Ellen Muth is not quite dead, but she sounds as if she has just been awakened from the beyond. Or at least from a sound sleep -- which is true, just a day after returning home to Connecticut after six months of filming in Vancouver.
So, though she cheerfully answers all questions about her acting career and the success of Showtime's "Dead Like Me," the 23-year-old actress is employing quite a few dramatic pauses. (Is she still awake?) Except for the occasional giggles, it's eerily similar to her subtle performance on the death-defining dark comedy.
In "Dead Like Me," Muth deftly portrays a teenager whose slacker life was snuffed out on her lunch break -- by a falling toilet seat from a space station. But instead of passing to the great beyond, Georgia "George" Lass is stuck in the dreary present, forced to collect an undetermined number of souls from the victims of unnatural deaths. And because reapers don't get paid, she returns to the same temp agency she worked at before her death -- though she looks like a different person to the living.
Just as her character must deal with the drudgery of a dead-end job, so must Muth deal with the endless recounting of her life: The pronunciation of her name ("mewth"). How she got involved with acting (studying since age 10). About her family (her optician father, Eric, donated an eyeglasses exhibit to the Smithsonian). What she thinks happens to people when they die (she doesn't know). But, in the end, she reveals a bit of her soul.
What are the similarities between you and your character, George Lass?
We both have a wry, dry sense of humor. We're both very sarcastic. That's pretty much it.
And the differences?
I'm not as bitter as she is. I don't blame people as often as she does. I take responsibility for my actions more than she does.
Plus, George never got a driver's license and you are a racecar driver. What about that?
I went to the Skip Barber school here in Connecticut. . . . Now I have a fast car. It's a [Porsche] Carrera C4. It's small and silver with a convertible hard top. A wing in the back comes up when you reach a certain speed. I drive as much as I can. I even brought it to Vancouver.
Have you gotten any speeding tickets?
As of now, no. I had a cop stop me [in Canada] and ask me, "Is it illegal to take U-turns in front of a cop in Connecticut?' And I said, "No not unless the U has an arrow through it." And he was like, "It's illegal here."
You're a member of Mensa and Intertel (the upper 1 percent of scores on the IQ test). How does your intelligence come into play as an actor?
It just gets me a broader outlook about the different people out there. And be able to search deeper into the souls of other people.
How would you handle the reaper role differently than George?
I think if got to the point where I was already dead, there isn't anything worse that can happen to me, so if they're going to try to tell me what to do, why should I do it? . . . She hasn't picked up on the whole having fun thing.
How do you prepare yourself to play George?
I listen to music. It sets me in the mood. I just try to remain in a tranquil place in my head.
Did you ever work at a temp agency?
No. Thank God.
The show already has attained a sort of cult status. What's the weirdest fan thing to come out of it?
An alligator head in the mail. That was a little strange.
What kind of roles are you being offered?
A lot of independent films. . . . I have to find one I really like.
Much of "Dead Like Me" takes place in the Der Waffle Haus. How's the food there?
We don't really eat it. I drink Diet 7-Up. Mandy [Patinkin] eats a bran muffin. Roxy [Jasmine Guy] eats fruit salad. Callum [Blue] eats whatever is in front of him. And Laura [Harris] peels grapes.
The reapers are given yellow Post-it Notes with the victim's initials, last name, and time and place of death. Has that changed the way you look at those little slips of paper?
It's funny, my dad used to leave me notes on Post-its. And he still does, and I'm like, "No, not Post-its."
Cause of Death: Weird
The reapers of "Dead Like Me" collect the souls of people killed by "external influences" -- murders, accidents and other unnatural causes. Even the reapers were victims of such events -- George was killed by a toilet seat falling from the sky, and Roxy (Jasmine Guy) was strangled by a jealous roommate after inventing leg warmers.
Other unusual means of death:
* A falling Der Waffle Haus sign.
* A revolving door.
* A flaming Bananas Foster dessert.
* A yoga position.
* A fruit-juicing "guillotine."
* A thrown stiletto heel.
* Candy from a pinata.
DEAD LIKE ME:
Sundays at 10 p.m. on Showtime