To say that actor Michelle Alexander is versatile would be a thundering understatement. While the Vancouver Island-born performer is best known for her role as serial killer Alison on the innovative horror anthology series Darknet, Alexander’s current small screen incarnation, as Tess on web series Overachieving Underdogs, plays at the opposite end of the spectrum—it’s a fast, funny comedy centered on two young women living in Toronto—but for Alexander, the transition was simple.

““Both genres need to be 110% believable and authentic,” she said. “If a viewer can smell a ‘funny moment’ is being played for the joke rather than fulfilling the circumstances of that character, it feels false.”

Alexander’s keen grasp on the emotional mechanics of performance are impressive, and provide a fascinating insight in the actor’s modus operandi. “In terms of preparation, the two genres are not as different as people think,” Alexander said. “Drama is a tragedy with irrevocable consequences—death, heartbreak, loss. But comedy is tragedy without those consequences—your pants fall down in public; you fart during grace at your in-laws’ dinner party. The trick is to give the ‘comic circumstances’ as much importance as you would a dramatic tragedy. The comedy is there for the viewer, but the actor has to be invested in the circumstance.”


In Overachieving Underdogs, Alexander makes it look easy, and the results are hilarious. With equally gifted co-star, Sophia Fabiilli, the pair’s zany impulses, emotional vulnerability and unpredictable gags are deftly realized, and run the full comic route, from physical slapstick to razor sharp repartee


Together, the two make a formidable team. “Sophia is amazing,” Alexander said. “Everybody say that we have an onscreen chemistry that is rare. The series is all about our characters, Tess and Polly, individually as well as their relationship, so we share a lot of screen time. We know how to feed each other in the moment and riff on a joke together. Plus, like me, she’s determined to get an authentic funny moment rather than a ‘cheap funny moment’. We push each other to go further, to take bigger risks, to make each moment as funny and full as it can possibly be. She’s a joy to be on set with.”


The pairing has created a volatile, endearing and evident bond that provides a solid foundation for wild comic escapades, from irony laden observations on contemporary life to the pitfalls of dating and the unexpected twists which the two women face, as Alexander said, when “going after the dreams they never knew they wanted.”


“In terms of comedic performance, Sophia and I shine most in scripted comedy, rather than stand-up or sketch,” Alexander said. “Following on the success of series like Broad City  and Garfunkel and Oates, we decided to put those skills to the test.”


“It’s been pure fun,” Alexander said. “The pilot shoot was peopled by highly skilled professionals both in-front of and behind the camera. We all believe so much in the potential of the series that we all brought our best work to the pilot. The set designer even made a “Tess and Polly shrine” in Tess’ apartment. I’m not sure if you ever see it on camera, but it’s a metaphor for how every tiny detail was attended to and cared for. “


Alexander also generates enthusiasm among her colleagues. “Michelle brings a great energy to set, always prepared, focused on the end game, willing to take risks,” director Patrick Hodgson said. “Directing her on Overachieving Underdogs was a fantastic experience. Her bright energy carried over to the crew and made for a genuinely fun time on the show. When we reached moments of conflict, or struggled with a scene, we put our heads together and worked out a solution that worked for both of us. No drama, no ego. She is a diligent, committed performer, who is keen to collaborate with her scene partners and director, always early to set and eager to make sure the cast and crew were all taken care of.”

The series’ wit and charm have an empathic appeal that’s bound to reach a larger audience.  “We are currently in talks with some Canadian networks, one in Europe and one in the US, to produce a full 13-episode season of the show,” Alexander said. “And we’ve been overwhelmed by the popular response. Publications, both in Canada and the US, wanted to write about it, women from as far away as the UK tweeted at us that they “felt like you are making this series for me.”


The show’s success lies with Tess and Polly’s—and Alexander and Fabiilli’s—personal relatability, a genuine emotional quality that can’t be manufactured, but is instantly recognizable.  As Alexander said, “Once Sophia and I, dressed as Tess and Polly, did a promo stunt in downtown Toronto during rush hour. We had two girls shout from the streetcar, ‘I’m a TESS!’ and ‘I’m a POLLY!’”


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