‘Kimmy vs. The Reverend’: Why Star Ellie Kemper Says the Special ‘Went There In Terms of Trauma’
As an actor, Ellie Kemper is known for her comedic roles. But Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt required her to be funny while working with a premise rooted in her character’s pain. Here’s how she feels the interactive special Kimmy vs. the Reverend managed to handle this.
Ellie Kemper starred in ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’
Kemper became famous for her role as Erin in The Office. She was then cast as the titular character in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, a Netflix comedy created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock. In the pilot, Kimmy is a young woman who was recently freed after being trapped in a bunker for years, and she has to cope with this trauma while learning about the world today.
Kimmy lives in New York City with her roommate, Titus, an aspiring actor. Also part of the main cast are her landlord, Lillian, and Jacqueline, who employs her as a nanny in the early seasons. The series aired for a total of four seasons on Netflix before ending in 2019.
She reprised her role in the special ‘Kimmy vs. the Reverend’
Shortly after the series came to a close, an interactive special, in the vein of Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, was announced. The special, titled Kimmy vs. the Reverend, premiered in May 2020. In Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: A Conversation with the Stars at Paley Front Row for the Paley Center, Kemper opened up about it.
There were plenty of hurdles for the cast to deal with, from inclement weather to a very dense script. For Kemper, there was another obstacle: She filmed the special when she was pregnant. “When I think of the world today, that was like a vacation! That was so easy and fun,” she said.
How the special addressed the show’s dark subject matter
The initial fun of the series came from having Kimmy adapt to a world that changed a lot while she was in the bunker. But as it progressed, the character was forced to deal with what happened to her and confront her kidnapper, Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (played by Jon Hamm).
As insinuated by the title, she comes face to face with him in the Kimmy vs. the Reverend. And the user is given options as to how to deal with him. When asked which of the choices she preferred, Kemper said, “Is this any surprise? I like the right choice. I do think that it’s the most rewarding,” she said of the option to spare him.
However, the actor is not surprised that those who watch may first choose one of the more destructive options involving weapons. “It’s cathartic, maybe, for the viewer to see him die. But it’s not, I guess, the noble choice,” Kemper said, adding, “That whole sequence is pretty dark.
Kemper’s thoughts on the balancing act
Of course, the dark humor is baked right into the premise. Since the beginning of the series, that was a line the writers had to toe. “There are several very dark moments in the special, which, again, it’s that fine line…the central premise is extremely dark,” she said.
Kemper continued, praising the writing of the show and the special. “But how you balance that with being insane and crazy…it’s like a magic trick. I feel like this special sort of went there in terms of [addressing all of] the trauma.”