Actress Emily Shoolin is known for having a great sense of humor. On her own Web site, she points out that she makes a great nerd, she gets the job done, and that she’s an ingénue with chutzpah.
It’s her penchant for laughs coupled with her extraordinary talent as a performer that recently helped her win her debut role on Broadway as Emily Osborn (in addition to other roles) in Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark.
Shoolin is no stranger to the stage, having starred in Enter Laughing , opposite Michael Tucker and Richard Kind at the Bay Street and York Theatres. She also appeared in the Fiddler on the Roof national tour, Tin Pan Alley Rag (Roundabout), and Nerds (PTC).
Shoolin recently spoke with TheImproper about landing her biggest role yet opposite Patrick Page’s Green Goblin in Spider-Man, while simultaneously trying to plan a wedding with her fiancée.
TheImproper: What has been your biggest pinch-me moment since getting to Broadway?
Shoolin: It’s pretty awesome being up there. I think it was probably the fact that I had only really set foot on the stage doing the entire show once before my opening night! Everybody was so wonderful and so open, and sort of looks at you with love in their eyes.
IM: What is your earliest memory of yourself as a performer?
Shoolin: It’s probably the fact that I loved to sing and stand on the couch in my family room and perform for any number of my family members. One of my grandmothers would say that it was that I used to play Cinderella all the time as a kid. She wanted me to really get into it, so she let me sit with a bucket and a mop and rag and wash her bathroom floor. It sounds like child labor laws should be coming into play (laughs), but it was really just her trying to let me be creative, and get something out of it,too, while she was babysitting. My father videotaped me doing dance moves to the entire soundtrack of Grease and all I would let my little sister do is run back and forth behind me. I wouldn’t let her perform!
IM: Your family sounds like a hoot. Were they supportive of your decision to act professionally?
Shoolin: My family has been the most incredible and supportive of families. I’d say to any parent, ‘You should do what my parents do.’ It’s the most helpful thing to have a family who is encouraging and who loves the arts as much as I do. Here, here, to them!
IM: Were you the nerdy Peter Parker type in high school, or were you more of the popular, dramatic Mary Jane?
Shoolin: I think I definitely have nerdy parts about me, but it has nothing to do with my ability to deal with tech stuff. I thought, ‘I’m not a nerd, because I like to do theater.’ I wasn’t part of the popular crowd, in that I also didn’t know a lot of popular music. This is a little embarrassing to admit. Some friends in high school had to be like, ‘Emily, you need some help with your music knowledge,’ so they made me a mix tape of stuff like Madonna, stuff I should have been listening to five years prior.
IM: How did Spider-Man come your way?
Shoolin: It started back in 2006 when I worked with Spider-Man’s director Phil McKinley on Nerds in Philadelphia. He was kind enough to give me my first big regional break doing a role, and it was such great fun. I saw him right when he took over and started working with Spider-Man, and saw that he was auditioning this role. I got a callback and got to meet with Patrick Page. I walked out of there not being sure that I had gotten the job. I was just so thrilled that Phil gave me yet another chance.
IM: How would you describe the character Emily? Her relationship with her husband is a little uneven, to say the least.
Shoolin: When people ask what I am doing in the show I say, ‘Ironically enough, I’m playing Emily.’ She’s the solid rock for Norman, and she’s the conscience of him and all of their research and everything they’ve worked for. He’s brilliant, but so is she. They’re equals in their intelligence and in their abilities. It’s so lovely, he respects her so much. But he starts to go off the deep end, and she’s the person trying to pull him back to reality and to the moral center. He loses his way when things start to go awry and out of his craft.
IM: You get to play a bunch of different, fun characters in the show. Which one is your favorite?
Shoolin: It’s funny, I love doing the off-stage receptionist. It’s a crowd-pleaser, and even though nobody sees my face, it’s such a great little moment. I also get to wear a Mad Men dress with a bright red wig as the secretary, so how could you go wrong?
IM: Are you a fan of comic books?
Shoolin: I read Archie comics, my sister was obsessed with Archie, Betty, and Veronica. My only real connection with Spider-Man was that I was an extra in the Spider-Man 2 film. It’s my one and only time doing that kind of extra work. It’s such a lame connection to Spider-Man! (Laughs)
IM: You have said that one of your special skills is that you are good at tongue twisters. How did you discover that talent?
Shoolin: I can twist my tongue back and forth really fast, which nobody’s really ever asked me to do. I was just sort of twisting it around in front of the mirror one day. I thought, ‘That’s weird, I can do it really fast!’
IM: Because you live in New York you must have at least a few pet peeves. What is your biggest one?
Shoolin: When people clip their nails on the subway. When people’s nails are flying all over the subway, I think that is the grossest thing on the planet. It’s disgusting. I don’t need anymore of your DNA on the subway. And when people chew their nails and then spit them out…eeew.
To see Emily in Spider-Man, visit https://spidermanonbroadway.marvel.com/.