People of Earth has arrived on TBS and the secret is out: The series is Certified Fresh with a 91% on the Tomatometer.
In the series — from producers Conan O’Brien, Greg Daniels, and David Jenkins — the aliens are real. This isn’t just some wacky group of delusional nut cases. The aliens show up at the end of the pilot, and they’re making plans to stay on Earth. By the fourth episode (spoiler alert — sort of), you’ll see the abduction of alien abduction support group leader Gina Morrison, who is played by Ana Gasteyer.
A Groundlings-trained comedian, Gasteyer was on Saturday Night Live from 1996 to 2002 and continues to pop in. She was also on Maria Bamford’s Netflix comedy Lady Dynamite, as her agent Karen Grisham, which is set to return for a second season. On top of all of this, Gasteyer is an accomplished singer performing live shows throughout the season.
Fred Topel for Rotten Tomatoes: Episode four is really your big one, isn’t it?
Ana Gasteyer: It is, and I haven’t seen it yet, but it’s fun talking to you guys and hearing your impression of it.
RT: When you got the pilot and the role of the therapist, did you know at the time she was going to have her own abduction?
Gasteyer: Yes, I knew that everybody in the group came from an abduction. Oddly enough it was important to me that she had been abducted, because it obviously made the role 3,000 times more dimensional than otherwise.
RT: When that came rather soon in episode four, did it live up to your expectations?
Gasteyer: Yes. I wanted to explore it. That’s the problem with half-hour television, right? I would’ve happily spent more time exploring it, but I love the payoff. I love the idea that on top of all the rest of the bullshit that fell apart in her life, she then gets abducted. It’s important, because I think essentially what I find fun about playing anyone, especially someone who’s an authority, is that they’re a slightly misguided authority. I did have the sense that she was a therapist who maybe wasn’t always totally on her game but trying to be. Her heart was in the right place. So the story tells very clearly I think how she arrived at her ambivalence, if that makes any sense.
RT: Is the support group a way to redeem her therapist life?
Gasteyer: Exactly. That’s exactly right. It’s sort of her way back in. I think what’s interesting about abduction per se is it’s this very traumatic experience for people. It would be very life altering if it was truly your perception of what had happened to you. Then add to that that you really cannot talk about it with anyone. I imagine it would be like surviving some kind of identity theft where it’s very hard to make it a relatable human experience. In some ways, they’re very alien in society. They’re alien to their families. They’re alienated. So I think that explains what was interesting about the true need for the group.
RT: On a practical level, what was it like recreating that classic abduction scene of the human lying on the alien table?
Gasteyer: It was cool. I loved it. One of the reasons I liked the script to begin with is I’m actually married to an alien-obsessive man. Especially around the time of X-Files, he was really, really obsessed. We have a lot of books about it, and there was a time when it was always on TV, the various abduction documentaries and so forth. So the material seemed really fun. It is weird. It’s weird to play that feeling of being totally out of control. They put the eyes in Ken [Hall]’s eyes so I couldn’t see his eyes. It was fun. It was ridiculous, fun, and terrifying all at once.
RT: Is she over it from the beginning? She kind of calls B.S. on the aliens.
Gasteyer: I don’t think that she’s saying “bullshit” to the abduction. I think the writers’ intention was not feeling special, not falling for whatever it was that made everybody else attracted to the idea of it. I don’t think it was a positive. I think she’s had a really rough life. Marriage falling apart, lost her practice, moves upstate, and then this bullshit.
RT: And I think she’s right, because I think that’s something they just say to humans because maybe we’re gullible. We believe them if they say, “You’re special.”
Gasteyer: Exactly. She’s not going to fall for it.
RT: Does Gina see Ozzie (Wyatt Cenac) as an ally who can help the other members of the group?
Gasteyer: Oh definitely. That’s sort of the function of the pilot, right? She’s the one that agrees to let him write about it because she wanted a sense of agency. She wants to not feel like such an outsider in the world. She wants to be recognized as a valid group.
RT: Is there anyone in the group that Gina just can’t reach and can’t help?
Gasteyer: Yeah, I think a lot of them. [Laughs] I think in particular Chelsea is probably hard for her to reach because she’s a pretty stubborn and stoic woman. You can see how defensive she is in the pilot, Tracee [Chimo]’s depiction of her. I think that’s probably the one she’s most combative with.
RT: Now that the aliens are here, when does Gina get to confront them again?
Gasteyer: I don’t know yet. We’re not there yet. One of the great things about this show is that when you read a pilot, you sign a seven-year contract in television so you really have to think, “God, could this tell a lot of stories?” And it definitely could. We have so many people. We have the aliens. We have abduction. There’s a lot to uncover here.
Gasteyer: I heard from both of them and they both could not have been more gracious. I saw Martha as recently as three years ago. I saw her on the Seth Meyers show. She was there, and I issued a public apology. It was a bit, and she was great about it. We ended up doing a cooking segment together. I saw her a lot during the SNL years. Both of them were extremely savvy about the fact that imitation is the highest form of flattery.
RT: Did you get the job doing Celine, because you were already a singer?
Gasteyer: Yes and no. Obviously a much different kind of singer. Nothing makes me laugh harder than earnestness, and she’s a very sincere performer, which I definitely am not. Yes, I love her. Vocally she’s ridiculous, she’s so talented.
RT: Where are you performing music this year?
Gasteyer: I’ll be in Las Vagas at the Smith Center on the 10 and 11 of November, and then at the Long Beach Symphony, I’m doing the holiday POPS! concert on December 10.
RT: For your fans who haven’t actually heard you perform, what is your music like?
Gasteyer: My album is out. It’s called I’m Hip. It’s ridiculous jazz, and it’s really a good time. It’s old fashioned and it’s fun. I love it.
RT: Is Karen Grisham back on Lady Dynamite for Netflix?
Gasteyer: Yes, to my knowledge she will be back. Season 2 starts filming in the winter, and I’m so excited. They haven’t told me anything yet. I stopped by the writer’s room. They’ve got a million brilliant ideas of course because they’re brilliant. I love playing that part, and I love working with Pam [Brady], and I love working with Maria and Mitch Hurwitz. I’m really looking forward to it.
RT: That’s so much from Maria’s psyche, and I imagine there was a real Karen Grisham even if she had a different name. Did Maria have very specific notes about who this was and you had to get her right?
Gasteyer: Absolutely not. It’s funny because I have had that experience before on other shows where it’s always a little tricky. I played this drama teacher on The Goldbergs, and it was important to Adam [F. Goldberg], this is very much someone from his life. I think the experience of Lady Dynamite is so kind of its own hyperspace. I think she was very forgiving and went with the flow.
RT: With two shows and live performances, are you busier now than even when you were on SNL?
Gasteyer: No. I’m busy. I’m so happy. I’m as busy as I want to be, and I’m grateful. I’m just psyched to be working on what I’m working on. I love the stuff I’m doing. I feel really happy.
People of Earth airs Mondays at 9 on TBS