It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia‘s Kaitlin Olson on her new Show The Mick
The comedic chops Kaitlin Olson has been consistently displaying over 12 seasons as Dee in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia have earned her a well-deserved starring role in Fox’s sitcom The Mick. She plays Mickey, an irresponsible hustler who suddenly finds herself guardian to her obscenely wealthy, estranged sister’s children. We chat to Olson about getting out of her comfort zone, working with kids and her newfound lust for power.
First of all, congratulations on such a busy year. It must have been an exciting time for you?
Thank you. It was kind of surreal. The first week of January was a whirlwind. It was very exciting.
There's an ongoing debate about there not being enough acting work for women over 40. I was wondering if perhaps that's because you're singlehandedly doing it all now?
[laughs] That I'm doing all of it? No way. There's certainly many more women well qualified, more qualified than myself, but thank you. I appreciate that you thought it. But I don't appreciate that you think of me as over 40.
You don’t look a day over 22 but you are in your twelfth season of Sunny, so unless you started when you were fourteen …
All right, I'll give you that. I like to pretend that people don't really do the math and just sort of zone out.
Don't we all! How has it been juggling the two shows? I understand you only spend a couple of months shooting It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, so you can work it out, but were you nervous about that when you took them both on?
I was, yeah, I was very nervous about it. Mainly because of the amount of time that I would be working because of my kids. They’re sort of used to having me gone a couple of months out of the year, but year round was a whole different story.
We're figuring it out. They come to see me at work as much as possible. I try and make it home for bedtime as much as possible. My husband's [Sunny co-creator and co-star Rob McElhenney] able to work out his schedule so that if I'm not there in the morning, to get them ready for school, he can be.
The part of Mackenzie in The Mick was conceived for you by creators and Sunny co-executive producers Dave and John Chernin. That must have been quite a vote of confidence for you going into it? How did you respond when you were approached about this role?
It was a huge honour. Dave and John Chernin had been writing on Sunny for a long time and I'm huge fans of theirs and they're huge fans of mine. When they wrote this, they wrote it for me, but I don't think they actually thought that I was going to be able to do it. It so happened at a time where, we were at the end of our tenth season, we were renegotiating Sunny and they approached me and I was able to negotiate, and yeah, it was huge. I'm extremely flattered.
Also, it’s a lot of pressure, I'm that person who takes that problem and then just immediately is like, ‘Oh great, I'm just going to screw it up, I'm going to disappoint everyone.’ So, there's a little bit of that. I feel like there's a lot on my shoulders but it's been really wonderful. I feel very appreciative to have this opportunity and to be also able to produce it, so I can have some creative control and it can really be a show I want to do.
It's been picked up for another season, where do you see your character going as it continues?
Well, I want to see how Mickey settles into this life. She is a very opposite personality to this particular setting and she's going to have to make do. Unlike on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia which centres on people who will never change and never have any heart, these kids have to grow on Mickey or there's no reason for her to stay. She can figure out a way to ditch them and I like exploring that without hitting you over the head with this heart and feeling, it's still a comedic performance.
So, she’s got to become a more well-rounded person who grows rather than just staying in her lane?
That's exactly right, and also I like seeing her fight against these feelings that she's very uncomfortable with and I think she hasn't really opened herself up to anybody up to this point. So, it's nice to see her really fall in love with all the kids, even the ones she seems to hate.
And does that allow you to explore different dimensions of your acting skills, playing a character with deeper elements, along with the comedic ones you’re known for?
Oh yeah, its been a lot of fun being able to play things that are real and relationship-based as well. You know, it shows that she actually cares about stuff. I went to school for theatre, I did do kind of dramatic stuff. I haven't been able to do it professionally in a while.
Yes, and now you're doing it on network television!
Well, I mean, 30 seconds at a time but still.
How did you feel about that move from cable to broadcast? I mean, you're an executive producer, so obviously you have some amount of control, but did you have any reservations about the amount of freedom that you'd be able to have?
Absolutely, yeah, I was terrified! I really did not think I wanted to do a show on network television, but if we're going to do this show on a network, I think that Fox is a great home for it.
They also wanted to do a network comedy that felt like it belongs on cable and we all really seem to be on the same page. I had a lot of conversations with executives at Fox and just explained what I wanted to do, and the good news is my sense of humour isn't necessarily dirty and about shock value, right? I actually don't find that stuff funny. I think some of the comedy is something that you haven't seen before, so sometimes if you haven't seen it before, standards and practises gets very uncomfortable because its like, ‘Oh, oh, oh, wait, we can't say penis’ where on my show we say penis. It’s anatomically correct. We should be able to say penis.
Yeah, you definitely should be able to say penis.
So yeah, it’s stuff like that. Of course, why not? You've got like people shooting and murdering each other on network television, but I can't say that word – it doesn't make any sense to me.
So we have those conversations and those arguments sometimes, but we're really figuring it out well with the network. I think it has been a really good partnership so far.
Can you tell me a little bit more about what other boundaries you would like to be able to push? What sort of topics would you like to tackle on the show? You know, particularly as a woman starring in her own show, you've got a rare platform.
You know, the Chernins had this idea to try and get Ben into an all girls school, so we were supposed to dress him up and make him pretend that he was a girl. It was really important for me to take that one step further and really explore gender fluidity and kids who are confused about their gender. It was important to me to bring that into our show, I said if we're going to do this, lets just take it one step further and let’s make it so that Ben likes girls’ clothes. He's so young he doesn't even know, you know, what that means, but I want that to be just okay and be normal.
How did you go about that?
We worked together and they were really receptive to it, which I appreciated. Without talking about it in every episode, we put Ben in some kind of girls’ clothing or gender fluid clothing like pyjamas that may seem to belong to a girl physically. I like making it like it’s no big deal or that we're not really talking about it. We're just letting him wear what he wants. Stuff like that is really important.
And it's not the punchline either, its just part of what's happening.
No, we're not making jokes about it, we're not even really calling too much attention to it, it just sort of is. We don't want it to overshadow the fact that we're doing a comedy, but that's the state of our world right now. We've got some transgender kids in crisis and I want them to feel represented on television, because television should be a reflection of life really. Stuff like that will pop up I think.
I suppose having children yourself, you would be more in tune with those kinds of issues because you'd be thinking about them as you raise your own children?
Yes, that's the thing. I have two little boys and so the state of the world is extremely important to me, like it is for everybody, but it begins just being a parent. Having that kind of reflected in these two little boys, even though Thomas is a lot older than mine. Yes, I'm able to be a little more maternal in this character which comes more naturally now that I have kids.
You seem to have found a niche playing morally dubious characters and there's obviously comedy in that. How do you feel about that position?
Well, I love it. First of all: I just think it is funny. Second of all: I really find an insecure but bold person to be a hilarious quality. There's something about being so insecure, but like, just desperately trying to prove yourself and being willing to do anything to prove yourself at all that's based on insecurity. I don't know why but there’s something really funny to me about that.
I just think getting loud in public is funny. I don't know why but it's just, I kind of like to do things that make me laugh, you know? Hopefully other people like it. If I'm going to be doing this all day long, really I just want to entertain myself.
How have you found the mantle of starring in your own show moving from an ensemble? I'd imagine you’d be in your comfort zone with Sunny now and this would have been quite daunting?
Yeah, there was definitely an adjustment period there because we've been working together for 12 years and we're all adults, which is a different thing and we all have a very similar sense of humour. We all became friends very quickly and we hang out together outside of work.
Or get married?
Yeah, we get married to each other, we hang out on weekends. Yeah, so that feels very safe and it's also very … you know Rob, my husband, is also showrunner, so if I'm ever not sure of anything I just look at him. It’s his job to fix it. Like, I feel very safe there. Here I feel like, while, John and Dave are amazing showrunners, I also feel very responsible for: is this working or not? Or thinking of ways to fix a scene that doesn't seem like what I pictured, or do another take.
How have you found the experience of working with the kids on The Mick?
It is a lot more responsibility and working with kids, it’s just a whole different ball game. The great thing is I was able to help cast them, so I made sure we had chemistry. They're all really lovely, warm, kind people. They're very open to my notes and having me work with them. So that's been great.
Yeah, it's just apples and oranges. Its a different thing. I feel much more like a mom on this. I feel like a child on Sunny and I feel like a mom on The Mick.
As you said you're taking more control in your role as a star and also a producer on The Mick. Is that something that you are interested in pursuing more? The behind the scenes stuff? Have you got a bit of a taste for it now?
Yeah, now I don't think I could ever go back. It's really lovely to be able to work with a director and bring your notes and give notes on script and I really love going to production meetings and knowing how the director's envisioning it happening. Yeah, now that I've done it this way it's going to be tricky to do it any other way.
Hopefully you don't have to, so it's quite exciting really!
Yeah, I don't know if it's helping me beat my obsessive compulsive disorder but for now I'm more comfortable with it.