Mary Holland is acting funny

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After several small TV roles, gifted improv comedian and actress Mary Holland of Galax has landed a part in the upcoming series “Blunt Talk” with acting legend Patrick Stewart

By Shannon Watkins

LOS ANGELES, Cal. — “Starry-eyed, small-town girl goes to Hollywood and makes it big” is such a staple of popular imagination that it’s doubled back on itself – it seems like something we (or maybe somebody’s PR people) must have made up.


Refreshingly enough, it turns out to be real – and nobody knows that better than Galax’s own Mary Holland, an actress and improv comedian who is about to debut as a regular in a new TV show, “Blunt Talk,” following several bit parts in shows like NBC’s “Parks & Recreation.”

After growing up on Wildflower Lane and spending two years at Galax High School (she finished at a Interlochen Arts Academy, a performing arts boarding school in Upper Michigan), Holland attended college in the Midwest and then moved to Los Angeles.

“I moved into a building next door to the Upright Citizens’ Brigade [a popular comedy troupe] building, and I went in and saw a show, and I thought, ‘Man, this looks like so much fun!’” she recalls.

Her first celebrity encounter is related with similar enthusiasm. “When I first came to L.A., I worked as a hostess at a restaurant and [fitness guru] Richard Simmons came in,” she says. “I was assigned to walk him to his table and he gave me $50. He would tip passing servers, as well. He was very sweet and generous.”

Holland is friendly and warm, and sprinkles her talk with heartfelt exclamations of ‘oh my gosh!’ that make the phrase “girl next door” seem both fresh and apt.

She is a little bit difficult to get hold of – it takes some scheduling with her agent to set up a phone call – but that’s only because she’s hard at work on a demanding new project. Unsurprisingly for someone with such a positive, bubbly personality, it’s a comedy.

“There is no question in my mind that this was what I wanted to do, ever. I think that there were people in the Galax community who would say I was a little bit of a class clown,” said Holland. “I made everyone I came in contact with very aware of the fact that I wanted to be an actress.”

Early Encouragement

Holland said comedy came into focus later for her; earlier on, she liked the idea of serious, dramatic roles, but found out she had a talent and a blooming desire to play funny characters.

“I was encouraged really by everyone,” she says, “but I think one that really encouraged me and gave me opportunity was [Galax High School drama teacher] B.J. Carroll. She was a huge part of what gave me the courage to go and try to pursue it. She cast me in a bunch of productions and got the ball rolling. I’m so grateful to her.”

Carroll, for her part, counts it a pleasure to have seen Holland perform at Interlochen, but especially relishes the memory of Holland’s antics while still in Galax.

“I will always remember her comic ‘Universal Language’ duo with [GHS acting standout] Brandon Farmer and her unleashed version of ‘It’s Raining on Prom Night’ in ‘Grease,’” Carroll told The Gazette. “She had no fear in making it the funniest, ugliest version ever ‘sung.’ Her comic talents were only surpassed by a serious dramatic role as Mary Hallen, an abused wife, in a state theatre contender, ‘Who’s Happy Now?’”

According to Carroll, Holland and Farmer performed a comic duo for a state championship competition in theatre.

“Mary is a true individual, and I would gladly say to her today, ‘Hey, Mary! You awesome woman! I knew you could do this. Call me!’” said Carroll.

Holland says her parents, Duane and Nancy Holland — formerly doctors at Twin County Regional Hospital and now retired to just outside Nashville — were always behind her, and still are. “I never felt not supported or encouraged by them. I think they’re a big reason that I never doubted that I could do it. They were backing me 100 percent,” she says, then laughs.

“They both have their creative side as well, but I started to realize, with them being doctors, how terrifying it must be you hear your daughter say, ‘I’m going to be an actress!’”

Another supporter of her dreams, she says, was “Dr. Thomas Whartenby, the preacher at the Galax Presbyterian Church. He was a big champion, too. He always made me feel like something special.”

The church, she says, in an annual ceremony, presented Bibles to high school students by calling them up to the front of the sanctuary. “[Dr. Whartenby] said ‘The next girl, since she was born, she had a look in her eye that was too wild for this place.’ I thought, ‘Maybe I can do this.’”

Artistically, she says, “I would say Andy Kaufman was a big influence for me. Gilda Radner. Oh, Jim Carrey was a big influence for me! I used to do impressions of him in grade school, much to my teachers’ distress.”

Acting Roles

After completing her education and moving to L.A., Holland not only got into the Upright Citizens Brigade, but also played small parts on shows like “Parks & Recreation” and “Comedy Bang! Bang!” on IFC.

“It’s fun, but it’s only a day,” she notes of each experience.

Now, however, she’s set to be a regular as Shelly on “Blunt Talk,” a sitcom starring Sir Patrick Stewart as a British TV talk show host working in L.A.

Created by American writer Jonathan Ames and executive produced by Seth McFarlane of “Family Guy” and “American Dad,” the show is shooting now with Holland, among others, playing the part of the talk show’s research and production staff. It will premier later this year on the Starz Network.

Not only is it her first ongoing TV role, it’s a welcome taste of red carpet treatment.

“When ‘Blunt Talk’ happened, I remember on the first day of shooting, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this is really happening,’” she says. “I had my own trailer, and there were flowers inside, and a bottle of champagne.”

But she displays a special excitement when talking about the most famous of her fellow actors. Known for his sense of humor and generous spirit, and legendary for his roles as Captain Picard from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and Professor X from “The X-Men” film series, Stewart proved to live up to the hype.

“Oh my gosh, he is a dream,” Holland gushes. “He is absolutely wonderful. He’s so warm and fuzzy and kind. When I started, I was so excited to work with him.”

Holland relates a story: recently during rehearsals, Stewart and Holland arrived at the studio at the same time one morning. Easily able to have ignored an upcoming actress on his way inside, Stewart instead turned to Holland as if she was already a legend herself.

“He took my hand and kissed me on both cheeks and said ‘Mary! How nice to see you!’” she says. “I felt welcomed and embraced by him.”

Still, for having come so far, Holland says she looks back fondly on her roots.

“I liked growing up back in the mountains, growing up with the same group of people. I didn’t really appreciate how great that was at the time. I love Galax so much. I miss it dearly.”

She continues, “I would just like to send my love. I am so, so grateful that I grew up in Galax. I think about my childhood there I guess I would want them to know that Galax had a huge, huge impact on me.”