How does a girl become “unbreakable,” as Netflix’s newest leading lady, Kimmy Schmidt, claims to be? According to Ellie Kemper, the woman playing her in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, it all comes down to genuinely believing that you are just that, no matter what happens.
“Kimmy has an optimism that anyone would like to share, and I, as a person, would like to share,” Kemper told Cinefilles on a conference call in support of the new comedy from creators Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, which finally hits Netflix and Netflix Canada on Friday. “She sees the best in situations without being Pollyanna about it. I think she’s realistic about it, but she’s genuinely enthusiastic about life.”
Once you check out the first episode of Kimmy Schmidt, you’ll see why it’s kind of insane that Kimmy might be so enthused about everything at the moment. This woman has survived 15 years in an underground cult, where she was convinced the world had ended and there are nothing left outside for her to see or believe in. But instead of living in regret and focusing on her dark past, Kimmy moves onward and upward most literally. After breaking out of her former home, she heads to New York to find a new one.
Kemper certainly relate to moving from a small place to the Big Apple. As the actress, also seen on The Office and in films like Bridesmaids, tells Cinefilles, she often recalls her own days as a new New Yorker when playing Kimmy.
“I moved to New York from St. Louis,” she says. “I’m not comparing St. Louis to an apocalyptic cult, but I think there’s a culture shock when you first come to a new place. And when you come to a place like New York City, of course everything seems shiny and new and absolutely spectacular. I think trying to hold on to that novelty, when things first felt new and very fresh to me, is the mentality that I’m channelling.”
Something you and I might take for granted is spectacular in [Kimmy’s] eyes.
Novelty really is a key to Kimmy, as Kemper says one of the things that keeps the character positive is the simple fact that everything is fresh to her. Case in point: when she first finds an apartment, she’s not only accepting of the fact that she has to live in a closet with a roommate (Tituss Burgess as Titus) who hasn’t paid rent in months, she’s actually excited about it.
“I think one of the defining characteristics of Kimmy is that she’s not jaded and I think that comes from, of course, being away from the world for 15 years,” Kemper says. “So something you and I might take for granted is spectacular in her eyes.”
One of the things that should be spectacular in our eyes is the relationship that Kimmy has with her new employer Jacqueline, who is played by 30 Rock alum Jane Krakowski. Although Jacqueline, a rich mom who hires Kimmy as a nanny, might seem like Jenna Maroney with more money at first glance, she’s actually much more layered. Without revealing too much, her past is very much akin to Kimmy’s (and Kemper’s).
“Jacqueline sees in Kimmy something similar to her,” Kemper explains. “Even before she knows Kimmy’s story, she sees that she doesn’t want someone else, or a man, to tell her what to do, and that she needs to figure out what to do for herself. And I think when she learns where Kimmy has come from, she can’t help but [relate] in that they both leave places behind searching for new beginnings.”
“That’s what’s so refreshing about Jacqueline. We think this is a very shallow woman with materialistic leanings and she doesn’t really have much more than that. But when you learn about her backstory … and the fact that she’s sort of searching for herself, I think that’s a very relatable story.”
It is very relatable, and the kind of story that TV needs to be telling more and more. By presenting not one, but two fish-out-of-water tales featuring female characters, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt makes us wonder if maybe the future of lady-led comedies is as bright as Kimmy’s attitude and matching ensembles.
Season 1 of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt debuts Friday, March 6. All photos credited to Netflix.