Molly Shannon on ‘Life After Beth,’ Turning 50, and ‘Never Been Kissed’
I hate to break the news, but Molly Shannon would definitely not make it through the zombie apocalypse.
The Saturday Night Live legend is not only inexperienced when it comes to battling the undead—she’s not much for watching zombie flicks—but she’s also too much of a softie to hack and claw her way out of a flesh-eating situation. She’s a lot like her character in Life After Beth, who, at one point, accidentally lets her hungry, zombified daughter Beth (played by Aubrey Plaza) chew off a few fingers, even as she keeps calling the thrashing, bloodthirsty monster in front of her “sweetie.”
The “zom-rom-com” centers around Beth’s heartbroken ex-boyfriend, Zach (Dane DeHaan), who may or may not have gotten dumped in the days before Beth was fatally bitten by a snake while out hiking. He grieves and goes around wearing Beth’s old rainbow-colored scarf and spends way too much time with Beth’s parents (played by Shannon and John C. Reilly)—until they stop taking his calls or answering the door. An obsessed Zach soon discovers that they’ve been hiding something: Beth is alive. Or, at least, it seems that way.
Beth doesn’t remember breaking up with Zach or dying. Her breath sort of smells and she’s developed a strange affinity for attics and smooth jazz. Once her superhuman strength kicks in, even Zach, who’s been busy doing all the things he never got around to doing for Beth and telling her everything he never got the chance to, has to admit something is wrong. That goes double for her parents, Geenie and Maury, who haplessly attempt to both contain Beth and protect themselves, all while constantly bickering over how strict or lenient to be. Shannon and Reilly come off as natural partners, which is not surprising given their long onscreen history together.
“We’re always, like, dating or married or boyfriend/girlfriend or crushes. It’s always like that, always, which is so funny,” Shannon says, before launching into a story about how she first introduced Reilly (whom she’s been friends with since they co-starred in Never Been Kissed) to his future Step Brothers/Talladega Nights/Anchorman 2 co-star Will Ferrell. “I was like, ‘You two are totally going to get along,’” she says. “I don’t remember if we all went out or what, but they met through me.”
Shannon hopped on the phone with The Daily Beast to talk about zombies, Never Been Kissed memories, and reaching the same age as one of her most famous SNL characters, Sally O’Malley.
I know you weren’t a big zombie movie fan before Life After Beth, but now that you’ve been in one, have you given any thought to how you’d survive a zombie apocalypse?
Oh my God. [Laughs] I can’t even imagine. Um, I think I would probably—I’m pretty calm under stressful situations. I think I’ve found that I am pretty calm. And now that I’ve been in a movie and played somebody surviving a zombie apocalypse, I think I could handle it very well.
You play a sweet, soft-hearted mom in the film and John C. Reilly is the strict rule-enforcer. Which do you relate to more?
Oh that’s so funny, definitely the mom character, I’m more like that in real life. Sweet, I’m easy-going, like [squeals], “Awww, that’s okay, you can have that!” I’m generally happy and easy-going.
But do you draw the line at letting your daughter eat your fingers?
Oh my god, well you know what? I think you would do anything for your kid. It’s great actually, because I am a mom in real life and I understand that you would do anything for your children. You would jump in front of a bus for them, you would do anything. So yes, I would do that.
Watching you and John C. Reilly together was like a watching a Never Been Kissed reunion.
Oh my gosh, yeah! John and I are really good friends in real life and he’s the best, we love performing together. It doesn’t even feel like work when I work with him. And I always tell him, he is one of the best storytellers ever. He tells the most riveting stories with great details [about] stuff that happens to him, people, his kids, his wife—anything, he’s just, ugh, he’s fantastic. When you spend time with him or work with him, time just goes by so quickly.
Did you know that this year marks the movie’s 15th anniversary?
I can’t believe it. That is so wild! 15 years?! That’s unbelievable. That was just so funny. Drew [Barrymore] was so great to work with. You know, she’s been in the movie business since she was a little kid but she was just great to work with. I remember at the time, Superstar was gonna happen right after Never Been Kissed and we really wanted Bruce McCulloch from Kids in the Hall to direct it but he was like, “Nah, I’m going back to Canada, I’m too busy.”
And Drew was like, “What? You’ve got to get him! Call him up again and tell him you’ll make it work, that you’ll do anything, just get him back on the phone!” I was like, “Wha?” And she was like, “Here’s what you say…” And she like, wrote it down. Say this, say that, say that, say that. And so we rented a conference room in the middle of a scene in shooting Never Been Kissed and she told me exactly how to get Bruce back. She told me, “Don’t let him get on the plane, stop him! You gotta get him to do the movie! He’s the best, he’s like one-of-a-kind.” And so she’s really responsible for that. I was like, “OK?” She was like, “Just because he said no doesn’t mean you have to take no as an answer. Go go, stop the plane!” And so I did! She came in the room with me when I called him and it ended up being so wonderful. She was right, it was great advice.
Speaking of time flying by, you have an extremely momentous birthday coming up. You’ll be the same age as one of your most famous SNL characters, Sally O’Malley!
Oh my god, that’s right. That is so funny. No, you know, you’re the first person to ask that, so thank you. I will have to tell you, Melissa, since you asked, I’m gonna wake up on my fiftieth birthday on September 16, 2014, and the first thing that’s gonna come out of my mouth is, “Ladies and gentlemen... [laughs] My name is Sally O’Malley and I’m not one of those gals who’s afraid to hide her real age. [shriek] And I like to kick! And stretch! And kick!” That’s how I’m gonna say it. It’s gonna be crazy! But I have to say that that’s a very old 50. For some reason she seems more like 70. She kinda limps. But yeah, I’m gonna do that.
We’re hoping you’ll make an SNL appearance just for the occasion.
Oh, really? [Laughs.] Oh good, I like that! Fifty, that’s so funny. Oh my god, I love it.
I read once that you actually modeled the character on your father.
I did, my dad has a limp in real life—we were in a very bad automobile accident when I was little, so it took a long time for him to rehabilitate and learn to walk again, so he has a brace on one of his legs. He limped from the time I was four after our accident. He always had a limp and he walked slowly, so I’m imitating how he walked. But then I’m like, [Sally O’Malley voice] “I can kiiiick!” So it starts with a limp but then I make the character really be able to move and be strong, even though the character has this kind of physical limitation. So it’s really from my dad and wanting him to kick off the braces, wanting him to be able to walk faster and run. It was like a physical expression of wanting that for him.
Are any of your other characters based on people you know?
Yeah, a lot of other characters—like the joyologist, the one who’s like, “I love it, I love it, I love it,” that’s a little based on my dad too. My dad in a kind of manic phase, feeling really euphoric and excited and like [sharp breath intake] kind of high. That’s a version of my father and yes, Sally O’Malley is a version of my father. Mary Katherine Gallagher is an exaggerated version of me how I felt when I was little.
You’ve taken a more active writing role in the past few years, writing a few pilots and scripts. Is that something that’s become important to you?
I do think that’s really good. You know, there’s always usually stuff that exists that you can get cast into, but I think if you’re a woman who knows how to write and you have character ideas or story ideas, of course you should do that, [along] with being cast into stuff. I always think it’s so good and it’s so empowering, and to me, it’s just fun. I have a very laid-back attitude about if [a script] goes or doesn’t go [anywhere], I’m very easy-going about it ‘cause I have kids and I have a very full, happy life as a mother and in my house. I love being in my own life so when something doesn’t go, I’m pretty laid-back about it ‘cause I love the time that I have with my children. So to me, it’s just fun. I love developing stuff and creating stuff and selling stuff, I feel like it’s just great. But I feel like it is important to not be too attached to it too because it’s also a tough business and it’s not always easy to get something on the air. But I try to enjoy the process of writing and creating original ideas.
On another note, I was re-watching Twin Peaks the other day and I found you in an episode.
That is so cool, yeah, the Helping Hand lady! It was my dream show to be on. Joanna Ray was the casting director and I had just moved to Los Angeles from New York and I would drive by her office and I was like, “That’s the show I wanna be on, how can I get in to meet Joanna Ray ‘cause I wanna get on Twin Peaks?” My friend had a connection and knew her—I didn’t have any agent, I didn’t know anybody but that was the only show I wanted to be on. So my friend got me in there to meet her and she was so lovely and then she brought me and I got a part. That was one of my first jobs. And Caleb Deschanel was our director, he’s Zooey Deschanel’s father, and he was so nice. So I was like, in heaven because I was a superfan of the show. That was a dream job for me. I really like visualized it, isn’t that so funny?