On making Harriet Tubman just like Oprah, filming in a barrel, and Michael Ian Black's 'Taken' impression
Every week, Another Period creators and stars Natasha Leggero and Riki Lindhome, who play spoiled socialite sisters Lillian and Beatrice Bellacourt, take viewers behind the scenes and share insight into how they crafted each episode. Below, their thoughts on the premiere of the comedy’s second season.
The episode begins with Lillian and Beatrice banished from the Bellacourt Manor, quickly becoming old news after finding minor fame as “The Pig Sisters.” Dismayed at their “misfortune,” they seek Harriet Tubman’s help to become properly famous, as Tubman has become the most talked-about woman for her work on the Underground Railroad.
RIKI LINDHOME: We were talking about how hard it is to become famous in 1902 or 1903, and the most famous women were Harriet Tubman and Helen Keller, so you had to be really accomplished to make something happen. But of course, Lillian and Beatrice think they should be famous as well, and when they see Harriet Tubman, they go to her for advice on how to make it.
NATASHA LEGGERO: And we liked the idea of Harriet Tubman as a branding expert. We just had this idea in our heads, and we were watching the movie Friday After Next and we were like, “What if that woman was Harriet Tubman?” So we got Bebe Drake to play Harriet Tubman, and we were like, “What if she’s kind of an Oprah-esque character?”
LINDHOME: We sent her the script, and then we met with her to talk about it. You know, it’s pretty out there, it’s definitely not a PC role. It’s not disparaging anyone. It’s just funny.
Tubman then encourages the ladies to go ride in a barrel over Niagara Falls for a publicity stunt. Needless to say, the dangerous task leaves the pair disgruntled — and even more so when Tubman gets all the attention for the barrel’s durability.
LEGGERO: One of our writers was telling us this story of this woman who went over Niagara Falls, and she was trying to get famous, and we were like, “Oh, that’s exactly like our characters!” This woman, she actually made it, but with a serious head injury. When she landed, her forehead was bleeding, and she ended up having head trouble for the rest of her life. She [went] on the road as the woman who went over Niagara Falls and made a small living for herself, but also, she was quoted as saying that she regretted it.
LINDHOME: She said in the press, “I wouldn’t recommend it.” [Laughs.] [To film the scene,] we put a camera in a barrel on set in the mansion where we film, and there were just guys physically shaking the barrel.
LEGGERO: We honestly still can’t believe how great it looks.
Back at the manor, Peepers (Michael Ian Black) interviews and finds the best servant to join his staff, but Leggero and Lindhome had many more candidates in mind…
LEGGERO: We originally had three different people, but the episodes are 21 minutes, and we have 13 lead characters. There were definitely some alternate lines that we liked. There was a line where [the first candidate] was bragging that the queen once glanced in his direction, and what was the other one?
LINDHOME: The queen once insulted his daughter-in-law in front of him, and that’s how comfortable she was in his presence. [Laughs.] We’re so lucky that we have such good actors and all this great stuff, and it’s painful that we have to cut it down. [As for new hire Flobelle, played by Alice Hunter], we were just thinking, “How could someone out-butler Peepers? What would someone know about more than him?” And so we just thought, he doesn’t wear nightcoats, so he might not be up on nightcoats. [The facts she said] were true.
LEGGERO: I think that speech [director] Jeremy Konner wrote was inspired by Marisa Tomei talking about the carburetor in My Cousin Vinny.
Upstairs, the Commodore (David Koechner) is going under financially and finds that his only assets are his daughters, who he can marry off to wealthier suitors.
LINDHOME: We love to draw parallels to modern life. There’s crashes, and people’s finances go away. People who aren’t careful with their money, it goes away. So we kind of wanted to show it was true back then, it’s true now.
LEGGERO: And we read about this period in history, the Gilded Age. Newport between 1902 and 1912 really were the glory years for these people, and then they introduced income tax, and people could only keep half of their millions and billions of dollars. And then simultaneously, women started to work at other things, and nobody wanted to be someone’s servant. They couldn’t keep these houses up because they needed 30 servants to even keep these massive structures functioning… One thing we do love about our show in terms of things coming full circle is people have figured out a way now not to pay income tax, so just as they didn’t then, they’re figuring out how to avoid it now legally.
Eventually, the Commodore sends Peepers off to find the girls, despite failing to capture Dodo (Paget Brewster) before she disappears.
LINDHOME: Dodo may or may not be making a resurgence this season. We want to keep it mysterious. Nobody knows where she went, but it’ll all unfold. [As for Michael Ian Black’s scene while interrogating Lauren Lapkus’ hapless Penelope], he improvised that on the day! We were like “Oh my God!” And then Lauren just went with it.
LEGGERO: The thing that is so great about Michael Ian Black is he just comes to set with ideas. We did another take that we didn’t end up using, but he was like, “I’m just going to do this scene,” the Lauren Lapkus scene where he throws the baby, [and was like] “I’m just going to do the monologue from Taken.” He memorized it in the makeup chair, the entire monologue from Taken. We should actually have that as an extra somewhere, because that was so funny.
LINDHOME: I’ll write that down, yeah!
And in the midst of all the action, even Hortense gets a chance to shine: This time, she’s played by yet another new actor, Lauren Flans. (The first two Hortenses were portrayed by Artemis Pebdani and Lauren Ash.)
LINDHOME: Hortense No. 1 and Hortense No. 2 both got network TV shows. You know, our first girl Artemis was on Scandal by the time the show got picked up, and I think she had two shows at the time she was juggling. And then Lauren Ash, our second Hortense, is now in Superstore, so we called her and asked, “Do you want to do Hortense for season 2?” and she couldn’t. And so we held auditions again and got Hortense No. 3!
LEGGERO: And that’s not to say that no one else on our show is on network shows, but they all have gotten it carved out of their contracts so that’s very fortunate. And this Hortense is so great! I like the idea of [making it a running] gag, but I also want to keep her.
LINDHOME: Me too, I hope she can stick around.
Another Period airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on Comedy Central.