Actor Rhea Seehorn of NBC sitcom “Whitney” plays the sweetly cynical and independent Roxanne. She took some time out to chat with Press Pass LA about her acting and coaching career, specifically “Whitney” and gives some advice on driving in LA.
PPLA: You just wrapped Season 2 of Whitney (airing through mid-May), how do you feel about it?
RS: (Laughs) I was thrilled with where the show got to and the writing, and it was so much fun doing the finale. The whole cast and many of the crew and the producers got together to watch the two final shows back to back on the Wednesday that they aired. I got such a sweet, lovely response from Twitter and other blogs that people were excited about the Roxanne and Mark finale with them finally kissing and everything, and it was great to hear the response to that; I loved it.
PPLA: Have you heard if “Whitney” is going to be picked up for another season?
RS: We haven’t heard yet. It’s pretty standard for the major networks to tell you in May after they’ve watched all the other pilots and decide if they’re going to put in a block, where they would want to position us, and all sorts of other things that are out of your control—looking at ratings, but I know they’ve been super responsive and proud of the show that we’ve created this season. Many of those people were on the floor at the time we were taping and it’s been very, very positive. We’re all hopeful, but you never know the actual answer, (laughs) so that part is stressful. I’d be extremely saddened if I didn’t get to continue developing that character and developing that show; I absolutely love working with those people so I’m hoping, hoping, hoping. You know, you run into those people on the street that are so excited about the show, and it’s like, please be one of those ratings! Because nobody watches TV when it airs anymore. They watch it online, or at the very least DVR it and watch it on the weekends.
PPLA: What attracted you to the role of Roxanne and the plot overall?
RS: I love, love, loved the script and was just in love with the character of Roxanne, because she’s someone that wears a lot of armor, and I think they did such a good job of writing places for her to sort of play the chinks in the armor. They certainly have the comedic talent in that writer’s room, and Whitney herself is lightening fast with her wit. What appealed to me even more was, they’re writing fully three-dimensional people, and Roxanne shows that you can see this person isn’t out to make people feel like crap, it’s not a bunch of insults, and one liners, it’s all these protective measures, and in other cases she actually thinks she’s being helpful. In addition she’s a good friend—she’s the person who will absolutely pick you up at the airport, but she’ll give you crap about it the whole way. She’s not bitter, she hasn’t given up on men, she just has a different set of rules. All of that stuff appeals to me—she’s not a one-dimensional person just there for one purpose. So I auditioned with the casting director, Susie Farris—she’s amazing, I’ve auditioned for her repeatedly—she also thought I’d be good in the role, so that was a lovely and appreciated meeting of the minds. So I went in and I thought I did okay, I never think I nail anything, I always wish I could have done better. But I hoped for a call back, and at that point it was really fun just to make up that person for three minutes at a time, and I thought wow, if I love to play her for three minutes at a time, what an amazing thing to get to play her for half an hour at a time. I was screaming and yelling in my apartment when I got the call back. The first time we did the table read, I was blown away by Chris D’elia and Dan O’Brien, I had never worked with them before, and at that time Maulik Pancholy was on the show, Andy Ackerman is the director—always wanted to work with him—and then Whitney herself. I was a huge fan of her standup and I knew that she was an actress, and man, she’s great! She can really carry a scene and even more surprisingly is incredibly generous in a scene as well—she’s just as happy for you to have the joke as well. That cast is a lot of theater trained people, so it was a little bit of an embarrassing love fest.
PPLA: So you’re an acting coach?
RS: Oh who told you that?! I do coach, I coach privately, it’s something that I love. I did workshops before back in D.C. and then I did some private coaching in New York and LA as well, some general acting coaching but the majority was coaching people for auditions. I’d like to direct as well, I have a really good time coaching actors—auditioning is a separate skill, so that’s always an interesting thing to talk to actors about. One of the best things when you coach, is you, the coach are actually getting better (laughs) because you have to think about it and break it down: what are the different tactics you could take here, how can you show them different sides of the character.
PPLA: You’ve lived a number of places, do you have a stronger connection to a particular city?
RS: I do feel very connected to the East Coast, just because the majority of my life was spent there, but you know, the East Coast has a certain vibe: it’s not better or worse than the West Coast, but it’s got that nostalgia to it. When I first got to LA, and I know a lot of people do this, and it’s so annoying, and I knew I was being annoying, but you keep comparing everything…”Well in New York we blah blah blah” (laughs) and then I just realized, you know, it was just homesickness and I didn’t know anyone out here. I had gotten cast for I’m With Her and flew out almost immediately, and my license had expired, because in D.C. you don’t really need it. So wherever I moved, I would just make sure I was walking distance to work. So I did public transportation for a year and a half out here. I remember having auditions in Venice, and I’d have call times at 9:30 AM, and have to get up at like 4. I did it for a long time. Eventually I got the license. What I didn’t know, is that if your license has been expired for more than two years and you try to reinstate it in a different state than you got it, you have to start over, like a fifteen year old. I had to do the written test, the driving test, and get a permit. And then I failed the driving test for being overly cautious and had to start over. I was failed by some nineteen year old kid, with like, giant pants, and a baseball cap on backwards. You can’t turn right on red if there’s a pedestrian in the crosswalk, even if they’ve passed the median. Now I know that. Oh, but I feel very settled in Cali now. The whole point is you just have to not compare it to the East Coast. I’m in love with modern architecture and being able to go outside anytime you want. There are so many great things about LA, I love it here now.
PPLA: If you weren’t an actor, what would you do?
RS: I’d love to direct, I’m trying to. And writing—working on screenplays and stuff. But if it was outside of the business entirely, I’d probably be painting a lot more, so I’d probably go back to school.
PPLA: Where can we see your paintings?
RS: A number of my paintings and sculptures are in “Whitney” all through Season 1 and 2. I used to think I should post something like a game: see if you can spot them. In Season 1 when Whitney starts working in Roxanne’s office, there are these very kind of weird, sad doll sculptures of children—a little bit Tim Burton-esque—and they’d be just sitting around very strangely on the desk. In her apartment there was a self portrait of me in charcoal that was from college. I put some of them up on Facebook, I’ve sold some privately from my studio. If you go on my Twitter, there’s a picture of three of my dolls on there (laughs). Three very despondent looking dolls.
PPLA: What was your inspiration for the dolls?
RS: I love to watch people, and usually children, because they are very uncensored in their gestures. Most of the time when you see representations of kids they’re over sentimentalized, and I’m more interested in their uncensored, more pensive moods. I think was between jobs when I started doing them, and I thought, this apartment needs more people…I’ll just make them!
Stay tuned for more from Rhea Seehorn and follow her on Twitter: @rheaseehorn
Whitney airs Wednesdays at 8PM on NBC, watch the full episodes!