Molly Shannon Interviewed – YEAR OF THE DOG

     April 13, 2007

I’ve always liked Molly Shannon. I used to watch SNL when she was on and no matter if a skit was good or bad she always seemed to put in 100%. And after getting to hear her talk about her experiences on the show, she admitted that when a skit wasn’t working she would try even harder. While it’s taken her a long time to get a leading role, she finally has one and it’s due to her friendship with Mike White.

Opening today is Year of the Dog and it’s written and directed by the Mike White – who has previously written The School of Rock, The Good Girl, Chuck and Buck and even some episodes of the brilliant TV show Freaks and Geeks. After a long road he’s finally written something that he wanted to direct and it’s about a woman whose life changes after her dog dies.

Just like Mike’s previous works the characters are quirky, unexpected, and sometimes pretty far out there. Then again, this is a Mike White movie so would you expect anything less?

Here is the studio provided synopsis and below is the interview I recently did with Molly Shannon (in roundtable form). If you’d like to listen to it click here.

‘Year of the Dog’ is a dark comedy drama that centers on Peggy (Molly Shannon), a happy-go-lucky secretary who is a great friend, employee, and sister who lives alone with her adorable beagle, Pencil. But when Pencil unexpectedly dies, Peggy must embark on a journey of personal transformation that is hilarious, poignant, and heartbreaking.

I also interviewed Mike White for the film but didn’t have time to transcribe it. So if you’d like to hear Mike talk about his inspirations and how he chose this project to direct and what he’s working on now click here. Just like all interviews they’re MP3’s and easily put on any portable player.

And if you’d like to watch the trailer before reading the interview click here.

Year of the Dog opens in limited release today.

Q: Was this film the payoff for all the dog show sketches?

Molly Shannon: Omigod, I know, right? Um, yeah, it was the payoff. You’re only the second person to ask about that. No, they aren’t connected at all. Dog Show Will Ferrell and I wrote together, because I always wanted to do a sketch about dogs! ‘Cause I do love dogs, but, yeah, they don’t have anything to do with one another.

Q: What is it like to have a good friend of yours deliver a script written just for you? Did you believe him? Did you think it was a joke?

I did believe him, but let’s see, Mike and I did this TV series in 2003 called ‘Cracking Up’ that got cancelled. It was so much fun working with Mike. I played the alcoholic, bi-polar mother, but the network didn’t get behind the show and they were trying to Mike change it and it was just not a good experience for Mike. And we shot 13 episodes and only two aired, so after that Mike was like, ‘Ugh.’ But we became really good friends and we’d have dinners and he’d say, ‘I’m gonna write you a movie.’ And I’m like, ‘Really?’[makes squealing noise]. When you have Mike White telling you he’s going to write you a movie? I mean it’s just…please. I can’t even tell you how excited I was, but I also didn’t want to ask him about it or bother him too much, because I know how hard he works and I knew, kind of, that the whole experience on ‘Cracking Up’ was hard that I thought if he does this it should just be fun and creative and no pressure and you should just have fun writing and it took awhile. But he was going, ‘I’m still working on that movie.’ He wouldn’t tell me what it was about – well, he told me a little. And then one day he just called me up after Christmas and said, ‘I have a script to send you.’ And it was like a dream come true. Y’know? And, yes, I opened up and it said, ‘Year of the Dog’ by Mike White. And I went and got coffee at Starbucks and I was like, ‘Page one! Peg…’ [It was] so exciting. Because I think there is a misconception that people think there is so much to choose from. People go, ‘Why did you choose to do that?’ But it’s really not like there are so much choice of all these amazing female parts to chose from. I mean there are certainly for some people in that small percentage, but it’s not my situation. So I was just really, really grateful.

Q: You’ve recently been pegged as playing the funny best friend. What’s it like to step away from that where you really have to go in and out of different directions emotionally.

Yeah, it was hard. It’s so different than comedy, because it’s a lot quieter and there were lots of scenes where it was like, ‘She cries. She breaks down. She sobs! She’s devastated! She’s besides herself with grief!’ And I’m like, ‘Omigod, what am I going to…’ It’s like all over the script, so I just really wanted to do a good job for Mike and it’s also very technical, because you have all the crew waiting around and they are like, ‘Take your time. When you’re ready let us know.’ Meaning, when you’re ready emotionally. There are all these people around and you have to go to all these old parts in your head and you go, ‘I’m ready.’ And you don’t want to keep people waiting, because they are all standing around like, “Waiting! C’mon!’ Money and time. So, it’s so different than comedy. It’s so different. It’s so introverted and different, but I really enjoyed it though. It just felt like a challenge and I really, really enjoyed it. I loved it.

Q: Do you feel the weight of the movie on your shoulders?

Um, let me see. I don’t feel that way because I feel that Mike has so many fans and it’s his vision that I feel a part of, so it doesn’t feel as much as something – I mean it’s his creation and I just help serve that.

Q: Laura thought this was a comedy, but you sound like you thought it was a drama.

Did she think of it as a comedy? (Laughs.) Mike White describes it as a comedy that’s not that funny. (Laughs.) This is funny. I guess to me, because my scenes are serious, there are a lot of people who are having jokes off of me, but I didn’t feel like I did much comedy in the movie. To me, it felt more like a drama. Except for the supermarket scene where I wink at the guy. I felt like, ‘Ooh!’ That was a little joke for me when I was flirting with him and I look terrible. But, yeah, it’s a comedy that’s not that funny that gets kind of dark.

Q: You play the outrageous friend in the comedy ‘Sing Now or Forever Hold Your Peace.’ Was it fun to just be completely vulgar for that?

Omigod, that was so fun. How did you know about that movie?

Q: They sent us a screener.

That’s great! That was really fun. In that movie I play a character who is married to an uptight Republican and I’m this dirty, kind of – I say a lot of sexually inappropriate things to get a reaction. It was fun, yeah.

Q: Did you make up a lot of that yourself?

Um, I made up…there was one…oh, god it’s too dirty to talk about. There was one scene where my character is supposed to get out of a car and I’m supposed to say, ‘I have a little…’ I’m itching myself. It’s so dirty! But he wanted me to say, ‘Oh, I got some itchin’ in the kitchin’’ And I was like, ‘That sounds so — I don’t know any girl who would be, ‘I got itchin’ in the kitchen.’’ So, I was like, ‘It would be funny if she was trying to make her friend laugh, she’s like, ‘My pussy sure is itchin’!’ So, please can I say that?’ And he was like, kind of horrified. (Laughs.) And then I tested it for certain make up people and I was like, ‘What do you think is funnier, ‘Itchin’ in the kitchen’ or ‘My pussy sure is itchin’!’ And they were like, ‘Definitely that one!’ And I think he thinks I’m like this dirty whore for even suggesting it. But the way I made it work was that she’s just funny and trying to make her friend laugh and she’s not really dirty, but whatever. Well he used that. God, did I fight for that. I fought for that joke, yes.

Q: Can you tell us more about the film? Are you a big part of it?

Bruce Reddy wrote and directed the original screenplay and it was low budget. He put up his own money for it. I’m not sure of the exact story, but he put up his own money and it was like a real labor of love. We shot it for 30 days up in the Hamptons – an entire feature film. It was so much fun and I’m just so happy he’s getting distribution. He worked really hard to do that for like, the last two years, so it’s great. It’s his movie, it’s his vision, I’m just a part of it.

Q: You’re a mom. How is motherhood treating you? You have a one year old? What has surprised you the most about being a mom?

I have a three and a half year old and a two year old. I just love it so much. I feel really balanced. I struggled for a long time in relationships to get to that point, so I kind of was at a certain point where I was like, ‘I’m not sure this is going to work out. Am I going to have kids? Won’t I?’ It didn’t come easy to me, because some people I guess meet people, ‘Yeah, let’s have kids’ but I kind of crossed over at the last minute. I just feel so lucky and it just makes my life feel really full and I feel like show biz isn’t the be all and end all. When I was on Saturday Night Live it was my whole life. But now I just feel more balanced. I feel so fulfilled in my home life so that it feels like show business is like this extra fun plus. I just guess that it is fun and I feel lucky. But, if I didn’t have it I would still feel fulfilled.

Q: Do you think your kids will follow in your footsteps?

My son is very funny. My son Nolan feels like a naturally funny little guy. My daughter is more like a leader and very verbal and very articulate and really cute. They both have their own little personalities, but yeah, it’s so sweet and so different.

Q: Are you going to let them watch your old SNL?

They don’t understand that. I think they have a rough idea of what I do, because I think somebody told them, like I said to my daughter, ‘Do you know what I do?’ And she said, ‘You’re doing an actress!’ I do an actress! But she saw me on a trailer or saw a girl that looked like me and went, ‘Is that Molly?’ So she refers to somebody she sees as ‘That Molly.’ But I’m her mommy.

Q: Laura Dern was saying she doesn’t get to go anywhere these days because her travel is determined by her kids. Do you get to go anywhere these days?

Yeah, that’s true. I take my kids with me since they are so little. Her son is a little older. But my kids are still little and I bring them everywhere with me. Cause, they are just in preschool and my son’s not even in school, so they come – travel everywhere with me. They love hotels and personally I really like it because I feel less distracted because I just come to work and then play with them. Where when I am in my home, I am more distracted because I’m like, ‘I gotta organize that’ and I feel more present sometime when I am working actually strangely enough, because everything is just so simple. They love it. They love traveling.

Q: Do you still keep in touch with your SNL colleagues and are you able to tap that network for parts?

For parts? I do still talk to so many of those people and a lot of them are really good friends. But I wouldn’t just go, ‘Oh, I can rely on them.’ But it’s really nice if a friend calls you and goes, ‘Hey, can you do a part in my movie.’ It does happen and it’s really nice.

Q: When you look back on SNL is there a skit or two you miss being able to do?

Let’s see here. I loved doing Dog Show with Will. That was easy and fun and we had these crazy dogs. It was so crazy. We wrote it together so we would just laugh when we were writing it. That was an easy sketch. But then some of them are technically hard and comedy is great when it works, but when it doesn’t work it’s like, ‘Ugh,’ trudging through mud. So, it’s hard. There are some stuff I don’t miss. It’s hard to make them all work. Sometimes you do them and they bomb. You can just hear crickets – no laughter. Will and I would always have a theory like that even if it was just bombing and there was nobody laughing, we would just commit harder and harder and commit just as an exercise for ourselves.

Q: What is your strongest memory of any of the celebrity hosts who were there?

Um, let’s see Gwyneth Paltrow was really great. She was one who was just like, ‘Eh,’ she’s just come and want to have fun. She had no other agenda. There were some that really wanted to prove that she was funny. The people that do the best are the ones that just want to have fun and it’s no big deal. They are not trying to prove themselves. They are just having fun. She was a great one for that. She was really funny naturally and could do these characters, but she was just a natural comedienne. I found her great.

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Q: Would you host?

Maybe, maybe. If they ask me, I would love to.

Q: Who was the worst?

Who was the worst? Ummm. Oh god, I can’t say. There are some that would come in and they would come in with their own writers and the writers on the set do not like that. They were like, ‘Ugh.’ So, that’s not a good way to start off.

Q: Want to name names?


Q: Where you there for Steven Segal?

I wasn’t there no.

Q: Do you watch it now?

I do yeah.

Q: Do you ever recognize that they want to kill that host or they aren’t happy?

Yeah. Oh, yeah. I love to watch the good nights, because my husband is like, ‘Why do you always like to watch the good nights?’ Cause I will slow it down. ‘Good Night!’ I love it because you can read so much into what is going on. These two never sit on the same side of the stage. I look at that and go, ‘You know these two do not like, because they never…’ There is whole show going on in the ‘Good night everybody!’ You can tell kind of how the cast feels about the host, cause sometimes you can see – like sometimes nobody is even near them.

Q: Who do you like this season?

Omigod, there are just so many great ones. I couldn’t say, because I know a lot o them and I’d never want to rate them. I don’t’ want to say.

Q: Was the attitude different when a guest host was there just for ratings?

Oh, right. Is there a difference between somebody who is there for ratings. Oh, yeah, yeah. There are certain people that the cast was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, so and so is coming!’ and there are just so excited to write for them and it’s so great. And then there are others where they are like, ‘Ugh.’ They don’t even turn in their good stuff because ‘Eh.’ Y’know? So, then there is a lot of that. Or there are certain people that are high profile that you know will be a big show so they will put in their best things in because it will be highly rated cause they are very hot and they want to get a good piece in with that star. So, there is a lot of that.

Q: What is it like when alumni like Alec Baldwin or Steve Martin come back?

People are usually really excited, because Alec Baldwin is just somebody writers love to write for because he makes so much better and he’s great, great to write for. So, mostly those performers are great to write for and they also understand comedy so they are good to work with because they get it and they will be helpful.

Q: Do you watch ’30 Rock’?

I just did a little part on it actually.

Q: I was wondering when you watch it if you feel like you’re watching what it was like when you were on SNL?

Yes, it does. Because I watched the other one and I was like this doesn’t look at all from the other one? This is a pretty show, but the Tina show – that’s what it looks like, that’s what it feels like with the writers and the thing and this and that. That’s exactly – that’s much more what it’s like.

Q: Do you think it’s much more accurate than she’s letting on?

No, some of them are silly and made up. Some of them are accurate, but some of it is just part of the show. I feel like the writer thing, like the fuckin’ around. That stuff is really familiar, like the writer’s room stuff. But the whole, like the boss and her that seems a little, I’m not sure I had that experience.

Q: What was your experience like on the show? (“30 Rock”)

It was great. It was just really easy. I just shot my part in a day and it was just great to see Tina and meet her little girl and see Jeff her husband and she’s just amazing and if anybody can do, get a show on the air that’s like well written and funny it would be Tina. She can do that. Of all people, I was like, ‘Oh, she’ll do it. She’ll figure it out.’ It’s just a hard thing to crack to like to do that and she’s doing it and doing such a good job. She’s amazing. And Alec is so nice.

Q: Was Brad Pitt involved in making the movie? Did he come to the set?

He was. He came to the set and no, he didn’t give me notes. He wasn’t like that hands on a producer, but I was eating lunch one day with my kids and I had this Irish nanny who was helping me with my kids that day and we were sitting there eating with one of the producer’s who runs Brad Pitt’s company and he came down and sat down at our table and all of a sudden I was like, ‘Oh my god!’ And I looked at my Irish nanny and he suddenly realized its Brad Pitt! And it’s kind of funny to watch like a superstar like that, because y’know we are in the tent eating lunch and you feel like a wave of like — people start to get in a flurry and act like they aren’t noticing, but he really handles it really well. He’s really nice and as normal as he can be considering he creates like a tornado wherever he walks. It’s like a raucous of people getting their feather’s ruffled. I felt really distracted because it was the day I had to do the scene with Peter on the bench and I’m like, ‘I like you.’ And I was like doing the scene and it’s this really dramatic scene and I was like, ‘That’s Brad Pitt walking over there!’ (Laughs.) Do you know what I mean? It’s very distracting. I mean, I find it so distracting. He was there for awhile and I was like, ‘Get out of here!’ (Laughs.)

Q: Was he with his family?

No, he was just by himself with his motorcycle and his hat. He seems very sweet and very normal and nice. Supportive.

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