If you binged season 2 of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, chances are you’ve already fallen hard for Mikey, the construction worker who sweeps Titus off his feet.
Mike Carlsen, 36, has played a lot of blue-collar men in his day — “That’s kind of my thing,” he chuckles — but his career changed thanks to one particular hard hat he donned in season 1 of Netflix’s kooky sitcom (which dropped 13 new episodes on April 15).
Carlsen appeared in a single episode last season as a construction worker who rudely cat-calls Ellie Kemper’s character Kimmy — and, by the episode’s end, has done a full 180 and come out to Titus (Tituss Burgess). Of course, nobody expected the seeds of that one-shot guest appearance would lead to Mikey returning as a major love interest for Titus in season 2. Nobody except Carlsen.
“I feel like Robert and Tina might have wanted it to lead to something?” opines Carlsen, a born-and-raised New Yorker. “I felt so good being there. Robert had said that they were very happy, and they wanted to try and find something, but I don’t think even they knew at that point where they wanted to go with it. But I always felt those scenes were so special in their own way.”
Cut to three weeks before the beginning of production on season 2, and the actor hadn’t been approached to return to the Brooklyn set. Suddenly, he had a chance encounter at the gym with Jeff Richmond — Kimmy Schmidt’s music supervisor, and Fey’s husband. Carlsen explains, “I said, ‘My name is Mike, I did a little thing on Kimmy last season,’ and Jeff looked me in the eye and said, ‘Oh, you’re Mikey! We’re so excited!’ And I said, ‘What?’ And he said, ‘We’re really excited for you to come back.’ And I said, ‘Honestly, I love you guys, but no one’s told me anything.’ And then literally three hours later, I got an e-mail and a phone call saying I needed to have dates reserved for the show. That’s how I found out, but it’s just funny how life works, that morning, that moment.”
Another big question leftover from season 1 is whether Mikey’s presence proves a shared universe between Kimmy and Fey and Carlock’s other show, 30 Rock. Carlsen guest-starred on an episode of 30 Rock in 2010 playing a nameless construction worker — but was the character Mikey? “In my view, yes,” says Carlsen. “When I got this audition last year for Kimmy, I read him as Mikey, who’s moving into a new chapter of his life. I don’t know…you’ll have to ask Robert and Tina if that was their plan. They’re very smart, so it very well may have been. But in my opinion, he’s the same guy.”
Carlsen was quickly filled in on the plan for Mikey’s budding romance in season 2, though he says his arc was originally slated for just two episodes: “I think they started to expand more and more because Tituss and I, I think we just had great chemistry. I think our energies really work well together.” It helps that Carlsen counts his co-star Burgess as “one of my best friends in the world” — the two met years ago on the New York theater circuit. (Carlsen appeared on Broadway in the 2006 season in the Tony-winning play trilogy The Coast of Utopia.)
And the casting was more than just kismet; during a set visit last fall, Burgess told EW that he had specifically requested that Fey and Carlock consider “a different type of man” to romance Titus this season, rather than the six-packed specimen Titus fell for in season 1. Sure enough, that answer was Carlsen. “He’s a natural, and he’s exactly what I described,” says Burgess.
While fans may note the progressive, stereotype-shucking reality of Mikey and Titus’s relationship, Carlsen was most taken with the purely emotional connection between both characters. “So many relationships are built on physicality or being attractive and not really built on what’s in somebody’s heart,” he says. “I think what’s so beautiful about them is they connect on a level that a lot of couples never really even get to.”
As for the chances of him returning for season three? “Let’s just say that I think Mikey and Titus are at the beginning of a story,” says Carlsen. “I think that last season, you saw the first chapter. This season, you see the middle of the book. And I’m really hoping that there will be a happy ending for them.”