Rachael Harris, who plays co-star to Kirstie Alley on the new Showtime original Fat Actress, talks about weight, improv comedy and her love for Kelly Clarkson.
Rachael Harris: Her name is Kevyn Shecket. I play Kirstieís make-up and hair stylist. Iím basically her paid friend because I work for her but I live in her garage. Iím very loyal to her and I have no problem giving her advice, although quite often itís really not good advice.
Interesting name. Any correlation to the late make-up guru Kevyn Aucoin?
Yeah. Kirstie was very close to him and she considers him one of the best make-up artists sheís ever worked with. Itís sort of an ode to him.
And the last name?
Itís the last name of one my friends and it actually means Ďshut upí in Yiddish (laughter). I know, itís terrible, but it made us laugh.
How did you get the part?
[Co-star] Bryan Callen and I have the same agent and he thought Iíd be great for the show, but I still had to audition. I went in and I thought that I was horrible and that I wouldnít get job. I had never met Kirstie before and I was a bit intimidated. During the audition I referred to her as Ďmíladyí and her eyes got wide and I thought ĎOh my god, my audition is so overí because Iíve offended her, that Iím calling her mílady because she is old, when actually itís just something my girlfriends and I call each other as a ridiculous term of endearment. Whatís great though is now she uses it and itís become a running gag.
The show and Kirstie seem to have a serious agenda with the fight against Hollywood stereotypes for women. What are your thoughts on it?
Well, the first thing I thought was that this was so brave of Kirstie and I can say that the show means more than weight issues and being an actress in Hollywood. Itís about shining a light this unrealistic expectations for actresses to keep their body looking a certain way. Itís a reality for actresses that you have to look as fit as you possibly can and for some women being as fit as you can isnít enough. The response weíve gotten back from women is incredible and while weíve ruffled some feathers from people who think weíre making fun of eating disorders, weíre not. Our characters do these ridiculous things to stay thin and they are idiots. They show how asinine it is and what people are willing to do themselves in order to keep work as an actresses, as well as busting on those people that are making women think that they have to go to these great lengths to be accepted.
Who are some of the cooler guest stars you worked with?
I did some great scemes with Kevin Nealon. Mayim Bialik ("Blossom") was great, and she is so not ĎBlossomí on the show. Merv Griffin was ridiculous and so much fun and so was Connie Stevens, who plays Kirstieís mother. It was great to work with her because off-set she would tell all these great Hollywood stories of her younger days and all the people she dated. And she looks amazing!
Youíre known for improvisational skills. Do you get a chance to that on Fat Actress?
Yeah we get to improvise a ton. We have a very structured outline so we know where weíre going with a scene, but I would say itís 30% scripted and 70% improvised.
I read that you studied at the Groundling School of Improvisation and that now you teach there.
I did study there and I used to teach but gratefully I have been busy enough to not be able to teach a twelve or six week class. That is considered a win with the Groundlings; if youíre too busy to teach (laughter).
How does one teach improvisation? Can you give an example?
The great thing about the Groundlings is that we have rules that you work from. Some of the basic rules are you never deny what somebody comes up with. You label the situation and add information that is positive. If I came up to and said ĎI really like your skull and crossbones youíre wearing on your t-shirtí and you say ĎIím not wearing thatí, it kills the improv. You also never play crazy or a child younger than eight because it can make the information being said unreliable. The rules we play with allow you to be creative but still push the scene forward.
Who would you say are some comedians that you personally look up to?
For me itís more comedic actresses than comedians because I donít do stand up. Right off the bat Iíd say Madeleine Kahn because I adore her. I love Teri Garr because she is so honest. I really look up to Catherine OíHara. And Betty White. You know just very real, very funny woman.
Youíre a well-liked commercial actress, which is rare nowadays considering how bad commercials are. Do you find that flattering or annoying?
Actually I feel very fortunate. Dinty Moore, Expedia, Avis, you know, all those commercials felt like mini-sitcoms. They had great directors and the ad agencies shared my point of view. Iíve never had to do commercials where I selling the product, but rather act with situations where the product would be used. I was advised that if I did a good job with the commercials, it would pay off later and I was lucky to receive such good advice.
A lot of my people, myself included, have been traumatized since you left The Daily Show. Why did you leave? What happened there?
The timing was just rough for me. I was getting married and I knew before I signed on the show that I didnít want to live in New York. I had lived there for ten years and itís a completely different animal; the quality of living is rough and you have to make a lot of money. I loved doing the show it but it required a lot of traveling. My husband [actor Adam Paul] was in L.A. and we would have had to move to New York.. If I was still in New York I would have stayed forever but my life was in Los Angeles. It was a scary decision but the Daily Show kind of knew so they were cool about. But it was hard (moans). I still cringe when I see the show and I wish I will still on it sometimes, but if I hadnít have moved out to L.A. I wouldnít have gotten the chances to do some pilots or Kicking & ScreamingÖ
Letís talk about Kicking & Screaming, the new movie you're doing with Will Ferrell. Youíre playing a lesbian soccer mom. How does one prepare for playing a lesbian soccer mom?
(laughs) I canít tell you that I really went and studied lesbians. The way that I chose to portray her was that she was a normal soccer mom that has a wife. Laura Kightlinger plays my wife and she was a scream to work with. Sheís the husband, the more masculine of the two of us. It was great.
Is being on the VH1 shows as fun as it looks?
It's ridiculously fun. My favorites are the ĎI Love theÖĒ shows. I get these random clips, like five seconds of Laura Braniganís íGloriaí video and my husband and I just watch them together. They take you back.
And now the 80's are coming back. In fact, a lot of 80's songs are being remade into club songs. I heard a Laura Branigan sample in the club the other night!
Oh my God!
What kind of music do you listen to?
I really love, this is crazy, but I love a lot of hip-hop and R&B. I love Stevie Wonder and Green Day. And Prince; who doesnít love Prince? Iím crazy though. Do you want to know my guilty pleasures?
Oh tell me!
My guilty pleasure is Kelly Clarkson. And I fucking love Clay Aiken. I love all of the American Idol kids.
I learned how play ďBreakawayĒ on the piano.
I love it! I love it!
Kelly is good!
I think she is only one who is really legit, I mean, as far as American Idol goes. That was them at their best. And Iíll take a good Destinyís Child or Beyonce song any day.
You know, I got to see them live at Disney for graduation.
And Jessica Simpson was the opening act.
Oh my God! Thatís crazy! Ah, thatís good times.
Ok, well before I let go, anything future projects youíd like to announce?
Sometime in April Iíll be on ĎEight Simple Rulesí. I play Adam Arkinís administrative assistant. And I will reprising my role as Debbie Dangle on Reno 911 and then of course Kicking & Screaming on May 13th, which Iím so excited about.
Well Rachael, youíre a great interview.
Well thank you. You know, I love my show and I know the only way to get it going is to talk about it. Aaron, thank so much.
Thank you. Goodbye.