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Another Period’s Natasha Leggero and Riki Lindhome on why FDR was a jerk

Lindhome and Leggero (Photo: Peter Yang/Comedy Central)

When Another Period launched on Comedy Central last year, it was billed as a blend of Keeping Up With The Kardashians and Downton Abbey. While that description was apt at the beginning, over the course of its 10-episode first season, the show became something more—an absurdist take on history, luxury, and what it means to be spoiled in America. Created by and starring Natasha Leggero and Riki Lindhome, the show is a hilarious farce packed with excellent supporting players like Michael Ian Black, Paget Brewster, Christina Hendricks, Brett Gelman, David Wain, Brian Huskey, and David Koechner. With Another Period’s second season having premiered last night, The A.V. Club chatted up Leggero and Lindhome about the show’s increasingly diverse direction and how they call upon the past to talk about the present.

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Another Period

The A.V. Club: You’re into the second season of the show. How have things evolved, and what have you learned over the course of making the first season?

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Natasha Leggero: One thing that has helped is that last year we were in the editing room almost the entire time, so we could really see how amazing some of the actors were. Then we could write for them and their strengths. We would say, “This person is so good at playing serious, and every single one of their takes is cracking us up,” so we were able to write a little more for everyone’s individual strengths. Wouldn’t you say, Riki?

Riki Lindhome: Yes, that’s been more fun. It’s more fun to write stuff when you know someone’s going to nail it.

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AVC: Natasha, in an interview, you said that you guys don’t get a lot of takes on set, so it must be helpful to have people who can nail it right away.

RL: Luckily, our actors are so amazing, they don’t need a lot of takes. They really are. They’re so funny.

AVC: Last year, the show was described as Downton Abbey meets the Kardashians. Do you still imagine it as that, or is that just the easiest way to explain it?

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RL: It’s become a little like Arrested Development, a little social commentary. It’s become a lot more things than just that.

AVC: Going into the new season, how much were you thinking about this being an election year? Were you trying to bring in anything about history being cyclical?

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NL: I think in general the scenes of the show do mirror what’s happening now. As absurdist as it seems, the Gilded Age was a real thing that took place, and America’s version of it was more obnoxious than England’s. You can see these old homes that are still standing in Newport [Rhode Island], and you can tour the houses and hear about these people. Carnegie had more money at the time than all of America. They were living like rappers. They weren’t paying income tax. People didn’t pay income tax until, like, 1915. So there was this 10-year period that was this golden age. But you look now, people have pretty much figured out how to legally not pay income tax, so they can be as rich as these people once were. So it all does come full circle.

RL: You also see, as a reflection of the election, you see our brother, the rich buffoon, climbing the political ladder.

AVC: He stumbles into things.

RL: He keeps going upward throughout the season, as far as his political standing. And as we know, he’s not the smartest character.

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AVC: Do you have a research department? How do you bring historical material into the show?

NL: We were looking to get Drunk History’s dramaturge this year. His name is Seth, and he helped us research for three weeks. We all went to Newport a couple times to hear the stories.

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RL: We actually love researching. It’s one of the most fun parts. It gives us so many story ideas. We had Seth, but Natasha and I research all year round. We’re constantly reading books about the era. We both just finished a book on Alice Roosevelt, who was the lesser-known Roosevelt. We just love it.

AVC: Natasha, in another interview, you talked about the Servant Life Tour at The Elms in Newport.

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NL: What’s really crazy about it is that I went to that servant tour when it first started, and they were really telling you the terrible conditions of the servants, and then I went on it with Riki a year later, and it was really lightweight. They were saying how the servants were happy. I was thinking like, “I wonder if the tourism board made them change the nature of the tour a little bit.” I’m not sure.

RL: We actually had an episode based on the Elms’ servants tour where our staff goes on strike the same day that the Roosevelts come.

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AVC: How fast and loose do you play with time and character age and stuff like that?

NL: Jeremy [Konner], our director, who also directs Drunk History, he’s… well, Riki and I are always like, “What’s the funniest version?” Not that Jeremy’s not interested in the funniest version, but I think something inside of him loves things to be historically accurate. We usually try to compromise. For example, Adolf Hitler was 2 at the time, so it prevents him from being a character in our show. Unless he was a baby. We could have a baby Hitler next season.

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I think Harriet Tubman was around 90 at the time, and the actress we cast [in the season two premiere] was in her 70s, so we do try to keep it in the same kind of reality, I suppose.

RL: Yes, we go as close as we possibly can. If something else is funnier, we’ll sometimes do that.

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AVC: Are there things you won’t do? In the new season so far, there’s been some stuff about disabled people related to Roosevelt, and then your characters are talking about how slavery was great to Harriet Tubman. They’re idiots, but it came up.

NL: There’s nothing that’s really off-limits. Also, it’s not that we’re making fun of cripples. I think we like to rewrite history in a way that reflects what this version could be, because no one really knows for sure.

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RL: But when you read about FDR, he was not liked by his classmates. People thought he was a jerk. People thought he only got in his fraternity because he was a legacy. So we’re like, “Okay, we’ve got to portray this guy before he became a hero.”

AVC: It’s foreshadowing.

RL: What’s the funniest thing for FDR to make fun of? Oh, we know.

NL: And obviously, Harriet Tubman is a revered figure, but we were just thinking, “What if she was like Oprah? What would that look like?” In the same way last year we thought it would be funny to get into an actual fight with Helen Keller if she came. She would hate us, and we would probably hate her. So we like to try to set these historical figures in our world, and see what we think would happen.

AVC: Where do you shoot the show?

NL: We mostly shoot at this house in Silver Lake.

RL: Then we have a couple days on location, but mostly just in one house.

AVC: That’s a really nice house in Silver Lake.

NL: It’s called The Paramour Estate. It’s a historical house in Silver Lake. It’s been there since the 1920s, and it’s definitely on the best real estate in Silver Lake. It’s high up on the hill. I think it used to be a child orphanage, and then someone bought it. Well, it was a mansion, and then it turned into an orphanage, and then someone bought it, like, 15 years ago. She collects really rare and beautiful things that we get to have in the background.

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AVC: Does someone live there?

NL: They live on the property. There are a lot of guest houses on the property.

AVC: Another Period has already been renewed for a third season. What does that mean to you as far as the process goes? Has that taken a bit of the load off?

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RL: It takes the pressure off. It’s a huge vote of confidence from the network. It means they like what we’re doing. It makes us focus on what we’re creating and not focus so heavily on the ratings.

NL: Also, it helps with getting it ready so that we can get the writers that we want and make sure the cast is available. If they don’t let you know until the last minute, that cast might be busy, or your best writers are previously engaged. It’s nice to be able to schedule it. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but our cast is pretty amazing.

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RL: We’re very lucky. We have a lot of funny comedians writing on this season, and we’re very lucky to have them come do the show.

NL: So many members of our cast are content creators. We’ve got David Wain and Tom Lennon and Brian Huskey and Brett Gelman, and all these people are constantly creating their own projects in addition to being hilarious. So the fact that we’ve been able to get all of these people together to be in our show… I don’t know if there’s anything like it. Maybe Wet Hot [American Summer] is kind of like it, but in terms of being able to assemble such an awesome cast of comedians…

AVC: Is scheduling hard? Do you say, “David, we need you for this, and so we’ll film all your stuff for the whole season in five days.”

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RL: Some of our cast is so busy that we just have to smush it in. We have to film eight episodes in three days or something crazy like that.

NL: We have to block shoot, which means that we’ll shoot different episodes in a day. Any scene that takes place in the service quarters for all of the season will be shot on that day.

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When Christina Hendricks first signed on, she wasn’t used to working that way. We promised her that we would be able to recap what’s been happening emotionally, because she wanted to make sure her emotional arc is right, which is hard when you’re going from a scene from episode nine to a scene from episode two to a scene from episode one. But we all worked together to make sure that we’re all on the same page before we start shooting.

AVC: There’s an article about Christina Hendricks’ odds for an Emmy nomination for Another Period. Do you think that’ll happen? Have you been writing her award-bait scenes just in case?

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RL: We don’t write it geared toward getting someone an Emmy, but we’re still excited that she’s being mentioned. It’s so crazy. For our first season, it’s very cool.

NL: Christina is so perfect for a period piece. People didn’t know that she was funny. And she’s so gorgeous. She totally fits into the period. She just has that classic look. Plus, her sense of drama and emotion on camera is very high-level. She just elevates the whole project.

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