It’s not always easy to enjoy a series in which every character is reprehensible, but It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia [FX, Thursdays, 10/9C] frequently succeeds in making its audience do just that. One of the reasons it can do that is the presence of Kaitlin Olson as Deandra ‘Sweet Dee’ Reynolds.
Earlier this week I had the opportunity to take part in a teleconference call with the delightful Ms. Olson, who talked about the show and how she manages to keep Dee fresh.
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Kaitlin Olson: Well the baby boom is just happening right now. So far on set, it’s only been my baby. I think next year we might have a little nursery going and it’s all boys so we’re all screwed.
My daughter told me I had to ask this question, any injuries this season for you personally?
Olson: Tell you daughter—come on. No, besides some breast-feeding issues, I think I was pretty good this season. I didn’t have a chance to do anything exciting this year because I was just running around after a baby.
So, it seems like there’s a little bit more physical comedy this year than in previous years. One, do you feel like that’s an accurate representation of reality or is it just that I don’t remember the other ones? And two, if that’s the case, what’s driving that?
Olson: I don’t know. I seem to remember, only because I’m sort of updating my reel at this point, I’m noticing all of the ridiculous physical things I’ve been doing over the past seven seasons. Like slamming my head into a car door and all that stuff, but—
Well that doesn’t count.
Olson: That doesn’t count? That was mean, sir.
No, I’m kidding. I’m kidding.
Olson: That better count! That hurt! I needed a lot of chiropractic after that. But I definitely think that’s one thing that really makes us laugh and that we all—it’s just kind of our sense of humor like big, physical stuff. So it doesn’t surprise me that there’s more and more of it, like the inflatable dancing guy.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but everyone’s always making fun of me in real life, like how long my limbs are and things like that, so all of that stuff kind of gets translated into the show. So I can see that there’s definitely a lot more physical stuff. They also think it’s really funny when I hurt myself. Anytime I’m getting hurt or you’re seeing my body do ridiculous things they’re laughing, and so they write more of it.
I wanted to ask you about some of the guest start this season. They’ve had Jon Polito and Lance Reddick in that great “Frank’s Brother” episode. Can you talk about some of the other guest stars that we’re going to see this season, maybe tease us a little bit about some really truly crazy episodes coming up?
Olson: I think that, unless I’m forgetting someone, which would be terrible, those are the big ones that I sort of have in my memory from this season. That and Alanna Ubach—I might be getting her last name incorrect—from “Frank’s Pretty Woman” episode. She was really amazing. That was one of my favorites for sure. She was really fun to have. And “Frank’s Brother” was really amazing as well.
I don’t know that we have any other big ones. Kristy, am I forgetting anybody?
Kristy Silvernail [FX]: Not that I can think of.
Olson: I think those are actually the big ones. We had a really top-heavy guest star season so I think it might just be us from here on out. I don’t know that I can tease you with anyone other than boring Rob and Charlie and Glenn.
Did the episode with the baby and the funeral—?
Olson: That was not my baby.
I know that it wasn’t your baby, but it was a good …—
Olson: No, but the picture, everyone keeps asking if that picture was my baby. I was like, ‘Absolutely not! That’s horrifying! God, no!’
Is there no dark corner that you guys won’t go to?
Olson: I don’t think we’ve found it yet, for sure. If there is one, we are still looking for it. I think there’s a way to approach any subject that can either make it intolerable or that can make it funny. So we certainly weren’t saying that we think that babies dying are funny, but we spun it so that it does the same classic thing that our characters always do, which is make it about ourselves and do whatever we need to do to get ahead. And that’s funny to us.
So I guess, no. I mean the good news is no baby actually died, right, because that wouldn’t be funny. That would cross a line.
I wanted to ask you about the character of ‘Sweet Dee.’ Can you tell us any kind of evolving she did from when she was conceived and you were cast up until how she is today?
Olson: Definitely. I think when I came on board we didn’t really know each other that well and so those guys were writing a show for themselves and they wanted a female character. They definitely wanted to bring in somebody who was going to be able to hold her own, the character, in terms of being a part of the Gang, but they didn’t really—and they said to me, ‘Like we don’t really know how to write for a woman.’
And I said, ‘Well, please don’t think about it in terms of writing for a woman because what you’re writing for yourselves is really funny and that’s what I want to do. So just write what you think is funny and I’ll bring the female aspect to it.’
So in the first few episodes, I think we were kind of finding our groove. I was just sort of the female sidekick and the one that was a little bit more the voice of reason, and they were doing things that were insane. And then the more they got to know me personally and sort of the different sensibilities that I had and the different comedic stuff that I liked to do, they started writing more for me and giving me bigger story lines and more ridiculous characteristics.
That was more fun for me and I was having more fun doing it. So I think I was doing a better job of it. It sort of has evolved in that way so now I feel like we’re all pretty equal and everyone has their own—every character has their own selfish qualities, but I think they’re all just as ridiculous, which is so much more fun to play than the voice of reason or ‘the girl.’ You know what I mean? And then we just brought Frank on and he sort of topped it all off.
So I think I consider us a little bit more equal now and all the characters are more defined. Whereas in the very beginning, I think that they hadn’t quite figured out who this girl was and how to incorporate her into The Gang. Does that answer your question?
Yes, very much, you definitely did. One of my favorite points of humor is when they just totally dismiss you while you’re standing there.
Olson: I love it. It’s hilarious. One thing I loved this season, too, in the Frank’s Little Beauties episode where we’re all standing in the back office. I’m talking about how I used to do pageants, and Frank is saying how ugly I was and ridiculous but I would really try and put on a lot of makeup, and I take that as a compliment.
I just loved that moment of them having me be like, ‘Well thanks, Frank.’ Like for some reason that’s the nicest thing I get out of these people is that I tried hard and put on a lot of makeup or whatever it was. I love moments like that where they’re just completely making fun of me and I either—because normally I think my character’s really upset by it, but I love it when it’s just so normal to that I don’t even really hear it anymore.
Now, you’re married to Rob. How involved are you with the creative process?
Olson: I am not at all involved in the creative process. Everyone asks me if I’ve ever wanted to write an episode, and the truth is, in the very beginning, I had some interest because I thought it would be fun. I don’t have a writing background. I have a lot of writing sketch comedy background because I did the Groundlings, but writing episodics is not my strongpoint. I think that they do such a great job that there’s no reason that I would want to jump in and try and fix something that’s not broken at all.
But that being said, when they’re breaking stories, he’s always coming home and telling me about it and I’m laughing and giving my opinion on stuff. So I don’t know. I stand back and wait to get the scripts and then I kind of just tweak my stuff a little bit.
When we were on the set earlier this year, you said there was like a super-huge guest star coming on that we haven’t seen yet. And then you just now said there are no more guest stars—
Olson: Oh yes, that didn’t work out. I don’t want to give it away because it might work out for another season, but there was a tragedy in this person’s life so it didn’t end up—
I guess maybe I shouldn’t have brought that up then.
Olson: It didn’t—thanks a lot. It didn’t end up happening, but I don’t want to give it away because he still wants to do an episode. So we might throw that in somewhere in the future.
Okay. Well I wanted to ask, this season, I know last season there was blood. This season seems like you guys are getting really bloody scenes into every single episode. Is it kind of like a challenge to you guys to see if you could have—?
Olson: As much blood as possible?
… in every single episode?
Olson: I noticed that—we don’t shoot our episodes in order. We shoot in blocks. So we’re shooting a bunch at the same time and then after everything is all edited then they choose the airing order. So it just so happens that there was a lot of blood upfront in the first few episodes this year. I’m not really sure how that worked out.
As we were shooting it, it didn’t really feel like it was that bloody to me. But that one scene in ‘Frank’s Pretty Woman’ where Charlie’s just barfing blood all over that poor woman and then all over Danny, that really cracks me up.
I don’t know if we’re trying to get bloody and gross and gory. I just think we’re trying to do stuff we haven’t done too much before. I don’t know. That’s a question for …. I just know that I think it’s hilarious. Bodily fluids are funny and that’s just that.
The scene with you and the hair was like maybe the most unwatchable things I’ve seen on TV this year. That … bite my lip so hard.
Olson: The great thing about that is that they put that effect in that made it look like the blood was squirting out, and they did it on purpose so that it would look silly. I was like, “That doesn’t look real.” And they were like, “We know.” I don’t know what’s going on in their heads. I don’t ask questions anymore. I just show up and do my job or else I get beaten.
Real quick I wanted to ask you one last question about Alanna Ubach, I think is her name. Was she intentionally playing Al Pacino from Carlito’s Way because … right after that and I was like, ‘Oh my God,’ because I didn’t get that until I saw it.
Olson: I don’t know, but that’s amazing. That’s exactly what she looked like. I don’t know what she was doing. I watched her audition, because Rob came home and showed me her audition, and I was like, ‘How is that tiny, tiny, little white woman making that particular voice?’ She had such an amazing dialect and affectation to her voice. We were all like, ‘That is unbelievable.’ And then when she showed up and we painted herpes all over her face, it just was a masterpiece.
Well it’s made Carlito’s Way a lot more fun to watch.
Olson: Okay, good. Thank you.
You said earlier that you got your start at the Groundlings. Is that training something that you use everyday when you’re working?
Olson: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. I say this all the time, but the scripts come to me really, really funny. They work really hard on them so I think it belittles it a little bit when we talk about how much improvising we do. So I just want to be really clear that they just work so hard on the scripts and they’re so funny when we get them. But it keeps it fresh to be able to show up and play around with the dialogue.
I think it’s really important on our show to have either a natural improvising ability or an improv background, because we do a couple of takes as scripted and then we just totally play around. It’s really important to stay open and listen to what the other person is saying so that you can respond to it rather than just everyone jumping on top of each other and trying to get something funny in. That might feel funny at the time, but that does not end up working on TV because you can’t hear what anyone’s saying. So yes, I would say that the Groundlings background comes in real handy on this particular show.
Also, earlier you said that you were updating your reel. Do you still have to do that? Like everybody doesn’t know who the heck you are?
Olson: Thank you for saying that. The funny thing is I haven’t done it in like seven years, and it’s all digital. It’s all online. So I was curious and I asked to see it the other day. They’re just like adding new scenes every time a new episode comes out or a new thing I do comes out. So it’s like 40 minutes long. And I was like, “No one wants to watch someone’s 40-minute reel. I don’t care how good it is.” So I just was tweaking it. Thank you for asking. They should know who I am. I should not have to have a reel.
Something that I really love about what you do on the show is your delivery and your intonation in your voice when you deliver, especially swear lines. Is that something that you’ve kind of written in the script, the exact way that Dee says her lines?
Olson: That’s so nice.
Or is it something that you’ve brought and honed and developed over the years as far as like, ‘This is how she would say it.’
Olson: They don’t write any direction in at all. It’s all just dialogue. So we kind of just do our own thing with it. I just found that I was swearing so much that I wanted to keep it interesting and not boring.
I’ve said this a lot in the past too. I don’t think that what we’re doing, even though our show is shocking sometimes, we’re not ever looking for shock value because that’s not funny to me. I wouldn’t want to swear just to swear. So I think I’m just trying to keep the swearing funny as well, and kind of do something interesting with it. So that it’s not just swearing for the sake of swearing.
Because what you and what Charlie does at times when he kind of like peaks up his voice—
Olson: He gets real squeaky.
Yes. Those things really stick out to me. I think that’s what I really love about both of you guys’ characters is you don’t know when you’re going to fly off the handle and deliver something that’s so memorable.
Olson: Thank you. I appreciate that and I appreciate you noticing. Definitely, like I said, if you just say … over and over and over and over, either people aren’t going to hear it anymore or it’s going to start to get annoying or it’s going to start to get offensive. So you might as well do something fun with it.
On that similar note, you’ve also been cast in Unsupervised. Now with that as its all voice, and we can’t see the action, you might be acting along with it …. Can you talk about that process and your character in that show?
Olson: That’s a great question. That’s hard for me because I’m a very physical—Glenn and I joke about how much face work I do…a lot of face work, very face work heavy scene. I’m not doing it on purpose, but I just gesticulate a lot and my actions are big and that does not necessarily come across in voice over. So it’s been a really interesting process. I’m playing a few characters on it. It’s a very, very funny show. I’m so excited about it and so proud of those guys.
I don’t know if you know anything about it, but it’s these two teenagers. It’s in a high school setting and they have terrible parents. But you would assume, or I would just assume that those characters would then be like jerks, like teenage boys, but they’re not. They’re really sweet and really positive and have a great outlook on life. It just makes it so sweet and sad and funny.
So I play—one of them has a stepmother, but the father’s run off and the stepmother does not want him at all. She just has to hang around. So I play the step mom. I play a couple kids in the school, and I play the old principal, just a bunch of fun, different characters.
How is it in terms of the shooting schedule? Are you guys shooting that at the same time as Sunny or are you—?
Olson: No, we’re done shooting right now, and we’ll shoot again next spring. We’re recording Unsupervised right now. It’s just a much easier schedule. I’ll go in for an hour and do three different voices for a whole show. So it’s pretty easy. It’s something you can just kind of squeeze in wherever.
I was just wondering, because the core cast of Sunny are all so reprehensible, it’s kind of like Seinfeld taken to the ultimate level. And since no one ever really thinks of themselves as being reprehensible, how do you find your way into Sweet Dee? And what is it about her that keeps the character fresh for you?
Olson: Well I think it’s just that. I think that you’re exactly right. She doesn’t see herself as reprehensible. She thinks that she’s a lovely person who just hasn’t been given opportunities in life.
The reason that I love her, sort of the character I’ve ended up turning her into, is that she’s just so insecure. Ultimately, I think she’s just desperately trying to get these guys to acknowledge her as part of their group, and that’s so sad to me and so funny. It just disarms her a little bit. There’s something about that that forgives all of the despicable acts because she’s just so clueless and needy and just wants to fit in ultimately. And I think that that’s kind of at the root of most people.
As far as getting into that, I don’t know. I find something very endearing and funny about desperate, insecure people I guess.
Thank you very much. I was just wondering if there’s anything in particular coming up that you think, from the point of view of the character, is particularly effective over the remaining episodes of the season?
Olson: It’s funny; I haven’t seen this episode. I hope it’s good since I’m recommending it, but ‘Chardee MacDennis: The Game of Games’ is coming up. That was such a fun one for me to shoot because I always love when Dennis and Dee are on the same page. It happens so rarely, but it’s so sweet and endearing to me.
In this game that we play the entire episode, Dennis and Dee are on the same team and they’re just ridiculous. The idea for how I was playing it came from Rob hating how I actually play a game, because I get really into it and I have to win them. I’m a little aggressive. So that’s a fun one for me, because I just think that it highlights Dennis and Dee’s relationship when they can kind of get together and it’s them against everyone else.
Thank you so much you guys. It was nice to talk to you.