Most people are trying to hide one or two weird things about themselves in their day-to-day lives, but Kimmy Schmidt, the main character in the new Tina Fey Netflix show “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” is hiding something a bit weirder. She’s just escaped a doomsday cult after 15 years, but that isn’t stopping her from trying to make a go of it in New York City. And who better to play the wide eyed innocence of someone who grew up in an underground bunker than Ellie Kemper, who’s made something of a specialty of playing innocents?
This part really seems made for you. Was it written with you in mind?
What happened was, I met with Tina Fey and [co-creator] Robert Carlock, just as a general meeting about a year and a half ago, and then a few months later, I met with them again and they had the idea for the show. I think that Bob Greenblatt, who is the head of NBC, had asked if they would be interested in writing a show with me in mind and they said yes.
Having Tina Fey write a show for you must be pretty exciting.
Oh my god, it’s like the biggest honor of all time. I have trouble believing that it happened, but it did happen, because I know the show is coming out on Friday, but it’s absolutely surreal.
Were you a big “30 Rock” fan?
Yes. What if now I wasn’t? And I was like, “And now I’m not!” No, I was an enormous fan. I loved “30 Rock,” I loved “Bossypants.” She’s a cultural icon, which adds to the surrealness of it all that I would actually get to be working with her. But I was a huge fan.
The show has a pretty dark premise. How do you balance that with the humor?
I think the subject matter is so serious and tragic and dark and needs to be dealt with very carefully. I think Robert and Tina did a great job of treating such a dark premise and were able to make a comedy from it. At first I also was worried about, like, ok, am I doing this appropriately? Am I portraying this character as she should be portrayed? And the writing is so key to that, of course, and I think that when something tragic or dark does happen, it doesn’t mean you have to shy away from comedy.
Why do you think people like casting you as these innocent characters?
Just on a very surface level, I have a really big face, so I think that when I smile, it’s just a big smile, because it’s in proportion to the rest of my face. So there’s that, which might have something to do with playing these wide eyed smiley characters. Some of the characters I play err on the side of ditzy, but Kimmy is not a ditz. I think any lack of knowledge she has is purely from a lack of experience and not a lack of intelligence. There’s a resourcefulness and a craftiness there that enables her to go through those 15 years in the bunker. You can’t be a survivor unless you are smart.It reminds me of Will Ferrell’s character in “Elf.” Everything is new and shiny to her because she hasn’t been there before. But when she does say things that might seem a little clownish or goofy, it’s purely from a lack of experience.
Are you picking up anything from working with Jane Krakowski, since she worked on Tina’s last show?
What I love is she’ll do anything for the joke. Whatever is required. She’s such a lady in real life, and she’s so warm and polished and I just feel better when I’m around her, and, you know, she smells good. And then she’ll do these things like whatever the scene calls for. No vanity, no pride, like whatever it takes to get the joke done. Which is what you should do! I feel silly saying “She’s a pro.” Of course she is! She’s Jane Krakowski. But yeah, she’s fantastic.
She seems like she’d smell good.
I’m here to confirm it. Smells great.