At SCAD aTVFest, Ellie Kemper joined EW’s Editor in Chief Henry Goldblatt to talk about everything from casting disappointments to peeing on Tituss Burgess’ lap.
After filling the audience in on her first acting job as a vet’s assistant in an industrial video for veterinarian students, Kemper went on to share how she landed her role in the NBC hit The Office. “That was a series of very fortunate events,” she said. “I auditioned for SNL and didn’t get a part on that show…however, auditioning for it put my name out there and my manager and agent introduced me to Greg Daniels and Mike Schur, who are the executive producers of The Office.” After a general meeting with them, she then read on camera with casting director Alison Jones for a title-less show. Kemper didn’t end up landing that role either and, even though that show turned out to be Parks and Recreation, she wasn’t too bummed. “I thought it was a general audition like I was just going on tape for a show that maybe would be made… so it cushioned the blow.” It all worked out though because a few months after that, a role opened up on The Office.
It was a dream job for Kemper, who was already a big fan of the show, listing “Cafe Disco” among her favorite episodes. “We’re downstairs dancing in a homemade disco — it’s ridiculous,” she said of the scene with a laugh. “I just really loved dancing with Mindy in that episode; it was so much fun.”
Kemper got to revisit the role briefly on a recent episode of SNL when she, Ed Helms, and Jenna Fischer reunited to try to persuade host Steve Carell to reboot the beloved show. “The reason I was called in to do that was because I live in New York — ‘Oh she’s a mile away? She can come in,'” joked Kemper during the panel. “My husband Michael writes at SNL and I’d never been to a show because it’s on so late; I can’t stay up that late. That was the first show that I attended in person and I was worried about staying up for it, but then adrenaline got the better of me… It felt like a high school reunion.” It was such an exhilarating experience, Kemper stayed up until 4 a.m. “I’m still recovering,” she joked.
The actress went on to discuss landing the role as Kimmy on the Netflix comedy and shared how she initially thought creators Tina Fey and Robert Carlock were teasing her with the premise since it was so dark in nature. “I literally thought they were testing me to see if I was smart enough to work with them,” she said.
When Goldblatt asked which guest star she was most struck by during the show’s four-season run, Kemper admitted that on his first day, she was too scared to talk to Ray Liotta. “He’s a legend; you don’t go up to him and make small talk,” she said. “By the third day, he’s making jokes, telling Tituss to put his phone away.” The one scene that stood out to her most involved a lot of rain and a cat. “He had a cat in one scene and — this is the joy of shooting in New York — a Noreaster started to move in as we were shooting a scene…and Ray Liotta stood there the whole time; he never sought shelter, he never asked for an umbrella. This little kitten was just perched on his shoulder. He’s like this ruthless guy, standing there so calmly…It was such a refreshing image.”
As memorable as that scene was, another damp moment stands out in Kemper’s mind for very different reasons. “We were filming the pilot…and I’m sitting on Tituss’ lap and we’re taking selfies but because Tituss is only wearing a towel… it looked like I was sitting on his naked lap, taking selfies,” she explained. “I was looking at the phone and laughing so hard that I wet my pants while sitting on his lap.” When she apologized, Burgess only responded “ew.” “It was so loving!” said Kemper. “He didn’t hate me, he didn’t shame me…That’s when I was like, ‘I’ll work on this show forever.'”
While that was one awkward encounter in the star’s career, there’s been a couple of others, including the time she went to the Oscars to present an award alongside her Bridesmaids costars. Due to some very long bangs, she ended up tripping and missed her opportunity to meet longtime crush, Christopher Plummer. “I could only see half of the things I should be able to see, my line of vision was so cut off,” she said. “I ruined my one opportunity to meet him because I flew too close. I danced with the long bangs and I was burned.”