You wanted more Lillian, and now you’ve got her.
Carol Kane’s memorably criminal landlady Lillian Kaushtupper is back in a big way — she’s a series regular now! — on the second season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which premieres on April 15 on Netflix.
Though Lillian found her way toward the end of season 1 when she befriended Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski) for a roadtrip to Indiana, the loyal New Yorker has plenty more layers to uncover as season 2 explores her romantic history and the roots of her love affair with New York City — which will galvanize her to fight back against incoming hipsters who threaten to commandeer the neighborhood. EW caught up with the legendary Kane to talk about what’s coming up for Lillian’s kooky brand of Schmidt.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Welcome back to season 2! How did you feel at the outset of filming this year, approaching the show knowing that people saw it and adored it?
CAROL KANE: Its extremely exciting. But on the other hand, we’re [still] in that vacuum when we shoot because it’s not like, say, Taxi or whatever in that you do an episode and then you get some feedback shortly after. You do these 13 very privately. It’s really nice that people are cheering you on, though. So that’s very nice, but the work is very private in the way it’s done for a streaming show. It’s an interesting thing. But we just look to each other for feedback, and certainly our producers are so brilliant and we put complete faith in them, and so far, that’s been a good idea. I mean, some of us are putting out our own wines…and some others of us are not. [Laughs.]
Seriously, the amount of products you could release that can be tied into something Lillian has mentioned…
I’m sure I could cook up many different things!
What degree of absurdity do you attach to Lillian as a character?
I don’t think, oh, you know, I’m crazy and zany. I’m just inside it and I say the words they wrote me and just sometimes I understand what I’m saying, sometimes I don’t. A goal of mine is to try and be as real as possible. To try and not comment on the work I’m doing but just do it. I mean, that’s always a goal, and it’s not a very easy one, either. But it’s important because once you start winking at the audience, then to me you’re kind of lost at that point. I don’t like somebody saying to me in their performance, ‘Look at this, isn’t this funny?’ I pray that I don’t do that. I’m sure I fall off the horse every once in a while but I try not to.
Are there blanks of Lillian’s life you’re particularly interested in filling out in the future?
I have some ideas. But I feel really close to and reliant upon the producers to help me fill her in and tell me what they had in mind in creating my character. But I always try and fill in, for any of my characters, as real a backstory as I’m comfortable with.
It seems like Lillian flexes more of a maternal muscle this year in terms of her guardianship over Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) and Titus (Tituss Burgess).
I think it wasn’t really there in the first season so much, and I noticed that, too. I seem to feel that it’s my responsibility to share my years of learning with them, to try and help take care of them. I guess that is the spinoff result of the fact that the three of us really have become more of a family, I think. The longer we live together and the closer we become, the more we know about each other’s strengths and weaknesses, it becomes sort of natural for me to try and be the mother in some way.
Does it feel like that on set?
It’s fun! We just laugh. We kind of support each other, and when we eff up, as they say, we just run back and do it again, and that’s always fun because it just keeps you really on your toes. It’s very much a collaborative sort of ping-pong match.
A lot of your past work has examined New York through the lenses of very specific filmmaker voices, and New York plays such a big role in Lillian’s life. What’s the New York of Kimmy?
It certainly is not realistic and yet there is a great deal of reality in it. A lot of the circumstances that we all go through are happening all over the place, but some of our reactions and solutions to some of these circumstances are unusual. The oddest thing is, in some way the character I know best in my real life might be Titus, because I’m part of a band of actors who, no matter how much they get kicked in the teeth, find themselves having to bounce back because they are in love with something that much. And even though that’s certainly not an average character in any way — it’s wild and magical — and yet I feel like maybe I know him in my travels. Now, Kimmy of course, I don’t know anybody Kimmy’s age that still has that point of view, but I certainly know people of…younger ages who have that point of view, and I think it’s a really good reminder for those of us who have sort of shut doors in order to self-protect, you know? Kimmy’s behavior in the world is still open to so many possibilities even though her youth may have been so horrifying.
What’s your snapshot memory of filming season 2?
It’s so silly but I enjoyed sitting on a suitcase with Fred Armisen singing a song that he played on the ukulele. I really enjoyed that.
Did it surprise you that Lillian has such an unorthodox love interest this year in Fred’s character?
Um…no. [Laughs.] Which speaks volumes! And then I also have a nice lovely song with Tituss that I enjoyed, but I was so nervous to do because that voice is just like so crazy. It’s so extraordinary and suddenly sets this very high bar to match.
What’s on the season 3 wishlist?
I want to find more of Lillian’s hopes and dreams and stick my neck out there even further and take even more risks, and I want to find emotional truth for myself, for Lillian, within the context of how hilarious it is.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt premieres April 15 on Netflix.