Alysson is one of the writers and the star of the amazing transmedia project The Autobiography of Jane Eyre. The project retells Jane Eyre to a modern audience using videos, Twitter, and other forms of media. The project updates the story while remaining true to the gothic nature of the novel in increasingly inventive ways. I’m a big fan, and I encourage you all to subscribe and take a leap into the world of Jane. She was kind enough to grant me a short interview!
1. Out of all classic literature, what made you decide to adapt Jane Eyre? What about Jane drew you to her?
It was a combination of a lot of things. It probably all started in sept/oct of last year. Nessa [our show-runner] and I were really loving ‘The Lizzie Bennet Diaries’ as a new medium for storytelling. Nessa was just finishing up her degree, and had written and researched online communities as a huge part of her final year. And as two people who are interested in telling stories as their careers – New Media fascinated us both. At about the same time I started getting very interested in horror as a genre. I really used to resist it because the majority of horror films these days tend to be slasher flicks like Saw VI. I was more interested in the older Thriller styles. I had just started watching TheWalking Dead, The Bates Motel, Hannibal, and watching more Hitchcock, and reading more Stephen King. The silence, intelligence, and psychology was what was missing for me in the movie trailers I was seeing. At the same time I was re-reading Jane Eyre – and loved that everything she was arguing about: hypocrisy, and feminism, and honesty was still very relevant. I loved that it was a thriller with an intelligent woman that you implicitly cared about. Too often you see thrillers with these static characters (women in particular). And I loved her attitude – she’s very aware of herself, even if she isn’t completely comfortable with herself. It reminded me a lot of people I’d seen on tumblr – who were quiet and awkward, and normal in their regular lives, but as soon as they connected with the internet – all this energy, and snark came out. So Nessa and I talked all day about whether or not it was possible to adapt a drama – a gothic novel no less. So we started at the beginning of the novel – and worked through how we’d adapt every part of the plot. We did this for about two months – and eventually we got to the end and kind of went, “oh. I guess – I guess we could do this now… if we wanted to.” Then it became a series of conversations that went: “Okay – hypothetically – we’d want to contact writers next”and then we’d do that. And on and on until we were in a room with writers, and actors, and designers – and we were doing it.
2) You aren’t just Jane herself- you’re one of the writers! Which role do you find more difficult: writer or actress?
Initially I was very hesitant to play ‘Jane’, normally my strength is comedy, or characters that are outgoing, and larger than life. So I came to Nessa and said “I don’t know that you want me to play Jane. I’d feel better if I auditioned.” And she said “I’ve seen you act, I think you can – but, you know what, do a reading of the scripts for me, and then we’ll see.” By the second episode she said “That’s Jane. I see her. You have her. The part’s yours.” I’ve always loved both writing and acting. I don’t think I can do one without the other for very long. All through high-school I was writing – but there was always a part of me that was dying to get out there and act. And then in university, I was acting almost 24/7 – but there were days when I yearned to go off and write in a corner for a while. So this project is a bit of a dream come true for me. I mean, it does get a little weird sometimes – a week ago Nessa turned to me and went “What is Rochester thinking here?” and I had to go, “Okay – are you asking actor-Alysson or writer-Alysson here? Because that’s a different answer.” And I’m sure it’s dizzying for some people to watch me jump between both. But I’m very comfortable compartmentalizing – so I love every second of it. It keeps everything fresh and exciting.
3) What have you learned about yourself through this project?
I’ve become slightly more comfortable with watching myself on camera – which is difficult for everyone I think. I think part of our brains just outright rejects seeing itself in third person. Your brain just shouts “WITCHCRAFT!” and you pull away hissing like a burnt vampire. But it’s been really helpful in my acting to see what my choices look like. I’ve learned that I can hold a moment a lot longer than I thought, and that I don’t have to look at the camera as much as it feels like you have to. And I think this medium really encourages you to do the best you can do in a very short time. The one thing that’s so refreshing and frustrating about this type of project is that we just don’t have the time. You’ve got a couple hours to do your best work – and that’s it. It’s not like theatre where if you have a bad day – you’re able to correct it next rehearsal. It’s not like film where you can work on a single shot all day. You have a handful of hours – and you have to be ready to step-up and do your best with the time you have. It’s both terrifying and exhilarating. And to be able to give jobs to young actors who are dying for jobs - that’s just an added bonus. Everyone who is working on this project is so awesome, and funny, and just really ready to make it the best it can be. And it’s just so nice to go to work every week with people who are great at what they do, and happy to be there.
4) What advice do you have for other girls who are looking to start an ambitious project, but might be afraid?
Be afraid and then let it go. If you let it, fear can stand between you – and pretty much everything awesome. And I mean, it’s good that you have fear, it keeps you awake, it keeps you driven; but if it ever stands between you and accomplishing something, or stands between you and potential love, or stands between you and doing the right thing – that’s a tragedy. You can’t let that happen. You’ve got to go after the things you want. I actually think failure is so under-celebrated. Failure teaches you everything. You have to be so brave to fail. Be okay with looking like an idiot once in a while – and have fun. And if you’re yearning to attempt something a little out of your depth – be it writing, or producing, or acting, or designing – my suggestion is: learn everything you can from other people; read books, watch movies, see plays, watch tv shows in one go, listen to interviews, listen to podcasts. There are so many interesting, awesome artists out there with stellar advice on everything. You learn a lot by doing – but you can learn an insane amount by listening, watching, and asking.
5) If you were stuck in a world where demons were attacking, what would be your weapon of choice?
My sister says “Stiletto shoes with tiny chain-saws instead of heels” - which, if I’m being honest, sound pretty awesome. So I’m pretty tempted to just steal that answer. But a unique-to-me answer would probably be something like: My Persuasive Innocence. I have a very sweet, and trustworthy face – which tends to work to my advantage [particularly because I am neither]. So I’d probably talk the demons into watching a few episodes of LOST or Breaking Bad – which would result in their death several seasons later, when they kill themselves in a moment of emotional frustration. Now if I could use BOTH… probably best case scenario there.
Thank you so much to Alysson for answering my questions! There is a brand new episode of the Autobiography of Jane Eyre up today, and Alysson has a tumblr you should definitely check out.