Cover: Catch Bayview’s Brooke Wexler in the Netflix version of Richie Rich
Rising star talks candidly about her lead role in the new Netflix series Richie Rich and the joys of growing up in Bayview.
It used to be that rookie actors arrived in L.A. to clamber for the pivotal TV or movie role that would catapult them into the spotlight. Today, thanks to the Internet, the playing field for would-be stars is a little wider. A viral video or even a clever twitter account could be the ticket to fame.
For actor Brooke Wexler, it’s a web series that seem likely to propel her out of obscurity and onto laptops everywhere.
At 21, the Toronto-born actress recently joined the ballooning roster of Netflix talent in her role on the forthcoming Richie Rich. (What’s old is new again: the direct-to-Internet show is a live action adaptation of the oft-revived ’50s comic about an outrageously wealthy kid and his escapades.) It’s only Wexler’s second big gig, but the Netflix pedigree is a good one, and playing Irona, the robot maid, allows her a first chance to flex her comedy muscles for an audience.
Millennials just might remember Wexler from her earliest television appearance: a commercial for Shrinky Dinks. The ad signalled her transition from average schoolgirl to performer.
Wexler was a self-described quiet kid, living near York Mills and Bayview, hanging out at the local Baskin Robbins and enjoying summers at Camp Winnebago. Then a casting agent visited the camp and invited nine-year-old Wexler to an audition.
“I ended up getting the job, through that got another commercial and started going on auditions,” she remembers. “I realized that I loved being on set, and I gradually started to come out of my shell.”
By the end of high school, the reticent child was gone. In her place was a driven adult with a dream shared by many an ambitious actor: to make it big in L.A.
One of the reasons Wexler is well on her way to actually living the dream is her family’s encouragement—her father’s in particular. Her grandparents took a bit more convincing.
“I have old-fashioned grandparents on my dad’s side,” Wexler says. “They’re Romanian-Israelis, so I don’t think they understood at first, but now they’re really happy.”
Her father’s support for her westward migration was conditional in the best possible way. He made a deal that she could go to L.A. with his blessing so long as she continued her studies while pursuing acting. She is gladly upholding her part of the bargain, studying media production at Pepperdine University.
“The pact didn’t come out of my dad not believing in me,” says Wexler. “It was just that for me to move away from him, when we’re so close, and pursue something that can be very fickle, there was no question that I had to get a degree. Maybe he didn’t want me to drop school because of all the work he put into writing my essays in high school!”
She pauses before diplomatically rephrasing. “Or … helping me with my homework.”
Wexler’s collaboration with her dad aside, her grandparents’ wisdom has clearly trickled down through the family tree.
“I actually agree with my dad,” she says. “I think getting a degree’s important, so I’m still in school and just balancing it with acting.”
The balancing act really began when Wexler landed her first major part. She plays a kidnap victim in Sequestered, a 12-episode legal thriller released this year through Crackle, the digital network best known as the e-home of Jerry Seinfeld’s series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.
Wexler’s first day on the Sequestered set (which was also her first day on a major production) was stressful and exciting, in keeping with the tone of the show.
“The first scene was me spitting food into someone’s face, and the second scene I had to be crying,” Wexler says. “It was definitely nerve-racking because knowing you’re going into a room filled with people you’ve never worked with and you have to bear all this emotion is a very scary thing.”
Of course, she got through it like a pro.
Wexler has been in L.A. just long enough to learn that a little fearlessness goes a long way. She attributes her chutzpah, in part, to training at the legendary Groundlings improv school.
“I think the majority of what you do at Groundlings forces you outside your comfort zone, so once you cross that barrier, everything else seems a little less scary,” she explains. “You’re more willing to take a risk in auditions, and that’s respected because a lot of people are scared,” she says.
“If you show confidence and risk taking in creating a character, it’s impressive to casting.”
Here, Wexler is sharing learning borne of success — namely, her successful Richie Rich audition. Before auditioning, she consulted with her dad, who happens to be a fan of the original comic. She was only really familiar with the 1994 Macaulay Culkin film adaptation, in which there was no Irona. But even with a little more background on how the robot maid fit into the picture, Wexler had to draw on her improv skills when she faced the casting director.
“When I got the lines, I said, ‘A robot maid? How am I going to do this?’ ” she says. “And then I came up with a sort of robot-accent-type thing and went in, and it seemed to fit the character.”
The show (and its attendant robot accent) are slated for release this month, and Wexler is eager to see how audiences young and old respond.
Working on Richie Rich right after finishing Sequestered helped her clarify her feelings about genre and maybe the direction of her career.
“I like both drama and comedy a lot, but comedy is really fun,” says Wexler. “You go into a work setting where everyone is laughing and it feels like a group effort. You have to set up the joke for someone else, so it’s like teamwork, and you feed off each other.”
Whether her future holds comedy or drama, Wexler will bring to it all that L.A. has taught her so far.
“Coming out here you hear lot of rejection before you hear a yes,” she says. “You have to have a tough skin. If you just have perseverance, one job makes you so happy and you realize you can do it.”
The first ten episodes of Richie Rich are are now available for streaming from Netflix.