PLUS: The servants go on strike — but Frederick wasn't always the one to save the day
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 fifth episode of the comedy’s second season, “Roosevelt.”
The Bellacourts host their most honored guests yet at the mansion: The Roosevelts, including POTUS Teddy Roosevelt, a young Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, and a non-Roosevelt, William Howard Taft. Unfortunately for the upstairs crowd, the servants have decided to strike — an idea Leggero and Lindhome developed after going on a tour of how the other half lived in Newport.
RIKI LINDHOME: We took a servants tour at The Elms, where a real servants’ strike happened, and we based it on that but made it a little more silly. But the servants there, they wanted one hour of down-time a week — they worked 18 hours days and zero days off, and the guy said no and fired them all.
NATASHA LEGGERO: Yeah, if anyone goes to Newport, you can see the tour. Most of the tours are about how the glamorous people lived, but in this tour, it shows you how the servants’ floor was on the third floor of the mansion, just overlooking the gorgeous green rolling hills that fall right into the ocean, and they basically built a brick wall around the entire third floor so no one approaching the house would see service walking around… It was almost inhumane how people were treated. They weren’t allowed to have significant others, they weren’t allowed to drink alcohol, and they got no sleep and no free time.
With the servants on strike, the Roosevelts’ visit starts off on the wrong foot and only gets worse as Frederick (Jason Ritter) attempts to impress the visiting members of American royalty. For example, he doesn’t realize Teddy is the President of the United States; instead, he misinterprets the Commodore’s miming to understand that Teddy is the President of the Melon Association.
LINDHOME: One thing we realized about Jason is he can sell any line no matter how silly it is, so we like to push it, and we like to see how dumb we can make his lines.
LEGGERO: Part of it is his talent and part of it is just, like, every writer loves to write dumb jokes. It’s just kind of a fun area, and so we always have so many great pitches for Jason and also for Beatrice. Writing for both of them is really fun ‘cause they are so stupid.
LINDHOME: [As for the plot and history], Teddy Roosevelt was only president on record with no vice president [from 1901-1905], so there actually was no one. Taft was the president after Teddy so that’s why we had him in there, because he was the closest thing to a VP at the time. Technically, it’s not historically accurate — I mean, Frederick Bellacourt is not VP — but not also far from basic history.
LEGGERO: Right, we try to make things accurate whenever possible.
While the boys talk politics — or attempt to, anyway — Eleanor Roosevelt (June Diane Raphael) gets, well, intimate, with Beatrice, despite Hortense’s best efforts to get her to discuss feminism.
LEGGERO: [June] is on the list [of people we’ve wanted to come on the show]. We wrote her a part last year, but she couldn’t do it because of Grace and Frankie, but she’s, like, one of the top five or top two women we always try to cast, just because she’s so funny. As soon as that part came up, we were like, “Oh my God, she would be so great!”
LINDHOME: We watched that Ken Burns documentary series about Eleanor and Teddy and FDR, so we kind of based a few things on that, like during the last 20 years of FDR and Eleanor’s lives, he lived with his secretary and Eleanor lived with her friend. They both lived with different women, so we were like, “Alright!” Also, FDR wasn’t liked by his college classmates. He was very unpopular, and people thought he was a jerk and a momma’s boy, and the doc implies that he was a jerk until he got polio and then it was a complete sea change, so we were like, “Oh, that’s funny!”
LEGGERO: That’s our show. History is just a jumping off point for our comedy. [Laughs.]
LINDHOME: [The sex scene with Eleanor and Beatrice] was pitched in the writers’ room. I think it may have been our director who said they should kiss and then go right down into the 69 [laughs] and it was so funny. It actually wasn’t that hard to shoot, because we cut pretty much when that happened.
LEGGERO: We were worried about June, because she was 4 or 5 months pregnant, but we shot her scenes maybe a month apart, so we were afraid she might not be able to match. But she totally hit it.
LINDHOME: When Michael [Welch, who plays FDR] and June walked in and shot the entrance, they slayed us, and we were like, “Oh, this is going to be a good episode.” [Laughs.]
Lillian tries to chase FDR, but doesn’t get as much pleasure out of her one-on-one with a Roosevelt. When she heads downstairs to make him a sandwich (remember: the servants are gone), she winds up pinned to the ground by a drunk Taft, 127 Hours-style, finally cutting her way out. (She cuts her dress, not her arm, but it’s just as tragic a sacrifice in her eyes.)
LEGGERO: Filming it was much easier than I thought it would be. It was just meant to be silly.
LINDHOME: We were just trying to think of a plot device to keep Lillian and FDR apart and get Eleanor and FDR together. The only way to do that was to get Lillian out of the room, because she’s going to fight Eleanor. She’s not just going to take rejection. It evolved into a 127 Hours-type of situation, but it was a plot thing.
In the end, the Bellacourts can’t last without their servants, so Frederick patches things up by negotiating a deal with Flobelle — but it wasn’t always going to be Frederick saving the day.
LINDHOME: We thought about having Hortense resolve it instead, and we thought about Blanche resolving it.
LEGGERO: That was maybe the only scene that we actually wrote on that set on the day of filming. We had been thinking of doing it all these different ways, and it just seemed obvious on the day that Frederick should be in charge of it, I think… Creating a real feeling of the strike with six extras was challenging, because when we read about the strike at the Elms, it was about 60 people, and our show is low-budget, but Jeremy [Konner, the director] got some great angles and was really able to shoot it in a way so it felt like a strike.
Another Period airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on Comedy Central.