Molly Shannon stars in The White Lotus and The Other Two – The Hollywood Reporter
Molly Shannon is drawn to the extreme in 2021, playing an ultimate compassion talk show host who would rather fall than complain about her taxing schedule on HBO Max’s The other two and a monstrous mother-in-law on satirical HBO NS White Lotus. In fact, the comedy legend presents herself as much closer to the former – however, in her own admission, she’s better at setting boundaries between work and life.
And while she may have been attached to film and television ever since that seven-season series Saturday night live Starting his career in 1995, Shannon seems to be in for a moment. Both of her recent television roles have been loved by fans and critics alike. Topping the list of strong movies that include Zach Braff’s latest feature, she has the Showtime comedy I love this for you and her first memoir (Hello Molly!, out April 12) on deck.
Talk to CHEAP On the phone in early November, Shannon shared what makes her say “yes” to work these days, her hardest selling place at SNL and her recent evening in the star-studded audience of Adele’s CBS concert special.
Aside from sharing something personal, what was the biggest challenge in writing a memoir?
Get your voice on the page – just like when you’re talking to me. Turning the stories I always wrote about my father or my childhood into prose, that was the hardest part. I want to make it literary. My mother is a librarian. She majored in library science. So I just want to make it a good book, make it interesting, but make it real.
Do you have a favorite memoir?
Well, I love Mia Farrow’s [What Falls Away]. It was a very good read. And I love Steve Martin’s Born standing up. It is very clean and simple. He is a very good writer.
What makes you say “yes” to a role these days?
It must feel fun. That’s really all it does. Of course, excellent writing. I don’t want to work too much because I love being a mother, and I want to be with my kids. That’s what comes first. I like to have time to rest. I’m not one of those people who likes to work all the time.
Pat, your character on The other two, was overwhelmed to the point of physical breakdown in the second season – but she didn’t want to get to know anyone. Have you been there in your own career?
[Co-creator and showrunner] Chris Kelly and I would be on set, and he would say, “OK, in this scene, Pat is working, but when she’s done, she’s going to move to California to do something else…” We would break because I thought, “Oh, my God. This is exactly like my life right now.”
But no 20-second nap when standing up, I hope?
I do that a little bit. If the dogs wake up before the kids, I’ll let them out and I’ll stand there with my eyes closed for a few minutes – get up, sleep, while they go to the bathroom.
Is it a tough purchase to get you to make a series these days, with a time commitment?
When Chris Kelly asked me to do it, I just felt so lucky. He’s so talented. And his writing partner, Sarah Schneider, whom I’ve never worked with before, they’re like A-Team. It was just a quick consent. I think I’m really good at knowing super talented. So when it first aired on Comedy Central, it was tough because it wasn’t actually streaming. It really bothered me. I want more people to see it. Thankfully, now on HBO Max, there are even more people.
Your first time working with Chris on The others?
He just called me and was like, “Did you read my script?” I love it very much. I sobbed, I laughed. It’s one of the best movie scripts I’ve ever read.
Do you look for a sweet spot between sobbing and laughing in the material you take on?
It’s hard to sob. God, it’s really hard. I try to find a balance – but I feel this is the best comedy, the best comedy, I play with real emotion. I treat comedy the way a dramatic actress does. I don’t think of it as a comedy. I think it would be funnier if it was real, because then you’re not far from your character, winking as if you were in a joke. When I was at NYU, I did this comedy show called The Follies. Adam Sandler was in it. We improvised and created the characters. I remember there was a brilliant girl at school, she was a very serious theater actress. She wanted to be part of our group, but she had no sense of comedy. I think she intellectualized it too much, trying to talk about comedy. It’s the opposite of me. You have to let yourself go and not be so controlled. That makes it funny.
You have never overlapped with Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider as they write on SNL, but do you see a shorthand that works with people who have gone through the program?
Absolutely yes. With Chris and Sarah, it’s just there. You immediately understand each other. It is just natural. It’s like a family.
Will Ferrell recently spoke in an interview with CHEAP that your first outing as Mary Katherine Gallagher was one of his favorites. SNL celebrated because of its strong response from the audience. Is that true for you?
Will is a really good friend of mine. I saw that, and I was very moved. It was the first time I felt that – and I won’t go into it too much, because this is in the books – but I had a hard time portraying that character. When I finally did, it was a real moment of victory. I believe in it, because I played the character on my stage show. But that was the first moment I said, “Okay, good. I think we’re on to something. “
Can you tell me about another difficult character to air? Because I’ve always wondered if Jeannie Darcy, the horrible person who couldn’t tell a joke, was an easy salesman?
That was the hardest sale. I included it in the read-through. It didn’t get on. And you’ll never go through that again. It’s embarrassing and you just shouldn’t do it. But I think I asked Mike Shoemaker, and he said, “Oh, okay.” It goes on, but it’s really hard because people just say, “What is this?” That’s my reaction to always smiling. That’s the end of when I’m in SNLand I wanted to do something really dull that wasn’t amusing and just really played the real thing about it. She’s just an untalented girl who shouldn’t be in comedy, maybe on the spectrum, but she’s driven and really sticks with it. I don’t want to laugh except for Jimmy Fallon and Will Ferrell. It’s really just for them.
Does comedy appeal to you? That’s definitely a cutting point in White Lotus.
Mike White [the creator and showrunner] will be specific about what he wants, and I want to please him. At first, I did it too much like a “rich lady” – acting like I think rich ladies act. Mike said, “No, no, no. I want it to be really natural. You are just rich. You have money. You always have it. You don’t have to pretend to be rich.” I had to adjust, because my character had to control those scenes. She didn’t listen. She talks to everyone. I want to come and own the scene, control it, dominate it. She was there to say, “Look, your job is to just make my son happy, and you’ll make your life a lot simpler if you don’t complicate it and just do it.” so.” She came in with that message and then flew out. It’s a really fun character to play. She really is a bitch.
Does the bitch like you? Because you seem to attract more serious characters.
Kitty really delights me. I’m really trying to understand what she thinks, not making fun of it, because there are people like that, just in their own world. I want to understand a woman like that. It got me hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of real diamonds from the Four Seasons jewelry store. I have never been so enamored with diamonds in my life.
Who do you go to for advice?
I go back to my original friends from childhood. Those are the people I really trust – Allison, Earl, Debbie Palermo, George Cheeks – who I’ve known since I was a kid.
George Cheeks, CEO of CBS Entertainment Group?
Yeah, we met in fifth grade. We were in Wizard of Oz together in the theater. He’s one of my best friends, and he’s killing it. We really just got to see Adele together, and it was just the best night ever.
You were in the audience for Adele: One Night Only?
It’s fun. Gayle King and Oprah were there. And Adele’s boy was sitting in front of us. This is the first time he’s seen her perform! I continued to watch him watching her, like, “This is the right moment, this boy is seeing his mother perform on stage for the first time.” I also watched him half the time, because it was so moving.
The edited interview is long and clear.
This story first appeared in the independent November issue of The Hollywood Reporter. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.