On ABC’s new half-hour comedy TROPHY WIFE, Tuesdays at 9:30 PM, Malin Akerman plays Kate, a free-spirited young woman who falls for and marries Pete. Pete, played by Bradley Whitford, comes with some baggage, namely three children all under eighteen, and two ex-wives.
Michaela Watkins plays Jackie, Pete’s free-spirited but anxious second ex-wife (Marcia Gay Harden plays first wife Diane). Watkins, originally from Syracuse, New York, is a member of the improvisational troupe the Groundlings in Los Angeles. The actress was a regular on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE in the 2008-2009 season and ENLIGHTENED and has a batch of feature films out this year, including IN A WORLD …, AFTERNOON DELIGHT, ENOUGH SAID and iSTEVE.
Following a Television Critics Association panel she’s on with TROPHY WIFE creators Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins, their fellow executive producer Lee Eisenberg and star/producer Akerman, Watkins remains available for follow-up questions.
ASSIGNMENT X: What drew you to the role of Jackie initially?
MICHAELA WATKINS: When I read the script, I actually thought, “Oh, okay, I can do this. I know how this gal’s brain works. It’s all over the map, it’s a little ADD – I get it.” I don’t want to be that, but I understand it.
AX: Is it challenging to play Jackie in a way that lets us see her emotionalism, without her seeming unbalanced?
WATKINS: Yeah. I think that out of the gate, out of the pilot, we see more of her playful side, but I imagine that probably as the show continues, we have to ground her, otherwise she’s going to take off into space. So I think there’s no question – even reading the next episode, I see that there’s definite grounding to her. She’s not in cuckoo-banana-cracker-land.
AX: Are you having fun playing her?
WATKINS: It is amazing. Especially with my background, which is, I do sketch comedy and improv, but I’m also an actor, so I feel like, it’s not a five-minute sketch, we have to believe her, we have to feel for her. It has to be a real person. And I do know people who sort of live in the clouds and have very real wants and needs and fears, but the way they express themselves is just a little off.
AX: How is it working with Bradley Whitford?
WATKINS: He’s so charming. But the funny thing is how disarming he is, because I just think of WEST WING Bradley Whitford, or just like, “Oh, my God, you’re …!” But he is so funny, he is constantly telling stories and sharing about his life in the way as if I’ve known him for a very long time. In a very short amount of time, I feel like I’ve known him for a very long time.
AX: Is Jackie still in love with Pete?
WATKINS: Hmm. I don’t know if that stuff ever dies or goes away. I think in a lot of ways, they probably were twin flames, they just were a lot alike in the sense that they have a lot that they laugh about. I think that they are the humorous, lighter side of life, but they probably hit each other’s buttons and drove each other crazy at the same time. Whatever reason they came together has to be the reason they imploded. If the fact that he’s a little bit of a nervous worrier and she’s just sort of carefree and loosey-goose, I think after a while, you just want to brain someone for that.
AX: How is working with the series creators, Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins?
WATKINS: Sarah should be on the show, she’s so funny. And Emily. Just the two of them are really sensationally funny women. Unique women, too. I love their point of view, it’s very unique.
AX: Do you have a back story that you’ve created or that you were given about how Jackie and Pete came to adopt a child from China, Albert Tsai’s character Bert?
WATKINS: : Well, I think that what we know about Jackie is, she’s expanded to bigger world ideas, so I think she is somebody who, if adoption was on the table, that would definitely be something that she would want to embrace.
When I first read the script, honestly, I was like, “Oh, God, I’m going to be fired, and I’m going to come here and Lucy Liu is going to be sitting in my makeup chair.” [laughs] The reason is, they didn’t even put it in the pilot anywhere that he was Chinese or adopted or anything, and so we wondered if it was going to be confusing to people – where did he come from? And so they added that scene where he goes, “I’m from China!” Can we talk about [Tsai] for two seconds? He is amazing. This is his first job. He knows sets better than people who have worked in the business for twenty-five years. He literally says, “How many picture cars are going to be in this scene?” or, “I need to talk to somebody in Wardrobe, because I can’t tie my belt. And also, for continuity, can I move this sign?
AX: Are you allowed to improvise at all?
WATKINS: The fact is, their script is so funny that I think everything you’re seeing is pretty much the script, but sometimes they do give me a lot of leeway – they’ll give me a take where they’ll go, “Michaela, just go crazy” [laughs].
AX: Could you see yourself playing Jackie for a period of years?
WATKINS: I can. I think the key is, we’re going to find so many new levels of her, and I think she’s going to keep surprising.
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Article:Exclusive interview with TROPHY WIFE star Michaela Watkins