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Actress Claudia Maree Mailer wasn’t about to let the pandemic get in the way of the release of her indie thriller DieRy, which marks the 26-year-old’s first lead role in a film.

DieRy, shot before the pandemic, sees Mailer playing a young woman whose diary is stolen, and the obsessive thief begins sending her letters and killing people around her. The film’s producers, Mailer Tuchman Media, had planned to do a festival run with DieRy first, but when the pandemic all but eliminated that option, they released it via iTunes/AppleTV, Google Play, Amazon Prime, and Vimeo beginning August 25. The decision was made after noticing a surge in the VOD market as people across the world were quarantined with limited options for entertainment. A captive audience looking to consume new content seemed like the best way to get the maximum amount of eyeballs on a little indie. 

But Mailer took it a step further. Inspired by watching actors post self-tapes and monologues on social media during the pandemic while the industry shut down, she created the DieRy Monologue Challenge to coincide with the VOD release date.  

The instructions were simple. Pre-order the movie, receive three monologues from the film, and upload them to Instagram. Ten winners would be picked to receive a virtual one-one-session with the film’s director, Jennifer Gelfer, who was also one of the DieRy’s producers. All proceeds from the pre-order benefitted The Actor’s Fund, which works to assist performing arts and entertainment professionals. (Casting Networks promoted the DieRy Monologue Challenge on its social media channels.)

The one-on-one sessions with Gelfer had the potential to be career breaks for the winners. Gelfer also happens to be the executive director of Mailer Tuchman Media, which is different from most other production companies. It uses its own roster of actors, directors, producers, and screenwriters. Mailer, who was at one time Gelfer’s assistant, had risen through the ranks to become part of MTM’s actor roster, having had supporting roles in MTM’s The Second Sun and the upcoming Inside Me. She has since wed MTM’s creative director, John Buffalo Mailer, son of legendary author Norman Mailer, who also wrote DieRy’s screenplay and had a supporting role in it. 

“MTM is all about discovering new talent, and I felt we could take this social community of actors flexing their muscles with self-tapes and pair them with Jen, who is always on the lookout for new faces for upcoming projects,” said the actress. “I know that if this were any other studio movie, I never would have been cast as the lead in DieRy because I wasn’t a recognizable name. With the monologue challenge, I wanted an opportunity to pay it forward, so others could have that same opportunity.”

Now, she said, all ten winners are part of MTM’s exclusive acting group and will have access to be part of future MTM table reads for developing projects, and getting first crack at being looked at for possible film roles.

As for Mailer, her career path started back in New Zealand, where she grew up. She came to the United States at 18 by way of a talent competition called World Championship of Performing Arts, and from there, enrolled in New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts. During her second year, she did an internship at Michael Mailer Films. When she graduated from acting school in 2015, Michael Mailer asked her if she’d like to be his assistant on the feature film he was about to direct, Blind, starring Alec Baldwin, Demi Moore, and Dylan McDermott. 

That’s where she first met Gelfer, a producer on the film, and her future husband, Michael Mailer’s younger brother John Buffalo Mailer, who had written Blind’s screenplay. Over the next two years, these individuals continued to work together on subsequent film projects, all in various capacities both in front and behind the camera. When John Buffalo Mailer began writing the screenplay for DieRy, MTM was officially formed. Meanwhile, a professional relationship between Claudia (then Peters) and John Buffalo Mailer eventually became personal when the two began dating in 2016.

While DieRy was being written, Claudia was already getting invested in the screenplay as she watched her then-boyfriend work on it. When she finally read the script, she knew she had to play the lead. But she also knew that she had to convince Gelfer, who would be directing the film, that she could handle a role that required her to be in just about every shot, playing scenes that were often emotionally draining or physically demanding. 

“I had to work harder for it because Jen wasn’t just going to give it to me,” she said.  “I had to show her I could do it, and I respect her for that. I auditioned, I table read, I did private coaching. I worked my ass off to earn this role.”

In 2018, two months before production began on DieRy, Claudia and John Buffalo Mailer married. And while intertwining personal and professional lives does not work for all couples, this pair doesn’t know any different. “We met on a film set!” she chimes. “I love working with him. He is an absolute gem, and we are two peas in a pod. It’s so seamless, and I feel like we make a great team.”

Whether it was the hard work she poured into her role, the comfort factor of collaborating with people she was close to, or both, Claudia Mailer’s performance in DieRy attracted attention from talent representatives. She has since signed with Key Talent Management.  

Does she think COVID has impacted her career in any way? 

“I don’t know because, in my eyes, my career is just starting, which is so weird having it happen in the middle of a pandemic,” she said. “I didn’t have representation before, and now I do, so I feel I’m about to take my step into the world. If this is the time, then this is the time. What’s for us won’t pass us, even in a pandemic.”