Interview: How Monica Wyche, Star of Apple TV+'s FIVE DAYS AT MEMORIAL, Found Success After 40

Wyche discusses the Apple TV+ show, starring on stage in SCAB at Premiere Stages, her advice for sticking it out in the entertainment industry, and more.

By: Sep. 19, 2022
Interview: How Monica Wyche, Star of Apple TV+'s FIVE DAYS AT MEMORIAL, Found Success After 40

Monica Wyche has a message to share with anyone who feels that it's too late to go after their dreams. Once a high school drama teacher in South Carolina, Wyche moved to New York after turning 40 to pursue acting professionally. She has since launched a wildly successful career as an actor, and is currently starring on screen in Apple TV+s Five Days at Memorial alongside Vera Farmiga and Cherry Jones, and on stage in Gino Diiorio's SCAB at Premiere Stages.

Wyche spoke with BroadwayWorld about the timely themes of SCAB, her personal connection to Five Days at Memorial, which is set during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and her words of advice to those who might feel that it's too late to become a professional actor.

Let's first talk about your awesome career trajectory. You were a high school drama teacher, and you moved to New York after you turned 40 to pursue acting professionally. Can you tell me about that? What went into your decision to pursue acting professionally at that time in your life?

That's a great question. I'd always wanted to act. I went to graduate school, and after I got out of grad school, I did a little bit of regional theater. But after 9/11, I was living in Chicago at the time, I just decided, "I miss home, I really want to be closer to family," because I didn't know anyone, I didn't have any close friends in Chicago. I moved after 9/11 to South Carolina, and immediately started teaching first middle school, and then high school theater. And it was great because my mom was in the same town, I'd grown up in that town, and it was easy and rewarding to be a vital part of the theater scene in that town. But the more I did it, the more I wanted to do it. The more plays I did and the more confidence I felt, the more I started to say to myself, "Maybe this is something that I really could do."

I met my husband in South Carolina, and he was finishing up a graduate degree at Carnegie Mellon, and I was finishing teaching in South Carolina, and we just thought, "Why not? There's not going to be a better time to go." So we both packed up everything, we were living apart for a little while after we got married, and we headed to New York! It's the best thing I've ever done. Everything good in my life has happened after I turned 40. I'm so inspired and encouraged when I hear other actors of a certain age say similar things. And I'm glad to be able to say to younger people, even people who aren't much younger, people who are actually my age, it feels good to be able to say to them, "It's never too late."

You have a few projects that you're currently a part of, and one of them is SCAB at Premiere Stages. Can you tell me what the show is about and who you play?

Interview: How Monica Wyche, Star of Apple TV+'s FIVE DAYS AT MEMORIAL, Found Success After 40 Absolutely! SCAB is a two-hander, and it's by Gino Diiorio, and it's about a woman named Gilda, who has worked in a factory all of her working years, and the factory is closing, and it's being relocated to Mexico So, she has to train her replacement, who is a young Mexican man, she has to teach him how to do her job. There is a lot of resentment and a lot of self-discovery for both of them, a lot of breaking down assumptions, and preconceived notions, and stereotypes and getting through to the realization that we're all the same underneath. The actor who plays Eduardo, his name is John Anthony Torres, he's got a great line where he's talking about The Day of the Dead, and he says, "Underneath it all, skeletons, we're all the same." That's definitely one of the big themes, ultimately, in this play. It's about a lot of things that are very relevant right now, things that are dividing our country, and things that we will be able to mend in the future.

What do you hope audiences take away from SCAB?

The idea that we're all the same underneath. That's something that we need to remember. Judgements are made on people about how they look on the outside, or where they come from, or the way that they sound, and we don't often have the opportunity to take time to get to know people who are different from us. And granted, in this play, the opportunity to get to know one another is uncomfortable, it's thrust upon them, it's not something that they sought out. Any opportunity that we have to get to know somebody different from us is an opportunity for realization.

You are also starring in Apple TV+s Five Days at Memorial alongside Vera Farmiga and Cherry Jones, which takes place in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. You have a personal family connection to the material as you had family in New Orleans during that time. Can you tell me about that?

I'd love to. When this audition came through, I was reading the sides for it, before I put myself on tape, and I thought, "I know exactly what this is." My character, I play a real person, Sandra LeBlanc, and Sandra and her husband organized a rescue effort to get her husband's mother out of Memorial Hospital. She was in a rehab facility that was occupying one of the floors of the hospital, and through ineptitude, and red tape, and poor planning, the patients in the rehab facility were totally forgotten during the storm.

Sandra and her husband, in real life, organized this rescue. So, when I saw the audition come through and I was reading the scenes, I thought, "Oh my goodness, this is very similar to what I did with my family." During Hurricane Katrina, I was teaching theater in South Carolina, and my family, my aunt, my uncle, and my great grandmother were all living in the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans, which is right next to the Ninth Ward. And it was impossible to get through to your loved ones. Cell service was down, all communication was not working, so you didn't know whether your family had survived, or whether they had drowned, whether they were stranded, whether they had been rescued, you didn't know any of that. So, to be able to play a real person who had gone through something similar to what I had gone through, and more so, I mean, she was on the ground, they were in a boat, pulling up to the hospital, Sandra was definitely much more hands on than my situation was, but as far as the stress, and the yearning, and the desire, and the hope that Sandra felt, it really came a little easier to me since I went through a situation similar to that.

Absolutely. What was it like working with the cast of the show?

It was interesting, all of my scenes were with a fantastic actor named J. D. Evermore, he's been in so many things, his IMDB page is incredibly long, he plays my husband Marc. Our storyline doesn't intersect directly with the scenes that Vera [Farmiga] and Cherry [Jones] were in, but we did get to interact with each other in the trailer, or at cast events during shooting. We were in Toronto for a few weeks, and down in New Orleans for a few weeks, so off-camera we got to interact, but on camera we didn't have scenes together. But the entire cast was a dream, top notch. Carlton Cuse, he created Lost, and John Ridley, the other director and writer of Five Days at Memorial, he won an Oscar for 12 Years a Slave, so just to be a part of the caliber of this team, I kept asking, "Did they make a mistake?" [laughs], "Am I supposed to be here?"

And how does it feel for you as an actor to be able to jump back and forth from television to the stage?

That's another great question. Before SCAB, I hadn't been in a play since before theInterview: How Monica Wyche, Star of Apple TV+'s FIVE DAYS AT MEMORIAL, Found Success After 40 pandemic. So, it's been really a great exercise to get these muscles back in shape. Even just getting my routine down, getting my sleep schedule all in order, getting the line memorization down. In TV it's so much different, where you just learn a couple of pages and then that's it, if you mess up you can start again. But theater, you're in it, and it's exciting! It's so exciting that every day can be different, and you feed off an audience, you know, all the reasons that we do theater. But then, there is a permanence to the television work, where it's around for longer, and it can reach new audiences long after its initial run has ended. So, there's good stuff to both.

You touched on this earlier, but you've had so much success as an actor at a time in your life when a lot of people might feel that it's too late for them to break into the entertainment business or chase after their dreams. What would you like to say to people who might feel that it's too late for them to pursue their dream as an actor?

That's just it, I told myself that it's too late, and it just isn't. There are going to be people who do it for years, and years, and years, and who burn out, and who leave, and who make room for the next group of people who are still in there, and who are still trying. I heard something the other day about someone who is my age who just booked her first co-star role in a television show, and she's been at it for 20 years. But you just don't know when it will happen, and to stop because nothing is hitting, that's not what it's about. It's about telling stories, or honing your craft, and making sure you're ready for when your time comes. If you quit before your times comes then you'll never know!