The Adaptable Life of Hilary Ward
Words + Interview By: Krystal Luster
Whether it’s theater, television or film, Midwest native Hilary Ward is sure to put her best foot forward when it comes to bringing her characters to life. Hilary is a mother, wife, acting coach and part-time photographer; although she feels she could use little more practice. Mrs. Ward has made appearances on “NCIS”, “The Young and the Restless” and the HBO series, “Sharp Objects”. The following is an excerpt of our interview with her.
Let’s talk about the HBO series, “Sharp Objects”.
This limited series from HBO follows Amy Adams as Camille Preaker, a reporter who returns to her small Southern town to investigate a murder of a child. As the story unfolds, you learn that Camille’s dread of returning to her home involves a troubled relationship with her mother, a dead sister and a volatile younger half-sister. I play Becca, a high school friend of Camille’s who discovered early on that Camille was taking out her problems on her own body. Now that Camille is back in Wind Gap, we finally have a chance to talk about what Becca learned all those years ago. All eight episodes are directed by Jean-Marc Vallee and are adapted from the novel of the same name by Gillian Flynn.
What stood out to you about your character Becca?
I latched on to Becca’s being the only black girl in this popular clique. They accept her but with conditions, always reminding her where she comes in the pecking order. So when Camille, a person who could have easily used her popularity and rank to crush Becca protects her a bit from Katie and the other girls, I think that Becca starts to recognize her as a person who also feels like an outsider. I definitely identify with that feeling of being an outsider. I think every one does at some point in their lives.
Were you at all familiar with the novel “Sharp Objects” prior to being cast for the television series?
I was not familiar with this novel but I had absolutely loved Gone Girl and couldn’t put it down until I finished it. So, I knew that Flynn wasn’t afraid to veer into dark territory. Once I was cast, I bought the audio book because I was supposed to start shooting episode 2 the next week and I wanted to familiarize myself with the story and the characters. Becca is mentioned very briefly in the book but lucky for me, the writers did an amazing job of filling her out and giving her a much fuller story and interaction with Camille.
Were you a “mean girl” in high school?
God, I hope not. Honestly, I can’t imagine being described that way since I felt like a bit of a nerd all through high school and junior high. I was smart. I got good grades. I liked plays and show choir. I didn’t drink or smoke. I didn’t have sex. So, I felt like a nerd but I was also Homecoming Queen my senior year. I only mention that because it sets up so perfectly the contrast between how people probably saw me and how I felt about myself. I’ll say this…I’m glad I’m not going through high school in the age of Instagram and Twitter. I can’t imagine being 15 years old with that kind of pressure added to everything else.
What are your thoughts on book-to-film adaptations? Do you feel these types of films translate the book’s message accurately? Why or why not?
I think it all depends on the project. This particular adaptation is so masterful because Jean-Marc was able to keep the story-telling focused on Camille’s point of view without relying on the trop of a voice over. We understand her emotional life through his masterful use of editing present day scenes and flashbacks. It’s jarring and unsettling, just like the book. I think it all comes down to who is adapting the material.
Do you have an example of a book-to-film adaptation that was executed poorly?
That feels like dangerous territory, Lol! I’ll say this: I try not to criticize a good faith effort in bringing a piece of art to life. Nobody sets out to make bad art. Just as much effort, heart and soul usually go into the projects that don’t pan out so well as did the ones that turn out brilliant. So, who am I to judge?
What is a book you’ve recently read that you would recommend to us?
Jordan Peele is producing a new show for HBO based on the book, Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff. It’s not something I would normally pick up but the project sounded interesting so I read it a few months back. It’s funny, strange, intelligent and really entertaining…a really fun read.
What was your experience like during the filming of the HBO movie, “All The Way”?
That was a dream experience. To be on set with that cast, working on a project that was reminding us just what people in this country had risked to get the most basic rights and more fair treatment. Also, the movie premiered in 2016 when the ugliness of the presidential race was at its height. I was very grateful to be a part of it.
Have you always lived in LA?
I actually grew up in the Midwest: Indianapolis, IN. I’ve been in LA about 10 years. I have grown to love LA and have found a wonderful community of friends here. I don’t ever see myself living in Indy again, but I really love Chicago (from May to September anyway.) Who knows? I might settle somewhere else in the future but for the foreseeable future, I’m here.
How long have you been a part of the indie film scene?
My first indie feature was 2015’s, Like You Mean It. Phillipp Karner, the wonderful writer-star-director, approached me about being part of it while we were in acting class together. I have a young son and husband so I haven’t necessarily focused on film which can often take you away for long stretches. I’ve been really fortunate that almost all of my film opportunities have basically fallen in my lap.
Tell us about “Like You Mean It” and “Other People”.
Like You Mean It is the story of a gay couple who are trying to work through a rough spot in their relationship. I play their therapist, “Perry” in the film. Other People is a sweet dramedy from Chris Kelly, roughly based on his experience of witnessing his mom battle cancer.
Are you currently working on any indie films?
Not at the moment. I’m currently rehearsing for Sense and Sensibility at Southcoast Repertory.
Have you considered creating your own material for either the stage or screen?
Last year, I completed the first draft of a feature script and have several other ideas rattling around that I want to develop.
Why were you so devoted to landing the role of Yelena in the production of “Uncle Vanya”? What does this character mean to you on a personal level?
It’s one of those plays and roles that I’ve always loved and always felt like I could play. The opportunity came along to work with some artists that I really respected and to do the play in a non-traditional space and I just knew I had to do it. I’m so grateful that I had that experience.
Do you feel society is becoming less interested in stage productions and are more likely to go to the moves instead?
There is no doubt that theaters struggle to attract new audiences. It feel like it’s a bigger risk to someone who has never seen a play to spend $50 on a ticket when he could see a movie for $15. Even if someone doesn’t like it much, he/she is not intimidated by the experience. It’s not always like that for people going to the theatre. I think part of the problem is that there is a cannon of plays that get produced over and over and most directors aren’t very interested in doing those plays in the way they’ve seen them done before.
When you go to a theatre and only see white casts featured in plays by white men, it’s easy to feel as a minority that theatre just isn’t for you. It takes companies that are willing to program and then use artists from a truly diverse background to open up access to the theatre to more people. That’s a mission of my company, Chalk Rep and one of the main reasons we work in non-traditional spaces.
How long has acting been a part of your life? Were you ever interested in pursuing different careers?
I was always singing, dancing and acting as a kid but I got serious about it in 2003. I was in New York, working Off-Broadway with a lot of very talented actors at Classical Theatre of Harlem. The actors in those companies were all out of NYU, Yale, UCSD and other top MFA programs. I realized if I wanted to have longevity in my career that I needed to dig in and figure out the craft of acting so I auditioned for programs. I was accepted to UCSD’s MFA program and then moved to Los Angeles right after graduation.
What can you tell us about your upcoming stage performances in ” A Picture of Dorian Grey” and “Death and Cockroaches”?
I actually left the production of Dorian Grey (before rehearsal began) to take the role of Elinor in Sense and Sensibility at Southcoast Rep. I really identify with her as an oldest child with a firm head on her shoulders. Sometimes, people mistake my ability to handle crises as a lack of feeling but I’m very sensitive. I just hold my cards close to the vest. So, she’s a perfect role for me to work on. Plus, I get to use my dialect and stage training and play dress-up in fun clothes and wigs. Death and Cockroaches is a beautiful new comedy all about a man who moves home to take care of his dying father. The tag line is that he runs from his grief straight into a wall of dicks. Written by Chalk Rep company member, Eric Reyes Loo, it’s a frank look at his experience with loss, love, identity and redemption. It will world premiere in November here in Los Angeles. It was developed over several years in my company Chalk Rep’s Writers Group.
Tell us about the social media campaign #lovemeltsice and your involvement with RAICES.
It’s hard to change a person’s mind with facts. You have to get them to start to identify with the stories of other people. So RAICES launched to campaign #lovemeltsice on social media to start spreading kindness and get thinking about the stories of all the children and parents who are in custody in our country’s detention centers. My own involvement stemmed from hearing the first stories of family separation had started to hit the news in June and I was just sick about it. I’m mom to a six-year-old and the thought of risking both our lives to come to this country for help and then to be separated from him, kept me up at night.
So, on Fathers’ Day, I used my Facebook page to put out a challenge. My goal was at first to raise $500. My husband and I thought we would match that and be done. But, we raised it so quickly that we pledged to match $1000. Then we raised that so I kept putting out calls to action and spreading information about why it was so important to support RAICES, who was providing legal aid to the children and parents. Before I knew it, we had raised $6000. Since then, I’ve joined together with other mothers to help organize rides and places to stay for parents who had been released, interpreters, fundraising, etc. I wish I could do more. As human beings, we have the capacity to get used to almost anything. That ability has helped us survive as a species but it also makes it easy for us to get numb to injustices that are happening around us. So, I’m doing my best not to get numb.
Why do you feel so strongly about the separation of families on the border? Has anyone you know personally gone this this experience?
I’m very fortunate to not know anyone directly caught up in this mess. Still, I believe it is on all of us to make sure it gets fixed.
Do you feel there isn’t enough outrage about what is going on?
Anger can be a catalyst to act but often it just gets us caught up in our own self-righteousness. I can hate this policy but ultimately if I’m just bitching about it on my Facebook page…..that’s not good enough. I think outrage gets people out of their complacency but the discipline we all have to have is showing up to do the really boring work that makes a difference: like making sure people in your community are registered to vote and can get to the polls. Real change takes time.
What advice can you give those interested in starting their own fundraiser for this or similar causes?
I would just say go for it! Speak from the heart and don’t be afraid to let people know why you feel so passionately about a cause. I was shocked by how quickly we raised money initially and it made me just want to figure out the ways to do even more.
Are there any other causes you’re speaking out for?
Through my church community at Mt. Hollywood, I’ve been involved in a lot of causes from raising money to provide legal defense for the protesters at Standing Rock to marching for sensible gun law to providing money for Laundry Love so people living on the streets or with a tight budget can get their clothes cleaned for free. I’m not always that organized about it but my husband and I try to model empathy and kindness to our son.
Tell us about your home life with your husband and son.
We are blessed to have a healthy, energetic kid. He’s just entered first grade and keeps us busy with little league, swimming and camps. We try hard to do stuff outside. My husband and son are really into trains so they will take the commuter trains out of town and walk around, have lunch and visit the surplus store. My husband is a really hands-on dad and I’m so lucky that he is supportive of my career.
Right now, I’m in rehearsals for the play which means that he’s getting our son to and from school, feeding him, doing homework, etc. until the show opens and I have a little more time. He’s made it possible for me to take care of opportunities that come up in my career because he’s always been ready to jump in and take on more of the parenting when I’m on set, shooting out of town or in a play.
How are your photography skills coming along? What type of images do you like to capture?
I wish they were better. I should knuckle down and take a class! Most of the time, I like shooting people in the city. I like urban settings, candids and playing with light and shapes but I’m no expert. I just find it creative and relaxing.
Share with us a quote you live by.
“Don’t try to win over the haters. You’re not a jackass whisperer.” – Brene Brown
This business can put you in an endless cycle of seeking approval so I try to remind myself that I’m enough, just as I am. Some people won’t be my people and that’s okay.
Photo By Joanna Degeneres