June 2022

Screened | The Wilds

Getting Into Character With Mia Healey

Photos Randall Slavin | Words Tamara Rappa

Multi-talented and on the rise, Australian actress Mia Healey stands out as lead character Shelby Goodkind in Amazon Prime's hit series, The Wilds, now in season two. The God-fearing pageant princess she plays is a complicated character, and Healey plays her to perfection. The Wilds follows a group of teenage girls and boys from radically different backgrounds after an airplane crash strands them on a deserted island. It can be said that of the fifteen-plus ensemble cast of characters, it is Mia's Shelby who experiences the most personal growth in this story that explores past and present struggles, and what it's like to grow up in our time. A graduate of Sydney's most prestigious drama school, Mia is also a gifted singer, and her talents appear as part of her arc across eighteen episodes to date. The Wilds receives praise for its deeply diverse cast and for its depiction of LGBTQ+ relationships, and garnered a nomination for Outstanding Drama Series by the GLAAD Media Awards. Healey herself is an open advocate for LGBTQ+ rights. Of the magical mix that is the cast and production, Mia tells us that what's she enjoyed the most has been the deep connections she's been able to build while exploring the deep connections of the series' characters, and having the opportunity to start off in the industry amidst a highly supportive, female-empowered environment. For Healey, The Wilds is "creating so much more empathy for people," and she's made a practice of screen-grabbing and saving stories from people who have shared that the show and its characters have helped them to feel seen, a source of inspiration for her, and something she tells us the LGBTQ+ community is so deserving of. We talked to Mia all about her influential role as Shelby, a character who she says, 'On a surface level, you could really judge,' and who is in the midst of a total metamorphosis.

Season two opens, in episode two, with Shelby and Toni recounting the group's response to being stranded on an island: 'Some of us just froze, and some of us knew what to do.' Where does Shelby fall within that spectrum? Shelby is very hands on. She's very positive, and she's one to raise her hand to help fix a situation. We see Shelby relax a lot more this season, and fall into her relationship with Toni. I think a lot of Shelby's motivation is to be a fixer, and I think a lot of it comes from her desperate need for control, both in her life and around her image. We find Shelby in season two way more calm, way more quiet. In the situation of the shark attack, she was definitely trying to be there to help. But there's not much she could really do. Dot's really good at that; Dot's the one that gets the ax. 

When we are first introduced to Shelby, we learn that her appearance is something she has had to be deeply concerned with. She competes in pageants and her looks have come to be viewed as a core trait, one of her best, most prized traits. When she joins the girls for what is supposed to be a retreat, we discover she wears a set of front-teeth dentures that she wants to keep a secret from everyone. And as time on the island goes by, a difficult situation causes her to cut her hair off. What is Shelby learning about her relationship to her looks? She's learning that she wants to have almost nothing to do with her looks, especially when she's cutting off her hair. It's literally her trying to run away physically from all of the pressures she felt before, the expectations that had been placed upon her. She literally wants to cut it away. It's something she really wants to be free from.

Of both groups stranded on the island, it is Shelby who experiences the most personal growth and is in the midst of a total metamorphosis. What is it specifically about this experience that hatches her open? It's hard to name one thing. This whole island experience for Shelby, at the end of the day, has been really positive for her. You see that in season two, she does not want to leave the island, which is crazy! Everyone else on the island is trying to survive, trying to escape, trying to get home. And we see her in season two literally trying to avoid it, especially when the boat comes, and she lets it go. She wants to stay because she feels that this is the first time in her life when she can be unapologetically herself. She's never felt that way before back in her life at home. She's the closest to heaven she's ever felt and been. A lot of it has to do with her relationship with Toni. Toni has allowed her to feel this sense of pride in who she is. It's allowed Shelby to grow. I've said this before, she reminds me of a phoenix rising from the ashes, but she doesn't know how to use her wings yet. So she's kind of burning; blossoming and burning constantly. It's a vicious cycle that she puts herself through. But the pride that Toni's been able to teach her and show her, has been huge.

When Shelby sees potential rescue in the distance and lets it go, it's an incredibly dramatic reaction to her circumstance. What is the one thing that's so bad at home, it propels her into seeing this traumatic and scary experience as a positive one? The homophobia from her parents. She knows that if she goes home and comes out to her parents and lives authentically, that they will disown her. It's such a complicated situation. Her faith in her family is all she knows. She doesn't know how to live in a world without it. At the same time, if she chooses to continue to live that life with her family, with their love and respect, then she has to give up a huge part of herself that actually makes her happy. It's terrifying.

How does Shelby's overall resilience help her most on the island? Shelby's had to be resilient her whole life. It's a controlled resilience. She's had to lie a lot. She's had to push things down in order to survive. She's also kind of drowning. Her resilience has helped her on the island, and has helped her her whole life. It's something she's had to become really good at. 

Back at home, Shelby cannot be true in her sexuality, yet she does attempt to kiss her best friend when she mistakes what she thinks is mutual attraction between them. Is Shelby still exploring her sexuality up until the point that she's on the island, and makes an intimate connection and engages in physical contact with Toni? Or has she always known she is a lesbian? I think Shelby has always been afraid to admit that she's a lesbian. It's a conversation that she hasn't even allowed herself to have with herself before, because she knows what the repercussions would be. She experienced those repercussions when she was caught by her father while kissing her best friend. His reaction made her know exactly what she needed to do---which was to never think about it ever again, and push it as far down as possible so she could live the life that she wants with her family. When she meets Toni, those voices from her parents are gone. She's independent for the very first time in her life, and she can be free. Once she leans into that impulse, she really gives into it. In season two you see her fall into her relationship wholeheartedly. She's giving herself a shot at happiness.

How does the character of Shelby depict some of the experiences of the LGBTQ+ community? It's still so common today for queer people, especially queer kids, to have homophobic parents. That is something that unfortunately is still such a reality for so many people. Being able to see someone like Shelby, and themselves, represented on screen is important. Hopefully parents can watch this show, people who are homophobic can watch this show, and see this beautiful relationship and how human it is, how normal it is, and have respect for it---because it's so important. I heard so many stories after the show came out, from so many wonderful people in the queer community, who are relating to Shelby. It's sad that this is still so common. It's important that people feel represented and seen. It's amazing to share stories about really happy queer people. Queer joy is so important, and it's a beautiful, beautiful thing---one of the most beautiful things in the world. It's also really important to not forget the long road we have in front of us, to not forget everything that people have been through, and to honor it respectfully.

HAIR: Rob Talty | MAKEUP: Loren Canby

"Sea salt dry roasted pistachios have been one of my favorite things for a while now. That, and dried mango, are my go-to snack foods." 

"I've been introduced to flea markets since being in LA. I love them, there's such positive energy there, and it feels good to support small businesses." 

"Not sure why I'm loving green nail polish right now, but it's making me happy."

"My mum sent me the song You Are The Universe by The Brand New Heavies on set when I was feeling anxious about something. It really lifts me out of a bad mood, and also reminds me of my mum, whom I love." 

"Pieces from the Bulgari B.Zero1 collection always make me feel powerful." 

"Jesse Tyler Ferguson's character Mitchell from Modern Family is just so relatable to me right now, and I'm loving it."