BWWTVWorld Exclusive - Catching Up With SUBURGATORY's Ana Gasteyer
Ana Gasteyer plays Sheila Shay on ABC's hit comedy series SUBURGATORY. The actress is best known for her incomparable work over six seasons on "Saturday Night Live." On stage Gasteyer made her Broadway debut as Columbia in "The Rocky Horror Show." Since then she has earned raves as Elphaba in "Wicked" on Broadway, and originated the role for the Chicago production, earning a Jefferson Award nomination. Other New York theater credits include the Tony-nominated Broadway productions of "The Royal Family," "The Threepenny Opera," Eve Ensler's acclaimed Off-Broadway hit, "The Vagina Monologues," and Manhattan Theatre Club's hit production of "Kimberly Akimbo."
Prior to joining "SNL," Gasteyer honed her comedy skills at "The Groundlings," the famed Los Angeles improv-sketch comedy group. On film she has been seen in "Mean Girls," "The Women," and "What Women Want," Television credits include "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "The Good Wife," " Seinfeld" (the "Soup Nazi" episode), as well as guest hosting "The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn," "Live with Regis" and "The Rosie O'Donnell Show."
The talented actress spoke with us about what's in store for her character on the show's second season and her future plans to return to Broadway.
When you were first cast in the role of Sheila Shay you described her as a 'Gladys Kravitz type', who I always think of as the quintessential nosy neighbor. Do you think Sheila has evolved since that initial characterization?
Yes, definitely. I think Emily [Kapnek] always had a fully conceived idea of Sheila as this alpha, Martha Stewart mom and I think she gave a lot of thought to the conflict in their family, as far as the adoration she has for her son and her sort of disdain for her daughter, who is in some ways very similar to her and in some ways very, very, very, different. And she's really explored some of the conflicts that both the similarities and the differences have created. So I think she always had sort of the germ of those ideas early on. But I think Sheila was initially there to function as an adversary for George as a newcomer. And now that George is no longer a newcomer, he's technically a year in, he's now more entrenched in life in the suburbs and our family dynamic has become sort of its own bizarre world. And also honestly, the addition of Chris Parnell, which I think was our third episode last year, as my husband just allowed for a ton of marital evaluation too, which is really fun. There are a lot of divorced families in our little world, or sort of fractured families, and the Shays are sort of solid as a rock and probably in some ways, they're oddly the most normal/most dysfunctional of the whole gang.
It's incredible. We actually date all the way back to The Groundlings. We were students there together and we were in the performing companies there together. He's one of my absolute favorite performers. Actually, it's funny because way back in the day, he had gone to North Carolina School of the Arts for college and was just a really well-trained actor, and I always loved performing with him at The Groundlings because even as an improvisor, he had a lot of skills and training to call upon. So he's always really fun because he takes like the dancing really seriously and he takes the stage combat really seriously - he takes his comedy really seriously. And he's always very precise. And we just have an amazing shorthand because I trust him so much. And by now, I feel that way with everybody on my show, but that trust takes a while to develop and we had it instantly. And honestly, I think it really impacted the writing for our marriage a lot, our on-screen marriage I should say, because the immediacy of our dynamic was evident to the writers right away.
What's in store for the Shay family this coming season?
The Shay's have a really bumpy fall ahead because Ryan's adoption has been this revelation to Lisa and Lisa has had no power in this family ever. So basically we deal with every family member's secret keeping and then the fall out when he finally does find out, it's devastating. It's my favorite episode we've filmed!
I read you often watch the show with your real 10-year-old daughter. Does she have an opinion about your parenting skills on the show?
She says that she's glad I'm not as mean as Sheila Shay. (laughing) And there are times when she has to call me out as calling a 'Sheila Shay' move. Like I am pretty aggressive with the label maker at home, and so I have to be reminded to dial it back a little bit.
I know you're so busy filming the show, but any future plans to return to the Broadway stage?
That's certainly the big plan. It's really, I guess, my second home - I love it. I'm still a New Yorker, you know, and that's part of the long-term strategy. I hope to spend a lot of time on the show and then be able to get back there and dive back in. I really miss it. I miss singing everyday, although we're actually singing a little more this year on the show, which is kind of interesting. I was coaching yesterday for a musical number that's going to be in an upcoming episode. So it definitely stirs my B'Way feelings. I mean I'm lucky enough that I often get to do that. I have a one-woman cabaret that I do here and there, and concert appearances, so I do get opportunities to keep that part of myself a little bit alive.
Do you have a preference for live theater versus TV or are there things you love about both?
I definitely love things about both. You know it's interesting because half hour comedies are so fast. I mean they really couldn't be more different in some ways because the pace is so fast. I think the diligence is there, because you work really hard and you work really long hours, and it all moves really quickly. We shoot sometimes five scenes in a day. But then it's gone. And you can't fix it, you can't go back, you can't make it better. On the other hand, what's been really fun about this particular job is that unlike Saturday Night Live, we're playing the same characters week in and week out, just different situations. But I really love the community of live theater and I really love the routine in addition, obviously, to the visceral experience of it, and to the integrity of it. And I also miss being in New York all the time.
Since you have a writing background from SNL, do the writers ask for your input on your character's storyline?
They don't ask for input, and honestly I wouldn't want to give it because it's an incredibly well written show. I feel really lucky that way because I rarely quibble with even like syntax or anything. But that said, they're really cool about our background and they're super open to, 'hey let's try a fun take and if you want to improvise great' and they will use some of that if they like it and if it suits them. I don't feel like a playwright's pressure to say the words exactly and the same all the time. I mean I respect Emily and I usually do stick to what she says and it's usually exactly what I would want for the character. It's a nice situation because I feel that honestly, between the relationship I have with the other actors and the writers there's a lot of trust on our set and that makes the work easier.
Well best of luck with the upcoming season. I'm really looking forward to it.
I hope you enjoy it. It's a really fun show to do so I hope people enjoy watching it as much as we enjoy doing it!
The second season of SUBURGATORY premieres WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 17 (9:31-10:00 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network. In the premiere episode titled "Homecoming," when Tessa returns to Chatswin after spending the summer in NYC with her grandmother, her burgeoning interest in her mom leaves George feeling threatened. In an effort to feel more connected to her mom's musical side, Tessa takes up the guitar and signs up to sing in the Fall Follies. Meanwhile, Noah decides hewants Carmen to come back and work for him, and he gets into an all out competition with Dallas over her.
"Suburgatory" stars Jeremy Sisto as George Altman, JANE LEVY as Tessa Altman, Carly Chaikin as Dalia Royce, Rex Lee as Mr. Wolfe, Allie Grant as Lisa Shay, Alan Tudyk as Noah Werner, Chris Parnell as Fred Shay, Ana Gasteyer as Sheila Shay and Cheryl Hines as Dallas Royce.
Guest starring in "Homecoming" are Maestro Harrell as Malik, Ryan Shay as Parker Young, Miriam Flynn as Helen, Jack Walsh as Marty, Bunnie Rivera as Carmen, Mark Sande as train conductor, Patrick Cox as security guard, Chase Fein as waiter, Sam Lerner as Evan, Evan Arnold as Chef Alan, Joshua Erenberg as A.J., Sarah Kapp as girl, Todd Sherry as Tom and Alex Boling as Alex.
Emily Kapnek ("Hung") writes and executive-produces this bitingly ironic single-camera comedy, which is produced by Warner Bros. Television.
For more on SUBURGATORY please visit: www.abc.com/shows/suburgatory
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Twitter @SurburgatoryABC, #Suburgatory