Holly Marilyn Solem may not be a household name just yet but this burgeoning singer-songwriter turned actress is making prolific waves on Amazon’s original series Hand of God. Her evocative music peppered the series’ first season, often stirring viewers out of their emotional comfort zones. With season two currently in production, Holly’s got a bit more on her plate these days. Her extensive musical knowledge and commitment to the project have secured her a role as original songwriter for the series as well as an on-screen part as Hand of God’s choir director.
We spoke with Holly about her new roles and how she’s prepared herself and her music for what’s sure to be an incredible second season:
Fan Fest: How did you first get involved in this project?
Holly Marilyn Solem: I first got involved through Mark Forster who is one of our executive producers on the show and directed the first two episodes of season one. He and I had worked together a long time ago and been in touch and he approached me a couple of years ago and said, ‘I have this pilot that I’m developing and I just feel like your music might be right for it. Do you want to read it and maybe write something?’ So I read the pilot and I wrote a song for it right away–it just sort of came to me. And then I met with Ben Watkins, the show runner, and Mark and played them a bunch of songs and played them some stuff. And then I was like, here’s the song that I wrote after I read your script–to Ben–and he loved it. He said, ‘This is it! This is the sound we’re looking for.’ He’d already found someone to do the theme song, the main titles so he said, ‘Why don’t you do the end titles? Why don’t you sing it in the show. My church doesn’t have a choir yet. I’ll write the choir in and I’ll write you in.’ So, that’s how I became involved. It seems very much like a dream come true. It was too good to be true. And then he said if we get picked up and go to series, you can do all the end titles and the soundtrack.
FF: You have a really interesting, kind of eclectic sound. Can you talk about your musical influences and your process for writing the songs we’ll hear in season two?
HMS: I guess my earliest influences or biggest influences were Roy Orbison and The Everly Brothers and girl groups like the Shangri-Las, Nancy Sinatra. Obviously like The Beatles are in there and The Pretenders. I like a lot of pneumatic and chromatic music. In preparation for the show, I listened to a lot of gospel, particularly from the 60’s and 70’s and even the 50’s. So, I just researched old gospel music which has been a lot of old soul music. So, I got deeply into that to get ready for show.
And then, in writing for the series, it was a little different for every episode. There were some songs that I kind of had already had, like Speed of Light I had already written maybe a couple of months before I’d even read any scripts because that was a really personal song and that just sort of happened to work for the episode. But most of the other songs I wrote specifically for the show. I kind of would pick out a character whose story I was really intrigued by or who I really liked in that particular episode and I tried write from the emotion. And that was kind of the easiest way for me to…and maybe like the overall emotion of the particular episode. And Ben Watkins, the creator, the showrunner would also sometimes give me ideas of words or themes. And so I think it was pretty collaborative in that way where I would try to go along with the general vibe of the episode.
FF: Do you find it challenging writing per episode or do you like to push those limits where you kind of have to go by something else rather than what’s already inside you?
HMS: You know, I really love it. It was a pretty new experience for me and now it’s something that I’m doing more of. Because it’s really hard to be on and to connect even just yourself emotionally and to feel inspired. But when you have a deadline and time frame to be able to tell a story about someone else based on emotions you may have experienced in the past but aren’t feeling right now is really exciting and it’s a really great way to be prolific and productive as a writer, so I loved it. It’s opened the world to me.
FF: Is your character more involved this season? What can you tell us about her story, if anything at all?
HMS: She’s doing a little bit more this season. We’re still pretty early on in filming so I’m not quite sure where she’s going, but I’ve had some pretty nice scenes with the preacher, Julian Morris. So far she’s a good Christian girl, so we’ll see what happens. But I get to do a little more which is super duper fun. A little more acting.
FF: Has acting always been on your radar or is it something that’s completely new?
HSM: Yeah, it’s always been something that I’ve wanted to do and been interested in. You know, I did plays as a kid and I modeled and did a ton of commercials my whole life. And I had taken some classes and stuff and I was busy doing music. I was maybe a little bit afraid to push through it fully just because it just seems like everyone in L.A. is an actor and I’ve got this music and how could I possibly do both? But if the right thing came along, that would be amazing! Sort of this inner dialogue…thinking back it was all just fear-based. But yeah, being able to act in this show is such an amazing opportunity. And now I’ve obviously caught the bug.
FF: What’s it been like working on a production like this? The cast is superb and the production quality just seems really great.
HMS: It is the most incredible experience ever. I mean to be a part of something with everyone involved at such a high level, it’s pretty mind-blowing. I feel beyond fortunate. We shot our first season on film…even just to get to be on a set and watch how this all works is crazy. So, I’ve loved it. I’ve loved every single second of it. There’s not one…I mean, I have a 5 am call time and I’m just so pumped to get up at 3:30. Cannot wait!
FF: Is being on a set everything you imagined it to be? Or is it different than what your expectations were?
HMS: I’ve been on sets as a model and in commercials pretty much my whole life. But being on a television set in a studio in a lot with the same people for months is a very different…I mean, it’s a different experience. It becomes very familial; you become very close to people. It’s really beautiful, especially with our particular cast and crew. We’re all very, very close. So, it’s kind of beyond my wildest dreams.
FF: Do you have any other projects we should be on the lookout for? I heard you were working on original songs that Blake Lively will be performing for an upcoming film…
HMS: There’s a movie coming out called All I See is You and I think it will come out in early winter, late 2016. And Blake Lively is singing in it and I wrote the songs that she sings, so that’s really fun. And I’m currently working on a solo album, so I’m just writing with as many people as I can at every free moment that I’m not working on Hand of God.
You can catch Holly on season two of Amazon’s Hand of God this fall.
Tara Martinez is a New York-based writer with a passion for pop culture and a penchant for analysis. She frequently covers film, television, and representations of women in the media.