Joy Osmanski thoroughly enjoyed kicking Joel McHale in the face.
"Oh yeah, I was like please let me do more of this," said the actor, who plays the villainous gym teacher Paula Brooks (a.k.a Tigress) on DC Universe's infectiously fun superhero series Stargirl. The face-off in the show's debut episode was Osmanski's first experience with stunt work came on her first day of filming, but she took to it like a duck to water.
"I was fortunate to have some dance experience that helped me with that, but nothing can prepare you for suddenly seeing Joel McHale covered in fake blood," she told Inverse.
Before she became an ass-kicking villain in a catsuit, Osmanski voiced Jing in the Fox animated series Duncanville, which dives inside the oddball inner world of a 15-year-old boy. She also stars in the upcoming Hulu horror anthology Monsterland.
What kind of kid were you?
I was a fun, loving, joyful kid, but also really stressed out and rarely satisfied. I wanted everything too much and too fast. At dinner, I was the kid who was on thirds when everyone else was still eating their first helping. I started reading when I was three, I skipped a grade. I don't say this with any amount of pride, because now as a grown woman, I'm like, what was the hurry?
When I was around eight years old, my mom told me — very kindly! — that I’d developed a “hitch in my get-along,” which was basically a nervous tic that manifested when I walked. I have zero memory of this. But she said it existed for a little while, and third grade was a super stressful time for me. I was hugely competitive in math with this other kid in my class. And there was another boy in my class — this would not have been permitted today — he used to corner me with his friends and try to kiss me.
I had fun moments as a kid but honestly, stress was a big part of my childhood. I apparently came genetically equipped to put way too much pressure on myself.
What was your favorite band when you were 15?
I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, so for me at that time, it was all about Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden. Big into Jane's Addiction. I was slogging around the rain, moping, listening to all those people.
What piece of clothing did you wear too often in high school?
I was a big Doc Martens fan. I wore out the soles of my first pair. I wore them with everything. I raided my dad's closet a lot. His shirts were always missing. I wore [Docs] with Laura Ashley dresses, jeans, you name it. They were so empowering! I remember always feeling so kick-ass when I would pull them on and lace them up. They were like 10 pounds apiece.
What’s your first memory of the internet?
I remember going over to my best friend’s house and seeing her sister in the dark, hunkered over their computer and just staring at an orange cursor. That was Prodigy. I was baffled by the whole concept of interacting with people online via text. It still is kind of baffling to me to realize I saw email happen, you know what I mean?
What’s a truth about love you believed when you were 15?
Jesus. That it was uncomplicated. That two people found each other and then hovered in this magical plane of bliss for the rest of time. I was such a deeply disturbed romantic. I looked for that everywhere I could. The movies I grew up watching all portrayed love in this just extremely black-and-white relief, and made it so sanitary. Even the messy bits were very sanitary and without real consequence.
What high-school teacher did you like the most and why?
There was an amazing math teacher at my high school named Mr. Robinson. Most people were pretty terrified of him. I took the class because I knew he was a fantastic teacher. And I knew I was gonna suck at it. I think I ended up getting a C.
But I wanted to experience his teaching, and I'm so glad I did. He was really dry and funny. He would sometimes throw erasers at students. It wasn't in an abusive way, just very unpredictable. That was unique in high school, where you sat up on the edge of your seat, because you actually wanted to learn something.
The final was an in-class essay about logarithms. The fact that we had to write a paper about math kind of blew my mind. It changed the way I thought about a lot of things.
What do you consider your first professional big break and why?
After I graduated from college, I started working as a graphic designer in Boston. There was this open audition for Nabisco’s next big commercial. My then-boyfriend was an actor, so we went. We had to choose a cracker, and then make a creation on it. Like peanut butter and jelly on a Wheat Thin. I don't even remember what I did, but I ended up winning for the state of Massachusetts. I think it was a Triscuit?
They flew the winners from every state to Idaho for the finals, which were emceed by Ed McMahon. And I'm not shitting you, they dubbed Idaho “the cracker capital of the world,” without a hint of irony. I didn't end up winning, but I got my photo taken with Ed McMahon. I still have it somewhere. I look like every terrified kid on Santa’s lap. I didn't start acting for years after that, but it was like a hint. Maybe?
What was your first professional failure?
The first real job I booked in LA was a commercial for Blue Cross. I wasn't union. I didn't know shit. But the job was fun. I got to wear scrubs, we pretended to have wheelchair races in this friendly hospital.
So before it aired, the production companies sent me a VHS tape of the commercial. So I watched it. And I watched it again. Then I was like, “Yeah, I’m not in this at all.” I laughed so hard. It was such a good thing to happen right away, such a great reminder that so little in this business is predictable or permanent. You can't really bank on anything, so do the thing, enjoy the thing, move on. At least I got paid.
What’s your can’t-miss prediction for 2030 and why?
I feel like we're going to see a possible war over facial recognition technology and privacy. What I learned recently about Clearview has been so disturbing to me, and I can see this being something that happens on a massive scale, where people really start to divide. There's going to be a faction of people who just completely go off the grid.
On Last Week Tonight recently, John Oliver was talking about how the software is so often egregiously wrong about people of color. Like it doesn't even recognize a Black face sometimes. It confuses Asian faces constantly. It's a huge problem.
I'm sorry. That's a total downer prediction. But that's kind of where I'm at right now. I'm scared of nice things.
What would your 15-year-old self say about your latest project?
She would be stunned, and so excited for me on so many levels. A lot of that has to do with the pure fantasy of getting to play a supervillain. I didn't grow up reading comic books or being part of that incredible landscape. But now as an adult, I'm getting just a taste of it as this show is being shared with the world. The community around it is incredible.
Awkward Phase is an Inverse series with interesting people talking about the most relatable period in their life. The interview above has been edited for clarity and brevity.