Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt polished off its fourth season last year but couldn’t resist returning for an interactive special following Black Mirror‘s Bandersnatch. Thank goodness, because co-creators Tina Fey and Robert Carlock’s effusive brainchild couldn’t be more welcome in 2020. Seriously, no one on earth would be opposed to traveling back in time toward Unbreakable or Bandersnatch-land right about now.
So, welcome some much-needed happiness from co-stars Ellie Kemper, Tituss Burgess, Jane Krakowski, Jon Hamm, and more. They’re doing the choose-your-own-adventure thing, and it’s a sheer pleasure to freely select whether Kimmy Schmidt should make out with her fiancé, played by Daniel Radcliffe, or dig into a mystery. (There’s even a good final season of Game of Thrones burn.) Yes, the show’s still as silly as always, but Kimmy’s on a mission to locate more missing girls, and it’s up to her friends to help make it happen. Jane, who plays spoiled-trophy-wife-turned-talent-agent Jacqueline (my pick for the character who grew the hell up), was gracious enough to sit down with us to hash out this special. Yes, Jane’s got the relentlessly catchy theme song stuck in her head too, but she’s loving all of it.
We could use some sunshine in the world these days, so it’s a good time for more Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
[Laughs] The timing clearly was not planned, but when I actually tried out the technology of this special for the first time, I did feel that. This colorful candyland of escapism — it feels lovely to revisit these characters, and what a time. We can either spend an hour or up to three hours with these folks and lots of great jokes.
I’ve gone through this special twice. It took me about 90 minutes both times, does that sound about right to you?
I think that’s if you’re doing it as maximum as you can. Did you get different routes and scenes, though, with the options?
Yes, I very much enjoyed Titus’ different naps and how Jacqueline needed to clean up that Titus-mess on his film set.
Yes, yes. I haven’t yet seen it in the path that I’ve gone down, but I need to go down the path of the writer because I love that course. I’m so glad [Zak Orth] was able to work with us on that. He did one of the most impressive scenes that I’ve seen, saying a list of different movie plots. Somewhere, there’s the whole list of 30 things with nothing to help in memorizing it, they were just one-off thoughts. He happened to also be on a Broadway show, so at night, he was doing the Hillary and Clinton play, and he would film all day long with us, and he did the entire list of nonsensical titles in one take without making a mistake, and literally, the entire crew applauded. Sometimes they write stuff for us to see if we can do it, if it’s even possible, but he did it, and it was amazing. Robert Carlock told me that it was somewhere in there in a bonus scene where you can do it uncut, and Zak deserves that. I wanna find it without Jacqueline interrupting it.
With the special, there’s a difference in the usual Unbreakable pace and also your pace from 30 Rock, where you’d have to talk really fast to cram all your jokes in. With this interactive format, you have to pause to let viewers make a choice.
Oh yes, it’s different.
It’s almost like a Dora The Explorer thing, where they ask questions and then stare at the audience. Is that really awkward to film?
Initially, I didn’t really understand it (the stall time), because I’d not done this technology before filming it. The first one thing that we ever filmed for this special was when I’m drinking a soda for a really long time. Two days later, they brought it to me and showed me how it would work, like where the choices are, and then it became my favorite part of filming this experience. Those were the parts that were left unwritten, and you could do anything that you wanted in these empty times, and for an awkward amount of time, which made it more fun and more enjoyable. Those moments, because they were singular to this filming process, became my favorite part. We would go further and further to see what we could get away with in the stall time.
This interactive special was announced after Netflix’s success with the Black Mirror episode, “Bandersnatch.” Did you try that one out?
I didn’t, and in hindsight, I probably should have. When I watched the Unbreakable special for the first time, I watched it with my son because he knew how to use the remote and technology, which was a lot easier than I thought it would be, and he had done it with Bear Grylls [in You vs. Wild, also on Netflix]. He turned it on and just started doing it. I was thankful that I had a nine-year-old in the apartment to help me figure this out. I have heard that [Bandersnatch] is very different in tone. I would be curious to know what they did in the stall time.
It was awkward, for sure, but it was also so bleak, so there’s a contrast with the Unbreakable special because it’s so lighthearted, even though, obviously, the show was born from dark subject matter (women getting kidnapped).
Yeah, to me, I’ve always actually really loved the episodes where they lean into that, sort-of the darker side because the show is so light and funny and colorful, in actual color and spirit. I remember when people [questioned that] this was going to be a comedy when they explained what the plot was. And really, only from the minds of Robert and Tina could they come up with such a show where it would be so positive, coming from such a bleak base. I actually was taken by surprise near the end [of the special] when Kimmy does find other women, and I’m laughing along, because, right, that’s the whole thing. Those women always take me by surprise and move me because it gives the characters and the story such weight.
Even Jacqueline goes through terrible things, like right after she married David Cross’ character.
Oh, right, he got smooshed! [Laughs]
She managed to grow despite all of that darkness, which happens with this show, so it’s good to have it back, if only for an episode.
It’s so nice that you feel that way. The series was completed, and we were hopeful that this sort-of thing would come along, and when it did, it was a great joy for us all to get back together. I very much enjoy putting Jacqueline’s amazing wardrobe and 1% beliefs back on and having more fun with these characters. It was also a major get for us to get Daniel Radcliffe to come to this special. I had been a fan of his, obviously from his movies and seeing him on Broadway, and I’ve always wanted to know this guy. He really goes for it and tries so many different things, and he’s interested, and I like that about him. In the scenes that I got to film with him, he’s so professional and hilarious. After the first read-through, some of us thought, “Whoa, he’s so funny, we’ve got to get our act together.” We could have done already while filming, but it was nice to have somebody of his stature come in and raise our game.
His energy probably also helped to freshen things up.
For sure, and it helped with Kimmy’s story and how she’s developed. It worked on so many levels, and he’s an absolute delight. I really like that guy.
Daniel Radcliffe’s a perk of the job, but if we’re talking about occupational hazards, I have to ask: do you ever get the theme song stuck in your head?
Whenever I hear it, yes!
That’s a relief because it’s in my head as we speak.
Jeff Richmond is very good at making an earworm. He has added so much to 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt through his theme songs, through his songs that have gone viral, even the scoring. His scoring brings so much to the talent of these shows and the jokes. Even his 30-second samples of theme songs are amazing.
With your long-running, larger-than-life characters, like Elaine from Ally McBeal, Jenna from 30 Rock, and Jacqueline, they’re all beloved in different ways. Was it more difficult to say goodbye to any of them in particular?
There’s so much more that goes into saying goodbye to a character in a long-running series. The years that you’ve spent together, if you’re lucky enough to have those years. Ally McBeal was my first big TV show, my first experience of being on a popular show, so that will always have a place in my heart — all of those guys and David Kelley and that experience — because that was a shift in the notoriety of my career, so that was a big life change. And then 30 Rock was this very special venture. What’s really interesting is that, because of streaming, younger people are telling me that they’re just watching the show for the first time, and it’s pretty great to see it live on and be asked to speak at graduations and stuff because of 30 Rock. They’re rediscovering it because they were too young to watch it the first time around. We were the show that didn’t get high ratings, and we were the underdog. We weren’t supposed to make it. That show will always be special to me because of the Little-Engine-That-Could quality, and I know it’s hard to say that after winning all those Emmys, but it did have that vibe and lived in that sort-of cult-y kind of place. I never saw it coming that I’d work with Tina Fey and Robert Carlock for 11 TV seasons in a row. That is the best fortune I could have in my life. I love playing flawed characters and bringing their flaws to humor. I don’t know if it’s my way of coping, but I like doing that for characters, and the characters that they’ve written for me have been extremely flawed, which have given them lots to heighten and comedy gold.
As we sign off here, do you have any advice for Jacqueline, for wherever she might be going, in the future?
Oh my goodness, what would it be? I’ve always had sympathy for Jacqueline. We’re talking about a bleak start, a woman who changed her appearance so much, starting with her Native American roots, to be blonde and get a rich husband in New York. I’ve always had sympathy for her because I never thought she really believed in herself. She has finally entered a time when she’s standing on her own and can choose her own path, and I hope she believes in herself now. That she is good at what she does with whatever skills and tools she has, however limited, she’s doing it, and she’s succeeding, and that makes me happy to think that she’s moving forward in the world.
‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs. the Reverend’ is currently streaming on Netflix.