Since its inception in 2007, HoosOnFirst Improv Comedy club at IU Bloomington has bred a slew of talented entertainers. Katy O’Brian, BA’11, an original member of the troupe, is one of them.
“[HoosOnFirst] gave me some lifelong friends,” the alumna says, adding that she still keeps up with the careers of several peers—including HoosOnFirst co-founder Max Cutler, BS’10, a recurring character on Freeform’s Good Trouble.
O’Brian graduated from IU with a bachelor’s in psychology. She says the degree—originally a fallback plan—has played a significant role in her acting career.
“A deep understanding of the human psyche is such a valuable resource. [When studying] psychology, we learn about thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, which are all things we need to understand when breaking down a character,” O’Brian explains. “My appreciation for psychology has allowed me to [also] maintain a healthy mentality for pursuing a career with high rejection rates and minimal stability.”
Before moving to Los Angeles, O’Brian hired Jim Dougherty, ’86, as her acting coach.
“Katy is the perfect example of someone who understands that you must remain humble and dedicated to achieve success,” says Dougherty, who has been a working actor since the early ’90s, making appearances on shows such as Chicago P.D. and Ozark. “She is smart, talented, and grounded. [She’s] one of the best students [I’ve] ever had, and I see her on her way to A-list.”
In 2018, after guest spots on How to Get Away with Murder and The Walking Dead, O’Brian landed her first series-regular role.
“My character, George, from Z Nation, is still my favorite and will always have a special place in my heart,” she says. “As silly of a show as Z Nation could be at times, it allowed me the privilege of playing a complex human with real thoughts and feelings, while also getting to show off some of my fighting skills.”
More recently, the martial arts aficionado, who has a black belt in Hapkido, can be seen in The CW’s Black Lightning, ABC’s The Rookie, and Disney’s The Mandalorian.
“I was pretty nervous on the set of The Mandalorian because they told me very little about what I would be doing or with whom I would be working,” O’Brian recalls. “It was a little overwhelming when I first realized Jon Favreau was there pretty much every day to oversee production, and I was taken aback by how kind, patient, and involved he was. The majority of my scenes were with Giancarlo Esposito who was an absolute gem of a man to work with.”
O’Brian’s dream role? “I would love to play some kind of warrior in an epic fantasy piece [similar to] Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings,” she says.
If you enjoyed this article, check out our Q&A with Katy O’Brian, where she spills all her acting secrets.