David Krumholtz on Transforming Into a 75-Year-Old Woman for IFC's 'Gigi Does It'

David Krumholtz Gigi Does it - H Split 2015
Coutesy of IFC

It hasn't received the hype of a lot of other new series, but IFC's Gigi Does It, which debuts Thursday, has one of the more original concepts on TV this fall.

It stars David Krumholtz — as a 75-year-old woman named Gertrude "Gigi" Rotblum. Gigi has just come into a lot of money and decides to open up her previously sheltered existence.

Here, Krumholtz talks with THR about the origins of the show — which grew out of a series of shorts for the website WeatherFrom.com — getting into the skin of the character and playing both scripted and unscripted moments in the show.

Talk a little bit about WeatherFrom and where the character started.

It was an idea from Ricky Mabe and Zach Golden, two of the executive producers of Gigi Does It. Ricky's actually on the show as Ricky, my male nurse. He and I have been friends for over 10 years, and he called me and said, "I know you do this Jewish grandma thing sometimes" — it was something maybe I did at parties or he saw me do once or twice. He said I'm doing this thing where characters read you the weather. They were doing four different characters and hiring actors to play the roles.

I said I'd do it, but I don't want to do it in drag. It felt kind of lame, low production quality. Instead, they agreed to have me do a couple of prosthetics. When I showed up on the day, it turned out to be a full prosthetic head, which took 4 1/2 hours to apply. The character just came to life from there. We did 35 little vignettes for 35 different types of weather. Much to our surprise, when we compared the character to the other characters filmed for the site, it was clear my character was by far the most sort of polarizing and enrapturing, if you will. She kind of made the other characters look bad. So they scrapped the idea of having a few different characters and launched the site with just my character.

Within a week, we were getting a ton of social media play, a ton of hits off of Twitter buzz and Facebook buzz. Before you know it the site was really, really popular. From there it was like, "OK, what do we do next?" ... So we came up with what we thought was a strong concept for a TV show. ... IFC were big fans of the website and bigger fans of the character, and they also understood there was a more in-depth story to tell for her.

Even on the site, it feels like Gigi definitely has a history.

Yeah — she has neighbors and children and a sordid past. We decided the best way to present her on television was to flesh all that out and then set her off on a new adventure, where her past, her family, her association with friends didn't necessarily define her anymore. She has come into this great deal of money, and that was a new adventure for her — to make up for lost time and the mundanities of her life.

What was the process of taking Gigi from just sitting in a chair in the web videos to being out in the world?

From a creative standpoint, it was fun to get into the physicality of the character. She was up out of the chair, so it wasn't just about the voice or the facial mannerisms anymore. It was more embodying her in every way. The idea when we first did it —we were so intrigued with the idea of taking her out into the real world and seeing how people would react, we didn't want to step on territory that had already been covered. We didn't want it to be a prank show. We didn't want it to be Bad Grandma. We wanted it to be kind of a travelogue — a day in the life of Gigi and her experiences out in the world.

What we came up with was something ... that's kind of half scripted, half reality. There are moments where we needed more material from our guest actors ... than people in the real world could provide. So we ended up doing some casting as well and writing scenes, then mingling them with the reality elements. ... Each episode had to have at least one reality moment, and from there we built a story around that.

Which of the unscripted segments stand out for you?

There's an episode where my character decides to conquer her body image issues and pose nude in an art class. All we did — because I have the body of a 75-year-old woman just naturally — instead of creating a prosthetic body, we just had them draw bigger nipples on me and give me a bunch of liver spots and veins. It was also much cheaper to do it that way. Just the looks on people's faces when they sort of figured out, "Wait a second — we're looking at a man's body." [Laughs.] It's not a good body by any stretch of the imagination, it's not a healthy body, but it is a man's body. That was a lot of fun, and they were totally cool with it. Most of them figured it out pretty early on. ... There's also that weird moment where, like, what if it is a woman? You don't want to call it out.

The Jewish grandmother is a well-worn character in comedy. How do keep Gigi from becoming shtick?

It's not easy, to be honest with you. I kind of found the key to it halfway through filming the series. I never wanted it to play as a caricature, something so broad that it wouldn't be believable. We worked really, really hard, and it became very specific. ... We had rules for Gigi about what she knew and what she didn't know. A lot of that was in the writing, and then performance-wise, like I said, I found it about halfway through. It was about getting comfortable with the voice and with the attitude. In the beginning, I thought, well, she's kind of mean, and if she's conniving and self-serving, how could she be likable? Then it became clear that as long as she was imbued with a spirit of fun, that would be enough to make her likable and believable, [and] that she'd have this slightly dark side.

I stopped apologizing for her as a character. Instead of straying away from all the stuff  that might seem a bit distasteful, I jumped right into the deep end of the pool with that. For lack of a more elegant term,  I'd say she becomes grosser as the series goes on. By episode six and seven, we get to learn the blunt, sexual side of her. It's not pretty.

So with the money she inherits, is she just trying to get out of her shell, do things she was never able to do before?

In the first season we explore a bunch of stuff. A lot of the first season is about her finding love for herself. She was always taught she wasn't really worth very much. Her husband certainly didn't splurge on her. She kind of went with that feeling. She's not very good at anything — she's not a great cook, she's not really good at communicating with her grandchild. She's got problems being amongst people she thinks are better than her. She has an attitude about that. She has a big, giant chip on her shoulder. Instead of any one specific thing, the first season is about her accepting herself and getting rid of that chip a little bit.

If the show moves forward, we're going to get into some traveling and reuniting with family. We never wanted to make a typical bucket list show. We always wanted it to be her bucket list — really, really particular to who she was and really, really strange. There's an episode that's just about her ice skating again. It's simple things, but it's the kind of thing that would give a 76-year-old woman a thrill.

Gigi Does It premieres Thursday at 10:30 p.m. on IFC.