With the end of Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Mike Carlsen looks back fondly on playing the lovable Mikey Politano.
I love everyone on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, yes, but there’s something special about Mike Carlsen’s Mikey Politano. As the love interest for Tituss Burgess’ Titus Andromedon, Mikey has been a constant positive energy for the series, and the Tina Fey and Robert Carlock comedy gives him a truly beautiful send off. One of my personal requirements of a good series finale is knowing that the characters you love will be all right after the final episode airs. The more Titus longed to win Mikey back through the final season, the more you ached for them to reconcile.
Carlsen doesn’t think Mikey is stupid–he feels his good nature and supportive attitude are something to be regarded with respect. When was the last time you loved a character completely unironically? Kimmy Schmidt is packed with sight gags and zippy humor, but Carlsen’s Politano has always been lovely and adorable. Not only will Mikey and Titus be all right, but their relationship will only thrive. You can feel that in the series finale. Yes, the show is insane and bonkers and deals with huge emotional themes, but Carlsen manages to give Kimmy Schmidt more than you’d ever expect.
Mikey expects Titus to do something big to stop his wedding. Have you ever seen anyone make a huge romantic gesture like that before?
When I was younger, I made grand gestures like that. I would set up experiences for my partner, so that was something that was easy to tap into. When you’re in a relationship and you want to something to really happen and don’t know how to go about it, you hope that someone does something that tells you they love you.
So it’s not a totally foreign concept to you. That’s great!
That’s a really nice part about being in a relationship. Surprising people helps keep things interesting.
Mikey is one of the most lovable characters on television.
He’s such a sweetheart.
Yeah, he’s a good dude.
What will you miss most about Mikey?
Obviously, the people I got to work with every day. When you’re able to play a part like Mikey where his heart is so pure and so open. He’s so vulnerable. He’s kind of a puppy dog. He’s not stupid and he’s not naïve, though. That’s important. I think that he lives in this world where he’s so positive and so open that he has expectations that everyone else is going to be. I think that’s beautiful. It’s a joy to play someone like that, because you’re not thinking of anything as negative. Even a day of work, he’s happy. He’s a special person.
And I think you need him in a show like Kimmy Schmidt. While there are positive characters—Kimmy is very optimistic—it can be very dark.
You get to be paired a lot with Jane for the Sliding Van Doors episode.
I think it’s my favorite episode.
Yeah! It just lives in this crazy world. We had no idea what to expect when we came to set that day. They built this ultimate reality that’s so real that you could see these characters living in that reality.
You guys get to tap into some melodrama.
It’s high drama, that’s for sure. I remember on set, we were thinking about where this lives. It’s Streetcar Named Desire/Tennessee Williams-esque melodrama. That’s where we started, and I think found some cool levels with it.
You’re the Stanley Kowalski who gets his pants ripped off.
Yes. Blanche is the aggressor, and she rips his pants off. But he’s down.
Were you ever worried that Mikey and Titus wouldn’t end up together?
Of course. I knew that they had an idea for us. But when they get in that writer’s room, they don’t tell you what you’re doing until they want you to know what you’re doing. There’s always expectation and a hope that this is going to see itself to the end. Titus and I secretly both hoped that they would end up together just because they are so beautiful together. They’re kind of perfect for each other. You always just show and say, ‘Well, these are our scenes today and they’re not together yet so…we’ll see what happens tomorrow!’
When I was re-watching the final season, I realized what a solid through-line you guys had. That was a romance that felt truly earned by the end.
Our writers are so unbelievably smart and good and talented. If you think about it, Sliding Van Doors there’s 7 or 8 scenes between Jane and I together. But then you have 2 more episodes to wrap this up. I’m not in the second to last one. I’m so blown away by how they can wrap this thing up and you feel that it’s real and truthful and organic. I think everyone is truly happy with how it turned out. It’s all our writers.
I really think everyone’s ending is fitting. I honestly really love the ending.
It could’ve felt forced and pushed. They figured out this way where everyone’s ending is beautiful and perfect for their journey that they’ve taken through these 4 seasons. I get very emotional when I watch it, because I’m going to miss those people so much. I am so proud of it. The most important thing we’ve done is bring joy to a lot of people. In the world, especially right now, I think it’s important. I hope there’s a movie, because I know how many people need them.
I had forgotten—because the world is such a garbage fire—how loose and fun the show since I last watched it. It’s just a fun, smartly written comedy that just wants to make you laugh.
It’s like 30 Rock and Parks & Rec before. People can either be watching it and focusing on the jokes or it can be on in the background. That’s super important to have with everything going on.
You mentioned 30 Rock, and I remember when you became prominent on Kimmy Schmidt, people remembered you as a the construction worker.
Is there something special working in this absurd version of New York City?
I’m a New Yorker–I’m from Brooklyn. I understand the sensibilities and the humor. I think the world they’re created is very similar to what’s really there. People are very blunt. They say what they feel. Tina and Robert’s comedy is something I’m very drawn to. They’re so smart. One of the first things they said was that they appreciated that I was a real actor. I think what’s important to them is an actor with timing. Good actors, when the writing is good, make it work and make it flow. They’re specific brand of comedy is something I’m drawn to. Any time they have a job, I will gladly take it.
How hard do you think it was for Mikey to leave Andrew?
He did feel extremely guilty, but I think that speaks to the type of person Mikey is. If you look at their relationship, he proposes to Andrew because he thinks he sees Titus moving. He does that because he thinks that’s what he should be doing. If there was any guilt, it was really because his parents paid for this wedding. He does care about Andrew as a person. If you look at the arc of their relationship, it’s very obvious that the love for Titus never left. The guilt was more about them having 250 people there and they bought them all the lamb heads.
Oh my God, the lamb heads!
In this perfect world, I don’t think Mikey would have let the wedding on in the first place. Mikey and Titus would have been together already. The majority of the guilt is mainly about his family spending all the money to help with this wedding.
I want to ask you about masculinity and femininity in gay men on television.
Ask it, and we will just dive right in.
Mikey is a more “traditionally masculine” man while Titus is much more flamboyant. I feel like we don’t see that type of masculinity in gay lead characters. Normally, whether it’s on scripted television or reality TV, gay characters have huge personalities and would be considered more feminine. Not to take away from those people or characters, because that representation is also important. Were there talks about that dynamic throughout the run of the show?
In season 2, we did have a long conversation about it. There are many gay men that I know that are like Mikey Politano.
I have dated quite a few Mikey Politanos, if I were totally honest.
Exactly! Gay men like that aren’t really represented on television. There was a conscious plan to go into this show and say there are different types of gay men—just like there are in the real world. There are a lot of different types of heterosexual men and homosexual men. This was an exploration of something that was unchartered. It was very important to us that we show a different type of gay man. The best part about it is Titus is so outlandish and who he is. At the end of the day, you see them for who they are, and you see why they work. That’s the brilliance of Tina and Robert. They put these people together that would never, ever think would be in a relationship, and that’s really beautiful.
You can really see how they lean on one another for support.
Mikey grounds Titus. MIkey is that home that allows Titus be who he wants to be. He’s there for Titus so Titus doesn’t have to worry about that part of his life. He wanted to be loved and supported and that allowed Titus be a huge movie star and move forward.
The moment where you come right and say, ‘I love you’ to Titus is one of the most honest moments I’ve seen in a half hour comedy series. And it’s followed up with a joke immediately after, which makes it even better.
“I love you and I want to spend the rest of your life with you.”
Yeah, I love that.
That’s Tina and Robert, man. Thank you for saying that I do that. I’m simply following their lead. It’s extremely honest. And it’s true! I love that man. He’s a force of nature and he will be very important for the rest of my life.
So what are you doing now that the series has wrapped?
Well, I’m out here in LA trying to get a pilot, so if you know of anything, let me know! I just wrapped a Billy Crystal movie called Standing Up, Falling Down but I can’t really say anything about that. It does have a lot of great New York actors in it, so I’m excited.
All 4 seasons of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt are streaming on Netflix now.