Michelle and Sophia are the writers and lead actresses for a new webseries called Overachieving Underdogs, a smart and sassy serial comedy about two best friends named Tess and Polly. On their joint 29th birthday, the characters make a bold (if impulsive) decision to ditch their comfortable lives in pursuit of bigger dreams, promising to fulfill their goals before they turn 30. While we're still waiting to see how things turn out for Tess and Polly, it's clear that their creators are truly going places: the show is currently in the running for first-season funding from Canada's Independent Production Fund, and its trailer received over 1,000 views on the first day it was posted. Below, Michelle and Sophia tell us how their personal experiences and ambitious spirits have informed their work.
The premise behind Overachieving Underdogs is one of finding what truly makes you happy and following that path, despite societal pressures or expectations (from yourself or others). Do you feel this is an internal struggle many women face? Why was this theme relevant to you both?
The question of “can a person find true fulfillment and happiness?” is something we’ve been discussing over caffeinated and alcoholic beverages since we met. It’s the "magic question of life," for most (if not all) women (and men).
The more we talked about it, the more we began to notice that friends our age (ourselves included), who lead seemingly amazing lives, were quietly dissatisfied, if not miserable, with the persona or job or relationship they had set up for themselves. Are we disappointed for not reaching our “full potential?” Do we avoid bold changes because we’re worried about stepping outside of what is expected of us? Or are we just brainwashed from our parents telling us that we’re special and that we could change the world and live happily ever after?
Ultimately, we’re convinced it’s a dirty cocktail of “all of the above.” As writers (and people), we’re interested in exploring what holds us back from going after our dreams. We really wanted to tell a story of two women who go balls-to-the-wall and risk total failure to pursue what they think will make them happy...and it’s also kind of what we’re doing ourselves in making this series!
Some of the most complex, intelligent and interesting women we know are still redefining who they are well into their 40s and 50s (and I am sure they would say they have friends in their 60s and 70s doing the same). Do you think there has been an increase in pressure on women in their 20s to have figured it all out by the time they are 30?
Hard to say if there’s been an increase, since we can only draw on our own experience, but we definitely think social media plays a major factor now. Being active on social media is so tightly intertwined into our lives…it’s practically a given. Everyone does it, and it’s easy to forget the effect it has on our psyches and expectations.
Here’s the thing: we all curate our lives on social media and therefore surround ourselves with images of perfection and the perceived ideal. We compare ourselves to everyone else’s Instagram-perfect lives daily, if not hourly. There is definitely pressure to “keep up” and to look like we’re all progressing.
In terms of the scariness of the "big 3-0," it’s hard not to compare ourselves to our parents and all they had already achieved by this age. By the time our parents had reached 30, they had stable jobs, home ownership and a family on the way. The world is different today...We are facing a hyper-competitive job market and challenging economy, but something in us still says, “Why don’t you have what your parents had yet?” Not to mention the age-old question: “Do I have a baby?” That is not the case for all women, but for the two of us…we’re definitely finding it more difficult to avoid that decision, the older we get.
You are both actors and writers and have worked in theatre, films and television. What was the inspiration for moving to a web series?
The world of creating online content is new and quietly revolutionary…We were drawn to creating a web series because we could have full creative control and write for a niche audience. There’s so much agency with writing a web series – there are literally no rules. You don’t have to answer to a network. You can create anything. It’s a very exciting time!
We also see it as the natural choice to serve our audience. Our demographic are those kick-ass, A-type young women who are constantly multi-tasking like a boss! A web-series with 3-5-minute episodes is the perfect format for them to engage with because that’s literally all the time they have to spare – whether it’s sneakily watching a webisode on their work computer or during their commute on their smartphones.
Women are doing some amazing things in comedy right now – who are a few of your favorites, and why?
It’s awesome and inspiring that there are so many to choose from. Here are a few in no particular order:
Tina Fey and Amy Poehler – How could we not include them? How could we begin to possibly summarize all they’ve contributed and how much we love them? We worship at their altar (literally…we literally have one).
Amy Schumer – Her comedy is so smart, bold, and unapologetic. She tackles gender politics with zero fear, she just doesn’t give any f**ks what people think about her. Major respect.
Elizabeth Meriweather – She’s so weird and wonderful. She created New Girl and was a playwright before she was a screenwriter[.] (She wrote an amazing play called Heddratron, which is a feminist adaptation of Hedda Gabler with robots, [and] Sophia is obsessed with it. She once tried to convince Michelle to help her build robots to stage it.)
Samantha Bee – YES! A lady hosting a late night talk show, who’s killing it – and she’s Canadian!
You both wear a lot of hats and juggle many projects simultaneously. Do you have any mantras that keep you grounded and get you through the day?
Sophia: Think less, do more.
Michelle: Nothing will ever go exactly as planned. So bend your knees, trust yourself, be in the moment.
What is your favorite thing about living in Toronto?
Sophia: Honestly, my favourite thing is going running along the lakeshore, it’s my favourite route. I live in the west end of the city, and the way the shoreline curves I can see the entire downtown. It’s stupidly beautiful.
Michelle: The cultural diversity. I walk across the city and back at least twice a week. In that hour and a half walk, I cross through about 12 different neighbourhoods that all have a different culture at the centre of their identity. It’s fascinating to pass by people who are all speaking Portuguese, and then 10 minutes later you’re surrounded by Mandarin, and then Korean and then Greek. It’s a city of cultures that respect and live in harmony with one another but really do maintain their individual sense of tradition and community.
What are 5 everyday items you cannot live without?
1. Coffee (so addicted)
2. Chocolate (so embarrassingly addicted)
3. Floss (so sexy)
4. Laptop and phone (so boring, so true)
5. Blundstone’s (so ridiculously comfy and socially-acceptable footwear in three out of four seasons in Toronto – boom!)
1. Coffee (When Sophia and I meet early, it’s an unspoken agreement that we will not talk until a coffee is in our hands.)
2. Yoga mat (Yep. I’m one of those. Hot yoga, I’m addicted.)
3. My Volkswagen Rabbit (It’s my transportation, change room, make up studio, personal office, audition rehearsal space, nap-time spot, lunch hang-out and Sophia-and-Michelle conference room.)
4. Laptop and phone (soooo boring, sooooo true)
5. My New Balance sneakers (My go-to-shoes are heels, but I carry these in my bag in case I have to literally run to a meeting or audition.)
p.s. If you're craving more comedy, check out our interview with Lisa Pertoso of "100 First Dates."