After a career spent stealing scenes as a supporting player in such TV Addict favorites like TROPHY WIFE, TRANSPARENT and WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER, Michaela Watkins is about to have her much-deserved moment. Premiering this week on HULU, Watkins stars in Jason Reitman’s CASUAL, as a recently separated mother who finds herself back in the dating world after a seventeen year hiatus. I caught up with Watkins to talk about her hilarious career path, her darkly funny and honestly raw performance in CASUAL and what she’s loving on television right now.
You worked on a lot of great shows recently, WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER, TRANSPARENT, TROPHY WIFE, how were those experiences for you? What did you take away from working on each show?
Watkins: I feel really lucky that those are the little tribes I sort of fell into. It was so much fun working on them, it almost feels like the product at the end, you feel like you’re making something really silly and great, and then when it comes together its just icing on top because the process of working on it with everybody is so fun. It’s the best, to me they are some of the most interesting people, doing what we are doing and I feel like they all make me better.
What was your initial reaction to reading the scripts for TRANSPARENT?
My initial reaction was, fuck yeah! It’s unlike anything that is on television and I know Jill (Soloway) and I know that when her father came out as trans, what a complicated time that was and then seeing her put all of that complexity into the script and come up with something so beautiful and so specifically her. When she said Jeffery Tambor would probably play Maura and I just thought, okay, game over. I’ve worked with Jill a few times and the way she conducts her art, it’s very free form and it’s very loose, creative, and collaborative and I think even when you read the scripts, the scripts are great. What happens when you’re in the room and working with her is a whole other ball game because she basically says, “throw my script away, let’s do something totally different.”
Your new show, CASUAL premieres tonight, what can you tell us about your character, Valerie?
I was just saying this to somebody, it’s really weird because I do a lot of comedy and some of it is a little darker and leans towards dramedy. This definitely falls in the dramedy category, it feels like an independent film and because of that it’s been a real trip. I can really take the time with the scripts and the show to get to know the character, in a way where they feel like such real people to the degree that I am kind of nervous and scared because I feel so vulnerable. The character is so close to me, she’s a little more reserved than I am. Whatever feeling I’m having, you’ll know I’m feeling it at the time because I probably overshare and that’s not like Valerie at all, but everything else does. She processes her pain, and being cheated on and going through a divorce. I don’t have kids but I have nieces and nephews around the same age as the girl who plays my daughter and all of it just feels so real, and the writing is so good that it feels so natural. I guess I should tell you she’s a little controlling, a little pragmatic, she’s got her own sense of humor. At the beginning of the show she’s just really sad and really uncomfortable with being a thirty –nine-year-old single woman. It’s a little terrifying for her because this is all new and she makes some interesting mistakes, but none of it feels campy, none of it feels wacky, it all feels like the exact kind of thing I would do. When I was single in my mid-thirties I was so freaked out about dating because I realized it’s a different world in the way it is now. People may not call you and that’s strange. (Laughs)
Will we see a lot into her dating life?
Yeah, you will. Also into her messed up psyche. This is a show about a brother and sister and their relationship and they are a little dysfunctional and for different reasons. They help each other but they also bring out each others crazy. It’s a show about family and dating, but mainly a show about family. There’s a lot of love there, it may not be the healthiest kind but there’s definitely a lot of love.
Aside from an introduction to your character, Valerie what else can we look forward to in the Pilot?
There’s a really great shot of a naked butt (Laughs) it’s not mine! In the first couple of episodes it’s really ramping up, stuff doesn’t go too crazy until the fourth episode, then it goes on a real journey. Think of it as an independent film, the first three episodes are the first act, then the next three and four are the second act and that’s when all of the complications begin to kick in, then the third act, things just go off the rails. When I read one of the episodes I had to go for a walk after, I was so freaked out by what happens. In the first two it’s really getting to know the characters, it’s really great dialogue, it’s shot really beautifully. It’s got that Jason Reitman thing where it’s sort of stylized and it’s really natural, the music is really great and minimal and it’s used smartly.
What shows are you loving on TV right now?
In terms of comedy, I’m loving DIFFICULT PEOPLE because it’s got some of the best lines I’ve ever heard in it. Do you like CATASTROPHE?
I really really love CATASTROPHE!
It’s great! I love HOUSE OF CARDS, TOGETHERNESS, I started watching ORPHAN BLACK, that shows so good. MAD MEN was my favorite show ever and I’m so sad that’s over. I think I’m going to start watching YOU’RE THE WORST, because everybody says that’s so great.
You can watch Michaela in CASUAL today on Hulu.