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Kristen Wiig, Quinta Brunson and the Comedy Actress Roundtable

Kristen Wiig, Quinta Brunson and the Comedy Actress Roundtable

“Welcome to The View, ladies!” Michelle Buteau whoops as the comedy actress roundtable veers into more dramatic territory. It was a question about the most transformative performances or periods of their collective careers that has sent this Emmy-worthy sextet — Abbott Elementary’s Quinta Brunson, Saturday Night Live’s Ego Nwodim, Loot’s Maya Rudolph, Palm Royale’s Kristen Wiig, Girls5eva’s Renée Elise Goldsberry and Survival of the Thickest’s Buteau — down a rabbit hole of self-doubt and self-discovery. And though a succession of big belly laughs punctuate the hourlong conversation at The Georgian Hotel in mid-April, the actresses also get serious about their fertility struggles and identity crises.

What is the funniest or strangest feedback you’ve gotten or read about yourself? 

RENÉE ELISE GOLDSBERRY I won an award for being the No. 1 vegetarian …

ALL Ooooh.

GOLDSBERRY … (Whispers) But I’m not a vegetarian. 

KRISTEN WIIG Same! It’s, like, on my [Wikipedia page].

MAYA RUDOLPH Me too! Maybe we look like vegetarians.

GOLDSBERRY I think it was aspirational, trying to bring us in.

RUDOLPH “No. 1 vegetarian.”

Doesn’t that feel good?

MICHELLE BUTEAU That’s a lot of pressure. For me, people are just very surprised that they laughed [at my comedy]. “Surprisingly funny.” “Surprisingly witty.” 

RUDOLPH Isn’t that a delight?

BUTEAU Yeah. I’m surprised you’re surprised. (Laughs.) 

Styled by Rebecca Grice. Gabriela Hearst skirt, top; Jenny Bird jewelry; Charles and Keith shoes.
Hair by Kylee Heath; make up Kelsey Deenihan.

Photographed by Beau Grealy

What is the most transformative role or period of your career, and how did it change the way you were perceived going forward?

BUTEAU It was probably booking my first series regular job on First Wives Club on BET+. I knew I could do the funny, but I had sex scenes in that. As a size 18/20, we don’t get to be sexy. We get to be lucky that someone finds us attractive. That changed how people cast me and how I saw myself, quite frankly. I’m like, “Let’s go, big bitches are beautiful.”

WIIG I did a dance for Sia [“Chandelier,” wearing a leotard] during the Grammys years ago, and I was releasing a relationship — that was the subtext that I had, and I was terrified and I wasn’t wearing a lot of clothes and I felt super vulnerable. And then after it was over, I released this thing, and it was very transformative for me. Something shifted after that.

RUDOLPH I have too many answers. First, I was going to say SNL, but like, “Duh.” Then I was going to say post-SNL. Then I was going to say Bridesmaids. But really, coming back to SNL after I had my daughter was transformative because I gave no more fucks. So, that was different for me because I was wasting a lot of time worrying about what other people thought and doing the right thing and being a good girl and a good student and a good daughter and working hard and it took that [having a baby] for me. 

QUINTA BRUNSON I need to have a baby.

RUDOLPH I will get you pregnant.

EGO NWODIM Get me pregnant, please!

RUDOLPH Just stand next to me. (Laughs.) And listen, the road to motherhood is not for every woman, and it’s also not easy for every woman and sometimes not possible. But that’s what shook it out of me. 

BUTEAU (To Rudolph) Can I just say, I saw your group, Princess, at the Brooklyn Bowl. 

WIIG So good!

BUTEAU Oh yeah, there were strobe lights and you jumped around, and I was like, “Are her eyes closed?” Like, “What in the live-your-joy-in-front-of-all-these-people is happening?” But you love what you do so much that it was transformative for me because I’m like, “You don’t have to do straight-up stand-up. You can do whatever you want onstage.”

BRUNSON I had a similar experience watching Amy Poehler and Tina Fey’s show in Vegas because they were just up there fucking around, and I loved every minute of it. They brought out Rachel Dratch. It was my Super Bowl. I’m with a bunch of other comedy girl nerds, I’m drunk, I’m like, “Let’s go, Rachel!” It was crazy. But it was also inspiring. Like, “OK, we don’t have to be in the trenches forever.” They just represented a freedom to me that I hope to attain someday. Because right now, I’m in the shackles …

RUDOLPH You went straight to shackles. (Laughter.) But when you’re in the middle of it, it feels like it’s going to be like this forever.

BRUNSON Yeah, man!

RUDOLPH And what you picked up on with Amy and Tina’s show is people having fun and appreciating what they’ve got.

WIIG And each other.

RUDOLPH Yeah, and that’s coming for you.

BRUNSON (Exhales loudly.) I’m trying not to get emotional.

Styled by Shannon Stokes. Hyke suit, dress; Dinosaur Designs jewelry; Nicolo Beretta shoes. Hair by Cherish Brooke Hill; make up by Cynthia Alvarez.

Photographed by Beau Grealy

How about you, Ego?

NWODIM I’m like, “Uh, I don’t have a baby.”

RUDOLPH I kind of regret bringing that up because it’s not universal.

NWODIM Oh, I feel like you’re so clear on that. I just want kids.

BUTEAU Aww.

NWODIM (To Wiig and Rudolph) We had a conversation in December, the three of us …

RUDOLPH I remember.

NWODIM They were there, and Kate McKinnon was hosting, and [Rudolph’s] voice has been in my head for weeks now. I’ve been thinking about you saying, “When I stopped giving a fuck is when it started to feel great and truly like play.” Because at SNL, the schedule is so intense that when we have weeks off, I pop out and I’m like, “What just happened to me, and how do I regain my personhood?” The thing that felt so transformative for me is an SNL sketch, “Lisa From Temecula,” which is so fucking fun.

BUTEAU Yesss!

NWODIM People who know me and have listened to me be insane on podcasts, they’re like, “That’s the most ‘her thing’ I’ve seen her do on the show.” And I go, “Five years in!” And some people go, “You should write more things like that.” And I go, “Baby, if you knew how the process went. It don’t work that way.”

RUDOLPH Shhhh. (Laughter.) 

NWODIM But that week, I’m at my wit’s end and I’m like, fuck it, and I got seven hours of sleep on a writing night, which I’d never done. I felt like, “Ooh, this is bad,” but I work really hard and I’m really diligent, and Lorne’s always telling me, “The audience doesn’t care who works the hardest.” I’m like, “Well, that pisses me off!” 

BRUNSON But it’s true.

NWODIM Yes, and so I got a full night’s sleep [instead of staying late at the office], and I go to the table read and they had a real steak delivered to me, and I’m laughing while I’m doing it. I remember being like, “I can’t even get through this at a table read.” And then the night of, it was bumpy at rehearsal, which was so deflating, but then Tom Broecker, our wardrobe guy at SNL, announces in the hallway, “We’re doing ‘Lisa.’ Get dressed for ‘Lisa.’ ” So, I got out there and didn’t have any expectations for how it would go. It was the last sketch of the night, and I was getting to improvise, the thing I love, because the chair wasn’t supposed to fall and it ended up being so fun and liberating. And I could not have planned for it. I just had to play.

Saturday Night Live

Will Heath/NBC/Getty Images

RUDOLPH I get in my way all the time. In your case, it sounds like forcing yourself out of those patterns is what was transformative. And sometimes the most transformative periods are the most painful, or come out of the hardest thing, so I get that.

Michelle, I’ve heard you say that you’re grateful to Netflix for, as you put it, “believing in a bitch because I’ve been tap-dancing for multiple networks for a good while and my knees are tired.”

BUTEAU Accurate.

RUDOLPH I didn’t know you could tap-dance with your knees.

BUTEAU Oh, I’ve been tap-dancing for the patriarchy for a good while. My knees are tired, but fish oil helps.

Says Buteau: “As a size 18/20, we don’t get to be sexy. We get to be lucky that someone finds us attractive. [First Wives Club] changed how people cast me and how I saw myself, quite frankly. I’m like, ‘Let’s go, big bitches are beautiful.’ ” Styled by Annie Caruso. Mara Hoffman dress; Buteau’s own jewelry; Loeffler Randall shoes. Hair by Marcia Hamilton; make up by Kweli Calderon.

Photographed by Beau Grealy

What had the feedback been, and what ultimately changed?

BUTEAU I was constantly trying to be whatever they needed, and then I’d do one for me at the end, and that’s how I always got a callback. But the job would always go to somebody who was well-known or had more followers. But something really shifted when I realized I wanted to have kids and how hard that was. I started doing IVF, and then I was traveling myself in a middle seat for a [screen] chemistry test, and I’d have to get a note from the doctors to bring these needles for the IVF to put them through security.

GOLDSBERRY Oh yes!

BUTEAU Then I’d have to go put progesterone suppositories up my coochie, wash my hands and go shake the casting director’s hand and hope it’s not coming out in my pants. I was so outside of my body trying to make something else work in my life that was so hard, and I wasn’t allowed to say anything because I was still supposed to be a happy clown. When I started booking is when I stopped giving a fuck, because I didn’t have the bandwidth to.

NWODIM Yeah.

BUTEAU I literally had to leave and go cry and then figure out a good waterproof mascara because I was a mess. But the great thing with Netflix is that there’s so many different divisions. I love hosting and acting and stand-up, and I also have a production background because my college professor told me I was too fat to be on camera.

Survival of the Thickest

Vanessa Clifton/Netflix

RUDOLPH “Oh, thank you.”

BUTEAU Yeah, I hope he has a Netflix password. Or he might be dead. But Netflix feels like a really fun home where I can just do a bunch of stuff and have license to do me. And I thought I was doing me, but my body and the universe was like, “No, bitch. Have several seats.” But after five years of IVF and some losses, we welcomed twins via surrogacy, and when I say thankful, I mean I am thankful to be in traffic with these kids. 

Renée, I’ve heard you tell a story where you go back home to see your dad. You go to church with him, and there’s a reverend there. Please take over at any moment. 

GOLDSBERRY Yes, it’s 2005, I was starring in a soap opera and in a Broadway show, The Color Purple, and also had maybe my first and second miscarriage that year.

BRUNSON Oh, my God.

GOLDSBERRY So, I went home to visit my dad. We were at church, and the reverend started saying, “We have a guest.” He’s going down this list, and it’s wonderful: “She did this and she did that.” I’m looking around, like, “Who’s in the house when I’m here?”

BRUNSON Ooh, I love that.

GOLDSBERRY And at the very end, he says, “Ron Goldsberry’s daughter, Renée!” And I’m shocked. He literally said everything I was doing, but I didn’t recognize myself. Because the year I had, I’d had two very painful miscarriages. One was in the second trimester.

WIIG Oh wow.

GOLDSBERRY It was terribly painful. So, I stood up and I was like, “Thank you.” But what I realized is that people don’t do anyone a service in this world by reading these bios that are not representative of who we are. To say, “Renée Elise Goldsberry, she’s a Tony winner and a Grammy winner …” This is how they say these things to introduce you, but it really isn’t who you are. And quite honestly, it’s not the most valuable part of who you are.

“You can be 50 and dream. Don’t let the world tell you that it is absurd to do something new,” says Goldsberry.
Styled by Sarah Slutsky. Melitta Baumeister jacket, bandeau, and pants; Jenny Bird jewelry; Casadei shoes. Hair Takisha Sturdivant; make up Autumn Moultrie.

Photographed by Beau Grealy

RUDOLPH That’s what they want you to be.

GOLDSBERRY What’s most valuable about me are the things that I survived. Like, I’m super excited to hear, “Oh, you guys might want to have kids,” because I’ve got stories and [Buteau’s] got stories. I’m pretty sure you can figure out how to win a Tony, but what you might not know is how you keep going when you are trying to do two things at the same time. You have this many years, you think, to make it in your career, and you have this many minutes to have a baby. How am I going to do this?

BRUNSON Yes!

GOLDSBERRY Well, we got answers. Maybe not answers, but we got experience. I just felt so strongly that we have to do a better job of telling the world who we are.

RUDOLPH I hear myself saying this to my kids, “Sometimes you have to tell people who you are.” I knew in my experience of being an other, forever, that I had to tell people who I was. First, I had to figure out who I was.

GOLDSBERRY I keep figuring it out.

RUDOLPH I was just going to say that. But you have to let people know because people love to make assumptions.

BRUNSON And when people make those assumptions, it strips your humanity from you, which also takes away your ability to be an artist, which is ultimately why all of us are here. I’ve known who I am for a very long time, so it got interesting to be thrust into a spotlight and suddenly people are telling me who I am. I’m like, “You actually don’t know. And thank you for supporting me. But I might do different shit tomorrow and you might not like it. And that’s OK, too. But I do need you to show up and watch Abbott Elementary.” (Laughs.)

Styled by Karla Welch. Rowan Rose dress; Alexis Bittar, Cartier,Jemma Wynne jewelry; Christian Louboutin shoes. Hair by Eduardo Mendez; makeup by Jo Baker.

Photographed by Beau Grealy

Kristen and Maya, you’ve been in Ego’s shoes. What advice would you have found helpful about how to navigate that show?

WIIG I don’t think you can navigate it. That’s how you navigate it. I got the sense of the place when I got there and I felt uncomfortable and I was like, “Oh, that’s the show.” And I was like, the moment I feel like I belong here is when I got to go. So, you have to just embrace that you’re not going to figure it out. And I don’t know if that’s helpful, but it helped me, because it had felt like there was a math problem I wasn’t getting.

NWODIM And I love math.

WIIG Me too.

RUDOLPH You also have such an expectation. It’s something that you’ve been watching. Then, you get there and think it’s going to be something, but expectation usually leads to disappointment.

WIIG Yeah. 

RUDOLPH I think I thought, “Oh, I’m going to be here forever.” And then I didn’t know how to navigate getting out. At the same time, it’s given me a foundation that’s been transformative. You’re learning comedy combat, and you can take that with you anywhere.

Loot

AppleTV+

NWODIM I live for the grind and the discomfort of it all, but then, of course, you want to be pissed about it. (Laughs.) When you speak about expectations, going in as the seventh Black woman in the cast, it was this whole, “What’s that experience going to be like?” I had relatively low expectations for what it was going to be.

GOLDSBERRY Mm-hmm.

NWODIM I was just like, “I don’t know that it’s going to be great.” And then moments where it feels so sweet, the highs feel so high. And then I’m like … 

BUTEAU “I want to feel that drug!”

NWODIM Yeah. And that’s the thing I’ve been talking to myself about. There is such peace in the surrender to the process because it’s not a math equation and that pressure and discomfort you feel is the thing. And Lorne does a good job of hiring people who are …

GOLDSBERRY Junkies?

See Also

NWODIM Yeah! And I like to be like, “I’m not!” But like, “Yes, you are.”

BUTEAU I love this. I love when women, especially women from SNL, get together and have real-ass conversations about what those expectations are like and all the things that happen to you before, during and after. 

GOLDSBERRY It’s like a sorority. I also love how accepting and affirming you are to people that were not in that club. It seems like you go out of your way to be like, “Hey, I see you. I got you.”

RUDOLPH I think it’s because we’re trained to be underdogs. The beautiful movie star comes in and sprinkles us and says, “Hey!” Then, they leave. It’s the nature of the show, the not-ready-for-primetime players. You have this vibe of, “I’m nothing, I’ll make you look good.”

Says Brunson: “If I walk in, they’re like, ‘Tell us about being a Black woman in the industry.’ I’m trying to make the next Willy Wonka, leave me alone.”
Styled by Jessica Paster. Self Portrait dress; Anita Ko jewelry; Christian Louboutin shoes. Hair by Alex Armand; make up by Kasha Lassien.

Photographed by Beau Grealy

Quinta, you said recently that you’d love to adapt The Guest, but you wondered, “Would they let a Black person spearhead a movie where the lead is not Black and the story is not Black?” Are you speaking from personal experience?

BRUNSON It was an assumption. Abbott is what people know me for, which I’m grateful for, but I’m also dealing with what that means. Because I think there’s a sense of responsibility that comes with it and continuing to keep this ship going. And I want to be able to retire my whole cast. I want it to go on for a long time. But The Guest was a book I read and felt like, “I see the vision. I can adapt this.” I don’t usually feel that way with books. I read a lot, but that was one where I said, “Oh man, I have the bug to adapt and to direct.” Again, I don’t really have that bug. People always ask me, but I don’t want to direct Abbott. I’m already doing too much. I just want to do my job.

Jobs, plural.

BRUNSON Yeah, jobs. But The Guest was like, “Oh, I see it.” That book is about a flippant, brain-birded white girl running around the Hamptons. It’s so far from who I am, and I do wonder if it’ll become a struggle to try to make things that aren’t about me. Abbott is inspired by my mom’s story, but I don’t believe that’s what makes it good. It’s a good comedy because it’s a good comedy. So, I hope I don’t have to get caught in the trap of having to be the source material forever. It’s so limiting, and I don’t want to keep excavating my soul to make things. And it’s not an expectation for white people, white men — but for a lot of Black women, they’re like, “Give us your insides.”

RUDOLPH Yeah!

BRUNSON I don’t want to do that anymore. If I want to make a show about a dinosaur, I want to be able to make a show about a dinosaur. And not a Black dinosaur, just a regular-ass dinosaur.

NWODIM I had a manager say, “Oh, your mom’s story is so incredible. We’re going to make a TV show out of that.” I was like, “That’s a drama, and I don’t want to do that drama.” And I wouldn’t want to do that to my mother. But it’s such a fascinating instinct, once you’ve heard a bit about me, you’re like, “We’re going to make that a show.” It’s not for consumption.

BRUNSON Exactly. I’d really love to eventually make things that have nothing to do with me. 

BUTEAU Trust me, I know. And I don’t want to keep bringing it back to size, but it’s such a privilege to be a plus-size woman writing stories about my New York with nonbinary people and trans people. But, there is a thing where I shouldn’t have to have a meeting about code-switching and have explain to you why this Black woman who’s 53 is a millionaire and a boss but she also says the N-word and she’s bisexual and she’s a lot of other things that you probably can’t understand, but don’t worry because those people do exist. Just explaining that to people is crazy.

RUDOLPH Yeah.

BRUNSON I’ll sit there and watch Dune, and I’m like, “What is the Dune of, like, Maya Rudolph’s dreams?” I think we’re missing out on a lot of fun sci-fi stuff because if I walk in, they’re like, “Tell us about being a Black woman in the industry.” I’m trying to make the next Willy Wonka, leave me alone. 

Abbott Elementary

Gilles Mingasson/Disney

What is everybody’s Wonka? The thing you’d love to do if only you were asked?

NWODIM I want to be in a heist movie. 

BRUNSON OK, this is going to sound dumb, but I know about Bluey because of my nieces and nephews …

WIIG I love Bluey!

BUTEAU Oh, it’s so nice to put on before you go to bed.

RUDOLPH And the colors are made for dogs.

BRUNSON OK, you guys get it. My dream is to make a Bluey, something so silly and unrelated to me, and I get to hide in the shadows. 

GOLDSBERRY I’ve done Marvel [She-Hulk], but I want a superpower this time.

Palm Royale

AppleTV+

How about you, Kristen?

WIIG I’m so grateful to be here listening to you all, I can’t even tell you. And what you all said about going out of that comfort zone, I really needed to hear that because I’ve been trying to write something for a while, and I kind of put it away. It’s not really a comedy, and I think I’ve been practicing how I talk to people about it in a defensive way. “It’s not a comedy, but just listen, it might be cool.”

BUTEAU Yeah!

WIIG And because I’m writing it on my own, and all of the stuff that I’ve written has been comedy and people expect that from me, I’m already putting that thing in front of me of like, “Are you sure you want to do this? You don’t really know how to do this.” I’ve been stuck with it for months, and it’s been driving me crazy. So, I believe in these little moments in the universe where people connect with you. And it just feels like I’m hearing that voice of, “I have to put it out there and not worry about that stuff.” Because the categorizing of things that we’ve all done, I didn’t realize was such a blanket.

RUDOLPH Oh yeah.

WIIG Even [when Brunson] said Dune, I was like, “That’s literally visually this thing in my head.” It might be a little comedic, but … I don’t even know how to put it into words. And just the self-talk around, “How do I explain it to people?” Because I’ve been in a screening where I do something dramatic and people laugh. And I’m like (pantomimes a dagger to the heart), “No, it wasn’t supposed to be funny!”

GIRLS5EVA

Emily V. Aragones/Netflix

Ending on a lighter note. You’ve had a long day at work, you get home, maybe you pour yourself a glass of wine. What do you turn on on your TV? 

WIIG Bravo. I’m not ashamed.

BUTEAU Yeah, Bravo, but also Bluey and Numberblocks and Cocomelon.

BRUNSON Bob’s Burgers.

GOLDSBERRY It’s so pathetic that I’m saying this, but I turn on Girls5eva.

BRUNSON Yesss!

GOLDSBERRY I do. Because I didn’t realize until season three that it exists for me. I have been doing the show all this time, and still I come home and I question my ability to dream this ambitiously at my age. I mean, I’m doing the show about these women who are absurdly dreaming about getting back to being pop music stars 20 years later. And it just crossed my mind a couple of weeks ago, “Oh my God, that is there so that I remember. I’m allowed to still dream.”

BRUNSON Mm-hmm.

GOLDSBERRY So, I don’t turn it on to be like, “Oh my God, you’re on TV.” I turn it on to be like, “No, you’re allowed to dream. You can be 50 and dream. Don’t let the world tell you that it is absurd to do something new.”

RUDOLPH OK, I want to do Broadway. I mean, I’m scared, so it’ll be a while.

GOLDSBERRY Oh, if you have the bravery to say out loud that you want to do it, it’s done.

BRUNSON And we’ll be there, opening night. 

This story first appeared in the May 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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