To say Victoria Barabas is a multifaceted talent is a bit of an understatement. She is the type of artist who isn’t easily satisfied and always has several irons in the fire. Before hitting screens across the nation as a head-turning actress, Barabas cut her teeth as a professional writer. Her writing experiences offer a broad range of styles, including entertainment magazine articles, advertising copy, corporate communications in fashion and beauty industries, and various types of fiction. Her passion for the arts and creative growth ultimately led to pursuing a career in front of the camera. Trained at the MFA theater program at A.C.T. in San Francisco, she has lent her considerable talents to several network television series. Barabas has appeared in CBS’s mega-hit ‘NCIS,’ the police procedural ‘CSI: NY’ and a recurring role on the long-running daytime drama ‘The Young and the Restless.’ In addition, the talented beauty has emerged on FX’s popular ‘Rescue Me,’ USA’s crime drama ‘White Collar’ and FOX’s sci-fi series ‘Fringe.’
In 2016, Barabas merged her two passions in the form a hilarious and smartly written web series, “WingWoman,” which she created and produced. Directed by Michaela Myers, ‘WingWoman’ tells the tale of a modern day match-maker named Sara Chambers, who teams up with down-on-his luck and awkward Ben Sands in his quest to find a woman. She’s a ball-buster, he’s a hopeless romantic, so while she’s just trying to get him laid, he’s looking for true love. Their opposing points of view land them in some endearingly comedic situations, all while their partnership grows more and more complicated.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Victoria Barabas to discuss her unique career path, the idea that sparked the creation of ‘WingWoman,’ the challenges she faced in bringing it to life, and much more!
How did you get involved with the creative arts early on in life?
It started with school plays and creative writing. That has been going on since childhood. I played a Russian assassin in my first school play, so I think I was hooked from there! [laughs]
At what point did you decide that a career in the entertainment industry was something you wanted to pursue?
It was around the time I was going into college that I decided I wanted to pursue it full-time. My parents were staunchly against it, but I moved forward! I majored in English Lit and and I went on to write for a magazine. I was a copywriter for an advertising firm and I did some creative writing on the side. I applied for a Masters degree in theater and decided to pursue more of that as well.
In terms of influences, who had the biggest impact on you in your formative years?
That’s an interesting question. I had some teachers along the way who really pushed me in the direction in which they saw that I had the most potential. My parents – as much as they were concerned about me taking on a life in the arts – they have always supported me and taught me to keep my integrity intact, have a strong sense of self, and believe in who I am. That alone has allowed me to follow whatever dreams I’ve wanted to follow in my life.
Where do you find yourself looking for inspiration these days?
I read a lot. I read a lot of fiction, short stories and novels. I also really love film. As of late, some of the television series that are coming out are just as cinematic as films. There are so many amazing television shows coming out right now; shows like ‘True Detective’ and ‘Fargo.’ Those are more on the drama side, but the writing and cinematic nature of television shows right now is a great source of inspiration!
Which projects from your past have had the biggest impact on you creatively?
When I was in school at the American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.), for me, that was the biggest project that I had ever been involved with. It had a huge impact on me. Since then, a lot of what I have been doing comes from that experience. As an actor, you audition, you get these roles or bit parts – a guest star role or a recurring role. When you’re starting off your career, it always feels like you are grasping at straws, if you know what I mean. A lot of times, when you start working on a project, you don’t have the luxury of staying on that project for a length of time, so there isn’t much impact that can’t happen. I had a guest star role on ‘NCIS.’ That was a great opportunity. It was a two-week stint where I was able to develop my character. Again, I played a Russian spy, which is a theme! [laughs]
Everything truly does come full circle! [laughs]
Exactly! That was a fantastic experience! The cast and crew of ‘NCIS’ were absolutely wonderful. It was truly an exceptional experience! Unfortunately, it didn’t go past that two week stint in that one role. My time at the American Conservatory Theater was a program at length that allowed me to work with a very small group of my classmates – 8 students. We had a movement class, we studied character in-depth, and we studied Meisner technique. It was twelve hours a day, six days a week, so it was very involved. That experience really taught us to let our creativity flourish and allowed us to dig deep for as long as the program lasted.
You certainly haven’t slowed down creatively! In fact, you recently released a web-series called ‘WingWoman.’ How did the idea for this project come about originally?
Originally, this came about because I wanted to create my own work and I was tired of waiting around for auditions or for work to come to me. I thought to myself, ‘Why don’t I do this? Other people are doing it. It can’t be that hard!’ [laughs] First mistake! [laughs] Seriously, it was a huge process, but I am glad I did it. I thought if I was going to do a web series, it should be a comedy. That was my first thought because web series tend to be comedies. I don’t think that’s necessarily true anymore, but at the time, that’s what I believed. It’s funny because comedy isn’t my strongest suit or my greatest concentration. For a lot of people who create a comedic series, comedy is absolutely their focus and biggest concentration. So that was interesting. I thought, ‘Okay, I’m going to write comedy but this isn’t really my forte.’ I came up with the idea of basing the series around a man and woman and I wanted the relationship to be one that hadn’t really been done before. I remembered an article I had read a while ago on craigslist about this company that was hiring wing women for $300 a night to escort a man – whoever their client might be – to help him pick up women. I thought that was fascinating. And I can’t even imagine what the logistics of that company are! [laughs] I thought it was a very interesting relationship that hadn’t been done before, so I wanted to explore that. I wrote the first pilot – which was a 30-minute pilot – and then I took on two male comedy writers to help me punch up some of the jokes and also lend a male voice to the rest of the series. What we ended up doing was splitting that first 30-minute pilot in half and then fleshing out the rest of the season. I created an outline for the rest of the season – an arc, possible scenarios – and then we collaborated from there.
I have to say I’m a little surprised to hear that comedy isn’t your strong suit. Your delivery throughout the series was amazing and you have great timing.
Thank you! I did study comedy in school, so maybe it’s one of those things that stays with you. I think I read somewhere, and maybe it was Mila Kunis who said it, that you are funniest when you are not trying to be funny or just don’t really believe you’re funny. I’m hoping that’s what happened here! [laughs] I’m hoping it just worked out magically somehow! [laughs]
I thought the cast of “WingWoman” was truly terrific and really brought something special to the material. What can you tell us about casting the project and finding the right mix of people to bring it to life?
The cast was amazing! I was so pleased to have every single person who came on board. The only role that we really auditioned for was the main character opposite of Sarah – Ben Sands, played by Jackson Palmer. We auditioned a small group of people, and because this was a low-budget production, we only reached out to fellow actors who we knew would want to work on the series pro bono or for a very small rate. I think we only auditioned about five people and we chose Jackson. He just understood the materials so perfectly. He was so professional and we had great chemistry, which was immediate. When we were looking at the other characters that we had before us, the actors who ended up playing them instantly came to mind. When I say we, I mean myself and the director, Michaela Myers. We know so many actors in Los Angeles, it was very easy for us to think of someone off the top of our heads for a certain character. So we would approach them and ask if they wanted to be a part of it. I’d like to think that because we had the idea of these actors already in mind, that’s the reason casting worked out so well. But I imagine that might not be the case for other people who are putting a production together. It just so happened that every single person that we chose happened to be perfect for the character they played. I was extremely happy! Most of them do have a lot of experience in comedy and improvisation, so it worked out exceptionally well.
When it comes to your character, what do you feel you might have brought to it that wasn’t already on the original written page?
I would credit the director, Michaela Myers, for pushing me. She’s worked a lot with improvisation. I have worked with it before as well but not to the extent that she has. On set, she constantly pushed myself and other actors to improvise any chance we had. It was interesting and funny because I had written the script, so I was always sticking to the script. She was like, “Ok. We’ve got that. Let’s do it again. Say something else!” I was thinking, ‘Why would I say something else? I wrote what I wanted to say!’ [laughs] She kept pushing us and it ended up allowing for fantastic scenarios and scenes to present themselves. That’s the beauty of improv. I think a lot of comedy is definitely falling in that direction because that’s where a lot of magic happens. On the flip side, there were so many comedic moments that happened when we were improvising that we unfortunately couldn’t include [in the series] because it didn’t make sense or didn’t follow through with the plot. It was a fantastic lesson for me in working with comedy and with creating something – having a vision for it and having it turn out a different way. It was a great lesson!
How did you and director Michaela Myers originally cross paths?
We worked together at a restaurant. When I mentioned I had written the series, she mentioned that she had produced a few series. I had never produced anything before so I definitely needed help! When we started talking more in depth about it, she also mentioned that she had experience directing. We hit it off and I asked her to be the director and co-producer. She said yes and we forged ahead from there! It was really fantastic! We work so well together. She’s an excellent director and co-producer. It was really amazing how many things fell together with this series and I feel very fortunate for that.
What do you consider to be the biggest challenges you faced in bringing “WingWoman” from script to screen?
The biggest challenge was the collaboration process because, as a creator, I had this vision of what I wanted. When I wrote the pilot and it was just me, I had an idea of the characters I wanted and an idea of what [the production] would look like it. Then I brought on these two comedy writers and they started adding their own voice, which is what I’d asked them to do. But again, it was like ‘This is a little different from my voice. I’m not sure if this is going to work.’ I really had to open myself up. Then the director came on board and suggested improvising. Again, this was something else that I had to open myself up to and experience. The DP, Ryan Morgan, said “I want to shoot on a Sony F7.” He had this idea of it being a little bit darker. The director and I said, “We don’t know about this lighting. It seems a little dark for a comedy.” He said, “I think it looks cool and I think it looks a little more modern. Why don’t we open ourselves up to the possibility?” So, there was a lot of allowing my vision to change throughout the collaborative process that was taking place. It was a challenge because a lot of times it was very easy for me to say, “Well, this isn’t going to work. This isn’t what I had in mind. This is mine. I want to control this!” That was a challenge and a lesson [for me] to let every single person involved bring their own two cents or bits and pieces to the project. In the end, I’m forever grateful to every single person who did because I think that’s what made “WingWoman” what it is… and what made it as great as it is.
Do you see a potential second season for the series? What’s next for you?
Yes! I definitely see a second season. When I had written the pilot and the first season, I already had a second and third season in mind, along with the direction I wanted to go. So, yes, absolutely a second season! We are raising funds on Indiegogo. I’m also working with other agents and managers to perhaps get this in the hands of other producers, so there’s a possibility that it may take off in that direction. As of now, we are just trying to get the word out, get people’s eyes on it and spread the word! If you like it, share with a friend! I think that’s our major focus right now because that, in the end, will enable us to do a second season.
You strike me as the type of person who has several irons in the fire at any given time. What else do you have in the works?
Yes! I have another pilot that I wrote a while ago. It’s about a cast of characters at a hotel. [The story] has to do with the relationship between the employees and the people who stay at the hotel. This was derived from an experience I had in New York city, where I worked at a hotel – and it was a very specific experience with a very specific cast of characters. The people who would come and go from this hotel were very well-known people – businessmen, celebrities, socialites. I think this is a fantastic idea for a series! But this is something that I definitely cannot do on my own. I would need the backing of a network or studio. That’s another reason I created “WingWoman.” I wanted to do something on my own and use it as a launchpad for other ideas that I have – and I have a few! So, that’s one [script] that I’m working on. When you do something like create a series, afterwards – what ends up happening – is that you usually end up taking a lot of meetings with networks, producers, managers, agents. They will ask you what else you have going on, so you have to plan ahead and make sure you have everything ready to go. Going into the new year, Season 2 of “WingWoman” is a major focus, along with making sure all of these other ideas are in the basket and ready to go. I also write fiction, and that can show up in magazines and that sort of thing from time to time, so I can definitely keep you updated on that!
When you look back at all you have accomplished, what stands out as your biggest creative milestones?
Aside from this web series, which I think is the biggest one by far, I feel like I have gone in so many directions my entire life. I worked at an entertainment magazine back in New York City, which then led me to doing copywriting at an advertising firm. And then I started doing some small acting work. The moment that I really decided to throw myself fully into the arts and apply to some MFA programs was a huge step for me. It meant that I was going to have to uproot my life in New York City to move forward in that direction. That was a pretty big decision for me. That was probably my biggest “Ah Ha!” moment!
We can definitely look to you as an inspiration. What’s the biggest lesson we can take away from your journey as an artist?
When I decided I wanted to move forward in the arts, specifically with theater and acting, I had an idea of the way I wanted my career to go or how I expected it to go. I think this happens for a lot of people who are in the arts. For example, if you’re a writer you might expect to have a novel out by the time you’re a certain age, or if you’re an actor you might expect to be a series regular or a movie star by the time you’re a certain age. I think this [thinking] can be dangerous territory. While it encourages you to be very focused and ambitious to move forward and achieve your dreams, it can put a lot of pressure on you. I had this idea of how I wanted my career to go and it wasn’t going that way, so I ended up doing something about it. I ended up doing something I never thought I would do, which was writing and producing my own series! Just that frame of mind, allowing yourself to open up to new ideas or possibilities, is a huge lesson that anyone can take from my journey, no matter what career they may be working on.
It has been a pleasure getting to know more about you today, Victoria! With everything you have in the works, I’m sure we’ll be seeing even more great stuff from you in the future!
Thank you, Jason! It’s been a pleasure!
Check out the official site for ‘WingWoman’ at www.wingwomantheseries.com and “like” it’s official Facebook page! Follow the continuing adventures of Victoria Barabas on social media via Twitter and Instagram.