Happy August to everyone, I’m here with another interview for you. This time, we’ll be profiling Jessica Gaynes, the second female co-host of Nickelodeon’s Wild and Crazy Kids.
And here she is!
Greg Palmer: Hi, Jessica. So, to start things off, how did you get involved in show business?
Jessica Gaynes: My parents were actors from NY, and at 6 years old I went on my first audition. Mary Grady was my first children’s agent, and I had a small part in Swing Shift and I did a few national commercials and then I stopped auditioning from age 8 until I was 14, which is when I was hired to do the second season of Wild & Crazy Kids.
GP: Now for those of our readers who didn’t grow up watching Nickelodeon in the 1990s, what is Wild and Crazy Kids all about?
JG: Well the intro to the show sums it up quite well. “….the show that goes anywhere and does anything to find kids having fun”. It was a show where we played fun made-up games that the segment producers thought up.
GP: How did you get involved with this project?
JG: By auditioning for it. I had wanted to go on auditons again right when I turned 14.
GP: What was it like working with Donnie Jeffcoat and Omar Gooding? Any stories you’d like to share about them, or the show in general?
JG: It was just like working with anybody. It’s a job so you have to take it seriously and pay attention to your responsibilities, so I would say we had a very professional, pleasant working relationship.
GP: What I don’t understand is that the premise is so…. simple. Compared to other Nick games at the time, like Get the Picture and Double Dare, this was almost low-budget in my opinion, as far as prizes are concerned. There’s no prizes being given away, no trips to Space Camp or Kay-Bee Toys gift certificates, no questions that need to be answered. And yet I enjoyed watching the show. Why do you think the show was so successful?
JG: Because young kids like to do outrageous, ridiculous, messy, silly things. And this show let them.
GP: As successful as it was, it only lasted 65 episodes over 2 years and 11 months. In 2002, a revival was produced which lasted 10 episodes and it was loaded with stars, just like the last season. Of course, game shows on Nickelodeon usually don’t make it past 200 episodes, the one exception being Double Dare. It’s a shame because I liked it.
JG: Well, Game-wise, Wild & Crazy Kids seems to me like it would have been much harder to make than Double Dare, because Double Dare stayed on the same sound stage, built obstacles on the same sound stage.
W&CK did everything on location, and production had to literally build and test out the games at the location prior to the actual day of taping. And there were 3 games each episode which were taped on the same day, and the setting up of the games was really complicated and lengthy. And after editing we would meet at a voice over studio and do our off-camera game commentary. So, it was not an easy show to make for the production company, which was Woody Fraser / Reeves.
I just remembered not only did production build a test run set on location a day or two before we would tape an episode, but they also had to DECONSTRUCT it after the test run, and then build it again, very early, pre-dawn, on the day of taping…. and then, of course deconstruct that again at the end of the day.
I DO recall Mike O’Malley and Phil Moore telling me on promotional tours Nickelodeon sent us to do together, that their typical game show soundstage shows were made to pretty much run themselves. Which allowed Woody Fraser to be absent from most of the tapings. WACK was a show Woody did his best to always be present for on the day of taping.
GP: So, what are you doing now? Do you have any future projects you’d like to promote?
JG: I’m the type of person who isn’t all too comfortable with discussing myself in the present. After 20 years of not talking about working on a Nickelodeon show and essentially internalizing all of my feelings about that part of my life, I realize now that I had not fully owned or acknowledged how these experiences shaped me (in a positive way). A lot of that had to do with the fact that I was a teenager when the show ended and I still had to finish high school and of course, like any teenage girl, participate in the social aspect of high school.
There was very much an atmosphere at school regulated by some of the more competitive, socially influential girls in my grade which prevented me from feeling comfortable owning my own accomplishments. My family did fall on some tough times financially after the 1994 earthquake (we lived in Tarzana in the epicenter) and I felt very much like I couldn’t be myself in school if I wanted to be accepted.
Interestingly, I broke away from these girls on my own when I was 19. It was the best thing I ever did for my self-esteem at that time. I worked as an adult actor and I genuinely liked myself as a person which I don’t think would have been possible if I had stayed in an environment that didn’t want me to come into my own as an adult.
I still struggle with not saying things that don’t accurately reflect my own feelings. For example, at Comicaze Expo, during a one-on-one interview which is currently on YouTube I fell back on behavior left over from those years as an adolescent who is afraid to be known, and I said that I had no intention of auditioning again.
This wasn’t true then, and it isn’t true now. I took a purposeful break from acting in late 2002, traveling to Spain and upon returning, taking over the running of my dad’s 2 equity waiver theatres in Los Angeles (Whitmore Lindley Theatre, and Two Roads Theatre).
In 2005 I was the victim of a domestic violence attack by my then-boyfriend, which resulted in a broken nose and several stitches on my eyebrow along with a concussion. I didn’t repair the break right away, as I instead focused on getting away from the abusive person who injured me. Once that was achieved and I felt safe and able to focus on the future, I had the break in my nose repaired. Of course, by then the statutes of limitation was up, so this person has never been prosecuted and who continues to contact me on Facebook.
I never intended to leave acting for good. It just seemed easier in a poorly thought out moment of unease during an interview for me to say so. However, I discovered that the things you say in interviews don’t go away, they follow you on the internet, and if I really wanted to be understood for who I am and have always been, and the journey I have had, I was going to have to lose my fear about what people will think about the truth.
I had nose surgery to repair the break in September 2009 (this was an expensive surgery which insurance did not cover). Healing was a big deal. It took a long time and I was only given the all-clear in September of 2012.
GP: Finally, Jessica, what advice do you have for people who want to enter your field of work?
JG: I don’t think there are any hard and fast rules or advice anyone can give another person who wants to give auditioning a try.
Nobody knows what is going to happen when someone goes out on an audition. The actor doesn’t know, the agent doesn’t know, the casting director doesn’t even know.
My advice is just go out there and give it a try if you feel like giving it a try. And if you want to take a break, then by all means, allow yourself the time off and take a break and don’t worry about whether or not you can come back, because of course you can come back. If you are enjoying yourself do it, and when you don’t want to do it, then don’t do it.
Nobody wants to watch an actor who doesn’t want to be there, and everyone wants to watch an actor who is fully present.
Nothing is set in stone and don’t let anyone tell you that it is. Those people don’t know any more than you do about what will happen because it hasn’t happened yet. Know yourself and do what you feel like doing when you feel like doing it. Obviously I’m referring to myself, but the same holds true for anyone.
Go try out acting if you feel like it. And stop when you don’t want to do it anymore. Always be open to taking direction and experimenting but don’t listen to other people to the point of no longer listening to yourself.
Do it for yourself, and no one else and when you get feedback, absorb it and use it to explore but nobody knows what you can do before you have done it. And ironically, most people will tell you that you haven’t done something you really HAVE DONE too. So, a lot of things people will tell you is true about yourself, simply isn’t. There are a lot of critics out there who are forming opinions based on faulty and incomplete information about the past. The people who know the truth are the people who have worked with you.
I’m super annoyed at myself for allowing strangers to shame me into denying my intentions for the future. I always intended on going back on auditions after the nose surgery and that is what I am going to do. I made a living as an adult doing commercials and that is what I have always intended on going back to doing. Booking commercials is something anyone can do if they want to devote every day of the week to going on casting calls. That means you can’t work a day job that won’t let you drop everything and walk out to make a last minute casting. That’s why most people would rather keep the day job and the steady paycheck it brings.
But really, anyone can go on commercial auditions and anyone can start at any time in their life. So, no, I am not out of the business. My parents were actors before I was born, my godparents were actors, my uncle and aunt were actors, all of my parents’ friends, and most of my friends have always been actors, even when they take long breaks and short breaks, most of them always stay involved in the industry whether it’s in casting, working as an agent, producing etc…. I’m not out of the business and I’m actually disturbed to read in an article that links to this interview that “I am out of the business”.
And that is my advice. It came from the strongest part of my personality. The part of me who knows who I am and how it happened.
GP: Thank you very much for speaking with me today.