Aidy Bryant just finished up another year balancing her Hulu comedy series “Shrill,” which she stars in, writes and produces, and her role as a cast member on “Saturday Night Live.” The latter series landed her an Emmy nomination in 2018.
Bryant spoke with Gold Derby contributing writer Tony Ruiz recently about going from Season 1 to Season 2 of “Shrill,” working with friends like Vanessa Bayer and Natasha Lyonne and what to expect from Season 3.
Gold Derby: Aidy, the transition from Season 1 to Season 2, did you feel more pressure, less pressure? Was it different in any way in planning for Season 2?
Aidy Bryant: Oh gosh. I think I was just super, super excited to get a chance to do it all again because we didn’t make a pilot. We just turned in a script and went straight to series and it was sort of this avalanche of, “Okay, we’re making a television show.” We never got to regroup and be like, “Okay, how can we do this better? What systems can we get in place to divide the work and make it a healthy workload,” or any of those things. Also, just for me, figuring out, “Okay, when am I acting, when I am writing, when am I producing, when am I doing all three and how can I juggle those?” I feel like the second season I had such a better sense of that and also our team, we knew how to move. It was sort of a dream scenario to get to do it all again.
GD: You talk about those three roles that you have. Is there one that you feel most comfortable in and is there one that you feel least comfortable in?
AB: It’s funny because I feel like some days I feel most comfortable as an actor, other days I feel most comfortable as a producer, other days I’m like, “I wish I was just writing.” But also I feel like I’m always learning and producing especially, I feel like I’ve gone from zero to 150 miles per hour because even at “SNL” we produce our own sketches and make choices and meet with production designers. This is that on a whole other scale. So I don’t know, I’m getting more comfortable being a producer. I’m probably most comfortable on camera. But I don’t know, it’s different day to day.
GD: One of the things with this second season that I found really interesting is that Annie is definitely somebody we root for and somebody that we love but she’s also not flawless. She makes mistakes. She makes sometimes bad mistakes. Was that always important to make her not just the protagonist but to make her a well-rounded protagonist?
AB: Yeah, I have never had the good fortune of meeting a perfect person. So I guess it just feels more real. Also, I think part of what we’re portraying is a young woman who has crafted her entire personality around pleasing others, being palatable in an effort to camouflage her body flaws or what she perceives as body flaws. So this really is someone who in some ways still doesn’t know herself and who she actually is versus almost this monster she’s created to be pleasant and good and a good girl, get the pats on the head. Who is she underneath that? What does she actually want beyond just being like, “To lose 10 pounds,” to have a more wide world?
GD: I think one of the strengths of the show is that the atmosphere is so diverse without ever feeling like it’s shining a light on, “Oh, look at how diverse we are.” I think specifically with some of the queer characters, this is a show that has so many different “types” but it never feels that way. How do you walk that balance of being this representational show without ever making it feel like, “Oh, here’s the message we’re trying to portray,” because not a lot of shows can do that?
AB: We really just try to approach it from an authentic place. I never feel like we go into casting looking to check a box. We’re always looking for the best performer, and also I think we’re looking to reflect what is the modern world of a twenty-something woman. You wanna reflect the world that you exist in. Of course she’s surrounded by queer people and people of color. That’s my reality and I think many others so it only makes sense. Even much of the casting, I’m just casting my friends who I think are incredible comedians. We’re never trying to represent as much as we just want really good performers.
GD: One of those really good performers is Luka [Jones], who is somebody who I was not familiar with and he just inhabits that role of Ryan so beautifully. Talk about the working relationship you two have because it’s so loving and tender and yet fraught at the same time. How did that casting come about?
AB: Yeah, it’s interesting ‘cause his character, it is sort of a contentious character in a lot of ways. He’s definitely the one that people have the most opinions about. It’s so funny, I either have people telling me, “You’ve gotta get rid of him, we hate him,” or “I love him!” I think it’s kind of telling about who they are as people. I love working with Luka. I actually had met him, we had worked on a short film together so then when people were auditioning, we saw a lot of great people but he and I just had a natural rhythm. We’ve worked really hard together. He and I probably did the most rehearsal and just running our lines together and working before we would shoot and having lots of conversations about what does he want versus what I want. I think that relationship in particular on the show is really relatable to so many young women. If you have put all your hopes and possibilities for your future onto one person, it’s really hard to truly let them go, especially if they are willing to change for you and they are willing to try and step up. But is that really enough? Ultimately, I think part of what the second season is about is that they love each other. They really are in love. That’s not the problem. The problem is they’re two different people and it’s just not a match and ultimately, she has to ask herself, “Is affection and love enough or do I want someone who can truly challenge me and push me forward the way I push them?” That’s kind of what the last episode is all about.
GD: One of the things that I always like to ask, particularly when somebody is in a position of being a producer and not just the actor and also being involved in the writing is do you have a favorite episode of the season, the one where everything clicked?
AB: Oh my gosh. It’s really like asking, “Who’s your favorite child?” I have different ones for different reasons. It’s really tough to say. I really liked the seventh episode which was where John Cameron Mitchell has this party at his house, my boss, and he has a performance. I think it’s a real breaking point in the season, relationship-wise. Sorry, I’m picking two, I’m fully cheating. I also loved the sixth episode which was about this women’s empowerment business conference. I was really proud of the way we walked the line between both examining what sucks about some of that stuff and how it can be manipulative and commerce-based, but also at the same time looking at the fact that for some women, that’s their entry point into feminism or self-worth. That can be really moving for them and finding a space to hold both of those ideas at the same time. And I also just think the episode is very funny, so I like the combo of high and low. That feels very like our show to me.
GD: I had hoped that you would’ve said the sixth episode because that blew me away, not just for all the reasons you said but you have Vanessa Bayer just killing it as this kind of leader who is dead behind the eyes and I believe that’s the episode that Natasha Lyonne directed, too. So how did you bring those two into the mix?
AB: I mean, very selfishly ‘cause they’re both friends of mine. Vanessa, I used to perform with in Chicago before we were both hired to “SNL,” so we did our time at “SNL” together and since she’s left the show I’ve been thinking, “Oh, I would love to get her on.” Natasha, I met early in my time at SNL and we just really clicked. As she’s started directing more, I’ve been like, “I would love to get her in here,” and it just worked out. I think it was a really happy accident that her schedule allowed her to direct that episode because she is so good at handling ideas of almost dysphoria and confusion and trying to push through that kind of disorientation and I think that’s a lot of what that episode is about is trying to find something to grab onto but there’s so many wonky ideas floating around. I think she really captured that and also kept equal parts humor and story.
GD: You had mentioned John Cameron Mitchell earlier. The relationship there between Annie and her boss is something that I would describe as slowly evolving. What do you see as the potential for that relationship going forward?
AB: I would say Annie and her boss’s relationship is one of my favorites on the show and John Cameron Mitchell is incredible. I guess part of what I love about it is that these two… I’m trying to best put it into words. I guess it’s both they need each other and they can’t stand each other but they love each other and they encourage each other to grow. There’s just a lot of layers to play there and I think John and I have a real chemistry for that. Yeah, I think it is evolving. I hope they get to a place where they can coexist and bring out the best in each other. I think that’s part of what happens in Episode 6 is they have this reckoning where he finally is able to look at her as a little bit of a peer and also to be able to mentor her in that same moment is, I think, a real step forward for them. They’re listening for the first time, both of them.
GD: It feels very real. Now that you have a third season, have you already starting planning the third season? Where are you in the developmental process and can you give us any tidbits about where you wanna take Annie and these characters?
AB: So we literally start our writers’ room for Season 3 via Zoom on Monday. We’re pretty excited about that. We’ve been in those early planning stages where Lindy [West], the author of the book, and Ali Rushfeld, our showrunner, and I are having phone calls talking about how do we have a Zoom room and how do we make it creative but also humane so people don’t have to sit in front of their computers for nine hours or something. There’s some planning in that way going on and we’re also talking story-wise. I think part of what we’ve set up in the last five minutes of Season 2 is that Annie is really about to get out there into the world and she’s gonna have to test all the things she’s learned now. Now she’s been able to be more confident and even sexually confident and all these things and how do you get out into the dating pool in an extremely vulnerable way to put yourself out there? Can you hold those same confidences as you through that? I think that’ll be the big test and I like the idea of exploring that world. She’s been in a very single zone with one person for a long time even though there have been in other people in the mix and now I think the world is her oyster.