SNL's Julia Sweeney on revisiting controversial Pat character: Art is 'the best way to work through stuff'
The former Saturday Night Live star plays as a fictionalized version of herself in Showtime's Work in Progress.
For Saturday Night Live alum Julia Sweeney, the chance to play a fictionalized version of herself on the Showtime comedy Work in Progress came at just the right time — while she was looking back on her controversial SNL character Pat through a modern and more gender-informed lens.
Work in Progress tells the story of Abby (played by Abby McEnany), a "self-identified fat, queer dyke" (per the show's wording) who suffers from depression, and is also haunted by having been likened to Sweeney's androgynous and problematic Pat character for part of her adult life. In the first season, fictional Abby ran into fictional Julia, and the latter attempted to make amends for the Pat character — a story line that continues in season 2.
"There's no better way to work through your past than through art," Sweeney said Wednesday during a virtual panel at the Television Critics Association summer press tour. "It's the best way to work through stuff," she added.
Sweeney and McEnany hit it off when they first met face-to-face, after Sweeney's one-person show at Chicago's Second City. And the SNL veteran said the Julia role in Work in Progress came up at a moment in her life when she'd been taking stock of playing Pat.
"You know when you meet people and you just love them immediately? That's how I felt about Abby," Sweeney said. "It was like, 'Oh yeah… you're going to be in my life forever. And I want you to be.' And I was all for it. And it was a relief actually because as society was getting kind of more awakened to, you know, different types of sexuality and expressions of gender, I was already myself worried, and thinking about Pat, and rethinking about that character, and so it was kind of perfect. It's like, 'Here's somebody who can think through this with me.' We have somewhat different views, but not too far off. And so it was really just a joy, and I could tell all that in the first second. I really could, and it has absolutely been that way. A wonderful thing."
Sweeney said Work in Progress, which kicked off its second season last Sunday, continues to give her a way to work through her feelings about having played Pat.
"I love what they've written," she said. "I've been able to put in my own ambivalence and struggle thinking about how that character came down, and what it really means, and what it never meant, and yet what it could mean. It's been great, which is what good art, I think, is. I think it's not one thing. And so it's been a great joy for me, actually. I would say overall, but it is also weird."
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