Maya Rudolph swears that she is nothing like the demanding talk-show host named Ava that she plays on the NBC comedy series “Up All Night,” which has becoming one of the best-reviewed new sitcoms of 2011. “Up All Night” tells the story of a married couple named Reagan Brinkley (played by Christina Applegate) and Chris Brinkley (played by Will Arnett) who are adjusting to life as parents of a newborn baby. While Chris is a stay-at-home father, Reagan is a producer for Ava’s talk show.
“Up All Night” reunites Rudolph with another “Saturday Night” alum: former “SNL” writer Emily Spivey, who created “Up All Night” and is one of the sitcom’s writers and executive producers. The character of Ava was originally supposed to be a publicist, but Spivey and the other decision makers changed Ava’s occupation to talk-show host since he felt it presented more comedic possibilities. Here is what Rudolph and Spivey had to say about “Up All Night” during a recent telephone conference call with reporters.
Can you talk about Ava and how she represents people you may have met in the entertainment industry?
Rudolph: I’ve never met anyone like Ava. Ava is a Spivey-Rudolph creation, for sure. And I say it that way because Emily and I have been creating characters together for a really long time — for, like, 15 years. So it’s just very much something that is funny to our tiny universe that we find funny.
We don’t know if anybody else says, but I tried to give her a lot of the presence that a daytime talk show would have: somebody who’s commanding. And give her some of the flavor of what people are doing right now on all the daytime talk shows …
I haven’t met anyone like Ava. And if I had, I would definitely remember. She’s probably an amalgam of some people we’ve met but also of our universe of characters.
Maya, after tackling the challenges of live TV with “Saturday Night Live,” what type of challenges does a regular series character present to you?
Rudolph: It actually really is more challenging to give a character a real life and longevity. And when you’re doing sketch comedy, you may only do a character once. And I think we both found that when a sketch and a character became recurring on “SNL.” It became more and more difficult. It’s wonderful because the character’s world but it also becomes more and more difficult to continue to find new and fresh things for the character to do.
It’s sort a bit of both, actually. It’s sort of wonderful and difficult at the same time. But it’s actually a kind of a luxury to have a character that you can start from scratch on, and then really create their world, because, as you see in a lot of shows, once they really build momentum in their second and third seasons you see these characters’ entire worlds come to life. Their family members, their significant others, their households, their pets — whatever it is, the way that they look at the world that you don’t have time for in a half an hour. You want to say something about that, Emily?
Spivey: Yes, you said it. You are writing a character’s life and so it is more difficult to keep it varied and funny and to discover more and more about the character as you go. But it’s fun. [Taped TV] and live TV: they’re both challenging but just in different ways.
Emily, do you get any story ideas for “Up All Night” from your own life?
Spivey: Yes. The home stuff especially — at least initially — was definitely straight out of my baby journal. After my son was born and facing having to go back to work at “SNL” with a newborn, and just the challenges and the funny situations that came from that.
As the show progresses, is it going to continue to focus a lot on sort of the adjusting to being a parent? Or is it going to branch off into more situations?
Spivey: We’re going to try to stick to adjusting to what it’s like to be a new parent. And then, as the baby grows, there are new sets of problems. And yes, so I think they have a kid and that’s going to be our focus, I think.
Maya, as a parent, what have you seen on the show that rings true?
Rudolph: I definitely recognize what Christine and more characters are going through, so much so that it’s kind of embarrassing. Although I will say it’s like the third-time parent. It’s like a higher level of “Angry Birds.”
Like I’m a little bit of I’m a little bit of a pro. The stuff that I used to fear and used to worry about is so different. Like the first time I brought the baby home from the hospital. I think I was in the back seat, like putting my finger under her nose, making sure she was breathing and asking my husband to drive, like three miles per hour.
And by the third child, we didn’t even have a car seat anymore. It was harder to get one. And then when he got one, we didn’t even install it properly because we were just like running out of the hospital because we just wanted to get home. And I ended up just switching seats with him and I ended up driving home from the hospital.
It’s just so funny how you adapt to children. And it’s you and your [partner] and the things that I was grateful to have the experience again because I could actually enjoy it, because I was so nervous the first time. But I do see a lot of that. Still to all those things, because being a later-in-life parent and trying to have a working life and a family life. Yes.
Spivey: Yes, Maya’s an amazing mom. It’s funny that she plays a character that chose not to have children because Maya’s a great mom.
Rudolph: Thanks, buddy.
Spivey: You’re welcome. It’s true.
Ava was originally going to be a publicist, but then her job was switched to talk-show host. How do you think the change has been received?
Spivey: Well yes, with Maya’s help, she’s worked really hard on the character of Ava. And I think we have found our footing, and it’s really fun to write for that workplace. And it’s been really fun to watch it come alive. So I have to give a major “what-what” to Maya on that one.
Rudolph: I agree. I think that once the new workplace is established — when I first heard about it, I felt this sigh of relief in that I know enough about that world not just as someone that worked in television, even though I didn’t work on a daytime talk show, but somebody working and tell they’re in production and also someone who bashes talk shows — it’s a familiar playing ground. And I was excited, I think, to play something that I think we all know really well. And we knew that here were so many possibilities and there would be so many variables that it would just be a lot of fun to play around in.
So it’s actually been really great and really exciting and I feel no shortage of material and I feel like it can really go anywhere. It’s not jus confined to the studio and “we’ve got to get a new guest.” It could really be anything. Ava really has a life beyond the show. It’s been really fun to create that.
Where do you think the line is in terms of making her too big versus someone that Christina Applegate’s character can still be friends with and tolerate on day-to-day basis?
Spivey: Well, it’s a fine line. The characters have known each other for a long time, and she is a big personality, but she has a lot of heart and they have a lot of love for each other. So it hasn’t been that hard to balance. And I think Maya has worked really hard to make her come from a real place? So, yes, we’re enjoying it.
Maya, what is it like working with Christina Applegate and Will Arnett? And Emily, did you have particular people in mind when you were writing, creating the show?
Rudolph: I love working with them. They’re seasoned vets. They’re amazing. And I’m actually really in awe of not only what they individually do, but what they’re doing together on the shows. I think they’ve created a great couple that you instantly love and you want to see them continue to be in love. And you want to go through the journey with.
And they’re both just really funny and in the straightest delivery possible with stuff, and I’m just kind of amazed by what both of them are doing on the show. And what’s nice about it is that is feels so relatable, but they’re actually so deft about how skilled they are and how funny they make just a little simple and mundane things in life. And I think it’s just incredible. And I just feel lucky because I get to laugh all the time at work.
Spivey: Yes. I’ve been so blessed throughout my career to get to work with the best people on earth, and write for literally the best actors on earth. And so it just continues with it. Like I can’t believe the cast that I have for this show. It’s amazing. And Maya, you’re the same way. It’s like when I watch the dailies and everything, I’m just blown away by how good these three actors are. And I’m super excited to get to write for them.
Maya, can you talk about balancing your career in movies and television?
Rudolph: Yes, and I’ve had really different experiences in all of them because I think, for me, the most familiar place is “SNL” and it’s live variety show. And that really isn’t comparable to anything else. The first film I did after I left “SNL” was “Away We Go.” I’d made films before but I think this having been on the show for so long and having it be such a part of my life, I remember feeling like, “Wow, this is really slow; It’s so quiet.”
You’re used to getting that laugh or you used to have any areas to playing to an audience. And also the exhilaration of performing live, which for me is something that I hope to always keep in my life, because Emily and I both started our performing at the Graumann’s Theater here in LA and it’s something that feels like home for me and I feel like I need a fix every once in a while.
Spivey: Oh my God. Well, you’re such a creature that it’s almost like you were put on this earth to be on “SNL” because you’re so good at it. Like you have all the skill sets. It’s crazy.
Rudolph: It’s sort of like a fun drug. Like it’s action that should be a legal drug it’s that fantastic, because I’m totally addicted to it more now … One of the main reasons why I knew that I had to do this show was that I’m working with people that I not only have worked with for a long time, but share the same skill sets, which is actually a very rare one.
And working on that show for me was kind of like … being the Comedy Army, a little bit. And we were all in it together and it’s the bond that Emily I will always have. We have an even deeper bond being working together, previous to that.
So it’s nice to know that you’re working with people that sort of know that world too but to be honest I think that I learned something from each experience that I bring to the next one. Because I think that a lot of acting in front of the camera is something that you kind of learn on the job.
It’s not really something that you’re taught and you have to sort of take care of yourself and figure it out for yourself. So each time I work I feel like I bring something with me. I’m the same person and I don’t see any experience is different. I just try to like to learn front the last one.
Since you both have your “Saturday Night Live” backgrounds, are we going to see any other “SNL” alumni stopping by for guests appearances on “Up All Night”?
Rudolph: We probably are.
Spivey: Yes, you probably definitely are.
Rudolph: Do we sound cagey?
Spivey: Yes, I think you’d have to duck. I think we have to duck here. We’re writing a whole arc … [“SNL” executive producer] Lorne Michaels is going to be in a while arc. No, he’s not. That would be really fun. I wish he were playing somebody in my world. He’d play my brother.
NBC has this new prime-time lineup with a lot of strong women. “Bridesmaids” is a huge hit. Do you think there will positive implications for women in entertainment and women in comedy?
Rudolph: I would hope that they’re already in place. But I’m having people say that out loud certainly doesn’t hurt. It’s just kind of surmising to me because if I knew people felt that way I think I would have thrown in the towel a long time ago. I’d say no.
I’ve been doing it blindly thinking that everyone was on board my entire career. So I don’t think positive responses hurt at all but I think that you have to take them with a grain of salt. When I hear stuff like that, I’m just going to keep my heed down and keep doing what I’m doing. It shouldn’t matter because that’s not what I’m doing it for.
But if it allows people like me and my friends more work and more jobs it’s great. But I’m not going to lie. It’s surprising to hear the people are really that behind the times.
Spivey: Right. Like [they’re] perplexed that girls are funny because girls are really funny.
Maya, when you go about creating this new character do you two get together in a room and kind of like workshop it? Or do you start off with ideas and kind of add them on like clothes? How does that work?
Rudolph: We actually got together in a restaurant to talk about her because I think food is an integral part to creating a character. Emily presented to me the new idea of where Ava was going and we did kind of throw around some of her back story … She definitely from the beginning said, “Here’s this character that I’m creating and I want your input.”
And we know each other’s voices really well, and sometimes they’re the same until we want it to [change]. I think it was important for Emily to bring in. She knows the way I write, too, so we said it was really important for her to hear me say, “I want her to have this kind of voice or whatever it is so that I think she knows that once I’m familiar with the character and once know her voice, then I can actually really bring her to life.”
Spivey: Yes. It blossoms from there.
Rudolph: Yes, and we’re still doing that I think. I think we’re still figuring out who she is and it’s been enjoyable because I think that she’s got some really fun layers to play.
Spivey: Obviously, she’s not the same as Christina but that she’s fit into her life in a nice way and that she actually has some vulnerabilities of her own. I think what people hear about the show, their thinking is going to be the polar opposite. And I don’t think you can have a friendship like that. So I think it’s important to have since that’s the cover that you’re going be surprised by.
For more info: “Up All Night” website
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