EXCLUSIVE: Carrie Brownstein Talks Portlandia Season 2
Singer-turned-comedian, Carrie Brownstein takes us into the Pacific Northwest for a look at these all-new episodes coming to IFC this January
Carrie Brownstein is giving every other comedic actor a run for their money this winter, as the singer-turned-actor returns for ten all-new rain-soaked Season 2 episodes of our latest obsession Portlandia.
We recently caught up with Carrie to chat about new characters, Portland locals, and the live show she is currently staging with co-star Fred Armisen. This new season of Portlandia promises to top the last, as Fred and Carrie have truly created something unique and original in the wasteland that can sometimes be sketch comedy.
Here is our conversation.
You and Fred are taking Portlandia on the road. What can fans expect to see there?
Carrie Brownstein: It's sort of a variety show. It's not a live sketch show. It's about bringing the intimacy of Portlandia to fans. Some of the casualness. We are going to play music. Do some storytelling, some Q&A. We will be showing some videos. We will have a guest in each city. Each city will be its own unique show with its own different guests. It will vary from night to night. There is a basic infrastructure that we will follow.
Do you have a select group of favorite scenes from Season 2 that you will be showcasing?
Carrie Brownstein: I think so. We are still picking the ones we want to play. It will also depend on what else is happening that night. Like, if we have a lot of extra guests that night, we will play less clips. There are certain scenes that we feel best represent the show. We will also try to pick scenes that haven't aired yet, so that it's new. The first three dates happen before the show even airs, so we won't have a problem with that. But the following dates will all include stuff that hasn't aired yet.
Can you tell me about some of the new characters, and some of the new clips?
Carrie Brownstein: Oh! Have you not seen some of the new episodes yet?
I watched the first episode of Season 2 last night. I've seen all of Season 1. I love the show!
Carrie Brownstein: But you've only seen the first new one? Um...Well, we will be showing a lot from an episode called Catnap. Which is a band that Fred and I are in. Kristen Wiig plays a very unhinged fan of ours. Fred and I are Gil and Merrill. That is one episode from which scenes will play. We have Kath and Dave. They are strident. They perform their relationship to other people. Everything they do is partly for other people's benefit. They feel that everything they have to say is very important, and precious. We will show one of their sketches. I'm not sure what all will be shown.
In terms of Kath and Dave, and the regionalization of the show, is the Dog Park sketch pulled more from your experiences at a Los Angeles dog park? Cause it seems truer to that, geographically, than anything I've ever experienced in Oregon...
Carrie Brownstein: I assume it's the same everywhere. I have two dogs, and I live in Portland and New York. I have also been to the dog parks in Los Angeles. I think they are the same everywhere. There are a lot of similarities. There is a lot of protection that goes on in a dog park. A lot of interpersonal dynamics that have nothing to do with the dogs. A lot of speaking on behalf of one's dog. There is a lot of over vigilance. On the people's part, not the dog...I don't know. I think Portland and Los Angeles are pretty similar, dog park wise.
I was out in Nashville for a while, and at the dog parks there, no one really talks or interacts. Its get in, get it done, and get out. But then, here in Los Angeles, it looks exactly like it does on this show. You guys nailed it.
Carrie Brownstein: It's like a tea party. I think that is to Nashville's credit. I think dog parks would be better if no one talked. I find them very interesting. Well, maybe...Maybe no one in Nashville will get that sketch...
I think it has to do with the rain and the cold weather more than anything else. It's a giant mud pit. The dogs enjoy it, but the people are miserable. You just want to get in and out as fast as you can. I thought maybe Portland was the same way, because of the weather. I've actually never been to the dog park in Portland.
Carrie Brownstein: When it rains, it's probably exactly like it is in Nashville. Its just people waiting for their dogs to be done, so they can get back in their warm car. No one is talking. We shoot in the summer, so Portland always looks beautiful and sunny.
Yeah, there is no other time of year you guys could have shot that scene with you and Fred in the river...
Carrie Brownstein: Oh, my gosh. I know. That would have been brutal just a month later. That was actually a really warm day. Portland gets really warm in the summer.
That water still had to be freezing cold, though, right?
Carrie Brownstein: Yes. It was pretty cold!
In this first episode, Mixology, with Andy Samberg, you guys have another musical scene. What struck me was how different and unique it was from Dream of the 90s. You guys aren't repeating yourself. You're actually pushing everything in a new direction, it seems...
Carrie Brownstein: What musical...Oh, at the end...I think, approaching this new season...We weren't interested in retredding what we'd already done. There are certain things. Thematic recurrences, and recurring characters...But we knew this season was going to feel different. Dream of the 90s was our opening thesis for last year. It was people's way into the show. We didn't feel that we needed to do that again. We put Mixologist first, I think, mostly because its one of the only storylines with Fred AND I. Every episode has one throughline. We wanted to start out with one that had Fred and I all throughout it. We are two of the most stable characters on the show, even though we are always doing really bizarre things. In our stable, our Fred and Carrie characters are probably the least bizarre. We wanted to start out with us. But it's definitely a different feeling. I feel like this season has more stories to it. It functions better as a whole, more so than last season.
You'll see a lot of shows fall back on, repeat, and rely on what has come before it. Because they know that's what the fans like, and what they want to see. What is the challenge of pushing each new skit in a different direction? Not relying on the process of repeating what came before it so much...
Carrie Brownstein: I think that is the challenge. To create something that is different. Pushing yourself as a writer or a performer. You have to trust yourself, and trust that the audience is smart enough to not want the same thing over and over again. It's like putting out a second or third album. The fans always love the first album, and certain songs. It's usually a failure for a band to put out the same album again, though. It's immediately gratifying. But then you realize you've been duped. It was challenging. But at the same time, I think we knew what the show was the second season. The first season, we were throwing things against the wall, trying to see what would stick. This season, we knew what the show is. It's a sketch show. The challenge of not wanting to repeat ourselves? We had an easier time writing...Because the show had an essence to it. It was easy to write to that.
Do you always write with a specific guest star in mind?
Carrie Brownstein: It depends. Sometimes, when we are in the brainstorming phases...I will use Mixologist as an example...Since you've seen it...The actual inception of that sketch started with the fact that Portland is a very idealistic place. Everyone knows someone that has moved to Portland at this point. That couple who just had kids. They are like, "We are going to move to Portland because of the schools." Or you have someone that is starting their own bakery, so they move to Portland. That began us thinking, "Why would you ever leave Portland?" That's how that story started. "Who would leave Portland?" Fred and I would have to go get them back. Then we thought of this Mixologist character. And then we thought of Andy Samberg. Sometimes we have a role, and then we think of someone. It usually happens like that. We tend not to specifically write for someone. We also have to think of the story first. Then we find someone we want to do it. That person is allowed to infuse the character with whatever they want. Because it's very much improvised. Like Tim Robbins, who, for his episode, brought his own wig. He called our wardrobe department and asked about ideas. We give people the chance to really create something from the ground up.
Is Tim Robbins someone that has his own crate of wigs? Is he carting this thing around with him every where he goes?
Yeah, the John Cusack movie...
Carrie Brownstein: Yeah, he still has his wig from that movie. If you ever get your own wig...Fred has this because of Saturday Night Live...But a good wig is very expensive. It is made specifically for you, and it fits perfectly. So you hold onto it. That movie was made such a long time ago. But he still had it. He flew out with it. I don't think he had a closet full of wigs...That I know of...
That's crazy. How is its for you acting against someone like Tim Robbins? Portlandia introduced you as a first time actor. And you always appear so confident on screen. Is it ever nerve wracking knowing that you are going to be going up against, and playing along with an Oscar winning actor like Tim?
Carrie Brownstein: I am a fearless person. That is both a blessing and a curse. I think, with this show in general, and improv, and comedy...You have to dive in and take risks. You can't really bring...If you have nervousness in a scene, you have to figure out how to use it. The people we invite onto the show are people that are really excited to do it. They understand the sensibilities. Its very low budget. So we are all in the same trailer. We all have to share the same dressing room. It has a very intimate, low-key vibe. Anyone that comes on the show embraces that. It demystifies everything. We are all in the same mix. But certainly...There was a moment, acting in a scene with Tim Robbins, where I thought, "Here I am, with Academy Award-winning actor Tim Robbins. Sitting in Portland." Actually, Tim is someone I have known for awhile. He was a fan of my old band. But I had never acted in a scene with him. Which was very surreal and cool. Because of the nature of this show, it did end up being a lot of people that we knew. That we were reaching out to friends and acquaintances. We did go through the normal routes, but these are the people we want to work with. The people that we know and admire. Tim is definitely a cool guy.
On the flip side of that, you have someone like the Air Conditioner Repairman in the first episode. Is that a real air conditioner repairman? Is that someone you guys just know? Is he a professional actor? Where do you find that guy?
Carrie Brownstein: We have a great casting director. Who is a Portlander. He brings in an amazing pool of talent. A lot of them are non-actors. He is just someone that is out and about in the community. And he has a really good eye for authenticity. I think he and our director work really well together. He has a real sense of what our director is looking for. Fred and I are also very adamant. If we watch someone reading for a scene, and they are trying to be funny, that is the fastest way you will not get cast. The local talent in Portland is really strong. We want them to be as real and natural as possible. The air conditioner repairman is a non-actor. He did audition. He was great. We knew immediatly that he would add an interesting contrast to Toni and Candace.
What do you hope audiences are able to take from Season 2?
Carrie Brownstein: All you hope is that the show...You hope that more than one person has a connection, and finds something relatable or interesting...I don't care if people laugh or not. I would rather them think or feel something with the show. Hopefully they will laugh too. I would rather put out something interesting, than something that is instantly gratifying. Hopefully, someone will connect with it and enjoy it. We are just grateful to have an audience.
Any chance you will host SNL this year?