The are few artists who can balance a career in world of film and television and another in the music business. The list of those who can do it, do it exceptionally well and make it look almost effortless is even shorter. Skyler Day is one of those remarkable few.
Many people will recognize her from her co-starring role as Amy Ellis on the critically acclaimed NBC series “Parenthood.” Her passionate performances continue to turn the heads of both critics and fans alike. Her most recent role is no exception. Currently, she is co-starring in MTV’s edgy new series, “Sweet/Vicious.” The series, which is resonating remarkably well with it target audience, is a darkly comedic thriller about a pair of college women who beat up campus sex offenders by night. Playing opposite Eliza Bennett and Taylor Dearden, Skyler continues to bring a unique complexity to a character who could be far less dimensional in less capable hands. In addition to ‘Sweet/Vicious,’ Skyler can also be seen on the comedy web series “Con Man.” Created, written, and directed by Alan Tudyk, the show follows cult science fiction actor Wray Nerely (Tudyk) as he tours the convention circuit. Skyler is hilarious as Tiffany Gizela, a former child star who is desperate to get her career back and on the convention trail.
When she isn’t lighting up the screen, she continues to wow audiences with her musical side. As passion of hers since childhood, Skylar remains focused on growing creatively as a singer/songwriter. Often compared to Alison Krauss, Skyler’s serene vocals blend perfectly with her honest lyrics. She will be kicking off 2017 in grand fashion with a residency at Hotel Café in Los Angeles in January and February. Always one to challenge herself, she has been feverishly working on new music and is already in the studio bringing the new material to life.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Skyler Day to discuss her passion for performance, her growth as both an actor and musician, along with what she has in store for us in the months to come!
You have been busy in 2016. To start, I want to go back to the beginning and learn how you got your start on the acting side of things.
When I was about 6 years old, I started doing school plays and things like that. I was also singing and doing plays at the church that I went to when I was little. My first thing was “The Littlest Christmas Tree” and I thought it was amazing to be the littlest Christmas tree in my first play! [laughs] that’s what started everything! From there, I started doing print and commercial work. I grew up in Georgia and, at the time, there wasn’t much of an entertainment industry at that point. It has grown a lot since I’ve left. When I was 10 years old, I decided that I needed to get a theatrical agent because I wanted to do film and TV. That’s what I told my parents and they helped me do that! We are a gymnastics family and my parents own the training center back in Georgia, so that is kind of what I was born and bred to do. So, when I told them I wanted to be in the entertainment industry, they were like, “OK, sure. What does that mean?” [laughs] I ended up convincing them to help me get an agent and we made that happen. As soon as I got that agent, I told them that if I book the lead in a film by the time I turned 11 that we would have to move to California so I could really, truly pursue my acting career. That ended up happening and they stuck the deal! We moved to LA when I was 13.
Your family must have a lot of faith in your skill! That’s a big leap for anyone, let alone an entire family!
Yeah! I have the most amazing and supportive family and parents! It’s insane! [laughs]
How did starting at such a young age affect you as an artist and the way you approach your craft today?
Yeah, I think because I started so young I had to find myself more quickly. It forces you to learn about yourself and know what you want when it comes to your goals. It also teaches you to stand up for yourself. I feel starting so young really, truly shaped who I am today. I’m really glad about that. The child actor thing is a little bit cliché. It’s like, “Oh, you started so young and then you became this little adult … ” I never felt that way. I felt that I just love this thing and felt how amazing it was that I could start it now instead of waiting until after I finish school. It’s not your typical career path. I love that I was able to start so young and have parents that allowed me to do that. I think it’s definitely made me who I am today and has made me very determined.
Who had the biggest impact on you when it comes to influences?
My grandmother is an actress and a singer on stage. She really inspired me to follow this path and gave me my first insight into this world. Her experience came from the stage side, which is definitely a different world, but she definitely inspired me. As far as having someone else in my life who knew this business, I didn’t really have anyone. My mom and I were both learning together. She has always been my biggest inspiration. She has been so supportive and really gung ho for everything. As long as I believed in myself and what I wanted to do, she was down for it! As far as actors go, I’ve always been a huge fan of Reese Witherspoon because she sort of had the same path as me in starting as a kid and moving up. I’ve always looked up to her as an inspiration and how she has been able to bridge the gap of being a child actor and transitioning into the roles of an adult in the film and TV industry. The list goes on from there from Julia Roberts to Meryl Streep and beyond. I could literally name people over the next hour! [laughs]
Let’s talk about what you have going on in the world of film and television. You’re on a new show on MTV. What can you tell us about “Sweet/Vicious” and the character you play?
“Sweet/Vicious” follows two college students, Jules and Ophelia, who find themselves moonlighting as vigilantes on their college campus. They’re looking to bring justice for victims of sexual assault. I play into that as a girl named MacKenzie Dalton, who is Jules’ sorority sister. MacKenzie is a fourth generation legacy at the Zeta House and very determined to keep the sorority in order. She’s always kind of getting in Jules’ way as she is living this secret, double life. MacKenzie definitely causes tension in that area. I’m definitely not a part of the vigilante world, I’m more a part of the sorority side of things. I am hoping one day that I can be a vigilante within the show! I don’t know if that can happen but it’s my dream! [laughs]
How did you get involved with the series and what intrigued you about the character?
I got the script from my agent. I read it, had an audition for it, met with the casting director, Geralyn Flood, and we worked on it a little bit. It’s funny because it all happened so fast! Typically, with an audition, you get a script, get an audition, go in, do your thing, leave and then forget about it. I’ve definitely worked that out! I know how to go in, let it go and then walk away. I loved this script since the first time that I read it and I hope that I would be able to work on it. I just had that one audition and meeting with the casting director and then I got the call a week or two weeks later. I was working on the series a week or so after that! It was definitely a quick turnaround, which is the best! I was just so excited to be a part of a show like this one. There’s nothing like it on television that I have seen as far as the topic that we are dealing with and the way in which they are dealing with it. It’s a comedy but it’s so much more than that. It’s dealing with this very real and very hard issue with grace. I feel blessed to be a part of the show!
What did you bring to this character that wasn’t on the written page?
It’s funny, I have talked to the creator about this. MacKenzie is a little bit neurotic and very tightly wound. We wanted to make sure that she was also able to be lovable and not just a little villain that runs around cracking her whip. That was my personal goal. On the page, she is very intense and could be seen as a very annoying person, so I wanted to make sure you could also see her as just being very passionate with a lot of feelings! [laughs] She definitely wants things to be a certain way so I feel there’s a balance within the character. She does what she needs to do as a part of the story but you also see the humanity in her. She’s just a girl that really knows what she wants and gets a little anxious about things! [laughs] I really hope that people like and enjoy her and how tense she makes things! [laughs]
What have been the biggest challenges of this project?
The creators, writers and cast on “Sweet/Vicious” have all been amazing. Again, the topic of sexual assault is such a tough one that I think the biggest challenge overall is that we honor and are being true to people’s stories. We are being very gentle and aware of the topic we are dealing with and that’s not even something that is on my shoulders. I can’t even imagine being the writers or producers in dealing with how to make this story. I think that has been the biggest challenge for the show in general. I’m sure it’s difficult to balance the serious topics and also be a television show on MTV, with keeping everyone interested and involved in the story. It’s also a comedy, so you have to entertain them. After all, the show is really about life and the lives of these characters. Finding the balance in all of that is definitely the biggest challenge.
How do you prepare for a role? Is there a process you go through?
I read the script a lot. I’m also a notes person. So, I like my notes and lists! I’m like MacKenzie in that way! [laughs] I sit down and try to flesh out the character, so that I know how they would react to certain things. From there, I try to build out the inside of what their life has been like before this moment, before the scene and what their ideas are about certain things. Once you get on set, a lot of times you have to throw everything away because your vision might not match up with the directors or the writers. You have to be flexible. I think fleshing out the character from the inside out is important because then you have your core figured out and then you can just go with the flow. That is when the magic happens!
You have been a part of a lot of great projects. Which of those projects had the biggest impact?
“Parenthood” has been a huge factor on how I go about scripts now. The show taught me so much and I was on it for a few years, so I really got to settle in to the person I was playing but also with the cast and crew. It taught me so much about how sets work. Granted, I had been working a lot before that but the show was so brilliant. With “Parenthood,” a lot of the show was not scripted in the sense that we were given a script every week and everything was written out but we have the freedom to switch it up and improvise a bit. That really shaped how I am as an actor now because it keeps you on your toes. You have to be ready for anything and also take anything that the other actors give you. That taught me so much in the time that I was on that show and it has really primed me for the rest of my career.
Is there a role or genre you have your sights set on in the short-term?
There’s so many things! I’ve never been the type to say I want to do a specific thing. I would love to do a horror movie. I love horror movies and I would love to do a really great horror movie one day. Aside from that, I have never been the type to say I want to do this specific thing. It really depends on the scripts that come my way. I get excited about so much and it’s constantly changing. I’m really prepared for whatever the universe hands me. I get really excited when I think about all of the possibilities. I definitely don’t have my blinders on and I am open to anything and everything that comes my way. That’s kind of how I view my goals in the acting world and the characters I want to play. I want to be super open to whatever’s coming!
You also have a musical side to your career. How did music come into your life?
It started when I was around 6 years old. When I was doing those plays, most of them are musicals. That required a lot of singing in choir and at church. I found songwriting when I was 10 years old and that is when I wrote my first song. I wrote a little bit between then and the time I was 14. I was 14 years old when I got my first guitar. It was a lovely pink guitar with a heart! [laughs] Once I started learning guitar, I really found my love for singing and songwriting. That’s how it began. I’ve been singing for as long as I can remember but songwriting is really what solidified my love of music. Once I started playing guitar and was able to accompany myself, I started playing shows. That’s how it all began!
What can you tell us about that first song you wrote at 10 years old? How does it hold up?
It was for my grandfather. Honestly, I’m pretty proud of it still! [laughs] I look back and think, “I had pretty good structure in that song!” I had bridge, chorus, bridge, chorus! I must have studied! I don’t remember studying but I must have! I’m still proud of the song and my grandmother still requests it. She still wants me to play it at shows! I cannot do that! [laughs]
What can you tell us about your songwriting process today?
It changes but many times I might use a diary entry as the basis of my songwriting. Something will happen and I will sit down to write down every fact. I have such a fear of losing the feeling that I had during that moment and then the song won’t feel as true or real. So, I sit down and it’s basically like a word vomit all over the page! I just write as much as I can about what I’m feeling and what I’m thinking. Then I will pick up my guitar and start strumming some chords. It’s like a little puzzle. That’s my favorite part about the process; trying to fit everything in these poetic ways to tell the story but also fit into the structure of the song so that it is catchy and something nice to listen to. There’s a song that I have and I tell a story about it during my live shows. I started the song when I was around 18 years old and over the next five years I kept going back to it and would change it a little bit and put it down, over and over again. It literally took six years, in the end, to finish the song! It just haunted me! There are other songs that come right out and it might take 30 minutes or an hour. For the songs that have to be just right, it takes a little longer, clearly. [laughs]
These songs are personal and emotionally charged. Was it difficult to put yourself out there emotionally in the form of a song?
In a way, I feel that acting definitely prepared me for that part of music. You’re definitely having to open yourself up, be emotional and put yourself in these situations acting-wise and I feel it’s the same way with music. The only differences are, in music, these are your words and emotions that you are sharing with people. It’s definitely a more personal experience. It can be harder when you write songs about people and they know it’s about them! [laughs] It’s a tightrope of emotions! It is definitely a more personal experience to write a song and then share it with people at a show. No matter if the people know you or do not know you it’s still a challenge. Sometimes it’s harder to share it with people I know because I know they are looking at it as, “Oh? That’s what you were feeling? Really? Oh!” They have a more personal experience with that song. It’s always interesting to play live shows and show off new music.
Speaking of live shows, you have a residency coming up soon. How did that come about and what can we expect from you in a live setting?
I was looking to get a few dates in December and I was going back and forth with Hotel Café’s booking agent. He said, “Why don’t you do a residency starting in January?” I had never considered that before and thought, “Yeah, I guess I should! Why wouldn’t I?” It’s started that way and I have been prepping the shows. There is definitely going to be new music and I’m going to bring a few special guests along, probably each week. The first week I’m going to have my twin brother come up and play with me. He is a brilliant musician! That will be a lot of fun because we used to play together all the time! That will be a great way to kick off the residency!
You put out an EP a few years back. Where are you in regards to new music and a possible return to the studio?
I have been in the studio for about two months now! I have been writing and recording with an amazing producer and good friend, Steven Solomon. We’ve been writing a lot of new music and I’m very excited about what’s to come. We are in the midst of it right now and hoping that before spring of 2017 we will be able to release the new music, so keep an eye out!
How does what you’re doing compare sonically to what you’ve done in the past? Are you on the same path or taking some side roads?
Side roads, definitely! It’s definitely a change from what I’ve done in the past. My last EP came from the idea that I wanted everything to feel really organic. I told the producer that I wanted everything to sound like it could be played live if the electricity went out. That was my basis for that EP. I wanted everything to feel like you were sitting around a campfire listening to it. It was simple and about the lyrics. That is still my basis for this next one. I have always been someone who is about the lyrics and songwriting, so the songs will never fail to have that. However, this is definitely a change and it’s a bit more pop than anything I’ve done before but it’s so cool! I am so excited for people to hear!
You accomplished a lot in your career and we can look to you as an inspiration. What is the best lesson we can take from your journey?
Trust yourself. In both worlds, acting or music, the possibilities are endless. I feel like it’s such a crazy world to be in, to trust yourself on what you want to do, what you want to say and how you want to say it – it’s so important. It’s so important to know who you are, to believe in it and to take care of it. That is something I’ve had to learn and become confident in. perseverance is another key element. It’s a hard road and it’s a long road as long as you love it, it doesn’t feel like work and it feels like the greatest thing you could possibly be doing. That is another thing I’ve learned. Just focus on moving forward, trust yourself and believe in yourself. As cheesy as that sounds, it’s so true! Follow your heart!
Are you involved with causes or charities we can help shine a light on?
I had my hand in a bunch of different ones over the years. In the past, I’ve done this thing called Musicians On Call. It’s an organization that goes around hospitals and they bring musicians into play for the patients. It’s one of the most rewarding experiences to play for these people who can’t get out and see live music. It is such a beautiful thing to share with these people. It’s really great!
Thanks so much for taking time out to talk to us today, Skylar! You have so many irons in the fire! We wish you continued success and I’m sure our paths will cross again soon!
Thank you, Jason! It’s been great talking to you!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.