Arts & Entertainment

Lakeland Graduate Stars in Amazon TV Pilot 'The Interestings'

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Katie Balen stars in “The Interestings.” Credits: Screengrab/Amazon.com
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Katie Balen
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SHRUB OAK, N.Y. - A Lakeland High School graduate last month, Katie Balen is ready for an “interesting” summer.

The Shrub Oak actress is currently playing the lead role in “The Interestings,” a television show produced by Amazon Studios. The pilot episode was posted to Amazon.com on June 16, along with seven other hopeful TV shows. The pilot episodes are available for free and, after watching, viewers are asked to fill out a survey. Based on feedback, Amazon decides which shows are picked up and which shows are not.

“It’s super-exciting and super-nervewracking,” said Balen as she awaits the news, which will be announced later this year.

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Balen, 18, has been acting for years, landing her first professional gig five years ago in the first national touring production of “Mary Poppins” the musical, playing the role of Jane Banks. She has also appeared in several Yorktown Stage productions, starred as Glinda in Lakeland High School’s production of “The Wizard of Oz,” and has occasionally appeared in television commercials.

Hungry for another opportunity to display her acting chops, Balen said the audition for “The Interestings” came only a few weeks after she failed to land the lead role in her high school’s musical. Balen, who faced stiff competition, landed the lead role of Jules Jacobsen after a series of auditions in New York City.

“All of my friends who are also professional actresses auditioned for this,” she said.

After a few rounds of auditions, Balen and one other actress were called back. Each girl was put into full costume and make-up and read the pilot script with director Mike Newell (“Donnie Brasco,” “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”). Balen’s agent delivered the good news on a school night as she was getting ready for bed.

“She said, ‘I’m sorry to call you this late, but you got it,’” Balen said. “I didn’t have words. It was very cool. I worked very hard in taking the director’s notes, trying to improve with each audition. It was very rewarding.”

The format of “The Interestings,” which is split between 1974 and present day, makes Balen’s role of Jules Jacobsen quite different from a normal television role. Balen plays the teenage version of the character while Lauren Ambrose plays Jules as an adult. Prior to filming, Newell had Balen and Ambrose meet to coordinate how they would play the character.

“Lauren Ambrose is this fantastic actress,” Balen said. “At first I was like, ‘Oh my God, how am I going to play a younger Lauren Ambrose? I don’t how to do this.’ I met Lauren and we talked a little bit about the part. My director encouraged us to study her mannerisms and body language, even her voice. It was very detail-oriented. By the end of that, I had down her posture, the way she walks and things like that.”

Balen said her character is much more “chill” than herself.

“So I really had to tone it down for this role,” she said.

“The Interestings” is based off a novel by Meg Wolitzer and tells the story of a group of teenagers who meet at an art camp in the 1970s.

“It’s kind of just like this juxtaposition between that hopeful youth and what you think is going to happen when you’re older, and what actually happens,” Balen said. “These six kids, they’re all destined for greatness. Everyone says that about them. Jules is the new kid on the scene. She’s pretty normal, but they miraculously let her into the group and they become this squad and they go on adventures.”

Balen said she learned a lot working under the experienced Newell.

“He was really wonderful,” she said. “He’s very understanding of people and how they work. That’s really important for this drama because it’s character-driven. He had us go into rehearsal for a couple of weeks, which is really unheard of for television.”

While the series is based off a singular novel, Balen said she hopes “The Interestings” will be picked up for this year and beyond.

“The book is pretty big. There’s a lot of material,” Balen said. “There’s so many characters. What’s really cool is the writers are in contact with Meg [Wolitzer], who is the author of the book. She’s so excited about the pilot. They can come up with some additional stories for these characters.”

Balen is scheduled to study at Pace University in New York City, where she will continue to pursue an acting career.

“The Interestings” can be viewed at: amazon.com/b?node=9940930011.

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