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.