It was weird for me because I appeared only in the [30 Rock] finale. I felt like I was standing in the corner watching everybody cry—and I was thrilled to be there.
It’s a beloved DC comics supervillain that made a huge resurgence in 90s pop culture with peak Uma Thurman and Joel Schumacher’s oh-so-campy! Batman & Robin. She’s Poison Ivy, a Gotham City botanist who moonlights as the most seductive eco-terrorist the world has ever seen.
One exciting creative decision made by FOX on Gotham’s just-wrapped third season was the abrupt aging up of Ivy Pepper—renamed for the series, in a departure from her comic book alter ego Pamela Lillian Isley—in the premiere episode, setting the stage for the orphan girl’s gradual transformation into the villainess Poison Ivy we’re all familiar with. In what’s lovingly referred to as “SORASed” (Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome) in the world of daytime television, 15-year-old actress Clare Foley bowed out with 28-year-old newcomer Maggie Geha assuming the mantle.
Geha’s career is still very much on the up and up. After getting her start in the business as a recurring guest star on the soap All My Children and featured roles on 30 Rock, in Beyoncé’s “Pretty Hurts” video—she’s also a model, duh—and Ted 2, Gotham is her biggest score to date.
Anthem met up with Geha for an intimate photoshoot in New York last week in advance to our interview. In the kind of rewarding chat where we know very little about the person going in, we sit down with the actress to discuss her early days, the big career lessons, and season four of Gotham.
Gotham returns for season four with its premiere episode “Pax Penguina” this fall.
To start, tell me about this table read you were at today.
So I just got back from the table read for Gotham season four, episode one, which is very exciting. We start shooting the very first episode tomorrow. The gang’s all back together. We had a great hiatus. I think everybody was really happy to see each other and get the new season underway.
It must be a different feeling coming back to a show as opposed to starting on it fresh.
Yeah! It kinda felt like coming back from school vacation and seeing all of your friends on the first day. I look forward to seeing how the writers evolve Ivy’s character for season four.
Do you have a pretty good sense as to what your character arc will be this new season?
You know—I think that varies per character, per show. In my experience, it’s always a different story. I didn’t know too much going into season three. Occasionally, you’ll get bits of information from a producer here and a writer there. I think that’s because it’s very much a collaborative effort. I mean, obviously, there’s a method to the madness. Some of it’s like, we’re all trying to figure it out as we go along. So I don’t know anything at all about what’s going to happen in season four—for Ivy, at least. I’m just kinda figuring it out as we all get the scripts.
I would think not knowing where it’s going leaves room for both anxiety and excitement.
Totally, yes. It’s mostly excitement for sure. It’s just really fun getting the scripts and being surprised to find out what happens. And then it’s like, “Oh my god, I can’t believe I actually get to do this.” You read it on the page, we do the table read out loud, and for a lot of us, it’s the first time we’re finding out about things that happen. It’s just exciting!
The scope of TV is obviously so big nowadays. There’s so much good stuff out there. Does it feel like you’re shooting a really long movie when you’re on a show like Gotham?
[Laughs] Yeah! Well, we have 22 episodes in each season. That’s a long season, with a pretty short hiatus. I think Gotham is very cinematic. It’s shot like a beautiful film. So yeah, in some sense, it does feel like an extra long film, which is nice! You just have a little longer to enjoy it.
You were on All My Children and soaps are very fast-paced. Gotham must be very different.
Oh yeah, very different. I have endless respect for actors that work on soaps. I only worked very briefly, but I can tell you that those actors probably work harder than anybody else in the business in terms of how fast-paced it is. Their memorization muscles must be really strong because they learn all their lines and then immediately shoot them. You get one, two takes—tops. For Gotham, we shoot smaller sections, we have to know less lines day of, and we get several takes. And on a movie—usually, depending on the schedule—you get even more takes and even more time.
How did you get Gotham? Did you go through a traditional auditioning process?
Yeah! I was out in L.A. for a couple years just auditioning. I also moved out there for a change of scenery from New York. I got the self tape [audition] request from my agent, so I just put myself on tape in my living room and that was pretty much it. I met with the casting department at FOX in L.A. I went into their office and had a meeting. Essentially—they actually said this—the meeting was just to make sure that I was a real person and looked the same as I do on tape. [Laughs] And that was it. There was a little bit of a waiting period and then I got the call nine o’clock at night from my team that I got the job. About a week later, it was back to New York to start working.
It’s crazy what Marvel and DC has become in our culture. It was big when I was growing up, but in the ways of cartoons and action figures. The live action stuff we get now—to this extent—were really unthinkable. The fanbase for Gotham must be pretty intense.
Oh yeah, it really is. One of the nice things about being a part of the comic book world now is that, as actors, we get to go to these awesome conventions where we get to meet fans of the show that we’re on. And not just the shows, but also comic books in general. We get to meet die-hard comic book fans. They dress up in these incredible cosplay outfits. The whole comic book world is fairly new to me and I just find it fascinating. It’s amazing to meet the fans because they’re incredibly loyal and some of the sweetest people I’ve ever met, honestly.
By the way, I found the clip of your Ace Ventura impression online.
I only really bring it up because it’s spot on. Were you doing impressions as a kid?
I was always this very weird, eccentric, outgoing girl my whole life. My parents were telling me that I should become an actor pretty much since I started talking. I don’t know! I guess that’s just my personality. I love characters. I love comedy. I’ve always loved Ace Ventura. Pet Detective, When Nature Calls? So good. [That impression] was forever ago. When was that… A couple years ago maybe. That was when Dubsmash was a big thing. I jumped on that bandwagon real quick.
Now it’s forever online.
Once it’s online, it’s forever. I’m learning. I’m just a goofball. I love to laugh.
So you’re from Vermont. You were Miss Teen Vermont—something I’ll never get to live out.
Never say never! You dream it, you can do it, okay? [Laughs] I grew up in Boston and Vermont, but I guess Vermont is more home to me. I think I was in denial about going to school for theater and becoming an actor. It didn’t seem like an attainable goal because of what I’d heard: actors struggle, it’s a very competitive field, you’re always broke… It’s the struggling actor in New York or L.A. waiting tables, just being miserable. And I didn’t want to do that. As a creative, artistic type of person, I thought I would always fight against that and do something a little more straight-laced: you go to school, you put in these years, you take the tests, and you become a lawyer or a doctor. That just seemed more appealing to me, especially coming from a family of artists. My parents were both musicians and I saw how difficult the freelancer life of an artist can be. But once I got halfway through college, I just sort of gave up. I just admitted defeat and said, “Fine. I’ll just become an actor.” It just made the most sense. It encompasses all the different things that I love and want. I love all different forms of art: music, dance, painting, acting, writing, photography, modeling… I just love creating. Going into this business made a lot of sense. So halfway through college, I decided to major in theater. I got my bachelor’s, which I really honestly didn’t even need to get so that was a waste, I think. Maybe I’ll never use my degree, but at least I figured out this is what I wanted to do. Once I graduated from college, I just started auditioning the old fashioned way. I was in New York and submitted myself for stuff. I met my manager in an audition, oddly enough, and went from there. I just auditioned, auditioned, and auditioned. And still doing it!
Now you can look back and know you made the right choice. That has to be gratifying.
Absolutely. Any booking, large or small, or even just good feedback from an audition or a callback, or even getting an audition in the first place, is a success. As actors, we see that as a win every little step of the way because it’s a competitive business and a lot of it has to do with stars aligning and the right roles being out there for you. It’s a crazy business, but I’m happy to be in it. I’m grateful for the little amount of success that I’ve had so far in my short-lived career, basically.
I think you’re doing great. People would literally kill to be doing what you’re doing on TV.
It’s an absolute honor to play Poison Ivy. It’s iconic role. It’s humbling to be play a version of her.
You were on the series finale of 30 Rock. That must’ve been an emotional set.
Oh it really was. There were a lot of tears. It was weird for me because I appeared only in the finale. I felt like I was standing in the corner watching everybody cry—and I was thrilled to be there. [Laughs] Yeah, that was an amazing set to be on and it was so cool to meet those incredible actors. Tina [Fey] is so down to earth and kind and calm in person. She’s not always this hilarious, crazy, funny woman. She’s actually really chill.
Have you had a chance to work with female directors yet? The gender disparity is obviously an on-going debate. It’s really exciting right now with Patty Jenkins, and Wonder Woman being both good and outperforming at the box office. This is her second feature in 14 years.
It is crazy that’s only her second feature since Monster. I will say this: “Way to go, girl.” Hitting home runs. Quality over quantity. Gotham actually had incredible female directors: Hanelle M. Culpepper and Maja Vrvilo. I got to work with them both and they were fantastic. The episodes came out incredible. Everybody on the show was excited. Of course, we’re excited to work with male directors, too! [Laughs] But it is cool with female directors because it’s obviously not as frequent. We get a new director for every episode, which is fun. It’s cool to see the finished episodes and to be able to point out different directors’ styles and how they make each episode their own. It’s the same with DPs. With the camera angles and the way they shoot, they have their own personal style. Everybody comes together to make the show what it is. It’s a collaboration.
You shot a pilot, Happyish, with Philip Seymour Hoffman. I actually served him ramen the day before he passed away in Greenwich Village. He stopped by with his children. Do you think that will ever see the light of day? I guess someone will try to leak that at some point.
I don’t have too much information on that. It was really wild. Shortly after I worked with him, he passed away. I was just really grateful that I had an opportunity to work with him because he was an incredible presence in the industry. I think they may have recast the whole project and revamped it, but I wasn’t part of the new Happyish. I actually never saw any of the footage from [the pilot].
So you’re going back to work on Gotham tomorrow. What’s the shooting schedule like?
We wrapped season three at the end of March, so we were off in April, May, and part of June. We pretty much shoot all year. We have two-and-a-half months off, basically.
How do you like to manage your day-to-day, given the erratic nature of an actor’s life?
That’s one of the hard parts, at least for me. I can’t really speak for other actors. It really depends on what project you’re working on. For Gotham, it’s an ensemble cast and there’s 15 series regulars so there’s a lot of us. It’s not like every single one of us is working every single day. It depends on your role, where your character is in the storyline, and what they’re exploring at the moment. I personally did have a lot of downtime, so it is important to sort of structure your day and make sure you use your downtime wisely. It’s tricky not having structure in your day—a nine to five or something like that—because you can find yourself becoming lazy or unproductive or twiddling your thumbs not knowing what to do with yourself. But I think it’s something that you get used to as an actor. You do learn how to structure your own day and be your own boss, basically. I mean, I fill my time with other creative endeavors like auditioning for other smaller roles if I can do them outside of Gotham. Friends, family… Trying to make myself a better person… [Laughs] Studying, working on your craft, always trying to learn and grow and be better… With these conventions that we do, we have to travel and stuff like that. There’s stuff to do outside the actual shoot. Even today, there was the table read. We have fittings and stuff like that.
What one big realization have you made while working in the industry?
That there’s no limit to what you can achieve in life. Growing up, for some reason—I don’t know why or where I got this from, and I don’t blame my parents or my upbringing—I had an inferiority complex. Like I said before, I didn’t think becoming an actor was an attainable goal for me. It sounds cliché, but going through my career thus far, it has taught me that the sky’s the limit. A dream that might seem out of reach really isn’t. You just have to take risks and work hard and be patient. Anything is possible. I’m throwing around clichés, but that’s the biggest thing that being in this business has taught me. You can do whatever you want to do if you put your mind to it. There’s no reason to assume that something’s out of your reach.
All clichés are born out of truth—including what I just said.
If you had told 13-year-old Maggie that she would be playing Poison Ivy on FOX with Warner Brothers, I never would’ve believed you. I would’ve laughed at you because, at that point in my life, I just couldn’t imagine that I could actually do something like that. We can really do anything we want, anything that we set our minds to, as long as we work hard and believe that it can happen.
What kind of roles, stories, and genres do you hope to explore going beyond Poison Ivy?
Well, I love this question because I’m at the beginning of my career and I feel like I’m sort of a newbie. [Gotham] is my first television role as a series regular, so I have pretty much everything else in front of me to do. I would love to do something involving my musicality. I love to sing and I love music. I also love dancing and grew up with it. I would be head-over-heels excited to do something like La La Land. I’ve always wanted to do a Western. I would love for my work to allow me to travel. I would love to do a period piece, more than one period piece—every period piece. I would love to do a good comedy where I can play a weird supporting character, kinda like Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids. I also love sci-fi: Alien, stunts, fighting… I would love to do something “badassery” à la Wonder Woman. I definitely don’t limit myself to one type of genre or character. I can only hope that my career will bring a whole lot of versatility, and help me to grow and challenge and stretch myself as an actor. I can’t think of too many things I’d turn down.
I have a lot of respect for actors because so much is at stake for the individual. It could all go so wrong. There’s compulsion to it. For a lot of actors, they have to do it.
Totally. So much of our job is dealing with rejection, too. You and I both, man. I also have a lot of respect for actors. I ask myself this constantly: “How… Why am I doing this?” [Laughs] It can be maddening being an actor. But like I said, I think it’s just embracing the fact that whatever role that’s right for you is gonna come your way as long as you put in the hard work. That’s what I always tell other actors. If you give up, you’re never going to work. Don’t give up.