When Season 3 of Crashing returns January 20 to HBO, creator and star Pete Holmes has a new love interest: Madeline Wise, who makes her foray into television as Kat. The series—about a New York comic forced to make a fresh start when his wife leaves him and he begins crashing on friends’ couchces—now sees Pete re-enter the NYC standup scene.
“Kat is a person who exists entirely outside of Pete’s comfort zone,” says Wise. “She’s not a Christian and she’s not a comic. She challenges him to be braver because she’s figured out that it’s a waste of time to be fearful or embarrassed about having ambitions. I really respect that about her, and it’s my favorite part of playing her.”
Wise is certainly a woman with ambitions. She has deep roots in the theatre world, recently starring in Cute Activist at the Bushwick Starr. She founded New Saloon Theatre Co. alongside Milo Cramer and Morgan Green in 2012 as an avenue for original performances “from full-length dramas to two-minute dance videos.” Over the past seven years, the company has produced work for Flamboyán Theatre, the Public’s Under the Radar Festival, Ars Nova, and Connecticut’s Sharon Playhouse.
Here, Wise proves her theatre credentials:
What was your first professional job?
When I was 13, I played Tiny Tim’s sister Martha in a community theatre production of A Christmas Carol. It totally rocked; my mom was also in the show, and I remember thinking it was so cool that she got to kiss a guy who wasn’t my dad.
What was the stage show that has most influenced you?
“Most” is impossible for me to answer, so I’ll just name an early one. I saw Patrick Page play Iago at the Shakespeare Theatre in D.C. when I was maybe 17—my friend Kim invited me to a Coldplay concert, but I was like, “No, thank you, I have tickets to see Shakespeare.” He was magnificent; he totally bamboozled me. I forgot that Iago was the bad guy. That performance remains a master class in not judging your character for their flaws (even when they are myriad).
Is there a stage moment you witnessed (from the audience, from the wings, in rehearsal) that stays with you?
I did a play called Choice at the Huntington in Boston a few years back, and every night after my final exit I would stand in the wings and watch Johanna Day and Connie Ray do this fight scene—they’re best friends and they’re just screaming at each other—and every night they found new ways to do it. Those two women are so powerful, and I really love them.
What’s been the biggest challenge of your career?
Co-founding and running a theatre company is really hard. It’s also deeply rewarding, but it’s hard. And it’s tough to balance that work with trying to just be an actor in my own right.
What’s been the most rewarding experience onstage for you?
On and off over the last four years, I’ve been developing a play called Minor Character with my theatre company, New Saloon. It’s an adaptation of Uncle Vanya that has each character triple-cast, and each actor plays two or more different characters. Every time we do another production of it I think, “This is the time I’m gonna be super-tired of doing this same old play,” but it never happens. I learn more about the characters and the story, and about myself, and it blows my mind that you can keep digging and digging and never hit the bottom.
Who is a collaborator (from theatre) that made you BETTER?
All of them? This answer isn’t a cop-out! There are just are a lot of them. Here’s some: Morgan Green and Milo Cramer, with whom I founded my company. I’ve done so many plays with Caitlin Morris over the years, and she’s astounding. She’s an emotional acrobat, and I learn so much about being present and making discoveries from watching her and working with her. She’s so smart and so funny, and if she wasn’t so wonderful, I would hate her and feel very threatened by her.
Now that you’ve broken big into TV, how do you balance stage and screen? Do you want to?
I want to!!!! I don’t know how I balance them yet because it’s just begun. I imagine it’s the sort of thing where you’ve got to toggle regularly between them so you don’t burn out on one thing. It’s like gym people, who do “leg day” and then “arm day” and then—I assume—“some other body part day” before returning to leg day. (I think it’s clear I spend A TON of time in the gym.)
What is your favorite part of doing TV that’s different from theatre?
You get to do one scene a zillion different ways. You get to play and if you fall flat on your face, there’s no audience there to see.
Tell me more about Kat. What’s your favorite thing about her to play? What acting muscles does she stretch in you?
She knows who she is and doesn’t apologize for wanting what she wants or for doing what she does. It’s also the thing about her that’s hard for me to play, because I’m by nature a little more cautious, or ashamed of certain desires, or something. So I’m very grateful to get to embody this strong, emotionally intelligent woman, because maybe it’ll rub off on me.
Season 3 of Crashing premieres January 20 at 10 PM ET on HBO.