Most Northwestern students don’t start their final year in college seeing themselves on the small screen, but Senior Communications Olivia Reis had a different experience. She plays Zoe Cassidy on “Only Murders in the Building”, a Hulu series with Selena Gomez and Steve Martin. The mystery series features flashbacks to Cassidy’s life before her murder, which took place years before the series’ timeline. Although Reis has performed on stage before, this was his first time on screen. The Daily asked Reis about her experience on the show, advice for her peers and how NU prepared her for this important stage in her career.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
The Daily: Is it fair to describe the show as revolving around three people brought together by their love for detective podcasts and murder?
Reis: This is a fairly precise description. I would emphasize the nature of the show, driven by the idea that these people meet rather than a common passion, and that passion leading them to meaningful relationships with each other. Steve Martin’s character is someone who has been alone for a long time. It’s a lot of fun to see a character like that start to open up while facing Martin Short (Oliver) and Selena Gomez (Mabel).
The Daily: What is your interpretation of your character, Zoe Cassidy?
Reis: Zoe is a girl who has always had it all. His parents (are very rich). She is so rich that stealing is the only way for her to feel like she is earning anything because she is not making her own money. I think her parents didn’t give her as much attention as she would like either, so she ended up in this kind of more motley group with Mabel and the others.
The Daily: What is your favorite part of the series?
Reis: (The show is) really not afraid to look into some of the darker moments. I think it did a really good job of mixing tragedy, mystery, and comedy together, which led to some really interesting material, especially with point-of-view episodes, as we see in episode seven, which plays from Theo’s point of view.
The Daily: The majority of episode seven is in American Sign Language, since Theo is deaf, and Zoe’s character knows sign language as well. What was your acting experience in this episode?
Reis: I was really excited when I heard that episode seven, in which I was told I was going to play a bigger role, was going to be in ASL. I was really excited to learn the lines and practice with the interpreter. And then once we got settled in I saw that there were some technical things that I was learning along the way. You don’t look at someone’s hands when talking to them. Driving an episode entirely in ASL isn’t something I’ve personally ever seen on TV, so it’s very exciting to see this on such a big network as it opens the door to more inclusive media.
The Daily: How did the NU theater prepare you for “Only Murders in the Building”?
Reis: Student theater has a sense of camaraderie, which I was very happy to find reflected in the cast and production crew of “Only Murders in the Building”. And we’re all in the same boat, which could have been highlighted by the fact that we were in the pandemic and we were filming this.
The Daily: Do you have any advice for NU theater students?
Reis: I would tell them to be informed by all the courses they take and the experiences they have. Allow all of this to inform the work they do in their acting, writing or directing, because so often these life experiences change our voice or perspective as artists.
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