When you read the description of the eight-episode, half-hour comedy Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television (streaming through the paid membership service YouTube Red), it seems as though there’s no way that it should work, but it not only works, it’s downright hilarious and so much fun. When the LAPD decides to form a task force partnering actors with homicide detectives, so that they can use their “actor skills” to help solve murders, Ryan Hansen (of course, played by Ryan Hansen) is partnered with the no-nonsense Detective Jessica Mathers (Samira Wiley), who is justifiably pissed off to be paired with someone who just can’t seem to take anything as seriously as she does. From creator/writer/director/executive producer Rawson Marshall Thurber, the super-meta series also features Joel McHale, Kristen Bell, Jon Cryer, Donald Faison, Eric Christian Olsen and Aly Michalka, among others.
During this 1-on-1 phoner interview with Collider, actress Samira Wiley talked about what sold her on this insane idea, learning about Ryan Hansen, their characters’ hate-hate relationship, the crazy and cool things she got to do, every day, the biggest challenges, her desire to do more episodes, and who she’d personally like to be teamed up with, if she were a cop that had to solve crimes with an actor. She also talked about the exciting career trajectory she’s been on, over the last few years, what it’s meant to her to be a part of The Handmaid’s Tale and what she’s most looking forward to with Season 2, as well as how heart-breaking it was to leave Orange Is the New Black.
Collider: How was this idea pitched to you and what was it that sold you on it? Did you need to be convinced that this wasn’t the most insane, crazy idea, ever?
SAMIRA WILEY: Number one, when I read the script, it was just so funny and so smart. And then, to sit down with the creator, Rawson Marshall Thurber, who wrote the first couple of episodes and conceived of the entire show, this was his baby. He created this show for Ryan [Hansen] and he believed in it, so much. To have someone that passionate about a project, right in front of you and explaining every aspect of it, it seemed like a no-brainer for me. Every question that I had for him, he had already thought it out.
Did you know Ryan Hansen or know who Ryan Hansen is?
WILEY: At the time, no. When I was first approached, I didn’t know who Ryan was. I went back and watched some of his stuff, before signing on for this, but my wife knew who he was, immediately. He can make anyone laugh. He really can. I felt out of my league, comedically, and I still probably am. I just really wanted a chance to work with Ryan because I want to be able to do as many things as possible in my career. Honestly, I feel like he’s a comedic genius, and to be able to work with him, I felt like it would be dumb of me to turn that offer down.
The first time that people really became aware of you was in Orange in the New Black, and you’ve since gone on to do You’re the Worst and The Handmaid’s Tale. As far as your career is concerned, what’s it been like to be you for the last few years?
WILEY: Oh, gosh! Honestly, I have nothing to complain about. I have been able to step into different projects, all with so much meaning and integrity and merit to them. With every single role that I have played since Orange has been something that, because of the success of Orange, I’ve been able to have some real discernment, in terms of the projects that I take on. It’s nice to not have to just be grasping at straws and having to say yes to everything. I’ve been able to really reserve spots in my life for the projects that matter the most, and to me, Ryan Hansen is one of them.
Do you feel like you’ve had to fight to have people see your abilities in both comedy and drama?
WILEY: I credit a lot of that to the kind of show that Orange Is the New Black is. Orange Is the New Black is the only show, ever in history, to be nominated in a drama category for an Emmy one year, and then in a comedy category the next year. People didn’t really know where to put that show. They didn’t know if it was a comedy or if it was a drama. It’s really just a true dramedy, and that’s where I got my legs, so I can attribute people thinking of me in both genres to the success of Orange.
This show has a lot of jokes about jokes about the number of people who think that YouTube Red is a porn channel. Did you know what YouTube Red was, when you were approached about this show?
WILEY: I knew what YouTube Red was, but it’s such a good joke. It makes me laugh, every time, and everyone gets it. It’s a genius joke. It really is.
How does your character feel about the fact that she’s stuck with Ryan Hansen?
WILEY: Oh, she’s pissed! She can’t believe it. She thinks she must be living in some sort of joke world because how can this be her life? She has just come from Cleveland and moved to L.A. with the thoughts of being the next hot thing in the LAPD, and she is given this moron as her partner. I think she’s in disbelief, most of the time, and the time that she’s not in disbelief, she’s pissed.
Throughout the episodes, does he grow on her, at all, or is he always an annoyance?
WILEY: Their relationship is pretty much a hate-hate one right now. That aversion doesn’t completely go away, but like any good story, you hope that they eventually become a little closer and that she becomes a little fond of him.
If you, personally, were really a cop and you were in your character’s shoes, what actor would you want to be paired with to help you solve crimes?
WILEY: Yeah, [Matthew] McConaughey. Me and McConaughey would be great! I would want him to help me solve crimes. That would be interesting!
I absolutely love the moment with you and Ryan singing Paula Abdul’s “Opposites Attract” in the car. How many times did you have to do that?
WILEY: We had to do it a lot of times. We were literally stuck in a car with each other, the whole episode, and we were doing dances. We started playing games with each other. We were playing 20 questions. And then, they were like, “Okay, guys, we need you to dance!” It was really fun. I don’t think I cared too much, during that sequence, about breaking and making sure we were staying in it because we were having fun and that’s exactly what they were trying to capture. The moments that I break, that’s my character breaking. It’s her shell coming down a little bit and her becoming a little more comfortable with Ryan. In terms of where Samira was and where my character was, on that same day, it lined up.
How did you find the experience of getting all dressed up in a gown, with a crown and gloves on, and getting to point a gun at Kristen Bell, dressed up as Elsa from Frozen?
WILEY: I was like, “I can’t believe I did that!,” but that’s what it was like on set, every day. Every day, it was like, “This is so cool! I can’t believe I’m doing this!”
What have you most enjoyed about being a part of this show, and what has been the biggest challenge?
WILEY: The biggest challenge on set was being able to keep a straight face throughout all of the scenes. That was a challenge, every single day. I would go in and be like, “Okay, let’s figure out how to do it today!” And then, my favorite parts of the show were just being able to make magic with Ryan. We did it on camera and off camera. We made some real magic, off camera. We would play games, all the time, and ride around on hoverboards. We’d crash into things and into each other.
Have you had conversations about doing more episodes of this? Is that something you’d like to be able to do?
WILEY: I would, definitely! We’re just so happy and proud of what we did, and we want to make sure that the world sees that. We just want to live in the moment with this.