Q & A: Katie Aselton Talks ‘The League’, Directing and the “Toilet Kitchen”

Katie Aselton Interview

The League never sits on my Tivo for too long. The ensemble comedy follows a group of friends in a fantasy football league. Even though they’re long time friends, they use every opportunity they can to make each others lives miserable. Starring Stephen Rannazzisi, Mark Duplass, Jon Lajoie, Nick Kroll, Paul Scheer and Katie Aselton, you don’t need to be a fan of football or fantasy football to enjoy the show. You just have to love great ensemble comedies.

I’ve interviewed to Katie before (read it here) and this time, I joined her on a conference call to talk about this season of The League, her character, if she’ll ever direct again (It’s like “having a baby,” she said) and working with her husband, Mark Duplass.

The League airs on Wednesdays at 10pm on FXX

Are you a fantasy football player in real life, and if so, are you a Shiva superstar or a Sacko type?

Katie Aselton: I have to say I knew nothing about fantasy football before this show, but the show, it was part of jumping into the character was learning all about it and we, the cast and the creators, Jackie and Jeff Schaffer, and then the rest of the cast have formed a league on our own and we play it every season. I will tell you that our trophy is called The Aselton Cup and that is because I won it the first year.

I get the impression from the show that you will pretty much do just about anything if you think it’ll get a laugh.

Katie Aselton: Yes, I really have no standards.

Were you always this type of person? Was it evident to you early on that you could be funny for a living and that there were no boundaries for you?

Katie Aselton: Oh, honestly, I am the youngest child of four siblings and they are all much older than me and I felt like I spent my entire childhood just not getting the joke. The jokes were always over my head and they would always make me cry because I always felt like they were making fun of me. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I sort of quickened to the humor of it all and now I can’t stop.

I’ve tried to go into very dramatic roles and I always seem to really gravitate back to the humor in really heavy moments, but I kind of love that because I think the more you sort of study the world around you, humor is everywhere and it’s sort of how we cope with things and how we take on the heavy things in life. I think you need the humor, so I have fully embraced it now.

Jenny is an inspirational character I think for a lot of females that have been intimidated by fantasy football. The character not only mixes it up with the guys on the show, but has won the championship. Have you found that viewers have sort of gravitated to the role and have also sort of had an inspiration from that, not to be intimidated by these bully men and their fantasy football?

Katie Aselton: Yes and I think it goes beyond fantasy football. I think it is really fun to see a woman who can hold her own, toe to toe, with the guys and a lot of times put them in their place. I think I like this sort of wave of strong-minded women that are sort of hitting television versus this sort of dorkable girls who apologize for themselves. I like these girls who are, whether it’s Jenny MacArthur playing fantasy football or Olivia Pope on Scandal, I kind of like these very strong ladies and I’m super excited that I get to play one of them.

How much are you like your character and how much are you not like her?

Katie Aselton: Oh, boy. I feel like Jenny is a huge part of me. I think she is the part of me that I sort of censor in real life, but Jenny gets to say it all because in that world you can. She’s my crazy competitive spirit coming out and she’s my mouthy spirit coming out, but I think I may be a little bit softer than her. I like my kids a lot more than Jenny does and I respect my husband a lot more than Jenny does Kevin, but I do think that Jenny and Kevin do have a good thing. They’re really funny and they do care about each other and I do appreciate seeing that relationship, but yes, I think she’s just sort of an exaggerated version of me. She’s like me turned up to 12 on the dial.

Would you be friends with her in real life, with Jenny in real life?

Katie Aselton: I think I probably would have been friends with her in college.

But not now?

Katie Aselton: And then we probably grew apart. I think there’s maybe a reason why Jenny doesn’t have any girlfriends. You know?

The show definitely has a sort of an improvisational feel to it at times, lots of kind of shooting things around, jokes, burns, and things like that, but is there a particular non-scripted moment that you can think of from this season that really stood out to you?

Katie Aselton: I mean I think the funniest improv moment in the history of the show was toilet kitchen, which just came from a day player who didn’t speak great English and looked at the toilet in the middle of the kitchen and said, “Toilet kitchen,” and that’s the only—that was—everyone just sort of held onto that and we still talk about it and there’s actually an episode that we just shot that you’ll see soon that we reference toilet kitchen again. It’s something that we just can’t let go of.

There’s some very funny stuff coming—it’s so hard because there’s so much stuff coming up that I can’t talk about, but there’s a lot of, I mean, the majority of our show is improvised. We’re given outlines with a description of the scene and sometimes there are some lines within that description, but for the most part, the dialogue is all improvised. So, it does all feel very fresh and spontaneous because it is.

So, you know, there’s always things that will just make me laugh. It’s hard to think of just one, but toilet kitchen is one that really sticks out in my head.

With the troubles of the NFL that have gone on in the last two weeks, you almost feel like if you’re a fan of the show like you’re waiting for The League’s commentary on it. Are we going to see something on—that might come up?

Katie Aselton: We definitely will. We don’t leave any stone unturned, and as unfortunate and horrible as all this has been for the NFL, it does give us a lot to work with.

Because it just seemed like even Jenny would have a great stance on this being in a roomful of boys all the time.

Katie Aselton: Yes. I have a lot to say about this and I can’t wait to dig in. I hope I do have the opportunity to say something.

You mentioned gravitating towards comedy a lot, but I really enjoyed you on Revolution.

Katie Aselton: I was the worst war lord. I kept dropping my gun everywhere, but that’s what I mean where it’s like I have turned into a Carol Burnett where I’m just like I can’t—it makes me—I think maybe I just enjoy laughing, but I do love playing drama so much, but I think all I was trying to sort of get to before is I love where we’re sort of at now culturally and socially where all of the stuff that I’m really enjoying on television, it’s all sort of wrapped into one.

The comedy has got drama underlying it and the drama has got comedy and it’s kind of a rad place to be right now and thank God it works for me.

Along those same lines, why do you think The League does so well across the board with men and women and couples and singles? What is it about The League that is so funny you think?

Katie Aselton: I think there’s a lot of fantasy fulfillment. You know, I think Jenny is like the dream wife. To have this wife who she loves fantasy football and she loves to hang out with the guys and she loves to have sex with her husband, that’s kind of what every guy sort of wants. Right? Then for the girls, to have Jenny who totally s— talks with the guys and puts them in their place and is great at fantasy football and as far as the guys’ dynamic they get to talk as much smack to each other as they want to and I think they’ve always got an answer for everything and there is a bit of wish fulfillment in seeing that. Where it’s like that’s the kind of group of friends I want to have. I want to have that sort of life and really we very rarely ever see them at work, so that’s great too. They’re just always hanging out watching football.

Your chemistry with Steve Rannazzisi, who is hilarious, and you guys are just very natural together it feels. Was there ever a sort of awkward beginning phase on the show where you guys were you put into scenarios and stuff that you weren’t comfortable with, but you had to kind of get over?

Katie Aselton: It was never awkward when it was just me and Steve. It was only awkward, and I will add for Steve, only for Steve, when Mark was around, who is my real life husband, Mark Duplass who plays Pete I’m married to in real life, and we’ve been married for a billion years. And so we came onto the show as a couple and I think it was maybe season two, early on in season two, and Steve had to give me a kiss in the middle of a scene and they kept yelling cut afterwards and they’d reset it and we’d do it again and they’d say cut again and then finally Jackie and Jeff pulled Steve aside and they said, “Would you stop kissing her like she is your sister? This is your wife. Kiss her.” He said, “Mark is sitting right there. I can’t kiss this man’s wife in front of him.” We’ve since gotten very comfortable with it and it’s fine, but for a while, it was sort of a funny little hurdle for him.

How did Mark feel about it? Was he just kind of laughing at the uneasiness?

Katie Aselton: Yes. It’s so not even a thing for us. People say that all the time, but when you’re—I don’t know. It’s not a sexual kiss when you’re kissing someone in a scene.

Can you talk about how you choose your roles outside of The League now, if you look specifically for drama. I know you directed the horror movie a couple of years ago. If you’re looking to direct more or how you sort of choose what you want to do.

Katie Aselton: Yes. Honestly, when it comes to directing that all comes down to what story do I really feel like I have to tell and I’ve got a couple of ideas, two very different ideas, one very small and one very big, and I’m not totally dying to direct again right now. Directing, for me, is like having a baby. It’s a lot. It’s very intense and it takes a lot out of you. So, right now, I am looking and seeing what’s out there as an actor, and when it comes to, I mean for me it’s all about playing something different. Revolution was a super fun role for me to play. When on earth do I ever get to play a war lord? That’s crazy and exciting.

I just recently wrapped the Gus Van Sant movie, Sea of Trees, with Matthew McConaughey and that was amazing because I went from being Jenny on The League to a hiatus week going out and playing a college professor with Matthew McConaughey. Amazing. So, that’s sort of the brilliant thing about being an actor. You get to just jump into someone else’s shoes and you just really want to look for roles that are interesting and are exciting or different or excite you in a different way.

It’ll be interesting looking at upcoming TV projects because as we saw with The League, The League has gone on for six years and maybe more, so TV I think I will be way more picky with. You have to look ahead and say, “Is this a character that I want to play if this show goes on for numerous seasons?” When it comes to film or guest stars or what not, it’s fun to just sort of jump into whatever is offered to you especially if you like the people you’re working with.

Were you and Mark cast as a package deal or was one cast before the other?

Katie Aselton: No, we were cast together. When Jackie and Jeff were looking to cast the show, the pilot, they were sort of looking around at all different types of people who do improv. So, they went to the comedy side and that’s where they found Paul and Nick and Steve, and then, they had a conversation with my agent and Mark’s agent and Mark and I had just come out of a film together that had a whole lot of dramatic improvisation and so they took a meeting with us together and by meeting I mean I hosted them for dinner and plied them with a lot of tequila and they were like, “These guys are great.” The next thing I know we were doing a TV show.

Why did they make you not a couple?

Katie Aselton: You know, honestly, we had come as a movie that we had done together we were playing a couple. So, the idea of not playing a couple was really pleasing.

And, you know, they had already really thought of Steve in the role of Kevin and sort of this is where we all just fit in.

And when this started, when the whole thing started, six seasons ago, what was your expectation? Did you think it would go this long?

Katie Aselton: I thought I was going to get fired after the first day. I was prepared to be fired every day for the first two years. I couldn’t believe it kept going, but I’m thrilled. I really feel like we’ve sort of tapped into an interesting slice of the [indiscernible] stint have really found a great audience and the great thing about our audience is that they’re also for the most part sports fans who are loud and loyal and that’s great. Those are the kind of TV fans you really want.

In terms of the type of comedies that FX and FXX are putting out, is a nice counterpoint to what the networks are doing. You now have been on The League for 6 years. How do you feel you guys are offering that other type of comedy that people definitely like, but doesn’t necessarily get recognized, you know, in the landscape of comedies out there, at least in the terms of award season?

Katie Aselton: Yes. It’s okay. I mean I don’t really—I get it, you know. I also think, you know, you look at Modern Family and what their numbers are versus The League and what our numbers are, you know. It’s a broader audience and because of that it’s a broader comedy. Ours is a very specific comedy and we have a very specific audience. Do I feel the need—? I don’t feel the need to be—look, I’m not going to be angry if I get nominated, but I understand that we don’t and I think truthfully it’s sort of a special thing to be a part of something that’s very niche and we get very specific respect because of that, you know. It’s like I’ll take a meeting and an executive will be a huge fan of the show and that’s great and you don’t necessarily get that on a broader show because people always think that they’re the only ones that know the show.

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