Katelyn MacMullen Is Working Hard To Make The Grade As GH’s Secret-Keeping
Katelyn MacMullen, who made her GH debut last year as secret-prone Willow Tait, got her start in showbiz early. “My parents weren’t personally involved in show business,” explains the Valencia, CA, native, “but my mom got me into modeling and commercial work as a kid. I actually worked for Disney a lot growing up! Then I moved to Reno [NV] with my family and grew up out there, for the most part.”
The change in location didn’t dampen her interest in performing — and two years into her undergraduate career at the University of Nevada, Reno, where she was working toward a degree in nutritional science, MacMullen decided to throw herself into the pursuit of her artistic dreams. “I’d always wanted to try it out again,” she says. “When I told my parents I wanted to move back to L.A. to pursue acting, both of them were surprisingly supportive, even though that meant me dropping out of college!”
Slowly but surely, she found her footing in Hollywood. “I got my first agent, a commercial agent at New Talent, and I booked a guest-star spot,” in 2015’s short-lived SIN CITY SAINTS, which starred Tom Arnold and Malin Akerman. Though her sights were originally set on comedy (“I thought that was gonna be my strong suit”), “I started studying at Playhouse West, which is a Meisner school in North Hollywood,” and began to hone her dramatic skills.
The actress had never seen a soap, much less auditioned for one, when the chance to try out for GH came up. Luckily, she got the 411 from a well-informed source. “My coach, Holly Gagnier [ex-Jennifer Smith, GH; ex-Cassie, ONE LIFE TO LIVE et al], I work with her one-on-one on basically everything I go in for,” MacMullen notes. “She has a history with soap operas and she kind of explained to me what needed to be done and how so much goes into these auditions, because it’s very heavy material.”
She buckled down in preparation. “I locked myself in my room for like a week working on the audition. It was a ton of fun, actually! That’s the fun of being an actor sometimes, getting to just get lost in a character. And when Mark [Teschner, casting director] said, ‘Okay, I’m bringing you in for a callback,’ I was like ‘Wait, what?!’ It was really cool.” At her screen test, “Chad [Duell, Michael] was so great to me,” she praises. “He gave me a choice I could go with in a scene that he knew would probably be best, and I still thank him for that. He didn’t have to do that, you know?”
MacMullen was thrilled to learn that the role was hers, and characterizes her first day of work as “surreal and nerve-wracking. I was definitely pretty nervous, but they built this amazing set, Willow’s classroom, which made me feel more in character as a teacher.” She also sought insight from two teacher friends for her debut scenes, in which Willow sat down with Liz and Franco to discuss the difficulties Aiden was having at school. “They have experience with these things, so I asked them how they would handle a parent/teacher conference like this, the language they would use and their strategies.”
Even with the breakneck pace at which GH shoots, the actress continues to go the extra mile to prepare for her scenes. Take Chase and Willow’s first date, for example. “Those were my first big scenes with Josh [Swickard, Chase],” she recalls. “I always go to Holly because she has so much experience when it comes to this stuff, and Josh ended up coming with me to work on the scenes. We just kind of had this sit-down with Holly and talked to her and worked on the connection between us, just focusing on each other and trying to fill in every moment we could — and mostly just having fun, too! We were so excited to film that.”
MacMullen’s Port Charles love interest, Swickard, quickly became her real-life fan, and says that both he and Duell sensed from the start that she was right for the role. “We tested together with her [at her second screen test] and as we walked away, we were like, ‘She was great!’ She’s awesome,” he reports. “She works hard, she’s cool, she’s sweet, and we have so much fun together. Plus, Chad and I are like Beavis and Butthead when we’re together, and she puts up with us! Katey’s a pro.”
Despite her hard work, MacMullen still battles nerves on the job. “There have been days where I’m like, ‘I just don’t know what to do,’ ” she admits. “You get a little overwhelmed, especially when you first start out.” She credits supportive co-stars like Emme Rylan (Lulu) with helping her through her self-doubt. “Emme is like my spirit coach,” she grins. “She’s just like, ‘You’re gonna be great! You’re so great!’ She’s an amazing person.”
Between the burgeoning Chase/Willow/Michael triangle and Willow’s position as the birth mother to the original (now-deceased) baby Wiley, MacMullen has her storyline hands full — and that’s more than okay with her. “Even when it’s overwhelming, it’s fun,” she declares. “And honestly, I’m so obsessed with the story that I’m usually just locked away in my room trying to figure it out! This is a really great opportunity and I want to do the very best job I can.”
Just The Facts
Birthday: June 27
Hometown: Valencia, CA, but raised in Reno, NV.
Where The Boys Are: MacMullen is one of four children. “I have three brothers — one older, two younger.”
Animal Kingdom: Back home, the MacMullens don’t lack for pets. “My family actually just got an Australian Shepherd puppy like a week ago. He’s 3 months old and he’s the cutest thing. We also have a Shiba Inu, who’s about 15 now, and a cat.”
Home Away From Home: “I still need to get some things for my dressing room, like a TV and a rug,” she reports. “I’ve just put a salt lamp in there and some essentials: Eye drops, because sometimes we work pretty early and my eyes always get red; vitamins; green tea to give me energy; and sometimes I take St. John’s Wort to help with anxiety.”
Tuned In: “Lately I’ve been watching NEW GIRL and GLOW! Love them.” On the music front, “I mostly listen to indie folk music and R&B.”
Fan Girl: MacMullen says she would be most starstruck to meet actress Rachel Weisz. “I think I would have to try really hard not to freak out.”
Read All About It: On Finola Hughes’s (Anna) recommendation, she recently read The Power of the Actor by Ivana Chubbuck. “It was a great read!”
Follow Your Dreams: MacMullen, pictured with her father in 2013, says that both of her parents supported her decision to drop out of college to pursue acting.
Given the bullying crisis taking place among two of the youngsters under Willow’s tutelage, Aiden and Charlotte, the actress quickly found herself in intense scenes with veteran performers like Rebecca Herbst (Liz), Michelle Stafford (Nina), Emme Rylan and James Patrick Stuart (Valentin), who play the kiddies’ parents. “They have been so great to work with,” MacMullen says. “Becky and Emme are awesome and take it so seriously that it really helped me get into the situation. James is such a great actor and works so hard.” The actress has been especially impressed by Stafford, who has been tasked with playing a perspective on the bullying that she disagrees with in real life. “She’s such a fantastic actress and has this amazing energy and commitment to anything she’s given,” MacMullen praises. “She said, ‘I don’t agree with my character’s point of view right now,’ but she handled it like a pro. You could tell she loathed what she had to say because it’s so against her own opinions, but she says, ‘In order for this story to be told, I have to adapt this mindset,’ and she did wonderfully. It’s so inspiring to see because that’s true artistry, in my opinion. I think she’s so incredible. And she’s funny!”