IT’S HER TURN TO ROAR

Los Angeles Times - - THE ENVELOPE - By Michael Or­doña cal­en­dar@la­times.com

El­lie Kem­per is sur­pris­ingly small and com­pact, and sur­pris­ingly red-haired. Not shock­ingly red; that would be too flashy for the St. Louis na­tive. But the en­ergy, the en­thu­si­asm, the po­lite­ness you’d ex­pect of the pub­licly sunny actress and writer, those are present in abun­dance. She is ev­ery inch the high school crush who seems just the same at the re­u­nion and is do­ing ex­tremely well, thanks so much for ask­ing.

But there’s an­other layer — she’s warm and en­gag­ing but al­ways aware she’s be­ing in­ter­viewed. De­spite her self-ad­mon­ish­ments, she’s no rube. She an­a­lyzes ques­tions and her own re­sponses. It’s the Prince­ton grad who writes for McSweeney’s and the Onion; it’s that im­prov-honed per­for­mance in­tel­li­gence that makes her comic tim­ing so sharp. And when her face turns se­ri­ous, one could al­most be­lieve she ac­tu­ally is 35. Al­most. That mix of Mis­sourian bon­homie (rude­ness is her pet peeve) and stealth smarts is likely what Tina Fey and Robert Car­lock picked up on when they cre­ated the tit­u­lar hero­ine of “Un­break­able Kimmy Sch­midt” for her.

“I can go largely based on what I’ve read in in­ter­views with Tina and Robert,” says the newly minted Webby win­ner. (Her manda­tory five-word ac­cep­tance speech: “So ex­cited. Live-stream­ing my pants.”) “I know that they watched ‘The Of­fice,’ and they took a lot from the char­ac­ter of Erin — not the char­ac­ter, but what I brought to it. Maybe there’s a cheer­ful­ness but a strength as well. But that sounds like I’m brag­ging about my­self.”

Kimmy sur­vives 15 years in cap­tiv­ity in an un­der­ground bunker un­der the “pro­tec­tion” of a self-styled guru/DJ (Kem­per’s real-life for­mer drama teacher, Jon Hamm, as an ac­tual mad­man). Once freed, Kimmy de­cides to start a new life in New York City, where her post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der should fit right in. It’s com­edy gold!

“When I read the pi­lot script, I thought that Tina and Robert were testing me, that I was smart enough to know this was not the ac­tual premise of the show. I came home and I took a bath and I was like, ‘I won­der if there were video cam­eras in there,’ ” says Kem­per.

“Then when I re­al­ized this was not a test or a prank, I thought, ‘How are peo­ple go­ing to re­spond to this?’ But the fo­cus has not been on ‘How do you make com­edy out of a sub­ject like that?’ Be­cause it does it so seam­lessly, I think.”

Seen largely through Kimmy’s eyes, Man­hat­tan is a candy-colored bun­dle of won­der where her ini­tially con­niv­ing room­mate (Ti­tuss Burgess) be­comes her best friend, and her borderline-danger­ous land­lady (Carol Kane) is re­ally just a more-or-less harm­less kook.

“Hon­estly, I think it’s a bit of a weird show, and that’s one of its strengths,” says Kem­per. “Ti­tuss is singing about … ,” she hes­i­tates, then: “black pe­nis, and Carol Kane is crack­ing car win­dows be­cause yup­pies are mov­ing in.” She chuck­les. “I’m just de­lighted peo­ple are re­spond­ing to it.... She’s come out of this bunker and she’s es­sen­tially the same age as when she went in, which is 14. So she’s hav­ing th­ese ex­pe­ri­ences with love that peo­ple usu­ally have when they’re 16 or 17. So I think ma­tu­rity in that depart­ment will be very in- ter­est­ing to play and see.”

Kem­per’s crack tim­ing fu­els episodes such as “Kimmy Goes to a Party!”: She poses as what she thinks a very rich per­son is like dur­ing a din­ner gath­er­ing, shift­ing gears at Looney Toons speeds.

Through­out the sea­son, hints of Kimmy’s battle-honed edges poke through, as when she and her em­ployer take a Spin class run by a trainer/guru. Kimmy re­al­izes, “‘This is just an­other ex­am­ple of a man telling me how to run my life and not al­low­ing me room for thought.’ When she shat­ters the glass of that class, even though it’s silly on one hand — again, this is artsy — but it’s so defin­ing, I think,” Kem­per says with an em­bar­rassed tit­ter.

When told there’s no need to apol­o­gize for “artsy” an­swers, she says, quickly, “Well, I’m from the Mid­west.”

Robert Gau­thier Los An­ge­les Times

“UN­BREAK­ABLE” may be a lit­tle weird, but it’s bet­ter for it, says El­lie Kem­per.

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