Kimmy Schmidt's going to college, and Ellie Kemper is ready to unleash the irrepressible new co-ed's strengths -- literally, in some cases.
As "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" returns to Netflix for a third season, Kemper says she's having a ball pushing her on-screen alter ego's story forward as she continues to dive into the life experiences she missed as a result of her long underground imprisonment -- and, as a bonus, find that she finally holds a little power over her now incarcerated captor (Jon Hamm).
At a recent event at the Television Academy previewing Season 3 -- and reminding Emmy voters of the cast and creators' accomplishments in the second season -- Kemper joined Moviefone for a look at the antics -- and the often moving character growth -- ahead for TV's most determined optimist.
Moviefone: Kimmy's on her journey toward actual adulting. Give me a little tease as to what she gets to do that was fun to play.
Ellie Kemper: I think Kimmy going to college is really fun to play. I think, specifically, she's on the crew team there. So I love that Kimmy is so physically strong. I know that it's because she, I guess, got very strong in the bunker, but I think she's just this naturally, sort of inexplicably strong person, and I love that. I love that she's athletic. That stuff's just fun to play.
We got to see some of that when she had her rage emerge in Season 2. Is there a new emotion that kind of bubbles up in Season 3 that you got to play that was a new facet?
Oh! It's so funny: when Kimmy gets mad, she gets very mad. I always feel like I have to take it with a grain of sugar, I'll say. She can't help but to be a little bit sweet, even when she's in the depths of frustration. Not despair – she's not full of despair, but just when she's frustrated.
How is her progress with coming to terms with the things? Is that a big part of her arc in Season 3?
Getting there. It is, yeah. I think we started that introspective work last season. It continues here. She's not seeing a therapist anymore, but she just continues to think about life and her place in the world, and what she can and cannot do. That's work that she'll continue to keep doing, which is very important work.
I've compared the show to a gummy vitamin, because there's so much stuff in there that's good to see, but it's also delicious because it's so damn funny. Tell me about getting there, telling this story, realizing Kimmy did have a deeper arc and a whole journey to go on, but also always hitting those funny beats as hard as you can hit them.
I think that's really hard, but I think all of it is in the writing. When I first heard the premise for the show, I thought that they weren't serious, because it doesn't sound like a likely premise for a comedy, especially a network comedy. It wasn't a joke. They were making the show, and Tina [Fey] and Robert [Carlock] are, frankly, brilliant so the writing does most of the work for us, because it's already there.
It can talk about something as serious as, again, sexual abuse, and in the next line, there's a joke about Tituss [Burgess], like a license plate he picked up somewhere. I feel like they do the hard work, and then we get to take the gummy vitamin.
Have you heard from people who watch the show who are very positive people like Kimmy, but also have dark stuff happen and have tried to put a positive spin on their lives?
It feels very nice to know that you're making something that is helping people, and I've had a lot of people who have watched the show and have been kind enough to share their experience with me, to say that it got them through a hard time. Things like, "Oh, I was sick for two weeks and it helped," to "My mother died and just really helped me through it."
I feel like it's a good thing that we're putting out there, so that feels ... I'm trying not to make it selfish, but it does feel nice, you get to know that you're adding a net positive. Especially now. It's hard out there. think that the show exemplifies a lot of strength, and puts that at its center. So I hope people draw strength from that.
As a comedian, they give you so much to wring laughs from, so many different kinds of things. You're like an Olympian.
Oh, the whole cast is. It's like one after another.
Tell me about rising to the challenges that they throw at you, and figuring out different ways to come at things, because it's always fresh, too.
Again, I think so much of it is right there in the writing. So there are these quick turns, from being silly to being serious, to everything in between. That is the part to me that's a little bit mysterious that I feel like you can't really explain, which is how they make that happen. It does seem sort of seamless.
There are certainly parts that I struggle with, like "Okay, how is this actually believable? How will she be doing this?" But it always tends to work. That's not a very good answer, because I'm like, "Oh, it's mysterious ..." but I do think it's a little bit mysterious.
Don't ruin a joke, but give me the craziest thing you got to do this season. The most outrageous setup where you're like, "How am I going to pull this off?"
Do you know what? It isn't even that crazy, but it was just that it was the last day of shooting. I think they were going to shut us down in like 20 minutes. Carol [Kane], as Lillian, is supposed to throw a glass at me, and I was so worried. This is just like on a logistics level: I was like, "Nobody's practicing this. I'm about to lose my eye."
Obviously, it's a breakaway glass. It's not real glass. But we didn't rehearse it. I was so convinced that it would be goodbye to my vision. But it all worked out just fine.
I've been humming the tune to "Bunny and Kitty" for the better part of a year.
Did you do anything like that this season? Anything super crazy, but catchy?
I can't think of anything crazy but catchy. I'm trying to think if Kimmy sings at all this season. There's one cleaning song she sings, but it won't stick in your brain. Tituss and I liked it.
Are you surprised how deeply viral some of this music goes?
No! It's so good that it doesn't surprise me. The Tituss stuff, the videos are, like, made to be viral. It would be a sin, a crime, if they weren't.
"Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" Season 3 premieres May 19 on Netflix.
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