Q & A: Maya Rudolph on ‘Up All Night’ and SNL: “It’s like a fun drug”

Maya: "It’s actually more challenging to give a character a real life and longevity"

Former Saturday Night Live star Maya Rudolph has been busy the past couple months. Starring in the massive hit Bridesmaids, raising 3 kids with her partner Paul Thomas Anderson and now, filming her new series, Up All Night.

On the show, Christina Applegate stars as Reagan Brinkley, a successful career woman and, new-mom who is determined not to compromise her career or reputation to the cliches of motherhood. She tries to adjust to life with a baby and returns to work with the support of her stay-at-home husband, Chris (Will Arnett). Rudolph, plays Eva, the “ambitious yet vulnerable” talk show host who constantly tries to throw Reagan off balance.

Maya and series creator Emily Spivey talked to me on a conference call about the show, working on SNL and how the two of them create a character.

Up All Night airs on Wednesdays at 8/7c on NBC

For the full interview, click the audio link above or download it from iTunes

Maya, can you talk about Ava and how she represents people you may have met in the entertainment industry?

Maya Rudolph: I’ve never met anyone like Ava. Ava is a Spivy-Rudolph creation, for sure. And I say it that way because Emily and I have been creating characters together for a really long time — for like 15 years.

So it’s just very much something that is funny to our tiny universe that we find funny. We don’t know if anybody else says, but – I mean, I think that she’s got a lot of – I tried to give her a lot of the presence that a daytime talk show would have.

You know, somebody who’s commanding. And give her some, you know, some of the flavor of what people are doing right now, you know, on all the daytime talk shows.

But no, she’s kind of a – I don’t know. I haven’t met anyone like Ava. And if I had I would definitely remember. She’s an amalgam. She’s probably an amalgam of some people we’ve met but also of our — like you said — our universe of characters. 

And after tackling the challenges of live TV with SNL, what type of challenges does a regular series character present to you?

Maya Rudolph: It’s actually – it actually really is more challenging to give some – give a character a real life and longevity. And when you’re doing sketch comedy, you may only do a character once. And I’ve always found — I think we both found that when it’s – when a sketch and a character became recurring on SNL.

It became more and more difficult. It’s wonderful because you know the character’s world but it also becomes more and more difficult to continue to find, you know, new and fresh things for the character to do.

It’s sort a bit of both, actually. It’s sort of wonderful and difficult at the same time. But it’s actually a kind of a luxury to have a character that you can start from scratch on, and then really create their world, because there’s, I mean, as you see in a lot of shows, I mean once they really build momentum in their second and third seasons you see these characters’ entire worlds come to life.

You know their family members, their significant others, the, you know, their households, their pets — whatever it is, the way that they look at the world that you don’t have time for in a half an hour. You want to say something about that, Emily?

Emily Spivey: Yes, I mean it’s – I mean, you said it. It’s a lot – you are writing a character’s life and so it is more difficult to keep it varied and funny and to discover more and more about the character as you go.

Emily, did this show come from your life or stories you’ve heard?

Emily Spivey: Yes, I mean, the – yes the home stuff especially is – I mean, at least initially was definitely straight out of my baby journal. After my son was born and facing having to go back to work at SNL with a newborn, and just the challenges and the funny situations that came from that.

Where do you think the line is in terms of making her too big versus someone that Christina’s character can still be friends with and tolerate on day-to-day basis?

Emily Spivey: Well, I mean, it’s a fine line. I mean, they’ve known – the characters have known each other for a long time and she is a big personality but she has a lot of heart and they have a lot of love for each other.

So it hasn’t been that hard to balance. And I think Maya has worked really hard to make her come from a real place, you know? So, yes, we’re enjoying it.

Can you talk about balancing your career between working on films and doing television?

Maya Rudolph: Yes, and I’ve had really different experiences in all of them because I think you know, for me the most familiar place is SNL and it’s live variety show. And that really isn’t comparable to anything else.

You know, when I first – the first film I did after I left SNL was Away We Go. And I remember — I’d made films before but think this having been on the show for so long and having it be such a part of my life, I remember feeling like, wow, this is really slow, which it’s so quiet.

You know, you’re used to getting that laugh or you used to have any areas to playing to an audience. And also the exhilaration of performing live, which for me is something that I hope to always keep in my life because I mean Emily and I both started our performing at the Graumann’s Theater here in LA and it’s something that feels like home for me and I feel like I need a fix every once in a while.

Emily Spivey: Oh my God. Well you’re such a creature that was just – it’s almost like you were put on this earth to be on SNL because you’re so good at it. You know, like you have all the skill sets, it’s crazy.

Maya Rudolph: It’s a fun drug. Like it’s action that should be a legal drug it’s that fantastic. Because I’m totally addicted to it more now. That’s why you always called me the, like, we need an Obama to watch Iraq on the show.

So yes, I mean now that’s been really different but one of the main reasons why I knew that I had to do this show was that I’m working with people that I not only have worked with for a long time, but share the same skill sets, which is actually a very rare one.

And I, you know, working on that show for me was kind of like the (outfits) kind of like being the comedy army a little bit. And we were all in it together and it’s the bond, you know, that Emily I will always have and we haven’t even – you know we have an even deeper bond being working together in previous to that.

So it’s nice to know that you’re working with people that sort of know that world too but to be honest I think that I learned something from each experience that I bring to the next one, you know. Because I think that a lot of acting in front of the camera is something that you kind of learn on the job.

You know, it’s not really something that you’re taught and you have to sort of take care of yourself and figure it out for yourself. So each time I work I feel like I bring something with me. You know, I’m the same person and I don’t see any experience is different. I just try to like to learn front the last one.

NBC has this new prime time lineup with a lot of strong women. Do you think there will positive implications for women in entertainment and women in comedy?

Maya Rudolph: I would hope that they’re already in place. But having people say that out loud certainly doesn’t hurt. It’s just kind of surprising to me because if I knew people felt that way I think I would have thrown in the towel a long time ago.

I’d say no. I’ve been doing it blindly thinking that everyone was on board my entire career. So I don’t think positive responses hurt at all but I think that you have to take — at lest you meaning I — have to take them with a grain of salt when I hear stuff like that beaus I feel like well, I’m just going to keep my heed down and, you know, keep doing what I’m doing. because shouldn’t matter because that’s not what I’m doing it for. But if it allows people like me and my friends more work and more jobs it’s great. But I’m not going to lie. It’s surprising to hear the people are really that behind the times.

Maya, when you go about creating this new character, do you two get together in a room and kind of like workshop it? Or do you start off with ideas and add them on? How does that work?

Maya Rudolph: We actually got together in a restaurant to talk about her because I think food is an integral part to creating a character. And we – Emily presented to me, you know, the new idea of where Ava was going and we did kind of throw around some of her backstory. And I think once I was familiar with her from the pilot we, you know, we were sort of – yes I mean she definitely from the beginning said here’s this character that I’m creating and I want your input and we know each others; voices really well and sometimes there the same until we want it to – you know, I think it was important for Emily to bring in.

She knows the way I write, too so we said it was really important for her to hear me say, you know, I want her to have this kind of voice or that or whatever it is so that I think she knows that once I’m familiarly with the character and once know her voice then I can really – then I can actually really bring her to life.

Emily Spivey: Yes it blossoms from there.

Maya Rudolph: Yes and we’re still doing that I think. I think ere still figuring out who she is and it’s been enjoyable because I think that she’s got some really fun layers to play.

Emily Spivey: Yes, and I just really wanted to make sure that she was, you know she was, you know, obviously she’s not the same as Christina but that she’s fit into her life in a nice way and that she actually has some vulnerabilities of her own. I think what people hear about the show their thinking is going to be the polar opposite. And I don’t think you can have a friendship like that. So I think it’s important to have since that’s the cover that you’re going be surprised by.

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