Jillian Rose Reed says “Embrace the AWKWARD!”

Have I told you lately how much I love the show AWKWARD. (the period is intentional)?  The show, about a young woman (Jenna) who receives a letter that basically says “buck up soldier” and when she accidentally participates in a suicide attempt, she’s famous, or rather infamous, where she had once been invisible.  Adding crazy to the insane, Jenna also has a clandestine relationship with the most popular guy (guys….) in school.  Her two best friends – sheltered Ming and popularity-crazed Tamara – try to be the voices of reason….when they’re not all fighting with each other.

As we head into the final week of Season 1 (so glad it’s a season not series finale), Jillian Rose Reed, who plays Tamara, spent some time chatting about what’s happening on Tuesday night’s finale, why she loves this show, why you should love this show as much as she and I do, and why it’s okay to be a little awkward in high school!

 When I first started watching AWKWARD. the first thing that I noticed was that it felt so real, so true to life. Is that what drew you to the role?  What about it was the first thing that stood out?
That was definitely it.  I think that all of the characters in the show are all really relateable, really true to life, because they’re all based off of people that were in our creator’s life in high school.  That was definitely one of the things, and also, I just loved how carefree Tamara was, and I thought it would be a really fun character to play because she really doesn’t think about anything she says, she just kind of goes with whatever comes out of her mouth.  I thought that was a really awesome quality that she has.

I read an interview that you had done where you talked about how Lauren had just sort of made up words that no one had ever heard of because it sounded like something Tamara would say.  People do that, they go their own way
Oh it’s so true.  It’s funny, because Lauren, our creator, actually went to her old high school and she talked to them for quite some time, and she learned about all of their lingo, and learned about things that happened in their own lives, and that’s where some of the lingo came from as well.  I use the phrase TIA in the show, which means This Is Awkward, and that actually came from high schoolers and just like you said, it just happened.  Someone just said, just made it up, and it became this big thing throughout their whole school.

I think, also, the clique-y-ness of the show is real to life – every clique is portrayed in a good AND bad light, which is important.
Right, exactly.  I think that’s what makes the show so relateable.  There’s a character for everybody to relate to, no matter which kind of high school clique that you’re in.  I think that we do do a really good job of showing that, and showing how the different cliques interact, and all of the situations that we’re getting into a pretty true to life.

Biggest shock of the season for me was actually gasping out loud when we hear Tamara say “I’m glad I wrote that letter.”  When you read that part, did you know what was coming beyond that, or was that a script where you went, oh my god, my character wrote the letter?
That actually is actually it.  We were given the script only a little bit in advance and we were doing table reads of them before we even started shooting, so, up until I got that script, none of us had any idea about anything really, so when I got that script, it was like, oh my god, what a shocker!  We as a cast were going along right with it, and we were trying to figure out who wrote it as well.

I think it’s a sign of a great show – you knew that when Tamara was avoiding her all day, you knew that something was wrong, and there’d be an argument, but as a view, I never expected to hear that T had written the letter.   It makes the show more real.  I keep saying that word, but it’s so true.
It is so true.  That’s the thing, too.  When you have someone who is so close to you like Jenna and Tamara, there is always going to be drama between best friends, especially in high school.  Girls can be mean.  Girls get jealous, and they get catty, and I think that’s a good representation of how even best friendships really do work, because there are always those obstacles to get over.

We’re coming up on the season finale – I’m so happy to say season finale because we are getting a season beyond this, at least, hopefully many more.
Right, me too! [laughs]

What can you tease about what we’re going to see on Tuesday night’s finale?
Well!  The big dance is coming up, so you’re definitely going to be seeing drama with who’s asking who, and who’s getting to go to the dance.  Then you’ll get to see all of us ladies in our pretty dresses, and you’ll get to see all the boys that the girls are crazy over, looking very handsome as well.  There’s always going to be drama – it’s a high school dance, so definitely expect a lot of that.

Of course Tamara has Ricky Schwartz – everyone has that one guy in high school that they can’t quite get over, no matter what he does.  Is that something we’ll see played out in the finale and beyond?
I’m hoping.  I’m really having a lot of fun getting to explore the whole Ricky and Tamara relationship. Matt Fahey, who plays Ricky Schwartz, is a really good friend of mine; he’s been a family friend of mine for years.  So it’s really fun for the both of us to explore that up and down relationship that we’ve been having.  I want Tamara to have that love interest.  My fantasy for Season 2 would be that some other guy comes along and Ricky gets jealous, there’s drama with that.  You’re right, she’s never going to be able to get over Ricky – he’s just that guy for her.

What I loved about this past week’s episode is that we got to see all three of you – Ming, Tamara, and Jenna – hang out with Matty – crossing the lines that we really haven’t seen, with people from different “cliques” interacting.  Are there people that you get to spend time with in the finale or who you’d like to see Tamara interact with going forward?
Well first of all, I have to say that that was the first time, and really only time, that I got to work with Beau [Mirchoff], and it was so much fun.  We had such fun filming that episode.  Definitely, my goal is to have an episode where Tamara goes to see Valerie.  I just think that Desi Lydic, who plays Valerie, is a genius at comedy, and I just think that some kind of crazy thing that Tamara, where she ends up needing to get counseling, would be hilarious.

Once you found out that Tamara didn’t write the letter, and I’m not sure I’m 100% in the “she didn’t” category yet, were you surprised by who did – is that something that’s explored in the finale?
That is definitely a secret that I cannot tell [laughs].  You’ll have to watch and find out for that one!  Everybody is still a suspect and it’s the big question on everybody’s mind, so hopefully!

They train you well.  Can’t give anything away!
[laughs] Yeah, right?  Nope! Ha!

Of course the big question, for Jenna’s character, obviously, but Team Jake or Team Matty.  Where do you fall as a fan and viewer of the show, and where does Tamara or would fall?
I definitely think for me personally, I always say that I’m Team Jatty because I just can’t choose.  I go back and forth all the time because I think that there are redeeming qualities about both of them.  But as far as Tamara goes, I would probably personally think at this point that she is Team Matty just because Matty is that cute, popular jock that everybody wants to be with, and Tamara definitely has a little bit of a sparkle in her eye for that popularity, so I think at this point, she’d definitely have to choose Matty.

Was your high school experience at all like what these characters are going through?
Oh definitely!  There are definitely similarities.  I was a lot like Tamara in high school in that I was a theater geek.  And you know, I was involved in the choir and all of that stuff.  I was kind of surrounded by the drama of all that.  We definitely have that in common.  And you know, I wasn’t the most popular girl in high school.  I had my little quirky group of friends that I hung out with.  I can relate to feeling a little bit invisible and trying to figure yourself out and having those awkward moments.  I really think that there’s  a little Jenna and Tamara in everybody.  I think everybody kind of has a similar high school experience.

As soon as Jenna and Tamara get a little taste of the popularity, they start to question whether they’re really okay with having been invisible all these years.  I think a lot of people are dealing with that.
Oh yeah, it’s definitely a very big issue, and not just among girls. It’s among teenage boys, too, and trying to figure out who they are and once they do, trying to be okay with it.  And that’s the message that we really hope to give on the show, is that, it’s okay to be who you are.  I always say “Embrace the awkward” because looking back on high school, and like, remembering those really weird moments and awkward moments that you had – most of it’s all really funny.  And even if you were the most understated and invisible person in high school, you still had funny moments, and looking back on it, it’s something to really embrace.  You’re going to grow from it and you learn from everything.

What would you say to someone who hasn’t caught up on the show yet (besides “you’re crazy because it’s awesome”) – why should they catch up?
I think it’s a show that everybody should be watching because everybody can get a laugh at something relateable in their own life.  Whether you’re in high school now, or you’re going to go into high school next year, or you were in high school 10 years ago, the situations that these characters are getting into are so true to life, and everybody’s been there, done that, and felt those things.  I think that the thing that I’m experiencing in listening to viewers is that they know that every Tuesday, they’re going to sit down, and not only laugh for thirty minutes, but they’re going to learn something from it.  I just think that for viewers that haven’t caught up yet, they should catch up, because they’re going to have a very enjoyable experience with laughing and learning and getting to relive all of their awkward moments, and hopefully they’ll see that they were kind of awesome.