When I was in LA for the Away We Go junket I was able to interview Maya Rudolph about the film, SNL and a couple of other things.
Women & Hollywood: What was it about this script that spoke to you?
Maya Rudolph: I fell in love with these two people instantly. I really loved them. I loved the simplicity of the description of their relationship. That it really wasn’t trying to say anything other than the way they loved each other. It was written in a way that was very familiar because it was written by people familiar to each other.
W&H: You mean the writers Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida?
MR: Yes, they are smart, exceptional writers and funny too. I loved the humor in their relationship. And for me, the other side was that I had just had a baby so I remember the onslaught of extraneous and unsolicited advice where everyone is telling you what to do, how to do it, what you need to buy and how to apply it. Telling you oh my god you’re huge and touching you. It was so overwhelming.
W&H: Verona is a unique character, a partner to Burt and so well written. We don’t see women characters like her too frequently. Any opinions as to why women are ignored and underwritten in mainstream Hollywood films?
MR: I don’t know why that’s either untapped or overlooked or not done well because there is really no excuse for it. This is a perfect example of it. It’s not as if women don’t exist. I will say that in general there is a lot of crap in the world. It wasn’t until I was thrown in the water on day 1 of Saturday Night Live where they said you write for yourself. That’s what everyone does. I learned the enormous power of writing for yourself, especially now that people seem to be receptive to the fact that women can write.
W&H: I read an account that said that only 36 out of the 116 cast members on SNL have been women and only 20 have survived into their second season. The guys seem to break out: Adam Sandler, Eddie Murphy, John Belushi among many others. The women don’t seem to break out in the same way. Where are Cheri Oteri, Jan Hooks, Ellen Cleghorne? Has your experience been different?
MR: It has. When I arrived at SNL that seemed to be the story but it started getting old because things changed. Without a doubt in sketch comedy there are fewer women than men. There are fewer women at the Groundlings today even though there are a lot more women than when I started.
I don’t know if comedy is a male sport. I always wondered that. There were always less of us than them no question. As far as the group of women I started with at SNL, I came into an amazing powerhouse of women on that show and I feel like everything was macheteed out of the way for me and the girls I was there with.
W&H: I read that Gilda Radner inspired you.
MR: I just fell in love with her. She had some sort of special quality. Something in her spirit was really sweet and lovable and endearing and I found it incredibly funny. She just really inspired me. As a kid I didn’t know anything about her. I felt very drawn to her. She has incredible warmth and it looked like the people who were in scenes with her genuinely liked her. I just responded to that. You just gravitate towards someone’s sense of humor; you never know why. It’s all a matter of personal taste. I found her take on stuff really specific, particular, sweet and funny.
W&H: What was it like to play Michelle Obama?
MR: I really didn’t do anything. They just threw it at me and I was happy to be a part of the election year shows.
W&H: It’s so amazing what happened on SNL last fall with the political shows. What was it like to be involved in it?
MR: I was at home, not even on the show anymore and heard rumblings even before the season started about Fred (Armisen) playing Obama and that I was going to play Michelle. I was like all right let me know when that happens. It was such an exciting time in our country and I was totally happy to be involved. I love that place (SNL) so much. They had this crazy run of doing shows on Thursday and Saturday. Everyone was crazy exhausted but were putting on these unbelievably great shows. That energy is so infectious.
W&H: What are your thoughts on why we don’t see more films with African American women leads.
MR: It’s certainly not for me to answer because I have nothing to do with why the world is as fucked up as it is. It has less to do with TV and movies and more to do with race and history and culture. It’s obviously a reflection of the world we live in. Although I still can’t believe we have a president who is mixed like me. It’s one thing that we have a black president but for me it’s even crazier because he’s mixed. I feel like I come from a smaller off shoot of black people because I am mixed. People say I’m African American but that doesn’t include the other half of me.
I can’t believe I’m living in a time where I feel proud of my president where I feel like things are actually positive and people feel good about where our country can be.
I don’t know the answer to your question and I don’t know if there is one. I plan to keep doing what I’m doing because race is just not a part of the way I look at the world and the way I live my life. I think that was a minor, key thing in the way that Dave and Vendela wrote the script. Verona is mixed and Burt is white but nobody talks about it. That felt realistic to me in my day to day life. People expect race to be an issue and I was raised in a house where it was never as issue. My parents were interested in having us feel like we were normal whatever that is.