BWW Interview: BARBECUE's Arden Myrin Gets Grilled!
A cast member of MADtv from 2005 to 2009, Myrin has continued to work in TV sketch comedy with guest appearances on Inside Amy Schumer, Key & Peele and Michael & Michael Have Issues. She's also become a late-night fixture, first with her frequent participation in Chelsea Handler's comedy roundtable on Chelsea Lately and more recently as a repeat "contestant" on Comedy Central's @midnight.
Myrin's film credits include Kinsey, What Women Want, Christmas With the Kranks, Evan Almighty, In & Out and the 2012 screen adaptation of Leslye Headland's play Bachelorette. All this movie and television work, however, has mostly kept Myrin away from New York and the stage. Her last theater role was in Westport Country Playhouse's 2003 production of Hay Fever, directed by Darko Tresnjak. The previous year she'd been in David Mamet's Boston Marriage at the Public--Myrin's last New York stage appearance prior to Barbecue.
Currently in previews, Barbecue features Becky Ann Baker, Kim Wayans and Samantha Soule leading a cast of 10, under the direction of Kent Gash. It's scheduled to open Oct. 8 and run through Nov. 1. Myrin spoke with BroadwayWorld--as much as she could, anyway--about the surprise-packed play, her many other roles and the rise of funny women.
It's been a while since we've seen you off-Broadway. Have you wanted to do more theater?
Yes. I've auditioned, and I've gotten close a few times on some other plays at the Public. I couldn't have been more excited to book this. New York is my favorite city. I grew up on the East Coast. This was always the dream.
Do you have an apartment here?
I don't have a home in New York. I'm staying with a family member. I never meant to move to L.A., but I booked a sitcom [Working with Fred Savage] that moved me out there, and then, thankfully, I kept working there. But I'd always pictured my career in New York. When MADtv ended, I just took a chance and moved back to New York in 2009, but I found that I kept working in L.A. I'd be paying for a bed here and never be here. I sold a pilot that my friend and I wrote and I was in and she was directing. We got to go film it, and my lease ran out while we were waiting to hear [in L.A. if the show would be picked up], and I had to make a choice. So we moved back to L.A., but I think I'd always rather be stationed here. I'll use any excuse to be in New York.
You've done a lot of different things but have really become a go-to comedienne in Hollywood. Is that what you'd envisioned for your career when you were younger?
I'm kind of living what I wanted to do. I grew up in this tiny town in Rhode Island, and we didn't have cable. We had three TV stations, and one of them would play old movies. That's what I would watch, and I always wanted to be, like, Myrna Loy in The Thin Man. I had an older brother who would show me things [on TV]. I wanted to be like a Madeline Kahn or Teri Garr, Gilda Radner--people who were good comedic actresses, there was a charm and warmth and a special sparkle.
This has emerged as the year--or era--of women in comedy, with Inside Amy Schumer's recent Emmy win just the latest headline-grabber. As a woman in comedy, how do you view this "phenomenon"?
To me, it's about time. There have always been funny women; I'm glad that people now realize that we can play just as hard as the boys can play. My big dream has always been to write and create my own things. I've sold four pilots that I've written for me to be in. What you see with Lena Dunham and Tina Fey and Kristen Wiig, who cowrote Bridesmaids, and Amy and Chelsea and even the Broad City girls, it's people taking ownership of their voice. There's sort of a lack of apology, and a joyfulness, and I couldn't be happier to be a woman in comedy. I feel like there's a lot of support amongst each other, and everyone has their own unique flavor.
Your character in Barbecue, Marie, is a bit of a ditz, and you've played other ditzy, kooky characters. How close is that to you in real life?
There's that side of me, but I don't think you can actually be like that 24/7. It's true to a certain extent, but there's certainly many of the hours of the day that I'm much quieter. My friend calls me the hummingbird--I get so excited, and then I need to go hole up and, like, take a nap. I think I'm a sharp cookie, but I do enjoy [those roles]. Looking at, like, Judy Holliday in Born Yesterday or Jennifer Tilly's character in Bullets Over Broadway, to play a ditzy blonde, you have to play it at the top of your intelligence, at the top of your wits. And I have such affection for these characters.
Have you had to fight being stereotyped as kooky/ditzy/perky?
As a character actor you go out for all different kinds of things. I feel like I've been playing more and more tough roles. I enjoy playing against type. I think I have an inner strength. When I went in for Orange Is the New Black, it was a serious role. It was written as Dr. Gregory Brooks, an elderly male prison doctor. I went in, and it was basically me and, like, Mickey Rooney types in the waiting room. I was the only female. I've had that happen a few times, where I made a strong choice--I had nothing to lose, so I just sort of went for it. I played a part in a movie, Wrong Cops, of like, the toughest cop on the force. Hung was sort of a tougher role. It wasn't anything I ever thought I'd get. I had to audition a bunch of times. I played a banker that worked with Michaela Watkins. They [the main characters] needed a bank loan to start a sex business, and I was the one who was intrigued, she was more prim. We went out and got drunk, we got into a fight... It's fun when you have something to dig your teeth into.
What's the most dramatic role you've played?
Let me think. I was in Kinsey. John Krasinski and I were, like, the most sexually broken couple in America. We were, like, the final couple that made Kinsey realize that America needed to be educated.
With all your guest appearances on TV shows, do any stand out as favorites of yours?
I loved doing Party Down, the show on Starz with Lizzy Caplan and Adam Scott. I've booked quite a few jobs where I have to burst into tears. I like doing a comedy that's trying to play it as authentically as possible...to not wink at the camera that you're acting. I love flawed characters. That was my favorite guest spot, I guess.
I did an episode of the new Mr. Show with Bob Odenkirk and David Cross. The title is different now--it's called With Bob and David. That was really fun to do a sketch with them, I'm such a fan of both of them. I'm excited to see that.
And I really did enjoy that movie Wrong Cops, the one I did with Steve Little of Eastbound & Down and Marilyn Manson. It's a weird little movie, but it was really fun to get to play this tough part, against type.
How'd you find out about Barbecue?
I have great agents who've known very much that I've wanted to do another play in New York. I was working in L.A. and I got this script. From, like, page 2 I was in. I hadn't even gotten to the part that was my part yet. Robert is such a great writer, and the language--I'd never read anything like it. It was exciting and funny and true. It's not a true story, but the characters are fully realized. It just pops off the page. So I had to put myself on tape for the audition for the first round, and when I got a callback, I flew myself in and auditioned for Robert and Kent and Oskar [Eustis, the Public's artistic director]. I was thrilled when I booked it.
I know you're not supposed to reveal much about what happens in the play, so why don't you just talk about working on it in general?
We did a few days of sitting around the table talking about the text and talking to Robert about--some of these are inspired by real people--just trying to get an essence of the character that we play. Kent is a very generous director; he gives you room to play and experiment and try things. So it's been a very playful process, a lot of laughing. With me and Becky Ann Baker and Connie Shulman and Paul [Niebanck], the more we got to know each other, the more it truly felt like a family--and I think that comes through [to the audience]. That was a huge part of the process, being around them, taking chances. It was a very warm room where you felt like you could experiment.
Without giving anything away, what would you tell people the play is about?
I'd say...it's about a family that's doing an intervention in a public park, and things may or may not go awry. I'd also want to make sure people know that it's provocative but it's also very funny. I think it's a fun, thrilling, entertaining, fascinating play, and you've never seen anything like it.
We've got to talk about your costumes! First, there's that supertight leopard-print micro-micro-minidress...
Oh my god. It's fun to play a character that's so unapologetic. There's been a few moments on stage where I've realized that my dress has completely ridden up. Me as an actress, as Arden--I grew up in a modest New England town wearing my brother's hand-me-downs, corduroys and button-down flannels--part of me wants to cover myself. But then I realize that Marie doesn't care. There's a complete lack of shame, she thinks she's killing it, and she would never pull it down. So there's this kind of freedom to just let it all hang out there.
And when you have that aquamarine gown on, with Marie's fire-engine red hair, has anyone told you you look like Ariel in The Little Mermaid?
Yes, I've heard that. [Laughs] It's like a train-wreck version of Ariel, that's sort of what we were going for--like, Ariel who tried to go marry a prince in Dubai.
You're credited as the dance captain for Barbecue, and I could tell that even with those deliberately ridiculous moves you know what you're doing. Do you have dance training? Did you want to be in musicals?
I did want to do musicals. I wanted to be Audrey in Little Shop more than anything. I have no dance training, and I love to dance. It is my absolute No. 1 favorite thing to do in the whole wide world. I am a fearless dancer. My secret fantasy is to be one of Beyoncé's backup dancers--like, the other girls in the "Single Ladies" video. When there is a choreographer, I take it very seriously and I will practice and learn 'cause I love it.
It's funny, as an actor you have to have a reel, sort of as a calling card. I always use the same editor to update it, and he just can't believe--somehow I always seem to sneak it [dancing] into so many things that we always seem to end with a dance montage. I can't help myself, it just comes out. It's fun to have actual moves now.
When did you first want to be a performer?
I think when I flew out of the womb. First I wanted to be in a Busby Berkeley musical or, like, a cigarette girl at the Rainbow Room, because the movies I was watching all took place from the '30s to the late '50s. Or Esther Williams--I wanted to be in the pool with her. I remember when I was 7 sitting my mother down and telling her that she was holding my career back by living in a farm town and that we needed to move to New York or L.A. so I could get an agent. Thankfully she just laughed it off. But she always encouraged me. I was always writing plays and putting on plays.
Did you come to New York and see shows while you were growing up?
I did. My parents lived here before they moved to the country. When they decided to have kids, they moved to a very rural, small town. My mom wanted us to know how to entertain ourselves and not be overprogrammed. But she would bring us down to the city twice a year from the time I was 4 or 5. I remember getting Eloise the book when I was the same age as Eloise. The first play I saw was Annie--I think I was 5--and I was a little redheaded child, so seeing a kid up there, it blew my mind. We'd see Peter Pan, The Pirates of Penzance, 42nd Street, Little Shop of Horrors, I remember watching the Tonys every year... This was all I ever wanted to do. I couldn't wait till I was old enough to be allowed to move to the city.
Is your brother a performer?
He's not. He lives in Brooklyn and he is a computer genius who I adore who has a software company. He's so funny, I always feel like he could have been a very good comedy writer. But he was blessed with many gifts.
His name is Alarik. What's the story behind these unusual first names?
I'm named after my mother's best friend in high school. She grew up in Queens, they went to Bayside High together. My brother's is a family name. Yeah, growing up as Arden and Alarik in a playground filled with Jasons and Stacys, we were the odd ducks. We were a family with, like, iceberg lettuce and Catalina dressing--we weren't fancy, but we have fancy names.
Your husband, Dan Martin, is in comedy. What does he do?
He's writing web series. He works at Maker Studios, which is sort of the NBC of YouTube; Disney owns it.
Do you ever collaborate on work?
No. We will come to each other when we get stuck. We've been married seven years, but we've been together 13 years, and I think part of it is we don't mix that but we support each other. And I never talk about him on stage [doing stand-up] because I feel like he's so patient with me I just give him privacy, 'cause he's kind of shy. I'm married to the most patient man on Earth.
Photos of Arden, from top: with Constance Shulman (left) in Barbecue; in her headshot; with Amy Schumer in the silent-movie parody "A Porn Star Is Born" on the first season of Inside Amy Schumer; with Laverne Cox on Orange Is the New Black; in Barbecue with (from left) Becky Ann Baker, Samantha Soule and Shulman; as real estate agent Ashley Alexander on ABC's Fresh Off the Boat. [Barbecue photos by Joan Marcus; Orange Is the New Black photo by Paul Schiraldi/Paul Schiraldi Photography]