*This article was originally published on November 23*
If you’re compiling your ‘best performers of the year’ list, look no further than Ginger Gonzaga. The actress-writer-director is mesmerizing in everything she does, from her visceral performance as the cancer-stricken Vivian on Showtime’s Kidding, to her compelling musical pas de deux with Brian Tyree Henry on HBO’s Room 104, to her very memorable role as Maggie on I’m Dying Up Here (also from Showtime). She brings grace, humour and tenderness to each of her characters, making each one stand out in a palpable way. It’s no wonder that critics and awards groups are taking notice of her work, with Kidding having recently been nominated for ‘Best TV series, musical or comedy’ at the Golden Globes and Rolling Stone naming Gonzaga’s episode of Room 104 as one of the ’10 best tv episodes of 2018′.
A few days prior to American Thanksgiving I had the distinct pleasure of chatting on the phone with Ginger Gonzaga, and the following is an edited and condensed version of our lively conversation.
Brief Take: It’s fitting that we’re talking right before Thanksgiving because I wanted to ask you about the Thanksgiving episode of Kidding. Is it true that people yell “fuck you!” to you in real life, as a nod to that episode?
Ginger Gonzaga: Yeah! Well it only happened once. I was at LAX and someone yelled “fuck you!”, and it was so unrelated to anything, so I wasn’t sure if it was related to me or the show. But then I happened to be on Twitter, and that person tweeted at me saying that it was a greeting from the show. I thought it was so funny; I loved it!
BT: I love that you’re such a chameleon on screen and each of your characters are so distinctly and vividly different from one another. How do you go about selecting each of your projects?
GG: First of all, thank you so much! That is 100 per cent my favourite compliment ever. To be seen as a chameleon is kind of my goal, so that means a lot to me. I do have a goal to play every type of person and stretch myself; I never want to play the same thing. If the writing is amazing, and I’ve been lucky enough to work with some really cool people. I’ve worked with the Duplasses (Mark and Jay Duplass) a lot, I love them. They gave me so much freedom on Togetherness. I used to want to do just comedy but then I wanted some variety and looked for more drama. I look for anything real that I think I can elevate.
BT: And you certainly do elevate everything you’re in. I’ve been raving about your Room 104 episode ever since I saw it.
GG: Thank you! Mark Duplass texted me one day and asked “do you sing?” and I said “yes!”, and this was months before we even did the episode. But yeah, that was a blast, I’m so glad you liked it.
BT: Was that your first time working with Brian Tyree Henry? You two have such palpable chemistry in the episode.
GG: Yeah that was a dream come true for me. I said “wait, I get to sing AND work with Brian Tyree Henry?”. He was just the coolest; we had a blast. Our first day together was recording and he had these amazing acid wash jeans on, and I literally copied him and went out and bought acid wash jeans. But yeah, he’s so great and he’s so trained. I didn’t take acting class, I just did improv, but he’s just so classically trained. It was interesting to work with someone like that and notice how differently they approach the work. He’s really like a machine, he’s wonderful.
BT: What do you like best about working with Mark and Jay Duplass?
GG: They hire people and vet them very well. I auditioned a bunch for Togetherness and I improvised in my audition. Then once they vet you and decide to hire you, they let you do whatever the hell you want. There’s a level of trust that says “hey I think you’re good, and whatever is in your brain is going to be awesome”, and it’s just so nice. On my first day on Togetherness with Mark and Amanda Peet, he said “okay so we’ll just go in there and do our thing”, and that’s just not the case normally. I could do whatever I wanted and improvise as much as I wanted, and it just made everything so natural and organic. They just trust you and there’s nothing better than that. Working with Michel Gondry on Kidding was very similar. We don’t improvise but he’s also very trusting.
BT: You’ve worked with Jim Carrey twice now. I have to say that here in Canada we take enormous pride in him.
GG: Canada!! You guys own him. One of my favourite things about Jim is when I get to hear his Canadian accent. I love that! [laughs] I mean before on I’m Dying Up Here he was just my producer, he was producing what we were doing. But even then I was so thankful to be working on a Jim Carrey project, but I wanted to work with him, and then I got to do that on Kidding. It was just so nice going in because there was no question that he’s a great actor. You knew that you were going to be protected, he was going to give you some good stuff in the scenes and you can experiment and he’ll know what you’re doing. Plus he’s obviously very nice and a great scene partner.
BT: You had a lot of great scene partners on that show, including some fantastic puppeteers.
GG: Yes! I love nothing more than puppeteers! When I see them, I want to cry. Puppeteers, as a breed of human beings, are just the nicest, kindest, most gentle people. I guess it makes sense because if you’re working in puppetry, other than that new movie or you’re working for the Jim Henson company or Sesame Street, there’s not a lot of puppet work to do. They are such lovely people and so creative too – they also make the puppets. That scene with Jim in episode six where he’s singing to me, we did that several times and I would cry every time but so much of the ability to be so emotional in that scene was because when all of the puppets come to me, I could see all the puppeteers’ faces, and they’re all so beautiful. There’s something so selfless about puppetry, you’re not supposed to be seen – you’re just supposed to be moving the puppets, and it’s just so thankless. In that scene, because they’re walking up to me, I could see their faces and there’s just so much beauty and kindness in all of them. That scene was already so loving, and in addition to that, those human beings are just so loving. It got me every single time, I just love them so much. It was really special to all of us.
BT: Is it true that you took ‘The book of Vivian’?
GG: [laughs] Yes, it was a caper. Jim said “you’ve got to take something from set” because I said I wanted to take the Viva puppet, and then I saw the book of Vivian and said I wanted to take that. I overheard them saying that they had two, so once I knew that there were two and no one would lose their jobs, I said that I was going to take it. Also, Jim said I could and he’s technically my boss, so I jacked it. Then we were waiting to shoot the scene and Jim said “why aren’t we starting? I don’t understand”, and then over the walkies I could hear “we’re missing a book”. [laughs] I wanted to say “Jim, they’re not starting because they can’t find the book that I took.” [laughs] But I have it in my book case and I’m very proud of it.
BT: What was it like to work with Peter Cambor and June Diane Raphael on the upcoming season of Grace and Frankie?
GG: Peter is just a lovely person. He’s easy to be friends with and is easy to make it seem like he’s your homie because he’s just one of those really fun guys. He’s so great. And June is next level. She’s so good, she’s so in control of her performance, she’s a wonderful person, she works for the Democratic party, she’s super woke, and just puts her money where her mouth is. I really enjoyed working with her and I think she’s a really great actress.
BT: Finally, I just wanted to thank you for your very honest Medium article about your mental health. It really struck a chord with me and I know it did with countless others as well.
GG: Yeah, one in five people are experiencing mental health issues so it shouldn’t be a shameful issue anymore. The more it’s not discussed, the less information that’ll be out there. We all try to be advocates for ourselves and Google what we’re feeling and find anecdotal stories, but if it’s not discussed then people may not identify it in themselves or know how to get help. Illness is so tricky because there’s no one size fits all solution. You have to try different treatments, you have to try different medicines, you have to try different diets and different therapies, and sometimes different doctors. If it were the beauty industry, everyone would be okay because we all share about the latest lip kit or the best paraben-free moisturizer, and we should be able to do that with mental health too. We should be able to say “hey I tried this and it worked for me” or “exercise around certain times of the year works for me because maybe I have seasonal affective disorder”. I just think that the more you share about it, the more common it becomes, and the more common it becomes, the better it is for everybody. It shouldn’t be an issue, it should be a completely casual thing to discuss. As actors, we all instantly blurt out what we’re dealing with and it creates an incredible level of trust for our art form, but it also makes everyone feel not judged and okay, and I wish that for the rest of the world.