Inside ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’’s Clever, Candy-Colored Interactive Special
Daniel Radcliffe, Jane Krakowski, and Tituss Burgess break down what it was like to film the bonkers special—in which Kimmy faces down The Reverend while preparing for her wedding.
Daniel Radcliffe sits across from me in a staging area for Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s interactive special, Kimmy vs. The Reverend. He’s wearing a scraggly (fake) beard and murmuring, so as not to disturb the filming taking place on the other side of the wall. And near the end, when asked if there’s anything else he’d like to add, he whispers, through all those whiskers, “I’m borderline in love with Carol Kane?”
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In the special, Radcliffe plays Kimmy’s groom-to-be, Prince Frederick Windsor—who happens to be 12th in line for the English throne. And apart from Ellie Kemper, who plays the show’s spunky former mole woman, Radcliffe notes that he shares most of his scenes with Kane’s eccentric character, Lillian, as she scrambles to prepare him for the wedding.
“She’s just somebody that, as soon as we started working together, I was just like, ‘Yeah, I really, really like you,’” Radcliffe said of Kane. “She’s one of those people that like when you look at her career, it is extraordinary... She’s very, very good fun and really nice.”
Although Radcliffe is a longtime 30 Rock fan, he admits he hasn’t watched a lot of the “big” TV shows out there, including Kimmy Schmidt. But his girlfriend is a huge fan, and as soon as he landed the role he began catching up in preparation for his role as a “sort of sweet but quite stupid prince.”
After binge-watching the series, he said, “I was initially very intimidated behind because I’m just like, ‘Ah, I don’t think I’m funny enough to be on-screen with all these people!’... It was funny because when we were toward at the end of Potter, we’d always have people coming in, and they’d always be very nervous, and I was always there thinking, ‘Well you know, it’s all great!... and now I’m like, Oh no, they must’ve been terrified!’” Thankfully, he said, the Kimmy Schmidt cast, and especially Ellie Kemper, could not have been more welcoming.
Plus, he added, “I feel like playing posh, stupid English people is possibly a little niche I can carve for myself.”
Radcliffe’s presence is just one of the many delightful quirks in Kimmy Schmidt’s new interactive special—which debuts Tuesday and reunites all of the original cast members, plus a couple you might have forgotten. Netflix has used its interactive technology in previous projects, including Black Mirror: Bandersnatch and Bear Grylls’ You vs. Wild. But with Kimmy vs. The Reverend, the format reaches its full potential. In this candy-colored comedic universe, all the gimmickry this form requires not only works, but feels right at home. And the writers have found ways to tap the medium for its full potential, burying Easter eggs left and right.
Still, switching from the usual series format to an interactive special was no simple feat. Clad in a spectacularly floofy, heavily adorned, blindingly pink bridesmaid’s dress, Jane Krakowski, who plays socialite Jaqueline White, told The Daily Beast, “I think the four writers had a very clear understanding of how the technology works and how the stories would work for everyone, but then we sort of had to catch up a little bit.”
“It is a maze,” said Tituss Burgess, who plays Kimmy’s best friend—the unabashedly narcissistic Titus Andromedon. The format required everyone, particularly the central characters, to film multiple takes of the same scene, each tweaked ever so slightly to drive toward a different outcome. “I’ve never done anything like this before, so that's been pretty exciting in the way that it is quite challenging,” Burgess said.
Still, he added with a laugh, “I don’t know that I ever need to do another interactive special, ever.”
Krakowski said that despite the initial learning curve, “the things that are unique to the interactive special are my favorite parts of what we’re doing. Because we’re the first comedy to make one of these, we’re getting to make the choice points very comedic... There’s a nod to the people at home that we know we’re waiting for you to choose.”
Some of those nods are quieter, while others are a little more tongue-in-cheek. At one point, for instance, Jaqueline slurps her soda through a straw while waiting for the user to make a decision. Her gaze fixes ever so slightly askew of the camera—just close enough to make you feel you’re being watched in anticipation.
The special itself is largely intuitive. It’s pretty hard to screw things up too badly, while most of the “good” decisions are easy to guess. And for those of us with a chaotic streak, all of the really fatal mistakes one can make come with easy course corrections to prevent any frustrating, extended do-overs. The special rewards curiosity more than care—leaving users free to explore with reckless abandon.
But best of all, Kimmy Schmidt in interactive form comes packed with more than twice the usual usual number of jokes, thanks to alternate scenarios. The fastest winning play-through I’ve managed clocked in at around an hour, but you could easily spend an afternoon exploring all of the alternate options and hidden jokes—a welcome distraction at the moment.
“The main thing is just the audience will be in control,” Burgess said. “This show is kind of perfect for that, because people feel so attached to these characters, and they've been yelling out their hopes and wants and dreams on social media anyways. So why not give them all the control?”
Hinting at what Titus gets up to in the special, Burgess added, “He is all over the place. The audience will have a very, very good time putting him in situations he perhaps should not be in.” (Having played through the special multiple times, I can promise that is an understatement.)
Plus, as Krakowski noted, “There’s a lot of sentimentality for the viewers who are dedicated to the show... You’ll see characters come back that have been with us the whole time.”
This special, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt as a whole, are pretty sentimental for Krakowski herself, who has spent years collaborating with co-creators Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, ever since 30 Rock. “I feel incredibly lucky that my personal comedic identity has been formed and is now identifiable with them,” Krakowski said. “I’m very proud of that because they're some of the people I most want to work with in comedy... I think are so amazingly smart and talented at comedy.”
“I hope our friendship and our professional relationship doesn’t end here,” she added. “I know we’re all going to move on to different projects, but I hope that I get to play characters that they write for years and years to come.”