The half-hour Netflix comedy Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is back for Season 2 and Kimmy (Ellie Kemper), who decided to reclaim her life and start over in New York City, after living in a cult for 15 years, is still as resilient as ever, but is also still learning to adjust to the 21st century. As she continues to learn more about who she is, her relationships with best friend and roommate Titus (Tituss Burgess), employer-turned-friend Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski) and landlady Lillian (Carol Kane) deepen in hilarious and heartfelt ways.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, actress Ellie Kemper talked about the immediate positive response for the show, the genius of co-creators Robert Carlock and Tina Fey, getting called Kimmy by fans, the show’s shooting schedule, exploring the characters deeper in Season 2, Kimmy’s place in the outside world, and what she most enjoys about working on this show.
Collider: This show is so cute, and viewers and critics really adore it.
ELLIE KEMPER: Thank you!
When did you realize that there was that kind of response for the show?
KEMPER: Within the first weekend. It felt like we made this show in a bubble. It was the first season, so no one had seen it, and we weren’t sure where it was going to be on or when. I felt like it was our own private little thing. And then, when the world saw it, it was like, “Oh, right, that was for us to share with people!” The reaction was, for the large part, so positive, and it was kind of immediate. It was really bad weather that weekend in New York and I was like, “Oh, good, everyone is going to stay home and stay warm and watch our show.” You always hope something resonates, but it feels like it’s arbitrary. Now I’m name-dropping, but I remember when we were making the movie Bridesmaids, and I was just an actor on that – I didn’t write it or produce it – and people thought, “I hope this does well, but I don’t know how it will do.” And then, when it does resonate, it’s not icing on the cake, it’s the cake. It’s great.
When you were initially told what this show was, did you think it was just the craziest sounding idea?
KEMPER: From the moment Robert [Carlock] and Tina [Fey] told me the logline, I initially thought they were pranking me. I thought, “I don’t know them very well, but I’m a huge fan of theirs. Is this a test? Is this really a show for NBC?” And they are geniuses, so they managed, of course, to make a comedy out of this dark backstory. But it is an unusual premise on paper, for sure.
Is this a character that people stop you a lot about and call you by the character name?
KEMPER: Yeah, people do call me Kimmy. That does happen, which is fine because I like the name Kimmy. But it’s also nice because I think people then expect you to be like your character, and that’s a good character to be like, so I don’t mind that.
What was it like to return to this character, after having played her for a season and knowing her a little bit now? Was it fun to get to explore new aspects of her?
KEMPER: Yes! Especially this season, the writers did make room and time for her to grapple with the more difficult parts of life. At the end of Season 1, when she puts the reverend in jail, it’s not like the book is closed. There is a lot of stuff she still has to deal with. In this season, it was nice to get to know all of the characters quite a bit better and figure out who they are, alongside one another.
What is your shooting schedule like for this show?
KEMPER: To be very specific, we had five days per episode last year, and this year we have six days, and I do think that’s because the show is a little bit longer now that it’s on Netflix. I came from The Office, which was shot, every day, on Saticoy Street in an office. Going to the parking lot was a big day. This is in New York and it’s up to four locations a day. It’s on a stage and it’s out in the streets, and I’m so blown away by our crew because they make everything happen, in my mind, so effortlessly. Compared to a procedural or a crime drama, I don’t think the production is that crazy, but it certainly seems like a lot to me. I watch the show and you really have to pay attention ‘cause you’ll miss jokes. Every line counts.
Do you feel like Kimmy is more secure in her place in the outside world now?
KEMPER: I don’t know if secure is the word. I think that she is a fixer, so I think she wants to have a clean solution to every problem. In terms of feeling secure, I would argue that maybe she feels a little less secure. In her head, on some level, she thought getting justice against the reverend would solve everything. She keeps having these burps this season, and people are saying, “There’s something wrong. There’s something trying to get out of you.” It’s disgusting. And by the way, I could never burp. And then, one day, I bot so good at burping, but my character didn’t have to burp anymore. Anyway, I think she’s figuring out that there isn’t a cut and dry solution for everything.
What do you think Kimmy is still finding the most challenging about being in the outside world?
KEMPER: There’s a perception she has that not only can she fix things, but other events are influenced by her, and that’s not the case. She doesn’t have the power to control other people. That’s something that frustrates her, and that’s addressed a lot this season. Some things happen that are beyond your control.
What can you say about the evolution of the friendship between Kimmy and Titus, especially now that she’s learning so much more about him and realizing that he’s not perfect?
KEMPER: I think that’s part of her growth. She does worship the ground he walks on. As he believes he’s crushing it, so does she. She’s starting to question that, and also shouldn’t let him boss her around. She pays for the rent. He has to shoulder that burden a little bit, too. I think there’s some more sticking up for herself. While I do think it’s funny how much she idolizing him, she also does need to recognize that she can’t be pushed around. I think that dynamic is a sibling kind of relationship, but she does end up sticking up for herself a lot more.
Will we also see Kimmy stick up for herself more with Jacqueline, as well?
KEMPER: Yes! She’s pushed to the point of having to stand up for herself because it’s getting too frustrating not to, and that’s good.
When I spoke to you for Season 1, you said that you didn’t think there was anything that could make Kimmy lose her smile. Do you still feel that that’s the case? Will she just stay positive, no matter what’s thrown her way?
KEMPER: I think there is so much self-realization this season that her smile is not wiped off her face, but it is tempered a bit. I think it resolves itself well, in a peaceful acceptance of things that can’t always be changed. I think that a person like this character can remain optimistic while also keeping expectations in check, which is the point that she gets to. She’s not a dope. She plays dopey and she can be silly, but I think she is actually a very complex person who is smart. I’m not sure where an optimism like that comes from. I think it has to be innate. I think you have to be wired that way. But I think you can also think things through in your own head, to convince yourself to look a certain way at the world. While she does try to fix things, she doesn’t ever blame external circumstances. Probably to a fault, I think she blames herself instead, for things going wrong. And the thing is that neither entity is really at fault. Some things are just beyond everyone’s control.
What have you most enjoyed about working on this show, with this cast?
KEMPER: The best part of going to work is going to work with people who you enjoy. It was the Friday night before the Emmys weekend, and we were all flying out at like 7am the next day, but we were filming at 2am. Everyone was in a great mood, as they should be since they are wonderful things to have happening. Tina has said, “Who do you want to run into at one in the morning? You want it to be someone you like.” Thankfully, this show is full of people like that, from the cast to the crew to the producers. I feel really lucky, every morning. When you’re going at 5:30am, you’re like, “I don’t want to see someone that I don’t want to see,” and you never do. It’s a blessing!
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Season 2 is available at Netflix on April 15th.