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Interview: Molly Shannon on the Beauty of Other People

There’s a buzz around town. Molly Shannon and Oscar. Shannon is best known for eliciting laughs from audiences, not tears. However, in a departure from comedy, Molly teamed up with SNL writer Chris Kelly to play Joanne in this year’s Other People.

It was a screenplay that was personal to Kelly after his mother died of cancer and he approached Shannon to star. Shannon jumped at the chance to take on the role in a film that is as funny as it is devastating. Without a doubt, Other People gives audiences a chance to see Shannon exercise her dramatic chops. The last time we saw her in a drama was in 2007’s Year of the Dog. It’s hard not to heap a ton of praise on Shannon for this performance and difficult to resist adding Oscar-worthy in the same sentence. It’s got all the ingredients that Oscar voters love.

I recently caught up with Molly to discuss Other People and share a few laughs.  In case you missed it, here’s Sasha’s piece on the film and Shannon’s Oscar prospects.

Awards Daily: How did Chris approach you for this?

Molly Shannon : We’re both from Saturday Night Live. We didn’t cross paths, and had started well after I had left. We were both at the 40th SNL Anniversary, but even then we didn’t meet. It wasn’t until the movie that we met. He would say, “I want someone like Molly to play my mom.” The money came together really quickly, and I read the script in my house and I was so moved by the writing. Reading the script, I had your experience, I laughed, I cried, and I deeply related to the material as a mother myself. I related to how this mother would do anything for her children and to spend more time with them, and how she would do anything. The script was breathtaking, and I felt so lucky. I immediately called him, and he was on the way to the [White House] Correspondent’s dinner, and I told him, yes. He was in shock that I actually wanted to do it.

We met and talked for hours. I met his mom’s best friend, Bonnie, and we talked about his mom, and I got to learn about her, her values, and her thoughts on motherhood. That talk really helped in terms of everything she had gone through. Chris also guided me through it.

AD: Well, it’s such a beautiful personal story. What was it like stepping into her shoes? It’s not the first time you’ve done drama, but what was it about this one?

MS: The material was so good, so I felt lucky. Matthew Mungle did the prosthetic make-up, and that was a bald cap. He’s a genius, and working with him, as well as Elle, they were all excited to transform me that way. We had this great and amazing team. Everything you love about acting was in that.
We shot quickly, it was fun and exciting, but some days were emotional when we shot hard scenes. I loved working with Jesse, and the whole experience was ten out of ten. It was a dream come true.

AD: Talk about those scenes.

MS: It was cathartic. They’re technical, emotional and gut wrenching, but as an actress, I devoured it. To have that opportunity, I really enjoyed it. Yes, it’s emotional and hard, but working with Jesse was a dream. To be with him and act with him was a dream come true. I was in the moment of thinking about what my character was going through and what she felt like, and what she cared about. Chris wrote it so beautifully, that all I wanted to do was serve the writing.

AD: How tight was the time frame?

MS: It was really quick. It was fun because we were just going, moving fast. My friend had a small part, she was playing with her son in a background scene, and she came on to the set, and she didn’t even recognize me. She walked by me, and I thought how weird, but we were in our own world.

AD: Is there a scene that stands out for you? I loved the pot butter scene. I thought that was particularly poignant.

MS: I loved that. We shot it at 4am. I was coming down with a cold, and Chris let us experiment with it. It was a fun comedy scene to shot. They’re being silly and laughing, but then it gets dark and serious. He did a great job of it.

AD: Would you ever like to do musicals again?

MS: I did Promises Promises and had so much fun. I love the great American musical. Comedy is almost like a musical with that beat. Comedians love music because there’s a rhythm to comedy. I would love to do a musical movie. I love singing. My dad loved old movies, and he would have loved to have been an actor but he didn’t have the confidence, and so he encouraged me to do that.

We’d sit around and watch Easter Parade and he loved Judy, Bette Davis, and strong female performers.
I grew up on movie musicals or hardcore dramas like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? That’s the stuff my dad watched.

AD: What about behind the camera, is that something you’d like to venture into?

MS: I actually wrote a movie for Disney about mothers who take their kids on a road trip. I would like to do that again or produce.

AD: What’s next?

MS: I’m doing Divorce, and I have a movie called Fun Mom Dinner with Toni Collette. I’ve been busy and it’s all going great.

AD: How did that whole experience change you?

MS: You know, it makes you think about life. I had a close friend who died. It gives you a gratitude. I lost my mom when I was four and her life was cut short, and it’s not fair. It gives you the gift of enjoying life and health because you never know how long you’re going to have with someone. Me losing my mom when I was little, gave me an appreciation for how precious life is. I always think, at least I got the four years.

To be with someone when they’re dying, it’s an honor. It’s sad but beautiful that you’re able to talk to them, and they give you advice about life. There’s something so incredible and it’s so universal and touching. It’s sad, but it also makes me grateful for life, health, and time on earth.

AD: That’s also the takeaway. Stop for a minute, let’s not dwell on the bad and just be grateful.

MS: Exactly.