Maya Rudolph on Emmy-nominated roles for Kamala Harris, Judge Gen, Connie [Complete Interview Transcript]

Maya Rudolph doubled her Emmy nomination total this year, going from three to six, thanks to her guest performances on “The Good Place” and “Saturday Night Live” and her voiceover work on “Big Mouth.” She is the first actor to be nominated twice in a guest acting category for different performances in the same year.

Rudolph recently spoke with Gold Derby managing editor Chris Beachum on hearing of her Emmy nominations the day after her birthday, whether she will be back playing Sen. Kamala Harris on “SNL” in the fall and what she plans to wear at the virtual Emmy ceremony. Watch the exclusive webchat above and read the complete transcript below.

Gold Derby: Maya, you had three career Emmy nominations before just the end of July and you doubled that up in the span of just maybe five or 10 minutes on July 28th. What was that morning like for you?

Maya Rudolph: It was extra sweet because it was the day after my birthday, so it felt like a little extra goodwill. People are always so nice to you on your birthday and just when you think it’s going to be over, you wake up the next morning and you get three Emmy nominations. I have to admit, I was shocked. I guess I’m just used to not really having that kind of good fortune in that way. I certainly wasn’t anticipating it. It feels so good to get good news. That was my first thought, really, was with everything that’s going on in the world and I’m so grateful for the career that I’ve had so far and I love what I do and I love the people that I’ve been able to do it with, so it’s just so nice to be appreciated publicly and celebrated. And I feel like, “Check. I did that.” I don’t want to worry too much about the ceremony, but I’m so unbelievably honored. It’s really nice. 

GD: Did they say, “Hey, Maya, you got three Emmy nominations?” Or did they break it to you one at a time? 

MR: The headline was three, which I think was kind of the most exciting element of it all because one is plenty, but three is, “What?” That was kind of a shock and then I didn’t realize that one of them was that I was up against myself, which is so cool. People keep asking me if I’m very competitive with myself. 

GD: Somebody won one year in that same situation. I can’t remember who it was but it wasn’t an actor. I think it was a writer or somebody like that but the presenter failed to tell them which one. They just said their name. So they got on stage, I can still remember them turning to the presenter and going, “Which show?” Because they wanted to make sure they were thinking the right people. 

MR: Right. You have to know which one of your alter egos is being a diva. So you have to keep an eye on that, I think. 

GD: Well, not diva mode, but just a few days after the Emmy nominations, you find out that the person you play in the past year on “SNL” and who you’re nominated for, playing Senator Kamala Harris, is the vice-presidential nominee. Tell us about your feelings about that from a career and your perspective, but also from the country’s perspective. 

MR: Well, that was twofold as well. My initial response was, “Oh, shit.” And I didn’t mean to say that publicly, but I was on an Emmy panel Zoom and I thought, “Oh, shit.” Because I thought, “Really? All this good fortune right now in the middle of a pandemic?” I feel an inherent duty to do anything I can during this election. So if that means that I’ll be playing the senator again, it’s my honor and feels at this point, to be perfectly honest, like a civic duty and honestly, like we have no choice. The nicest part about it was that it felt so hopeful to get that news again so I think in this long stretch, it’s sort of like, “Wow. More good news.” And the first feeling I had was I felt the word “hope” and it was the first time in a long time. It felt like hope and it felt good and it felt positive. I’m not usually incredibly vocal politically, but I mean, I am so thrilled with her and I’m also just so excited for the nomination. I loved watching her speech at the DNC the other night, and I felt like, “Wow, my body hasn’t felt that kind of positive emotion watching someone speak publicly like that in a long time.” She feels like a leader and she feels like someone who cares about us and right now, we need that more than anything. 

So it felt really good to feel like there’s somebody out there that cares about this country, you know? I think more than anything, it’s just been very bizarre for me to be mentioned in every sentence that mentions Kamala Harris. I didn’t do all the hard work that she did so it’s fun riding on the coattails of someone so great, but it’s also sort of bizarre. But I’m incredibly honored to be mentioned because I’ve spent years watching so many of my heroes doing their part in the elections, parodying or doing a character version of one of the candidates. So to be a member of that history is incredible. Spending years on “Saturday Night Live” as a cast member but never having been a candidate on the show… I did play [Barack] Obama once but we cut it at dress. 

GD: You bring such a fun energy to Senator Harris, so playful with it. Two questions, really. Does she like it and is there a secret to playing her that you’ve discovered? 

MR: I heard she likes it. So for me, that means more than anything, because there’s no greater joy than feeling like you did someone proud or they’re laughing with you. That’s definitely, first and foremost, my goal. I’ve never been one to get up there and try to lampoon someone in a way that makes them look like nothing but their best. But I think the thing with comedy is I think you are looking for the laugh, and for me, that’s looking for the joy and the fun, and it’s hard. She’s not a mess. She’s cool and she’s together and she’s a leader and she’s smart and she’s brilliant and she’s powerful. So those aren’t necessarily easy qualities to make goofy. But we figured something out with her. I didn’t really have a take on her at first, but I just kept feeling like she’s fun, like, you’d want to hang out with her and that was where I started the character from. She feels like a cool aunt, and I kept saying, “She feels like a cool aunt, she feels like a cool aunt.” She feels like that aunt where you’re like, “Oh, we hang out. We have a drink, we have cocktails together, like, she’s really cool.” So we started from there and I told my friend Steve Higgins that idea when we were doing her the first week and he said, “My wife is always saying that the fun uncle gets a moniker. He’s the funcle. So she wants to be called the funt.” And we thought, “OK, that’s it.”

GD: Well, that’s perfect. You mentioned some of the people over the years, Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey and Kate McKinnon, even Melissa McCarthy playing Sean Spicer have won in recent years for playing candidates during the political process. 

MR: Yeah, it’s amazing. I mean, to think that we’ll look back at all of these political impersonators and feel like I get to be part of that. It’s a huge time in the country where we’re all looking at the election and it’s such an honor. I mean, it’s not anything that I set out to do originally, of course. The minute she started running during the debates last time, everyone kept calling me, saying, “You’re going to get a call, you’re going to get a call.” And I thought, “Well, I mean, yeah, sure. If I look like anybody up there, sure, I could be her.” But then the minute that we put the wig on I went, “Oh, I look exactly like her.”

GD: First of all, I mean, this could be a four-year, eight-year, 12-year job depending on what all happens. Do you want to just come on as a guest capacity like some of the other people have or would you like to return and be a regular cast member? 

MR: I don’t know, and that’s the thing. You want to be able to wave a magic wand and say, “Hey, this is what’s going to happen.” I mean, yeah, if I were able to return and do Senator Harris proud on the show, I feel like that would be amazing. But no one knows what the hell is going on right now. I’m still trying to figure out my kids’ school schedule for the fall. 

GD: Alec Baldwin said after Trump was elected, a few months after he started playing him he said he thought he was just going to be a handful of weeks and a fun gig and he didn’t know was going to be the next four years of his life. 

MR: I mean, that’s the nature of it. I remember having the same conversation with Tina when she was doing the same thing. I mean, luckily, they both live in New York City. I think my “Oh, shit” came from, “Well, if they ever need me, I’ll have to get on an airplane in the middle of a pandemic.” But I think that’s part of the exhilaration and the rush of that show is not knowing what’s coming next and week to week, it is a new show. And that makes it so exciting and even sometimes, I mean, in the past when I’ve flown there, we still didn’t know what we were going to do. So it’s a thrill. It’s a thrill and it’s an honor. I mean, every time I’m there, I’m so happy. It’s my home. It’s my family. It’s my happy place and it does give me that rush that I crave and then I leave and I think, “Oh, my God, I can never do that again.” It’s exhausting, but yeah, your guess is as good as mine. I’d love to be able to tell you what’s going on but nobody knows. It’s crazy. 

GD: In the same category, as we mentioned earlier, Comedy Guest Actress, you’re also in there for “The Good Place” and that’s no new thing for you. You’ve been in there the last couple of years. In fact, I think you know this because I’ve talked to D’Arcy Carden at a couple of parties. You’ve won the Gold Derby Award the past two years. She has on the supporting side.

MR: She’s a dreamboat, isn’t she? Boy, that D’Arcy Carden is something else. 

GD: Obviously, you have to be thrilled to see her getting in finally. 

MR: Yeah, and that’s the thing. That’s why I love doing that show is getting to work with D’Arcy and Kristen [Bell] and Ted [Danson] and Will [Jackson Harper], I mean literally everyone, Manny [Jacinto], everyone in that cast, because the truth is, to me being a sketch performer, there is no greater joy than jumping into something and everyone starts speaking the same language and we had so much fun. That’s a testament to Mike Schur, who’s, once again, my “Saturday Night Live” homie and knowing him for all these years and having him call and say, “I’d love for you to play this part,” it’s such a compliment because you feel like, “Wow, I’ve done a good amount where I feel like people really respect and like what I do and then the fun happens.” He knows me so well. He knows that I’m going to find joy in integrating into this group, and this group is magical. Every day was more fun than the last and it’s a huge part of why the show works. There’s an inherent joy in that place. They’re all really, really exceptional people, the writers, the crew, the cast. Honestly, you know it when you walk into some situations. You can feel it and it’s people who love working together and love each other and the more I work, the more I feel that when that can happen, it’s so lucky and it’s so appreciated to be able to spend your life like that. 

GD: We talked to Mike recently. We talked to D’Arcy recently and Will and we’ve asked them all about the finale. When you do a series finale like that and you’re wrapping up not only your character but everybody, what were your emotions on that last week? 

MR: It’s funny, when they bring me in, they bring me in periodically and it is so hard because I have no idea what’s going on. Truly, I have no clue and Mike always apologizes because they give me these very large rambling things to say about things. I mean, I still don’t understand what Jeremy Bearimy means. I’m learning and my daughter is explaining it to me because she loves the show so much. But it was really hard for me because no one was saying what the finale was and I was coming in in bits and pieces and all of a sudden there was a key. And I was like, “A key for what?” There was a guy with frogs and I didn’t understand what the frogs were for. Everyone’s just very patient and takes their time explaining that stuff to me. But I really just sort of stood back and watched these people who love each other slowly say goodbye and let each other know how much they appreciate each other. So my part was really just to get in there and feel lucky enough to behold what is one of those moments in time where you know you’re part of something special, and then I got out because it was really the end of something monumental for all of them and I let them have their time. It was tough. It was actually really very beautiful and very, very emotional for me. 

GD: We’ve never seen a character like your judge on TV. She just was a delight every time she was on, no matter what she was doing. 

MR: Yeah, and that’s why working for 20+ years, you finally start getting treats. People who know you write things for you and say, “Here, I’d like to do this,” and that’s what I mean when I say that’s when the fun begins. Mike gave me such a gift and he knows that I like to play and be stupid and have fun and try to find the game and everything and because we come from the same place, there was just very little conversation about how to do that. To me, that’s the honor. So I think, yeah, if you’re lucky enough to stick around for a while, people let you know that they appreciate you. 

GD: And speaking of having fun, your third nomination this year is a voiceover for “Big Mouth.” Tell us about that role. One of our guys who does a lot of our animation interviews wanted me to make sure to ask you if you’ve got a favorite song you’ve done on that show. 

MR: Oh, my God. Oh yeah, Connie sings a lot. Connie is another treat. I love Nick Kroll so much. He’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever known, truly, and he’s so gifted. I was originally meant to just play his mom on the show. Fred Armisen and I were his parents, and that was enough for me and that was fun and one of the fun things about animation is sometimes they give you other characters to read. So that particular week they said, “We’re going to give you a hormone monstress, like Nick does a hormone monster and we said, “OK,” and we tried to figure her out and we were all laughing. Once we finally figured out her voice and kind of how rollercoaster-y it was and how big it was, because she’s this big, gorgeous, hairy monster thing and she’s just so womanly, but she’s a lot. She’s really big and forceful and, I mean, they’re the most fun lines that I ever get to say. It’s always something fun. It’s always something where I’m leaving work and I’m thanking them and telling them I loved everything I got to say today. And we just laugh our butts off. And in terms of the songs, I’m trying to think. Gosh, it’s funny. We still need a bubble bath song. Somebody took Connie saying “bubble bath” and made it into some dance mix or something and it was really funny and I thought, “That’s a good idea.” Of all the things you’ve done, I think we still need our bubble box dance anthem. 

GD: Like you said, that’s the two words everybody wants to hear you say. Did they give you thoughts on how they wanted you to do it or did you just come up with it? 

MR: I’m trying to remember. No, it was a group effort for sure. I’m trying to remember, I think once we saw the alliteration was there for “bubble bath” and for “my sweet little ravioli,” things like that where we were looking to lean into and kind of eat up certain words, Nick knows me well so sometimes he really makes sure I really lean heavily into the pronunciation of stuff. That’s kind of a fun game. If I’m lucky enough to record with Nick on a day of recording, then he likes to make sure that I really get in there on over-pronunciation. 

GD: Maya, we are so excited for you on these three nominations. I guess you’re going to be part of the virtual watching and seeing what happens and all that? 

MR: Yeah, yeah. I mean, everything’s new, isn’t it? We’ll give it a shot. I’m just so glad I don’t have to wear heels, Chris. I’m so happy. 

GD: And do the red carpet gauntlet where we normally are. I had Hugh Jackman on earlier this week and he said he was definitely going and doing the virtual thing. He said, “I’ll be wearing a tux down to at least here. Don’t pan down below the coat.” 

MR: You don’t want to know. You don’t want to know. Yeah, maybe I’ll wear a kilt. I haven’t decided. Anything comfortable sounds fantastic. I’m really happy to be a part of it. It’s a really nice feeling.

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