When USC alumna Mary Kate Wiles started her acting career, she never thought that she would find fame on the smaller silver screen. But thanks to a little luck and her sense of spontaneity and creativity, Wiles has become an Internet star. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, a YouTube series in which Wiles plays Lydia Bennet, has already accrued more than 30 million views, creating a wide and loyal fanbase.
Wiles’ love of storytelling inspired her to go into acting.
“It’s so silly, but when I saw Lord of the Rings for the first time I was like, I wanna do that,” said Wiles. “That’s what I want to do, I want to go on adventures and tell stories.”
Since then, she’s been telling stories through several hit web series such as Squaresville and School of Thrones, as well as some indie movies such as Dark Woods, and has even starred as the iconic Anne Shirley in Jessica Kubzansky’s stage production of Anne of Green Gables.
Wiles starred in a number of productions while working on her Bachelor of Arts in theatre and English at USC.
“I kind of always knew that I wanted to be out here,” Wiles said. “The moment I stepped off the plane, I was just like ‘everything is perfect’ and I’ve loved it ever since.”
Even though Wiles said she never won any of the lead parts, she continued to work on her craft and in her last year landed the role of Jeanne in Brigadoon, her father’s favorite musical.
Last year, Wiles was cast in The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, which went viral online. An adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, LBD is set in 21st-century California and features a modern cast of characters in Lizzie Bennet’s life shown through her web videos and Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr posts.
Though she credits most of the show’s success to the LBD’s writers for creating the character of modern Lydia, it is undeniable that Wiles herself has put her own stamp on the role, bringing a lovable yet manic energy to Lydia Bennet, Lizzie’s party-animal sister. At first she reminds us of everyone’s annoying younger sibling, but gradually develops into a complex heroine with stories of her own.
“My Lydia is not the Lydia of the book,” Wiles said. “Her story was a different story.”
Though Wiles views herself as a storyteller, she said she doesn’t have a favorite form.
“I don’t think there is one … Some stories are better told as a movie, or as a series, or as a book or by word of mouth,” Wiles said. “As far as writing goes, an essay style is what I like better … I’m glad that I have that knowledge and that I studied that, just because knowing more about stories, and what makes a good story and how to craft a story, makes you a better storyteller.”
Even though virtual fame is a new, even strange concept, Wiles said she has enjoyed being in the YouTube limelight nonetheless.
“It’s a cool community to be a part of, because everybody is trying to make their success happen and not waiting around for it to come,” said Wiles. “I loved the transmedia aspect of Lizzie Bennet. It meant so much to me as an actor, going through the story as a character, seeing the characters tweeting at each other.”
Despite tens of millions of YouTube views, Wiles realizes that fame of this level is fairly modest.
On YouTube fame, she said, “I want to be like Jennifer Lawrence … but is it going to happen?” Wiles added that she looks up immensely to Cate Blanchett. Like these iconic actresses, she is aware that she’s now a role model for many younger girls.
“It’s really, really strange, when people tell me that,” she said. “It’s also a big responsibility and it has affected how I present myself on social media.”
Wiles would love to do television, but is content to take any opportunity presented to her.
“I am not satisfied by not working,” Wiles said. “Every day I’ve gotten up and tried to figure out how I can be doing what I want to do.”