Still ‘Sunny’ after all these years: Kaitlin Olson talks ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’

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When It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia premiered on FX in 2005, it was a sitcom the likes of which basic cable had never seen. Crude, irreverent to the point of insanity and unapologetically, delightfully offensive, it was not a show that seemed destined for mainstream fame or long-term success.

And, indeed, it hovered under the radar, amassing a dedicated cult following but not gaining much widespread attention for is first two seasons. But the gang persevered and, now in its ninth season, Always Sunny is still going strong — and has become a cultural phenomenon of unlikely proportions. Kaitlin Olson, who plays Dee Reynolds, opens up about the show’s unexpected longevity, marriage to Mac (head writer and show creator Rob McElhenney), why these horrible characters are so damn likable and more.

Are you surprised the show has lasted this long?

You know, it’s funny, I remember getting this question a lot in seasons three and four and I’m all like, “No, I’m not surprised, thanks a lot, I think it’s a really good show!” But my answer now is yes, I mean, nine years is a lot. I don’t think I ever really considered it lasting this long. I definitely think it’s a really funny show, and I’m still really proud of it, I’m proud of the integrity of it, but, yeah, of course, I’m surprised. (laughs)

Well, I was instantly kind of obsessed with the show when it first came out — but I did wonder how it would be more widely received.

Yeah, it’s definitely a tiny, little, strange, raunchy uh… basic cable thing. You know, we definitely wouldn’t have lasted as long if we were probably anywhere other than FX, so they deserve a lot of the credit, they hung in there with us when no one really knew about it. I think it was in season five when people were like, “Oh my god, I saw your show!” and I’m like, “Oh thanks, it’s been five years, but hey, that’s great!”

What was your initial reaction when you first read Dee’s character?

You know, I first read scripts and it was amazing. But the characters I fell in love with were the male characters. So when they first offered [Dee] to me I said, ‘Listen I definitely love this show, I love the writing, I love these characters that you’ve developed — except for the girl character. So, I’m not going to do that. But I will do it if you write that way for me.’ And Rob said, ‘Listen, we absolutely want to do that, we want everyone to be interesting and unique and have their own very specific character, but still be funny.’ And I said the way you have the woman written right now is kind of this voice of reason, and I’m not interested in that because I can kind of see the potential of what it could be. He promised me, and I really believed him, that that is what they wanted to do. And he said, ‘We don’t really know how to write for women, because we just kind of write for ourselves.’ And I said, ‘Well don’t write for a woman, just write another funny character and I’ll make it a woman.’ So I’m glad that I trusted him, and I’m glad that he wasn’t lying. (laughs)

All of the characters are despicable people but lovable at the same time…

I don’t know why… I was interested to hear what you were going to say. I don’t know why they’re lovable! I know why Charlie is lovable, I can figure that out, but I’m not really sure how the rest of them are lovable, how you don’t hate them. I think it’s because they’re so ridiculous, and so positive of their convictions — which are ridiculous. And I think I’ve just decided that underneath it all Dee is just sort of incredibly insecure, and there’s something a little vulnerable in that, which is disarming. And I think maybe that’s why you don’t hate her, because she’s just trying to scratch her way to the top of this little group. I don’t know, some of them are pretty despicable. I’m not sure how Dennis is lovable, I can’t wrap my mind around that!

I think maybe it’s because you recognize the bad parts of yourself in them, but they’re so unapologetic about it that you almost respect it.

That’s the thing, that’s really interesting because that also kind of describes Rob’s personality, and one of the things I love about him. Rob doesn’t apologize for anything. Even if he has something to say that’s maybe a little controversial — and he’s not a despicable person by any means — but he says it with such conviction that you’re just like well, maybe I should listen. It might sound a little un-PC, but he has really good points.

And I think you’re right, I think that’s definitely written into our show. It’s unapologetic, and it’s stuff you’d never say, but maybe things that you’re thinking. Specifically, the first time we did “Lethal Weapon 5″ — the whole conversation about the blackface? I mean, I was crying, I was watching that scene — I wasn’t in it, I was just watching it from the monitors, but I was crying it was so funny to me! Because they were having a really open, honest discussion about why certain blackface was appropriate and some weren’t. But it’s true! They were all things where I was kind of like, well, I kind of agree with that!

I’ve always said that I’d rather hang around with someone who’s unabashedly awful than someone whom you’d just describe as just “nice.”

Oh yes, “they’re so nice.” Or just desperately trying to fit in. Yeah, you’re right. And there’s something that you inherently respect about someone who just says whatever they want. Maybe that’s it.

If you were going to hang out with any of the characters in real life, who would it be?

Charlie. You could probably manipulate him into doing whatever you wanted him to do.

I imagine you have lots of crazy fans. What’s the weirdest thing a fan has ever done or said?

The weirdest thing is people getting our faces tattooed on their bodies. And it’s not just one or two, it’s happened, like, a big handful of times. And I am shocked every single time. People will tweet us pictures. And for a while I was like there’s no way that’s real. And it’s so ridiculous that Rob sent out a tweet saying…

…Stop doing that?

Well, I wanted to say that! But he was like, “No, f— that, if you’re going make that kind of commitment, fly to Los Angeles and you can spend the day on the set and we’ll put you in an episode.” But just the fact that it was happening enough that he said something about it. I was like, where are the mothers?

Is it mostly kids getting those tattoos?

I don’t know! I mean, I can only imagine, I’m only seeing body parts. But what kind of adult would do that?

Whose face gets tattooed the most?

No, it’s the five faces. It’s very weird. No, don’t do that! The show is going to end one day. And that body will — hopefully — be around for a very long time.

So, did a fan end up coming on the show?

Yes, we did have one come.

And… were they crazy?

Um, yeah. Yes! It was a girl. She was young. Not young enough though! It was a back shoulder tattoo. You’ll see that in a tank top, for sure. You can’t hide that.

You’ll see that in a wedding dress. You guys will be present at her wedding day.

I don’t want to be!

Kaitlin Olson as Dee and Rob McElhenney as Mac
Kaitlin Olson as Dee, Rob McElhenney as Mac, and Danny DeVito as Frank.

Ha ha. I love the episode where you all go to your high school reunion and Dee got to be cool for about an hour. What was your actual high school experience like?

(laughs) Yeah, I mean, I was in theater, and I was painfully shy. And I went to a really big high school — I think there were like 400 people in my graduating class — and I think I probably knew about 10 of them. So no, I didn’t have the most amazing high school experience, so that was a really fun episode. I just loved how quickly I turned on everyone else, to be cool for 15 minutes.

That also brings to mind the episode where you all get invited to prom, except for Mac…

Yes! I went to my prom with a guy who, the person that he wanted to go with went with someone else, so he just asked me because his friend was going with my friend. I was like, “Well, OK,” because I just wanted to go. It was awful!

Dee is obviously the weakest link in the show — who gets picked on the most when you’re all hanging out on set?

Well, at this point, we’re still having a really great time, but it’s been nine years and it’s still 12-hour days, so we’re working. But we do have a lot of fun together. But, you know, all of the things that you’re seeing are probably things that are inspired by real events, just heightened. So, yeah, they definitely make fun of me all the time for getting hurt. I mean, I’m constantly ramming into things in our house and Rob is like, “Are you kidding me, that’s been there for five years, why are you running into that?” So yes, they definitely make fun of me for getting hurt a lot and it’s true, I do.

I mean, I think we tease each other, and we’ve figured out everybody’s insecurities by this point, so I think it’s kind of all fair game. And everyone is a good sport. The good thing is that I don’t think any of us take ourselves too seriously.

Who is the funniest, if you’re being honest?

Oh my god. Well, this first episode of the season, where the gang breaks Dee, I think Glenn (Howerton) is so unbelievable in that episode. When you’re acting with Glenn, he’s so deeply in character that he can make a really intense scene so unbelievable funny, so he’s just so much fun to act with. Charlie is unbelievably funny. He’s just is cracking himself up all the time, so that’s fun to watch. And, well, I married Rob, so I clearly think he’s great. And Danny is just constantly goofing off, trying to make everyone laugh. Especially background people. If we have anybody new on our set, oh my god, he starts putting on a show, he turns on. I don’t know, I didn’t answer your question! There’s something very special to me about the Dennis and Dee combination. I love how desperately she wants Dennis’ approval. It’s so sad.

How long did you and Rob work together before you became involved?

We started dating, secretly, in season two.

How long did you keep it a secret?

The whole season. Which seemed like forever, but we only shoot for like two and a half months.

Was everyone shocked?

They were very surprised. Because it’s such a stupid idea. I mean, really, it’s the dumbest thing we could have done. And we knew that the whole time, we were like, we can’t do this anymore, this is so dumb. We’ve got this great thing going on, we got a second season, why are we trying to ruin it? (laughs) But I don’t know, it ended up working out. I’ve got two kids now.

What’s the best — and worst — thing about working so closely with your husband?

Rob works on this show year round, I do other things and work on this show two months out of the year. So, really, it’s only two months that we’re together, and it’s two months that we get to see each other all day. So it’s actually awesome. He’s my favorite person, so it’s pretty great to be able to spend the day with him for a couple of months. And there really isn’t a downside, because it’s just for a short period of time because then he goes back to work and I go take care of the kids, and I’m jealous.

At what age will you let the kids [now 3 and 18 months old] watch the show?

Well, Axel came into the editing room — we were running errands and we went to visit Rob— and he was watching me freak out at the end of “The Gang Broke Dee” and he wanted to watch it like five, six, seven times. He thought it was hilarious. So, right now they’re allowed to watch it, and then I think we’ll probably take a 12-year break, and then maybe they can start watching it again.

Were you grossed out when Rob gained all that weight for season eight?

Oh my god, I thought it was hilarious. Actually, I think he misses it, I think he would love to do it again. He felt really funny and the hardest part was that there were just doughnuts and ice cream and all this s— food in our house that we never really have. And I was just like, why are you doing this to me?! Because at the time I was losing the baby weight.

But I thought it was hilarious, and I was pretty proud of him. Because it sounds like a fun, easy thing to do, but gaining 50 pounds in just a few months actually takes a lot of discipline. (laughs) It was a lot of work. He’d wake up in the middle of the night and go downstairs and eat.

So he’d just eat a tremendous amount of food, all day?

He has this joke because people are always like, “How’d you gain all that weight, and how’d you lose it?” where he’ll go, “Oh, well I’ve figured out this awesome secret, when you want to gain weight you eat a lot and don’t exercise, and then when you want to lose it, you eat well and exercise. It’s insane!” But no, he would literally drink protein shakes all day including full, big fattening meals. So, like, protein shakes with scoops of ice cream and weight gainer in them. I think he always felt gross and full, and eating became not fun.

What made him decide to do that, what was the creative decision behind it?

He was looking at shows that had been on the air for six or seven years and noticing how everyone, as opposed to what would happen in real life, was progressively getting more and more beautiful as the seasons go on. Because the budgets get bigger and women get skinnier and get better hair. And he was like, that’s the opposite of what would happen in real life.

Actually, he wanted us all to try and gain as much weight as possible, and to be fat, and he wanted Danny to get super skinny. And so, thank god, Charlie and Glenn were like, “Ooo, I don’t really know if I want to do that.” I had literally just had my second baby, and I was like “Uh, I just gained 30 pounds so, no.” So Rob was like, “Fine, I’ll do it myself.

Are there any episodes that you particularly related to or really hit close to home for you?

Not whole episodes; I mean the episodes are so ridiculous, hopefully they don’t hit close too home for anybody, but again all of the making fun of me… I mean, I have favorite moments. The bigger, the better for me, really. Like, any of the ones where we’re doing drugs, or where Charlie and I were addicted to eating human meat. Pretty much any time I get to be ridiculous, or any time I get to be drunk. You know, fun stuff you don’t normally get to do when you’re acting on a sitcom.

Kaitlin Olson as Dee and Glenn Howerton as Dennis
Kaitlin Olson as Dee and Glenn Howerton as Dennis.

Do you ever actually get drunk while you’re filming one of the drunk scenes?

For the most part, no. But there were definitely a couple of night shoots where it was the last scene of the night and I was supposed to be drunk — and I had a couple drinks, yes, for sure. It’s happened. On a regular basis, no. (laughs)

What was your favorite Dee episode?

This last one, “The Gang Broke Dee,” was really fun, just because I got to do all the standup, and the gagging, and looking super ugly and eating the cake. That was super fun because it was so different than what I normally get to do.

Do you and Rob ever feel the pressure to out-funny each other, when you’re hanging out?

(Laughs) I think Rob knows that I’m the funnier one. There’s no fight. No, I think that Rob is hilarious. No, that would be crazy. We’re not brother and sister! No, he’s fun to text with, because we send funny texts back and forth. I don’t even think Rob knows how funny Rob is. If you asked him, he would say that we were all really funny and that he’s not really that funny, he’s just a good writer. But I think that’s ridiculous, I think he’s incredibly smart, and incredibly hilarious. If he wasn’t funny, I wouldn’t have married him.

Do you guys all improvise a lot on set?

Always. And we often end up using little pieces of that. But sometimes we’re like well, let’s go back to how it was scripted, that was perfect. Because everyone really loves doing it, the scenes end up getting longer and longer, the more we end up doing that. So someone’s got to rein it in. But yeah, we get to play around with it all the time.

How much longer do you see the show going — or how much longer do you want to see it go?

I know that we want to do it for as long as we are able to make every episode great. Or what we think is great. We never want to do it just to do it. But even though we’re in our ninth season, we only do 10 to 13 episodes a season. We’re just hitting our 100th episode this year. So I think there’s definitely still room where, if the guys think they can still make unique, interesting new episodes with uncommon story lines, then we’ll continue to do it. But I never want to overstay my welcome in real life — or here.

What do you want to do next?

I love TV. But I think it would have to be a really amazing project, for me to go from this, where I have hit the jackpot and I love my character and I love the creative participation I get to have. It would have to be pretty special.

Do you think it’s going to be hard to shake the Dee persona?

I don’t know! I really love this character but there are all kinds of other characters I’d like to play, too. So I guess we’ll see. That’s a good question. That’s actually what I’m kind of wondering myself right now, kind of trying to figure out what the next step is. I think there’s a little bit of a… pause, because I don’t really know how much longer I’m going to be doing this. But as soon as I know when the end is coming, that’s when I’ll start kind of creating my next thing.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on FXX.



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