An Interview with You, Me, and the Apocalypse’s Megan Mullally
Take a look at the photo above. Recognize everyone? We didn’t! Megan Mullally, who is pictured in the back left has done an incredible job at disguising herself as her character Leanne, a white supremacist prisoner in NBC’s new hit show: You, Me and the Apocalypse.
You, Me and the Apocalypse is about a crazy bunch of misfits who have just found out that the world is going to end. If you love comedies like we do at Talk Nerdy With Us, we urge you to check it out. You, Me and the Apocalypse airs every Thursday at 8pm/7c on NBC.
How much information were you given about your character before you started filming?
I read the first episodes. They sent me the first two episodes and I thought, why in the hell are they – who started me to this part? Was the first thing I thought. The second thing I thought was it seemed like a really interesting show and the character would certainly be something very different from anything I’ve ever done and be a challenge in that respect. And I always love a challenge. So I decided to do it, but then I didn’t know how it was going to unfold. And everybody that works – everybody involved with that show is pretty great. So as soon as I got to London, I got a little more info about how everything was going to unfold. But I didn’t know beyond the – maybe three or four episodes because they were writing as we went along. It wasn’t completely – I think Ian knew what he wanted. He knew the story he wanted to tell, but the actual scripts were not in hand yet. So we learned as we went. And I’m not in episode six, seven, and eight. So as the show gets along, it gets much more suspenseful and I got very caught up in – I couldn’t really remember, actually, who makes it and who doesn’t. So as I was watching the show – because I watched the UK version. I was on tender hooks, myself.
I need to add that the character being a white supremacist was obviously – gave me some pause in light of all of the horrible racial injustice that we’re faced with around the world, but particularly here in the United States. And I did not feel – it’s part of the character, so in that regard I was okay with it. But I certainly wouldn’t want to – anyone to think that there’s anything funny or comedic about it.
And later in the show I have to handle a gun, which is another thing that I’ve never done and never thought I would be called upon to do. And I was very uncomfortable with that as well. But it is, again, part of the story and it’s part of the character. And so in that respect it was justifiable.
How did you find the voice for this particular character? We know that Karen Walker was higher than usual. Sometimes you alter it per character, how did you find the voice for this one?
The actual voice – well, it’s all kind of a piece, I guess. Like she’s from Tennessee. So I knew that she had to have an accent. But like I said, the character is so different from anything I’ve done. And as it goes along, you’ll see she’s quite a badass. She’s tough and she’s kind of scary. So those aren’t really – like I play a lot of crazy people, and that’s fun. And she’s pretty crazy too, but in a different way and in a more sort of real way. And then she also has another side — the psycho with the heart of gold or whatever.
But that comes out slowly and it’s sort of a one step forward, two steps back. But in terms of the voice and the whole package, I don’t know. I just had to think of – I’ve always wanted to play a character that was tough like that and more of a dude. And so the way she moves, she’s very low to the ground. She’s got like a – her center of gravity is a little bit lower. And so as I said, it was a character that I had to – I couldn’t reach into any kind of bag of tricks for this one. There is nothing about this that bore any relation to any characters that I’ve played before.
So there are certain things that I’ve done like, say, something I’ve been a guest on a half-hour show. There’s certain times where I can be like, that’s character 127B. You know what I’m saying? I’ve done that kind of thing a lot, but this was not that. So I had to build it from the ground up.
Do you have any specific examples of when people have mistaken you for your actual characters?
I’m more of a character actress and I traditionally get tasked in these character roles, although right now I’m doing a movie where I’m playing closer – I’m actually playing a normal person. I don’t know what to do with myself. Mind-bending. But yes, I guess I don’t – I think the secret to my success is reading comprehension, honestly. I don’t mean that as a joke, even though I’m laughing.
I think I just – whatever the character is I just try to be sure I’m telling the right story. So it’s telling the story that the writer is wanting to tell. And so I just go from there and I just use my imagination. I don’t – I never studied acting so I just try to – I’ve read a lot of books. I’ve read a lot of fiction and I learned a lot about characters from that, I think.
But I just go with my instinct and I try to use my imagination. And I try to imagine a person who would do these exact things. And I try to get as close to that as I can. I don’t’ know how else to describe it.
You mentioned this role was interesting to you because it wasn’t already in your “bag of tricks.” How did you prepare for this very different role?
By bag of tricks – I want to go back because I don’t’ know that I have an actual bag of tricks. But I have a – there’s a certain timbre or a pace or a tone of a lot of comedies that I’ve done, including theater – so including some of the plays I’ve done and a lot of the musicals I’ve done. Like Will and Grace was sort of like a musical comedy without the music. And so I’m familiar with that pace and that rhythm and all of that kind of thing. And I’m familiar with being – when I was younger, I was the ingénue.
And then I was a little bit older, I was the sidekick. And then this is something different. She’s still sort of a sidekick, but now that I’m older there’s a difference in weight to it. There’s a difference. It takes on a whole different timbre.
So I guess I really had to start from scratch on this one and I just had to try myself out in a new way as a character who – I don’t know how I’d put it. I’m just so not analytical about it. But I guess I had to find a way to be this woman who – you have to play it – it’s not – the show isn’t a comedy, per se, even though its’ been marketed that way. It’s not. And I didn’t really play it as such. I didn’t ever go from a joke, although she does say some things that are kind of funny. Some – a lot of things that were scripted and some were improvised. There are quite a bit of improvisations just because the character was just very Southern American woman. And the writers were all English.
So I was allowed to take some liberties in that department. So I don’t know. I’m not sure how to answer it exactly because part of – I don’t know. I can just tell you that acting is so dreadful, but I guess part of it is slightly mysterious. So I don’t know. All I know is that it was very different for me and I thought, okay, this is going to go one of two ways.
I wanted to ask you just about the industry in general because this is a show that’s airing in the UK a little ahead of schedule than the US. So I just wanted to see what the experience of working on this project has been like in comparison to strictly an American comedy.
Well, it was very different and it was very much the same. We were shooting in London and South Africa, and all of our crew were from various parts of the UK and just lovely people. And I talked to my makeup artist. (Maggie Vaughn) is a genius. Really, she’s won two Emmys. She won an Emmy for makeup for Downton Abbey and she won an Emmy for hair for Downton Abbey. Quite something. And she and I had collaborated at the beginning by email and phone about the look of the character because that was a huge factor. I’m sort of answering the last question a little bit and then I’ll get to your question because I’m suddenly realizing that the look of the character was a big part of it because I couldn’t – I didn’t want anybody seeing shiny sitcom anything in this character. So we went to work on that.
But it was different in the sense that I was shooting in different countries and – but similar in the – regard to just simply focusing on storytelling and working with some – just working with other actors and working with directors in a certain way. And those kinds of things are universal to a degree. I loved working with Jenna Fisher. Jenna and I had not really – we’d only met once briefly before and fortunately we got along like a house on fire.
And she’s a great actress and it was such an odd couple relationship. There are a lot of odd couples, I’m sure you’ve noticed, in the show. We had a blast working together and I feel like her style and my style are different but we complement each other.
And I also just wanted to add that wrapping my head around playing a white supremacist – it’s not something that you long to do and yet it was the character. So you find a way to sort of embrace it, however reluctantly, because that’s part of the story.
When watching the show, I barely recognized you. How has the response been to seeing your character, Leanne?
I heard early on a lot of people in the UK didn’t know it was me until almost the very end. But I heard very early on that when they first screened at NBC, people were like, where’s Megan? I thought Megan Mullally was in this. Where – when does she come in? And I thought that was pretty funny because if anybody knows me at a network, it’s NBC.
Should that not be Jenna Fischer?
Thanks for letting us know. Correction made!