal voices?

Mary: Seagull, piglet, dolphin, sheep, goat, cow, whale, Schnauzer, squirrel, tree frog, large dog, cat, angry cat, hissing reptile, dove, peacock, various birdcalls, and Wookiee. The seagull is probably my biggest hit. You can hear them at the sound page of my website.

Starman: What’s on your schedule? Anyplace on stage or screen we might see you in the near future?

Mary: I am currently in shooting for “Daughters of Darkness,” a fun indie horror film about vampires, and working on a other few short films. I also do short-form comedy improv with a group called “The Omelettes” every Saturday night.

Starman: What do you use to inspire yourself? Do you have any kind of pre-show rituals?

Mary:I am a big follower of Eckhart Tolle’s “Power of Now” and try to practice being present. Getting truly *present* is one of the most instantaneous and effective ways for me to find inspiration, peace, and connect to my creative center for whatever character or show I’m working on.

Starman: What do you think are your biggest strengths as a person?

Mary:Determination, openness, sincerity, gratitude. As long as there is breath left in me, I will never give up hoping, trying, trusting, believing, seeing the beauty in everyone and everything, and thanking God/Love for the chance to experience it all. I am also very light-hearted…I laugh a lot, and forgive easily.

Starman: What do you think are your biggest weaknesses as a person?

Mary:Self-doubt and fear are the things that rear their ugly heads with me the most. A lot of my fears and doubts are just old “programming” or struggles common to the human condition, but when they take hold it can feel a lot like wrestling with attack dogs….

Starman: Have you gotten any odd or creepy request from your fans?

Mary:One guy had me sign his banana at ComicCon (the Chiquita kind, of course). I thought it was absolutely hilarious!

Starman: What superheroes did you like growing up? Do you have a favorite?

Mary:As a kid I loved the Justice League of America, and later X-men. But Batman is my hands-down favorite.

Starman: Are you now, or have you ever been, a comic book collector?

Mary:I am not a comic collector, but I have read some X-men in the past and enjoy the whole genre tremendously. I’ve made myself several costumes over the years just for playing dress-up and running around like a freak.

Starman: If you were going to play any superheroine in a movie (apart from Monkey Woman of course), who would you like to play?

Mary: Wonder Woman. I know I’m no 6-foot Amazon, but Wonder Woman was one of the first costumes I ever made and I used to dress up as her all the time. (And hey, I took pretty towering next to my nieces and nephews…) Anyone know Joss Whedon’s number?

Starman: If I did, he’d be my next interview. What are some of your favorite things?

Mary: Raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles, warm woolen mittens, and being a smart-ass…ok, seriously, I have my “favorites” on my MySpace page.

Starman: Hey, I ask a smart-ass question… What are your pet peeves?

Mary: Hair on the floor *shudder*…I keep my vacuum cleaner plugged in next to my bathroom at all times so I can suck it up as soon as I’ve brushed my hair. I’m completely OCD about that and am a bit of a neat freak in general. But other than hairy floors and keeping my home clean, I’m pretty easy going and not bothered or offended by much.

Starman: Where have you trained as an actress?

Mary: I am currently studying with Alan Feinstein and Paul Tuerpe. I have taken classes at Oberlin College, San Diego Actors Workshop, and numerous workshops with casting directors and other industry rofessionals.

Starman: What special talents do you have (that we can discuss in print)?

Mary: I sing a mean opera aria, swim, do trampoline tricks….but I would have to say my best talent is an ability to learn. I’ve always been able to pick up new skills or assimilate information rather quickly.

Starman: Who are your biggest idols as an actress?

Johnny Depp
Christopher Guest
Val Kilmer
Kevin Spacey
Patrick Stewart
Meryl Streep
Jodie Foster
Uma Thurman
Audrey Hepburn

Starman: What advice would you have for anyone who wants to go into acting?

Mary: I’m not sure I’m qualified to give advice, as someone who has not yet realized her own goals, but I can share the approach I am taking: find a good teacher and go to regular classes. Your number one focus should be on doing great work and perfecting your craft, no matter what it’s for or what kind of paycheck (or lack thereof) you’re getting. Don’t be put off by the professional aspect – remember that being an artist means you’re essentially in business for yourself…consider getting a business coach or at least taking a seminar so you have some idea how to handle this side of the equation.

And I know this may sound odd coming from a woman who wears a fur bikini – but never compromise your principles. That is not the same thing as getting outside your comfort zone (which IS important to do). Just know who you are. And no matter what your dreams or occupational ambitions are, never give up….you just don’t know the unexpected ways in which the universe may manifest your desires when you keep on believing!

Starman: Finally, is there anything you would like to say to our readers?

Mary: Thank you all for taking the time to read this and get to know me a little better – I truly appreciate your interest and support! Many blessings on you, all the best, and I hope someday we have a chance to meet face to face!

Starman: I hope so too. Thank you again for the interview with yourself and your alter ego!

Anyone who wants to read more about Mary and her work is advised to surf the web over to her personal website:

Tune in next week. Same Matt time. Same Matt website.

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