From co-creators Marti Noxon and Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, the provocative and often deliciously evil Lifetime series UnREAL gives a fictitious behind-the-scenes glimpse into the chaos surrounding the production of a dating competition program. Set against the backdrop of the hit show Everlasting, this time with football star Darius Hill (B.J. Britt) as the first African American bachelor, Rachel Goldberg (Shiri Appleby) is back on set and using her renowned ability to manipulate the contestants to get the vital outrageous footage that the program’s executive producer, Quinn King (Constance Zimmer), demands.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actress Constance Zimmer spoke to Collider about just how much more vicious things will get, with everyone pitted against each other in Season 2, adding new blood into the mix, why Quinn and Rachel will get pushed further apart, getting to explore the show’s rich content, the challenge of executing what Quinn says and does, and whether Quinn genuinely wants Rachel to succeed. She also talked about her time playing Rosalind on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and why it was sad to say goodbye to that character. Be aware that there are some spoilers.
Collider: At the beginning of this season, it seems like Quinn and Rachel are getting what they want, at least professionally. When that all falls apart, since it obviously has to, just how much harder will they claw to get it all back?
CONSTANCE ZIMMER: The entire season is definitely a power struggle now, between Rachel and Quinn and Chet (Craig Bierko). And then, there is another entity that comes in, that messes it all up, once again, with the introduction of Coleman (Michael Rady). Everybody is vying for the most power and the best television show. It’s very clear that the cream rises to the top, no pun intended.
Chet has proven the kind of guy he is, but how does the addition of Coleman affect things?
ZIMMER: It’s horrible. It’s really bad because it’s pretty much saying that none of them are good at their job, so they had to bring in some white documentary male to oversee them, who knows nothing about their show or how it runs. For Quinn’s part, it was absolute torture. But, what’s fun to see is that our little show influences people in the strangest ways.
Does adding Coleman into the mix bring Quinn and Rachel closer together, to bond over a common enemy, or will it push them further apart?
ZIMMER: It unfortunately pushes them apart because they don’t see eye to eye on who he is. It definitely pushes them apart. They’re more at odds. They’re not on the same team for the majority of the season, which is really hard. But I always want to say to the fans that they will come together, in the end, and they’ll be stronger than ever, so don’t worry about it. We will win, in the end. But, it’s been exhausting. It’s been a very hard season to play because there are so many crazy emotions and battles being fought, in front of the camera and behind the camera. You get to see the rise of some of the other producers, like Jay (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman) and Madison (Genevieve Buechner), and see how they’re going to climb the ladder. Everybody is trying to do it their way, and then they realize that there is only one way. The manipulation is very specific.
When you signed on for this show, did you know how deeply you’d be exploring real issues and the conversations you’d be starting, as a result?
ZIMMER: It’s definitely been surprising. This is not just a show about people vying for true love. It’s about people vying for their souls. The writing, from the first season and into the second season, has been so good and so rich that it now isn’t as surprising. The way they tell the story and the way that they teach you without hammering it over your head is what I appreciate. It’s super subtle because we’re just displaying facts. We’re not making commentary on anything. (Show creator) Sarah [Gertrude Shapiro] has said that we’re not claiming that we have the answers or even that we’re asking the right questions, but we’re just shining light into dark corners. It’s definitely something that surprised me about the concept of the show, that we’d be able to even do it in the show within the show.
When you get each of these scripts, do you immediately think, “Oh, my god, how am I going to pull this off,” or do you think, “I can’t believe how lucky of an actor I am to get this material to play”?
ZIMMER: Both. Every script has at least one, if not two scenes, where I shake my head and wonder, “How are we going to do this?! How are we going to get away with this?!” And then, once you get over that initial fear, what kicks in is, “Oh, my gosh, this is going to be amazing!”
Quinn is always so mean to everyone!
ZIMMER: It’s exhausting! At the end of every day, I’m wiped out.
Is it more of a challenge for you to execute what Quinn says and does effectively, or is it more of a challenge to say and do those things to other people?
ZIMMER: I think the execution is more of a challenge. When I’m in Quinn, I can’t think about how the things that I’m saying are affecting people. I just have to live in her headspace, and she doesn’t care what anybody thinks about her. She’s like, “I have a job to do, and this is how I get it done.” She just doesn’t care. Whenever they say, “Cut!,” I’m constantly apologizing to people that I’ve yelled at or called horrible names. A lot of times, I don’t see the contestants or Brennan [Elliott], who plays Graham. Behind the scenes, in the control room, I’m constantly saying horrible, berating things about all of those people. So, whenever I see them and I’m Constance in the make-up trailer, I’m always reminding them, “Please remember that it’s Quinn and not me. I’m so sorry that I say such horrible things about you. I’m very sorry.” It’s funny.
Quinn and Rachel have their priorities straight, at least in their own minds, and they get matching tattoos to remind themselves of that. Who does somebody have to be to get a tattoo that says, “Money. Dick. Power.”?
ZIMMER: I truthfully have no idea. When we were told that we were getting those tattoos, I didn’t even have words to express what that is and what that means. Sarah so well said that it’s a checklist that they’re constantly reminded of. For me, I could then say, “Okay, that makes sense,” because they’re so focused. They’re horses with blinders on. They apparently only have these three things in mind, at all times. If ever they veer off the course, it’s like, “Okay, this is what we have to remember. This is what we’re going for.” A lot of times, I leave the tattoo on because it can stay on for a couple of days. And then, I’ll be out doing stuff and will sometimes catch a server, or somebody when I pay for my coffee, looking at the tattoo and be like, “Oh, no! I’ve gotta take this off!” I can’t pull it off, as Constance. There’s no way! I do think there’s a little bit of Rachel that did it by pressure, and not by wanting to do it.
There’s such an interesting dynamic between Quinn and Rachel because Quinn seems okay with Rachel being verbally battered, as long as she’s the one responsible for doing it. How does Quinn feel about just how below-the-belt Jeremy (Josh Kelly) is being, this season?
ZIMMER: She doesn’t like him, but she’s never liked him. How funny, right? Rachel and Quinn both have their guys that are horrible and bad, but for some reason, they cannot pry themselves away from them because of the dark, deep-seeded love. They know that these guys know everything about them, and they still love them, but they’re still not great guys. I do think you’re going to see a wonderful, crazy turn in both men that I don’t think people will see coming. It’s interesting ‘cause we’re all attracted to people we know might not be the best person, but they love you and accept you for all of your flaws – and these women are incredibly flawed and complicated. You don’t want the pretty picture hanging up on your wall. You want the really messed up, confused painting that’s been splattered with emotion. It’s an incredible struggle, but no matter what, Quinn is definitely constantly trying to shelter Rachel from getting hurt.
Do you think Quinn genuinely wants Rachel to succeed, or would she prefer that Rachel always be the mess that she can swoop in and clean up?
ZIMMER: No, I think she wants her to succeed. I really have to believe that because then it means that all the things that she does are for the betterment of Rachel. I do think she wants her to succeed. I do think that they would be an incredible team, if and when they ever can become equals. You couldn’t mess with those women. So, when they’re a little off-kilter, it forces one to work a little bit harder. But I do think she wants her to succeed, absolutely. She wants her to succeed in a better way than how Quinn has done it.
What kind of man does Quinn think would be right for Rachel, and what kind of man do you personally think would be Rachel’s best match?
ZIMMER: That’s a good question. It’s funny because Quinn has seen Rachel with three different men, and all of them have not been right for her, in the eyes of Quinn. Quinn is also the mother-father figure, and I believe there are a lot of fathers out there that don’t think anybody is good enough for their daughter. Quinn could have a little bit of that going on because she is riding both lines of being a mom and a dad to Rachel. It’s a good question. I feel like the guy would have to present himself, and then I would maybe know. But, I don’t know that I could necessarily create him out of thin air.
You were so great on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Rosalind added so much to the dynamic of the season and really changed things up. How was that experience, and were you disappointed that you had to say goodbye to that character, especially in such a tragic way?
ZIMMER: (Spoiler Alert) Thank you! I loved playing that character so much. It was so fun because I didn’t know who I was. They never told me anything. I had to play in this world of mystery, the entire time, which was really a fun place to be. I unfortunately knew that I couldn’t stay on the show because I had to come back to UnREAL, but I had no idea that I was going to go out in that way and I got really sad. When we were at the table read, reading it, Clark [Gregg] was beside himself. He was like, “I couldn’t even read the scene.” It’s so heartbreaking because of what we did, in such a short time, with those characters and with that relationship, and then for her to go out that way. But, it was also the ends to a means because it drives him into the next storyline. So, I felt really flattered because our storyline, even though it ended so horribly and tragically, makes Coulson go into this whole other vortex of emotions. That was exciting. Then, you look at it and go, “It was worth it.” I did love playing that character. The writers were just so good to that character. I don’t think they wanted to kill her. If I wasn’t on another show, I think I could possibly still be there because we really all fell in love with Rosalind. But, it was great. I keep saying, “Well, there’s Tahiti, right? I could have gone to Tahiti.”
UnREAL airs on Monday nights on Lifetime.