Working Girl

“The Office’s” Ellie Kemper is packing up her desk and looking to an even brighter future.

 

As the end of the much-loved NBC comedy series “The Office” draws near, Ellie Kemper is as upbeat as ever. In fact, she’s already looking ahead to her next big project: the leading role in a pilot for a new NBC comedy, “Brenda Forever,” which begins filming this month.

 

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ALIVE: Your next big role is as the star on a new NBC pilot, “Brenda Forever”…what you you know about that so far?
EK: Okay‰ÛÓit’s limited, but it is so cool. “Brenda Forever” is a script written by two guys, Andrew Leeds and David Lampson, and it is split between Brenda as a 13-year-old girl and as a 31-year-old woman, looking at times where she is growing up in both parts of her life. Brenda is fairly weird, but not weird in an Erin way‰ÛÓweird in a very confident, self-assured way. I am so excited to play this character, and I am very excited to see who they cast for the thirteen-year-old version of Brenda. It’s something I personally haven’t really seen on network television‰ÛÓthe tone of it, anyway‰ÛÓand so I’m excited to see how we preserve that as we make the pilot. It’s weird‰ÛÓI keep saying that, but that’s why I love it so much.

ALIVE: This is your first big leading role, right?
EK: Unless they decide the 13-year-old is so much better and they just want to follow her story and then I slip into the background. but I hope that doesn’t happen.

ALIVE: You’ve seen so much success working as part of great comedic groups, like in “The Office” and “Bridesmaids”…are you nervous at all to be taking the lead on this one?
EK: I am nervous, because it’s a lot more riding on my personal shoulders than in anything else I’ve been in. I’ve always been a part of the ensemble of amazing projects that don’t need my hand in them, because they already are led by fantastic people. Already‰ÛÓand this makes me laugh a little‰ÛÓI’m technically a producer on this pilot, so it’s taking more of a leading role and obviously with that comes a lot more responsibility. But I am embracing it, because this is what everything should be leading toward, so I’m excited to have that happen.

ALIVE: Are you looking to steer your career toward writing, like so many great comedians do?
EK: I do actually want to incorporate writing a lot more. I think that gives you so much more control over your own work, and also you are allowed so much more creative input if you are contributing ideas in that way. [My sister] Carrie and I had a book that we were working on for a while, then the timing wasn’t right and we put it on hold for now. I would so love to return to that.

ALIVE: You got married in July to Michael Koman, who is also a comedian and writer‰ÛÓis your marriage like living inside a sitcom, or what?
EK: There are so many zingers, sometimes we don’t even have time for dinner! No, actually, Michael’s and my sense of humor is so strangely in line, but it’s certainly not laughs all the time. So far we haven’t collaborated on anything, but maybe we will someday. I don’t know if that’s a good idea for spouses to work together, because where do you go at the end of the day? It’s like, “Oh, it’s you again.” I don’t know. We’ll see.

ALIVE: Do you have totally different styles, or are they in sync enough that you can see it working creatively?
EK: I see us as quite different. Michael is an intellectual, and he’s a voracious reader‰ÛÓhe has problems putting down books. He has seen every movie and every television show ever. I am not an intellectual; I have no problem putting down a book. Michael often thinks I was kidnapped from the ages of eight to 18, because there’s a whole bunch of movies that I just‰ÛÓI don’t know‰ÛÓI did not see them. I don’t know where I was. So in that way, we are not in sync because he just kind of knows a lot more than I do. But in terms of actual sensibility, I think we’re on the same page. I don’t know what the show would be, but I think he would have to write it and then I would just have to be in it.

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ALIVE: How was the wedding planning process for you?
EK: It was awful. Thank goodness it paid off, because the wedding itself was the best day of my life, but leading up to it…it’s so much stress. Every time I thought I was done with something, it was like a new detail would crop up. My mom is very good at that type of thing, so she helped me so much. I think it would’ve been a disaster if she hadn’t been helping me‰ÛÓI will say that. So, kudos to Mom. I was talking to my best friend throughout the process and she’s like, “Don’t worry, this is the most stress you will ever have.” She has two kids, and she’s like, “Kids are nothing compared to wedding planning.” I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I’ll choose to believe it.

ALIVE: How often do you come home to St. Louis?
EK: We come home to see our little nephew and niece a lot, because we want to see them before they grow up. You know how fast kids change when they’re two and four‰ÛÓit’s constant. So we feel like we have to go back every few months, or else they’re just going to be twelve years old all of a sudden. I want to be the cool aunt who comes home and gives gifts and then comes back in two months.

ALIVE: What did you love most about the neighborhood where you grew up?
EK: I grew up in Ladue, and I loved growing up there probably because of my best friend who lived across the street. Her name was Katie Percell, and I think that my neighborhood could’ve been really…no offense, but it could’ve been really boring if Katie hadn’t grown up across the street. We spent a lot of time playing in the creek, and my dad had built a tree house out in the back and all of those things, if you don’t have someone to‰ÛÓthis sounds like I’m writing a coming-of-age novel‰ÛÓshare it with, then it’s not going to be as much fun. So Katie kind of made my childhood, along with my little sister Carrie‰ÛÓwe played together constantly. So when I think about growing up in my neighborhood, I think of her being there. I will say I’m glad that I grew up where I did because I got to go to Conway School, and I had the greatest teachers at Conway. I just feel really lucky to have had them.

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ALIVE: Your next big role is as the star on a new NBC pilot, “Brenda Forever”…what you you know about that so far?
EK: Okay‰ÛÓit’s limited, but it is so cool. “Brenda Forever” is a script written by two guys, Andrew Leeds and David Lampson, and it is split between Brenda as a 13-year-old girl and as a 31-year-old woman, looking at times where she is growing up in both parts of her life. Brenda is fairly weird, but not weird in an Erin way‰ÛÓweird in a very confident, self-assured way. I am so excited to play this character, and I am very excited to see who they cast for the thirteen-year-old version of Brenda. It’s something I personally haven’t really seen on network television‰ÛÓthe tone of it, anyway‰ÛÓand so I’m excited to see how we preserve that as we make the pilot. It’s weird‰ÛÓI keep saying that, but that’s why I love it so much.

ALIVE: This is your first big leading role, right?
EK: Unless they decide the 13-year-old is so much better and they just want to follow her story and then I slip into the background. but I hope that doesn’t happen.

ALIVE: You’ve seen so much success working as part of great comedic groups, like in “The Office” and “Bridesmaids”…are you nervous at all to be taking the lead on this one?
EK: I am nervous, because it’s a lot more riding on my personal shoulders than in anything else I’ve been in. I’ve always been a part of the ensemble of amazing projects that don’t need my hand in them, because they already are led by fantastic people. Already‰ÛÓand this makes me laugh a little‰ÛÓI’m technically a producer on this pilot, so it’s taking more of a leading role and obviously with that comes a lot more responsibility. But I am embracing it, because this is what everything should be leading toward, so I’m excited to have that happen.

ALIVE: Are you looking to steer your career toward writing, like so many great comedians do?
EK: I do actually want to incorporate writing a lot more. I think that gives you so much more control over your own work, and also you are allowed so much more creative input if you are contributing ideas in that way. [My sister] Carrie and I had a book that we were working on for a while, then the timing wasn’t right and we put it on hold for now. I would so love to return to that.

ALIVE: You got married in July to Michael Koman, who is also a comedian and writer‰ÛÓis your marriage like living inside a sitcom, or what?
EK: There are so many zingers, sometimes we don’t even have time for dinner! No, actually, Michael’s and my sense of humor is so strangely in line, but it’s certainly not laughs all the time. So far we haven’t collaborated on anything, but maybe we will someday. I don’t know if that’s a good idea for spouses to work together, because where do you go at the end of the day? It’s like, “Oh, it’s you again.” I don’t know. We’ll see.

ALIVE: Do you have totally different styles, or are they in sync enough that you can see it working creatively?
EK: I see us as quite different. Michael is an intellectual, and he’s a voracious reader‰ÛÓhe has problems putting down books. He has seen every movie and every television show ever. I am not an intellectual; I have no problem putting down a book. Michael often thinks I was kidnapped from the ages of eight to 18, because there’s a whole bunch of movies that I just‰ÛÓI don’t know‰ÛÓI did not see them. I don’t know where I was. So in that way, we are not in sync because he just kind of knows a lot more than I do. But in terms of actual sensibility, I think we’re on the same page. I don’t know what the show would be, but I think he would have to write it and then I would just have to be in it.

 

Photo credit: Cover and inside photo by Larsen & Talbert/Corbis Outline

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