Two months to write and two months to shoot an entire season of television is a daunting task. But for Saturday Night Live veteran Aidy Bryant, a couple of months to work on Shrill was a luxury.
Shrill, about a Portland woman learning how to feel more confident in both her personal and professional lives, allowed Bryant to not only play a new type of character — and not just a movie sidekick or one-off TV guest spot — but to have a hand in shaping that character as well.
“I think what this allowed me to do was just go a lot more subtle and take a little more time. I feel like at SNL it’s always, ‘Get it shorter, get it tighter, lose more time out of this so we have more time for other things.’ And this, you just had a little air to breathe and time to go over your script,” she told the Hollywood Reporter. “That to me just felt so luxurious. Like, crazy to me. I think a lot of people were worried about the turnaround of trying to write this in two months, then immediately shoot it in two months, and all these different things. And I was like, ‘This sounds like a piece of cake, let’s do it.’
Bryant always wanted to act, but never felt fully at ease with the rest of the kids at theater camp or in drama club. But when she discovered improv and sketch comedy, she realized that was where she belonged. She became a standout SNL cast member after joining the series in 2012, specializing in characters who are sweet but dumb, and helping launch a recurring series of music videos with the show’s female cast members. And while she’s one of the show’s star performers, earning an Emmy nomination in 2018, she excels most in the roles she’s able to write for herself. That’s in part due to simple logistics, she told THR.
“You look at impressions: There’s not that many fat women in media, so there’s not that many fat women in the public eye, so of course there are less impressions for me to even take a stab at,” she explained. “Or sometimes they’ll be like, ‘We’re going to do a 1970s piece that’s a bunch of impressions. Do you have any?’ And I’m like, ‘Mama Cass?’ That’s the one. We’ve only seen a certain type of woman be famous, basically, and I think that’s obviously starting to change. But that does sort of pigeonhole me at SNL when it’s about popular culture. These women aren’t being put in the public eye. But as far as original characters, I always feel like you can do whatever you want. I’ve never felt too pigeonholed, but certainly I play a lot of teachers, I play a lot of moms, and I think probably more so than my other same age female castmates. You could say that’s because of my warmth or because I’m whatever, but I think its also partially because of my body.”
It’s fine by her if playing more ingenue-type roles is not in the cards, just as long as when she does play a sexier character she’s not the punchline.
“I’m not going to maybe play a vixen as often as some of my castmates, and I think that is an interesting thing to look at. I make a real effort to not make that be the joke of it. I’ve done a lot of music videos where I am, like, shaking my thang with all my friends, and it’s not comic,” she said. “That’s not the joke of it. That I’m there is not the joke of it.”
The content of Shrill — of showing the realities of navigating the world in a fat body — was deeply personal to Bryant, particularly in the way her character, Annie, has a normal and passionate sex life.
“I’ve felt this even in movies and shows that I’ve done, where there’s a real effort to cute-ify a fat woman,” she said. “And I think it’s partially because that’s how you’re comfortable looking at a fat woman: Sweet and cute and like a little cherub. And as I have dated, or with my husband, I’ve always had sexual, passionate relationships as an adult would. That happens. But that’s not something that I ever really saw. If you did see a fat woman having sex, it was the joke. Or that she was jumping on a man and would knock him over and rip off his clothes. I really wanted to have a character who has a rounded, full life. And that includes being a sexual being, and having men be attracted to you, which also happens.”
She continued, “I mean, I was offered so many different movie roles and things where the whole crux of it is that I would have to trick a man to ever being attracted to me or that he would have to be hit on the head with a magic mallet. And that’s just not reality. And I think that is important to the story, because she’s not like, ‘Oh, I can’t get a boyfriend.’ Even though it’s not perfect, people are attracted to her; she’s having sex; she’s not a baby. And I think that’s key in seeing a fat woman on screen. And some of it is just, like, getting used to it. People just have to get used to seeing a different kind of body.”
(Excerpt) Read more in: The Hollywood Reporter