Fifteen Fun Minutes With The Fun Ellie Kemper, Star of ‘Sex Tape’
Every so often, during a press day that seems endless for everyone involved, something that at least resembles “reality” can occur. It’s an odd thing, really: Because on a day like this, most people involved are seeking something that doesn’t feel manufactured, even though it’s almost impossible to find. Anyway, that’s my overly hyperbolic way of saying, “Talking to Ellie Kemper was a delight.”
Kemper is co-starring in this weekend’s new Jason Segel/Cameron Diaz comedy vehicle, ‘Sex Tape.’ The plot focuses on Segel and Diaz as a married couple who have to collect a plethora of iPads that they had given out as gifts because they accidentally uploaded a personal sex tape to their cloud, which now everyone has access to watch. Kemper and Rob Corddry play another married couple who go along for the ride, and their on-screen chemistry can’t help you from thinking, These two should do more together. Here, the St. Louis native (who counts Jon Hamm as one of her comedy teachers when she was in high school) talks about her failed ‘SNL‘ audition (Renee Zellweger was involved) and her new upcoming network television series in which she plays a former member of a doomsday cult — a comedy from the minds of Robert Carlock and Tina Fey.
You were queen of the VP Ball in St. Louis. That’s amazing.
I don’t know if your reaction was “that’s amazing.”
It was. I’m from St. Louis originally.
Oh! You’re from St. Louis — well, OK, yes. Thank you for that kind reaction. It’s a thing. It’s something.
Well, that’s all I have.
Alright, great talking to you!
While watching ‘Sex Tape,’ I couldn’t help but think that you and Rob Corddry should have your own movie together.
Oh my gosh. Can you pitch that somewhere? He is so funny. I knew him through comedy and UCB stuff, but I had never worked with him before. He’s so funny and it was easy to work with all of them, but especially him.
That’s surprising you two haven’t worked together before.
Yeah, actually. It is a little bit. Right? I don’t know.
You would think that somewhere along the line, you two would have crossed paths on-screen.
Yes. And now we have. So, maybe we can make more of that!
I’d buy a ticket.
You and I are hatching out a plan just perfectly here. I feel like, OK, we have our plan. Let’s go!
The plot is that you and Rob Corddry have to organize St. Louis’ VP Fair.
I am not kidding, I think that could be a great movie. You don’t need to embellish anything, you could just tell the story as it happens.
People are going to love this interview.
Oh, they’re going to be like, “Oh, what happens next?”
I’ve noticed that audiences seem happy when you show up in a movie.
Will you tell studio heads that? Will you just pass that along?
Aren’t you with some right now?
Yes, I guess so. I’ll repeat what you just said.
I feel you have better access to them right now than I do.
Then write about it. Write about it.
Have you noticed that?
I’m going to tell myself this when I’m feeling bad. I don’t know if it’s true across the board, but I’ll take it.
Not to bring up a bad moment, but I guess I am, but you auditioned for ‘SNL,’ but it didn’t work out. What was your audition?
OK, so here’s what happened with that. There was a showcase at Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre and Lorne Michaels was there. And like 10 of us performed or whatever. And that was fun, because it was at home in the theater and it felt like, not just another show, but an exciting show that was still on your home turf.
Was there a regular audience?
Yes, a regular audience. And it was packed and it was great. Maybe Lorne wasn’t even there, but they told us he was there. He was in the shadows.
That’s what he does. I’m sure he was there.
I hope so. So, for my actual audition, I luckily got called back to audition, and I did five characters and two of them had to be impersonations. I am not a natural impersonator. But, my art teacher in high school would say things like, [in a uppity voice], “You can’t draw how you’d like to, but through practice you’ll get better.”
Is that secretly your Jon Hamm impression?
[Laughs] Yes. There are two reveals in that. Yes, that is my Jon Hamm impression and, two, Jon Hamm taught me visual art. So, I did a Miley Cyrus impression, but this was at the time she first started and there were some racy photos of her leaked. So, it wasn’t so much an impression as like the joke that she couldn’t get through an interview without losing some of her clothes accidentally. So, that was my impression.
Well, it got the job done. And the second impression, it was simply Renee Zellweger, which my face kind of looks like hers, we both sort of have big cheeks and smaller eyes. And all that my impression was, as scrunching up my face [laughs]. I mean, I’m not an impersonator. So those were the two impressions, and then I did a French teenager and I did a school teacher who was having a bad day. And I can’t remember what I did for the third one…
The French teenager sounds funny.
It was fun to do. And when you do a French accent, it’s just funny. She was writing a letter to the president, or something. I think when I left the room, I felt like I did a good a job as I could have done and that’s good enough for me. But then I didn’t get on the show.
But things worked out for you.
You go to New York City hoping to do that, so even if it had ended right there, it’s sort of dreamy. Not to be so corny, but it was.
You have your own network television show starting in February, ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.’
Robert Carlock and Tina Fey are the showrunners.
I am a huge fan of ’30 Rock’ and them creating the show is spectacular.
Obviously the world loves Tina Fey, but I’m also a big admirer of Robert Carlock.
I’m so happy you said that … you know, because he wasn’t like an actor on ’30 Rock.’ I’d talk to people I know from the show about lines that I love and they’re like, “Oh, yeah, that’s Carlock. That’s him.” So, with those two minds at the helm, it’s pretty cool. All that I’ve shot so far is the pilot, so I think they’ve been working on writing ever sense then. So, I can’t wait to see. Everything they come up with, we start filming in August.
It sounds like a dark theme, your character used to be in a doomsday cult.
It’s an arguably dark premise, but of course comedy comes from dark things. But, primarily, it’s a show about beginnings and starting over and the resilience of the human spirit. [Laughs] Not to be too broad, but that is sort of what it is — she comes out of these dire circumstances and is given a second chance.
You were on one of the most popular shows of all time with ‘The Office,’ but that was an ensemble. You’re front and center now.
One hundred percent, this is the first lead role I’ve had and, you know what? Luckily — and I’m hoping — I got all of my nerves out of the way during the shooting of the pilot. Also, when we shot it in March, it was 21 degrees and it was so cold the whole time. Now, it will be summer in New York. I would much rather be hot than freezing.
It’s so much better when a New York-based show is actually filmed in New York.
Although, I was younger then, but I always thought ‘Seinfeld’ felt like New York.
OK, good, I’m glad it wasn’t just my youthful eyes. I thought it was shot in New York, I didn’t understand.
There’s a retrospective episode where they pan out from the exterior of Jerry’s apartment to reveal palm trees. So even the exterior apartment shot is in L.A.
Oh, that’s really funny. I don’t know if I would want to see that.
I kind of what to un-see it.
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and GQ. He is the senior editor of ScreenCrush. You can contact him directly on Twitter.