The nearly 50-year-old soap opera One Life to Live gave actress Melissa Fumero her first credited role, but that didn’t stop her from branching out into comedy. Hence her character Amy Santiago on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, the neurotic police detective who splits her time between being a badass cop and making out with Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg) in the evidence room. With the show’s Die Hard-themed Christmas episode set to air Sunday, Dec. 13 at 8:30 p.m. EST on FOX, Fumero chatted with Uproxx about what it’s like to work with such a great comedy ensemble. She also admitted that she’s deathly afraid of stingrays.
Everyone asks you about your soap-opera days, but what about comedy? Was that something you’d originally set out to do?
It wasn’t a conscious choice. I was a drama major in college, and the soap opera was my first job — I hadn’t even been auditioning that long. After it was over, I told my manager and agent that I wanted to audition for comedies. It was something I loved doing in college, and it was definitely on my actor bucket list. So that’s when I did Important Things with Demetri Martin on Comedy Central. Then I bounced back and forth between comedy and drama jobs.
Being in an ensemble comedy was always a dream of mine. One of those far-fetched dreams where you think, “This will probably never happen but it would be so amazing if it did!” So when I got Brooklyn Nine-Nine, my mind was blown.
You’ve previously mentioned soaking up as much as you could from the cast in the first season. Now that you’re halfway through season three, does the comedy come easier?
Definitely. It’s also that thing where we’ve been doing this for two and a half seasons and everyone is locked into their characters. I know Amy so well at this point, as I should. We’ve all fallen into a real groove and rhythm with the way we work and approach scenes. So it’s definitely easier in that sense, though I’m still learning all the time. I love watching Andy, Joe Lo Truglio (Charles Boyle) and Chelsea Peretti (Gina Linetti) do their thing with improv. Season three has been the most fun because there’s so much freedom now. We’re so much more dialed into the work and the characters than we’ve ever been.
Amy is a woman of many faces, and you’re very good at making them for comedic effect. The paperwork scene with Joe from episode eight still cracks me up.
When she’s momentarily super-attracted to him? [Laughs.] It’s not something I think about. I guess I have this really expressive face. Whatever I’m thinking tends to comes out on my face, which isn’t always great in real life. I can’t really hide things, and it gets me in trouble all the time. But it’s great for acting! Luckily, it really works for Amy since she’s so Type A and neurotic. It works really well, and I definitely lean into it for Amy.
When you first began with Amy, were you sticking to the script? Or was there anything in particular you added that has since stuck around?
In the beginning, we were playing with and trying to find the characters — especially with Amy. A lot of it was me being really nervous, because I just wanted to do a good job and I’d never been this deeply immersed in comedy before. So I was carrying around all this nervous energy anyways, so the writers picked up on it and incorporated it into the character. Then everything was dialed up.
Finding that balance is fun. She is a good cop, and she is really good at her job. She’s really confident doing detective work, but she fails in every other part of her life. That makes the character so much fun, and it has taken a lot of experimenting and collaborating with the writers to find it.
It seems Amy will get another chance to prove herself outside the precinct in the Christmas episode, “Yippie Kayak.”
It’s a fun callback to the pilot when Terry Jeffords (Terry Crews) is introducing the squad and says Amy is always trying to prove how tough she is. So she finds out Holt and Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz) are doing the polar-bear swim, but they didn’t invite her because they don’t think she’s tough enough to handle it. Her really competitive side comes out, which is always fun to play around with — especially with Holt and Rosa. But yeah, she gets really offended when they don’t invite her.
How cold was the actual swim?
We were at the beach, it was very late at night and I kept telling myself that it wasn’t as cold as the Atlantic Ocean. Thank god we shoot on the West Coast. Even so, it was pretty cold. One of the extras saw a stingray, and I’m deathly afraid of stingrays. I got stung by a stingray as a child and was traumatized by it. So then it was deep breathing, meditation and telling myself there were no stingrays in the water and everything was going to be great. Which it was.
I’m on the East Coast, and swimming in the Atlantic right now does not appeal to me.
I know! We were looking at pictures from real polar-bear swims and I thought all these people were nuts. I mean, good for you. It looks like everyone is having a good time, but no thank you. There’s nothing that can convince me to do that.
So you three go for a swim, while the others encounter the Die Hard plot at a department store.
It’s Jake’s dream come true. They look like they’re in an action movie, and I love it when our show does that. When it combines action elements with all the comedy. Despite the split, it’s our Christmas episode, so everyone comes together in the end.
It sounds like everyone gets to flex different muscles on a regular basis.
I love that about Brooklyn Nine-Nine. We get to see it all the time at the movies with action-comedies, but not as much on television. So I’m glad we get to do that, and we get to look really cool while we’re doing it. It allows us more liberty, more room to have fun with the action beats in that world.
Is there an Amy moment or scene from this season that sticks out for you?
Jumping on the mattresses in “The Mattress” was just a really fun day at work. I was getting paid to act like a little kid and jump on mattresses all day. The polar-bear swim in the Christmas episode was also a lot of fun. We were sort of miserable doing it, but it was also just a lot of fun. Whenever we’re on location, we get to change things up and have even more fun with it. But yeah, definitely the mattresses. I don’t think I’d jumped on a mattress since I was 5 years old.
How much time did they give you for mattress jumping? There’s probably a long B-roll from that shoot that’s going to end up at the season wrap party.
Oh yeah. There’s definitely a long montage of us jumping on mattresses, different ways and different sequences. What ended up in the show is so teeny-tiny compared to what we actually shot.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Christmas episode, “Yippie Kayak,” airs Sunday, Dec. 13 at 8:30 p.m. EST on FOX. Until then, here’s a preview…