When Netflix dropped the first trailer for its original sketch comedy series, The Characters, back in February, nobody really knew what to make of it. The premise — give eight upcoming comedians a half-hour episode with which to do as they please — was promising, but considering just how fickle sketch comedy can be, the outcome was anyone’s guess. Reviews were predictably mixed when the series premiered on March 11, but one name stood out — Lauren Lapkus.
That’s because the 30-year-old comedian, whose most recent gigs have included spots on Orange Is the New Black and Jurassic World, is known for her hilarious character work on Comedy Bang! Bang! and several podcasts. So, if anyone was going to help Netflix’s first attempt at variety programming, it was Lapkus. Sure enough, hers is one of the best written and performed episodes in the bunch. We talked to her about her creative process, as well as her uncanny ability to contort her face for extended periods of time.
How were you first introduced to The Characters?
I think I was one of the first people they’d spoken to. It was over a year ago, at least. They approached me about this idea to see if it was something I’d be interested in doing, and at the time I thought it was a cool idea and hoped we could make it happen. Then a year later, it was happening, so it was great.
Netflix tends to give comedians free rein. Was that the case for you?
Yes, it was really amazing, actually. It was one of those things that I’d definitely heard about before with them, and I experienced that on Orange Is the New Black. There was a lot of freedom there for them to make some very interesting story lines. But seeing it firsthand was great, especially during the writing process because they were just so open-minded. They allowed for us to do anything we really wanted to do. They had really great notes and great guidance, but they were also just as cool with us taking it however we wanted.
Your episode is very well-scripted. Did you write everything down beforehand, or was there any improv on set?
I revisited a bunch of my old podcasts to see which characters struck me as being important, or which ones I really wanted to explore more. Some of it came from the podcasts themselves, or branched off of stuff that I’d already done before. There was some improv in it, but not really. I think I expected to improvise a lot more than I actually ended up doing during shooting. Most of it was scripted during pre-production.