Q&A: Kaily Smith, Star & Creator Of “MERRIme.com”

By now you’ve seen eight episodes of the web comedy series “MERRIme.com,” — winner for Best Comedy at the ITVFest — and we hope you’re loving it as much as we are. “MERRIme.com”‘s protagonist is Merri Weisman, a twentysomething trust-fund baby who’s just been dumped by her fiancé. When her father orders her to find a job, pronto, Merri realizes that the key to her survival is not a career, but a man — via the crazy world of online dating. “MERRIme.com” was written by Kaily Smith (along with David Weidoff), a 26-year-old actress originally from Denver, Colorado. We chatted with Kaily about how she was able to put together an entire web series with a lot of hard work and a little help from her friends. Check out The Frisky’s exclusive interview, after the jump…The Frisky: What might Frisky readers have seen you in?

Kaily Smith: Well, my first feature film was “Fracture” starring Anthony Hopkins and Ryan Gosling.

The Frisky: Shut up. Can I have his phone number? [OK, I didn’t really ask that.]

KS: I’ve also been on “Gilmore Girls,” in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” and also a Hallmark movie of the week called “Moonlight and Mistletoe.”

The Frisky: How long have you known that you wanted to be an actor?

KS: Since I was three! I can remember looking at the TV and thinking, I want to do that! I started doing theater and different singing groups when I was three or four. And then when I was nine I attended my first summer at Stagedoor Manor, which is a Performing Arts Summer Program for kids in upstate New York. I went for six weeks every summer for nine years. I started to audition professionally when I was about 10 and did a few professional theater productions in Denver, where I grew up. I then went to USC and got my BFA in Acting.

The Frisky: So why did you decide to create “MERRIme.com”?

KS: I had been writing with [co-writer] David Weidoff for about two years when a few family friends told me I should create something for the web. The internet has become such a great place for people to get their work out to the public. David and I had written a pilot for a one hour TV drama, but I really wanted to create something I could act in now, not years down the road. To be honest, I was tired of waiting for someone to give me the opportunities I wanted and felt I should have. I really wanted the opportunity to act on camera in a role that would showcase my talents. And I also was just bored and wanted to feel more creatively fulfilled as an artist.

The Frisky: How did you get all of the actors together? You have some big names involved!

KS: David and I literally just picked up the phone and called our friends and asked them to be involved. Tom [Arnold] is a really good family friend, and he was so wonderful and supportive, and agreed right away to play my father after I sent him the scripts. David and I went to college with Ryan Eggold [“90210″], who is also a good friend. And we took acting classes with Tony Hale [“Arrested Development”], who is so amazing, funny and humble. Tamera [Mowry, “Sister, Sister”] worked with David on the ABC family show “Roommates,” so David asked Tia [Mowry] and Tamera to come and do a guest spot. We also got the entire cast from the show “Roommates” to be involved which was really fun.

The Frisky: The production value is so impressive – how did you manage that?

KS: My producer, Shelley Stevens, is amazing. She handled hiring the crew along with our director Sherwin Shilati. I hired Sherwin and Shelley, and they took care of the rest. Sherwin is extremely talented. I truly think you will be hearing his name a lot in the next few years. He is one of the easiest and nicest people to work with, and he is so talented and creative. “MERRIme” looks the way it does because of Sherwin, Shelley, our DP Daron Keat and the team they put together.

The Frisky: We know you’re an actor, but what role did you play in writing the scripts and conceptualizing the various characters?

KS: I came up with the concept back in June of 2008. Right away I went to David and we sat down together and wrote the pilot and two months later we were fully into writing the whole first season. We wrote a total of 16 episodes — David and I wrote and created everything together. So every character was developed by the two of us sitting down together and throwing ideas back and forth. Our writing the actual scenes varies, sometimes I write an episode or scene and he edits, and sometimes he writes the episode or scene and I edit. It’s pretty much 50/50.

The Frisky: Is the character of Merri representative of you in any way? Do you relate to her? Or are her misadventures and quirks just the product of your imagination?

KS: I do relate to Merri, but she’s not completely based on me. Her experience of the cheating fiancé and ultimatum to get a job or be cut off is nothing like what I have been through or experienced in my life. I know most of her quirks and habits came out of my imagination, but there are aspects about her that are definitely present in myself, and probably in most women. I think there are small things about me that I let be magnified through her. Like her love for eating. Merri is an emotional binge eater, and while I have never sat down with an entire box of cupcakes or donuts and devoured them while crying hysterically, I have definitely dipped into a box of chocolates in my day to ease a broken heart. But that’s what I love about Merri. She takes everything to the extreme, and I think she does what most people wish they could do.

The Frisky: Merri has thrown herself into the online dating world — did you do any online dating as research or did any of your personal dating experiences show up as plot points in the show’s script?

KS: Well, I actually got the idea about the show after a brief stint on J-Date. I joined and quit about three times, twice for research. But the first time, I joined after I broke up with my ex of three years, and after about 24 hours of non-stop emails, and five minutes of IM chatting with some guy, I realized this had to be a show … and that online dating wasn’t for me. I have tons of friends who do it, and one of my best friends actually met her future husband on a dating site! But yes, after that initial experience, I definitely re-joined to check out some profiles, emails, etcetera.

The Frisky: Did your friends give you any juicy stuff to work off of?

KS: Yeah, when I started writing the show I emailed all of my girlfriends and asked them to share their best and worst dating stories. I got a few funny ones that inspired some of the dates. But none of the dates are exactly written from one person’s, or my, experience.

The Frisky: Which episode was the most fun to shoot?

KS: Hmmmm…. I think episode 16, our season finale. While all of the scenes were spread across a few days — not to give anything away — it was nice to have some more serious drama and climatic scenes, and one of my favorite funny scenes opens the episode. Plus, Tom Arnold is in both episodes and I just love to work with him!

The Frisky: Speaking of which, what’s it like to work with Tom Arnold?

KS: Amazing! He has so much energy and is really so wonderful to work with. What’s great about Tom is even though he was the most experienced on set, he treated everyone with the utmost respect, and really valued what David and I had written. Before adding any of his own jokes he asked if it was alright, and of course everything that came out of his mouth was just hilarious! I am truly grateful he did the project.

The Frisky: Do you have plans to expand the character further? It seems like a second season would make sense…

KS: Yes! We are writing season two now, and I wish we were shooting it already. Merri has a great journey in season one, but I personally think season two is more fulfilling. I wish it was a TV show because there is so much I would love to have Merri do and experience

The Frisky: What is your advice for people who want to be actors in terms of the challenges Hollywood presents?

KS: Know how to separate the business from the art. They are two different things and you have to know how to do both and not become resentful or frustrated with the business. And when you have an idea, or a story you want to tell, do it. Don’t let anyone convince you to change it or do it their way. I had a few people who tried to get me to change the concept or tweak things about the show and Merri. I’m glad I didn’t listen. This story, character and project came solely from my imagination, and I’m glad I didn’t let anyone tamper with it.

The Frisky: What’s your ultimate dream when it comes to “MERRIme.com” in general and your long-term career aspirations?

KS: A TV show on prime time! [laughs] Ever since I was a little girl I have wanted to be an actress. So to play a character I created on a major network would be more than a dream come true. Acting to me is not for 15 minutes of fame. It is a career and an art. I hope that I am doing film, TV and theater for the rest of my life. Storytelling to me is like breathing, I couldn’t live without it.