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Kam Williams

Haley Strode has proven her skills on both screen and stage, effortlessly executing dramatic and comedic roles for which she has received significant praise. With charm, sharp intelligence and a vibrant personality, Strode is a multitalented actress who has showcased her talent across the board.

She was last seen co-starring as Marcia Keeler in “Gangster Squad,” where she shared the screen with Josh Brolin, Giovanni Ribisi, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn and Emma Stone. And her list of television appearances includes a recurring role on “Important Things” as well as guest appearances on “Mind of Mencia,” “CSI: NY,” “Vegas” and “The New Normal.”

Bringing her charisma to the theatre stage, Haley received rave reviews for her performance in the Katselas Theatre Company’s production of “Le Ronde de Lunch.” Her previous theatre credits include Oxford Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” as Viola, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” as Hippolyta, “Othello” as Desdemona, “Romeo and Juliet” as Juliet and “A Streetcar Named Desire” as Stella.

In “Wendell and Vinnie,” she plays a next-door neighbor named Taryn opposite Jerry Trainor and Buddy Handleson.

What interested you in “Wendell and Vinnie”?

Taryn is the kind of role I’ve always wanted to play: the eternal optimist, sweet and thoughtful, but fiery when she needs to be. She’s got it all and then some. I was enamored, and after reading the entire script, I fell in love. It’s a classic sitcom through and through.

One thing I absolutely loved about the show from the beginning was that not only are the characters hilarious, but they’re also incredibly relatable. When a poignant moment unfolds, as it does in every episode thus far, it has the ability to pull on your heartstrings.

Tell me a little about the sitcom.

The show revolves around a 30-year-old man-child, Vinnie Basset [played by Jerry Trainor], who is living the bachelor’s life in L.A., when he suddenly becomes the prime caretaker of his bookworm, brainiac nephew, Wendell [played by Buddy Handleson].

The two form a sort of [an] odd couple duo, being that Wendell, on many occasions, can be more discerning and responsible than his uncle. And with the help of their next-door neighbor, my character, Taryn, and Vinnie’s sister, Wilma [played by Nicole Sullivan], a support unit is formed to help raise Wendell… and sometimes Vinnie. [Laughs]

How would you describe your character, Taryn?

As I said, Taryn is the kind of girl that has it all. She’s the quintessential “girl next door.” In the pilot episode, we see her struggling with a new town and existence really, because she’s newly divorced. There’s definitely a vulnerability there, mixed with the fire she possesses to turn down Vinnie’s advances from the beginning. But once she meets Wendell, and sees how much Vinnie loves his nephew and wants to be a good parent, the side of her that wears her heart on her sleeve becomes intertwined in the family unit.

What message do you think the show is trying to deliver?

I think ultimately the message is that no matter what life throws at us, no matter what our circumstances are, surrounding ourselves with people who love and support us is the key to leading a happy and fulfilled life. Family doesn’t have to be conventional; it just has to have love and laughter at its core.

You recently played a serious role in “Gangster Squad.” Which do you prefer, drama or comedy?

This is a great question; I’m asked this a lot. While I love working on dramatic characters and stories, it’s comedy that I love the most. For me, it’s incredibly rewarding to make a person laugh. Laughter is one of the greatest parts of life.

What was it like working with such an accomplished cast that included not only Giovanni Ribisi but Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, Josh Brolin, Nick Nolte, Anthony Mackie, Michael Pena and Robert Patrick?

It was truly an incredible experience. I’ve been a huge fan of Giovanni’s for a long time; he’s such a chameleon. It was an honor to work with him, as well as the rest of this stellar cast. Being that it was male dominated, it was often fun feeling like a part of the ‘boys club’ that took place on set. Such a talented, fun and luckily for me, welcoming group of men that made the entire experience a memorable one.

What would be your dream role?

I’ve often tried to imagine my dream role and what that would truly mean. I’m not sure I’ve reached a clear picture of it yet, but I have always said the reason I wanted to act was ultimately to develop characters that evoke emotion and consequently change lives. So many incredible actors do that for me. It’s something I’ve known about myself for as long as I can remember.

What directors would you like to work with?

Cameron Crowe, Michel Gondry, Charlie Kaufman, Wes Anderson, Jonathan Dayton, Rob Reiner and many, many more.

If you could meet any historical figure, who would it be?

There are many life stories I’ve heard that are so inspiring, that leave me with such cognizance of myself and the level of work that I want to reach.

Mary Cassatt comes to mind as one the most attractive historical figures for a meeting, because her life story, to me, always sounded remarkable in every sense. She overcame the difficulties of having parents that loved her, but did not support her passions. She was a female artist at a time when women were meant to be married, have children and almost forbidden to have a job. She saw her passion clearly, and unapologetically went for it. I love and admire that great amount of gumption that it must have taken.

I also read a quote of hers once about how she learned so much from her mentor and, later, best friend, Henry Matisse. She said “I used to go and flatten my nose against that window and absorb all I could of his art.” I love this quote because I think this is how every artist feels while pursuing their art. We all want to scour what inspires us, and learn from and build on it.

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