We talk to comedian and ‘Vice Principals’ star Edi Patterson about her work on the HBO show, comedy, and what’s to come.
Vice Principals is in its second season and couldn’t be better. A comedy with a serious side, its cast, including Danny McBride, Walton Goggins, and Edi Patterson, pulls off some incredible, and incredibly funny, acting. Speaking of funny, Edi Patterson has been a riot as a teacher who has fallen for Danny McBride’s character, Neil Gamby. The thing is, they barely know each other but she’s beyond infatuated, in a scary sort of way! Just check out her intensity in this clip.
We got the chance to talk to Edi Patterson who plays Ms. Abbott in HBO’s hit series about not only where the show is going, but also comedy, an upcoming new show on TBS, and more!
AiPT!: Your character has really come into her own and it’s quite a sight to see.
Edi Patterson: Yeah she does, that’s one way to say it. [laughs]
AiPT!: In the “Compassionate Man” episode you were amazing as well, your character is so twisted and sick, how do you get into your character?
Patterson: It was an interesting thing because I was initially going to do a few episodes in the first season and then we had such a good time and such a good comedy chemistry, Danny [McBride] and I, that they sort of tweaked it and I got to be in way more, as you can see. Just from the jump I could just feel–I don’t know if this is good or bad–but I could feel the truth of her. She just seemed, this might be saying too much about myself, but I just thought she was rad. She’s a person who doesn’t realize how she’s coming off and she seemed desperate. But all the things she wants are, like, really legit human things to want. She wants a boyfriend. She wants to have a good time. [laughs]
AiPT!: Which is kind of what is so successful about every character in the show. You can relate to all of them and sort of understand where they’re coming from even though what they’re doing and saying is messed up.
Patterson: Totally. That’s the genius of Danny and Jody [Hill] and all the writers and David, it’s super flawed people, and I don’t know about you but every time I watch an episode I’m like, “God I hope Gamby wins.” And this is right after he burns someone’s house down. I think they’re geniuses in that grey area in making people just people. Letting people having flaws and also letting them have a good side and things that they want and things they’re trying to do and moments in helping others. I would get into my character by just, I think every character is somewhere inside of you already and I sort of amp up that side of myself.
AiPT!: Did Danny McBride or Jody Hill give you any backstory on Ms. Abbott?
Patterson: Initially I just had what was in the sides of the episode. I auditioned with a little bit from the field trip episode and then part of the blowjob in the closet episode. All I had to go on was the stuff that was there. For me that was plenty. They already subtly weighted in that this woman was, heh, just really wanted this dude and is desperate to do something like give him a blowjob in a closet IN A HIGH SCHOOL where she teaches! Those little details told me so much.
AiPT!: When you got the job, did you get all the scripts at once. Could you see where this character was going?
Patterson: No, initially definitely not. We only had the first season. I don’t think I got them all in a chunk. I think we’d get them like, a bit at a time. It all kind of laid out gradually.
AiPT!: I’m leaning towards you shooting Gamby, I mean Ms. Abbott shooting Gamby.
AiPT!: No spoilers, but do you think she’s capable of doing it?
Patterson: Dude, here’s what I honestly think about everyone on this show. I think probably you don’t want to put your money too hard on anyone because they’re all capable of it. I think if you really did a game of running down a list and going, “Why would this person want to shoot him?” Everyone has a ton of boxes checked.
AiPT!: Gamby has so many terrible character flaws.
Patterson: …and he’s sort of f----d over so many people. And so many people have whatever reason to be mad at him. You could even put his daughter on that list.
AiPT!: Including Ms. Abbott even though she’s completely in love with him.
Patterson: Yes. Sure, she is very in love with him.
AiPT!: Now I know you’re in the famous improv troup the Groundlings, which is amazing, you probably get this question constantly, but how much improv did you do on the set of Vice Principals?
Patterson: We did a fair amount which was really just super super exciting for me. Danny is a really good improviser too, and pretty early on we would do a scene as written a couple of times and then we would, once we had it in our bones, we would get a little more free with it. From the get-go we were loose with stuff. Everything they wrote, it was already all there, that it was fun to, in the moment, to play around with stuff and see what happened. I knew I could throw just about anything at them, say anything and do anything. Like not in the script try to kiss him, you know what I mean? With Ms. Abbott I felt like I could really go for it. It was so fun to be in that space with Danny, for sure.
AiPT!: Did you have any tricks to get into character? Your character was so wacked at times.
Patterson: Weirdly, this is going to sound so weird, but not a ton of tricks to get into character. But I had a slightly weird one for this show where I’d wear a certain perfume. Randomly on one of my walks in Charleston, I bought this weird kind of rose scented perfume, which I never in a million years in real life would buy. I still don’t know why I bought it, but for some reason that smelled like her to me. When I would put it on it really helped me to lock in.
AiPT!: I want this show to go on forever, to be honest, but I guess this is it.
Patterson: Me too!
AiPT!: Maybe there could be a Christmas special like with British TV shows.
Patterson: Oh my god that would be awesome. Yeah that was their plan from the get go. Jody and Danny wrote it as a movie and then they revisited it, it seemed longer than a movie, like it had more details and more twists and turns than a 2-hour movie. It wraps up in a really nice way and it is what it is. They wanted one really succinct and really awkward story and I think they really pulled it off.
AiPT!: It’s so cinematic too, I can see how it was originally supposed to be a movie.
Patterson: It’s so cinematic, like…
AiPT!: …the use of music alone.
Patterson: God so good. This guy, Joey Stephens, composed a lot of the music for it and it has a lot of synthy 80’s stuff which I love so much. The shots, like David’s [Gordon Green] shots in the second season there were times I was looking at it I was like, “Dear god that’s so beautiful.” The same with season one. Jody Hill directed the first season. There were times where I was like, “What giant movie is this from?”
AiPT!: Over the summer you filmed The Last O.G. which is more of a sitcom if I’m not mistaken?
Patterson: It’s a single camera. So it’s not like a three-camera sitcom with an audience. It’s a half-hour single-camera comedy.
AiPT!: I love Tracy Morgan, can you talk about your character on that show?
Patterson: The show revolves around him getting out of prison. He’s been in prison for 15 years and he’s back in his life. It’s about trying to get back into his life with his kids who have been raised by a handsome white guy who married his wife, he’s living at a halfway house, I’m his boss at his job.
AiPT!: That’s cool.
Patterson: Yeah, it’s really cool. It was really fun and I get to be a dick to him.
AiPT!: It sounds like a really fun premise. How does your character compare to Ms. Abbott?
Patterson: I would say she’s definitely more mean. I think Ms. Abbott is real fun loving. Really awesome. This chick Elizabeth is a little more pinched and a little more sort of constantly threatened. That was fun doing that with Tracy Morgan. I just thought he was hilarious for so long.
AiPT!: He’s the king of improv too isn’t he?
Patterson: Yeah, and he’d let it rip sometimes. It was just a blast. Really fun!
AiPT!: What is your favorite method of procrastination?
Patterson: Oooh, oh dude, I have such a weird one as of late. I’m talking within the last five years I’d say. I don’t know why. Anyway, I go online to car websites different models and makes, and I build a price on the website. Do you know what I’m talking about?
AiPT!: Oh yeah totally!
Patterson: I’ll look at some car that looks cool to me and I’ll build and price it and custom design it. I don’t know why. It’s weirdly meditative to me and I could spend hours.
AiPT!: It’s sort of like pretending what your life could be like with this new car.
Patterson: [laughs] Kind of. Some of them I don’t even know if I want. It’s like meditating. That’s weirdly relaxing.
You can watch the last three episodes of Vice Principals Sunday’s at 10:30/9:30c on HBO.