Ellie Kemper Opens Up About Portraying Darker Moments in 'Kimmy Schmidt' Interactive Special

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt interactive special “Kimmy vs. the Reverend” -Ellie Kemper  - H 2020
Courtesy of Netflix

[The following story contains spoilers for Netflix's Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt interactive special, Kimmy vs. the Reverend.]

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs. the Reverend is Netflix's first interactive comedy special, but as star Ellie Kemper points out and those who've watched the project know, there are choices viewers can make, including the many fatal deadends, that lead to outcomes that are "not at all funny" for the characters involved.

Indeed, the special, in which viewers choose what actions characters take and the story that unfolds as a result of those selections, offers a number of options that would seem out-of-character for Kemper's kind-hearted Kimmy, including abandoning a baby and, most notably, killing her kidnapper, doomsday cult leader Rev. Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (Jon Hamm) three different ways.

It was portraying these darker moments that was one of the challenges of working on the interactive project, Kemper says, beyond the difficulty of keeping track of the various storylines.

"Mentally, it was just very difficult to keep track of everything and keep everything in context and remember everything that had happened leading up to this point and where we were within the story of the show," she explains. "We had an excellent script supervisor who kept us on track, but nonetheless it was tricky in that way. But also there were a lot of choice points, I think particularly for Kimmy, where some of the tracks you can take were not at all funny, and there's a real depth to them and level of gravitas that required me to work. There were darker moments within the show, but I think in the special, it gets quite a bit darker than we've seen Kimmy go before."

As a contrast to the darkness of her confrontation with the Reverend and attempt to rescue more girls he allegedly kidnapped, Kimmy also spends the special preparing for her wedding to Prince Frederick (Daniel Radcliffe), a new love interest, but one with whom Kemper feels Kimmy has a strong connection.

Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, Kemper opens up about what drives Kimmy as she faces off against the Reverend and how that confrontation affects her, as well as what makes Prince Frederick a good match and the possibility of future portrayals of her unbreakable protagonist.

What was your reaction when you found out you were going to be revisiting this character and in an interactive format?

The end of [the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt series] was of course bittersweet because I was happy to see her land in such a great position and writing this best-selling book and feeling that she had really righted a lot of the wrongs that had been dealt to her, but of course I wanted to revisit her and her story and the other characters as well and on a personal level wanted to work with these guys again. I love the cast; I love the crew; Tina [Fey] and Robert [Carlock] are just magical showrunners. So I was really excited when they announced that they would be doing this interactive special.

One of the things that's a big part of the special, as we see in the trailer, is Kimmy finding out about these other girls that were kidnapped and going on this mission to rescue them, even though she's three days away from her wedding — she's planning her wedding at the same time. Why do you think Kimmy is so determined to find these girls? She almost immediately decides that she has to find the girls and will not give up. It's really not even a question of trying to rescue them.

I think because of the ordeal she's been through, the sort of unimaginable experience she had with this guy, the Reverend, she can't possibly sit by while it's happening again, or possibly happening because she doesn't know for sure at that point. Basically it is sort of a non-choice for her. She must rescue these women. I think there's also sort of a sense in her head that Prince Frederick isn't really going anywhere, that she has found love, that she trusts him and knows that that will work out and knows that she has to respond and help these women.

There's a big moment when the viewer decides and Kimmy decides whether or not to kill the Reverend. If you do kill him, some sort of disaster ensues, so it seems like the right choice is to spare him. Let's break down that decision and that moment. What do you think Kimmy is indeed thinking when she's pointing that gun at him?

That was really hard to play because I think in that moment, she's overtaken by her rage, and she sort of gets into it. Her whole objective, I think, is to sort of take charge of a situation and not to let the circumstances tell her how to act but rather to do the right thing despite the circumstances. Whatever unfortunate situation she's been dealt, I think Kimmy figures out a way to handle it in a mode that helps people and doesn't make the situation worse. So when she does make the choice to kill the Reverend, I think she's just again blinded by rage because it's very un-Kimmy to make that choice and when we do see her make the right choice, she says that very thing, which is that I'm better than that, that's not the world I want to live in, where it's an eye for an eye, that she sort of is better than that and rises above it. I think she does make the wrong choice when she kills him because she lets her emotions get the better of her.

How does this confrontation with the Reverend — when he tells her why he did what he did and she tells him she's better than him — affect Kimmy and affect her growth? Does it give her some sort of closure?

In terms of closure, I think it's something that she'll have to live with for the rest of her life. I think, in a way, it's completely mysterious why he did do those things to those women, and she'll never really have an answer except to accept that people make bad choices. I think it's certainly cathartic to be able to beat him again and to call him out on yet another thing that he's done wrong. I don't know if she'll ever have complete closure with this guy because I think he will have an impact on her, whether she likes it or not, for the rest of her life.

Why is Prince Frederick right for Kimmy? Why is he the one?

They're both very strange — let's just say it — they're both very weird people. I sort of wish that we'd gotten to see these characters together more and their courtship and all of it, but I think that they have a similar life view. First and foremost, I think that they're good friends. I don't know how to say it — they're odd — but I think they both have very good hearts. They ultimately find this connection, and I'm glad because I did want her to fall in love.

Does this feel like your last time with Kimmy, or would you like to potentially revisit her sometime again in the future?

I hope it isn't the end — again selfishly and from a personal standpoint, I love working with everyone involved with the show, so for that reason I hope that we can work together again. But I also think that this woman is a really strong, powerful, resilient person, and I want to see what she continues to do. I want to see if she has a family — I can't make that call, but I would love to revisit her as many times as possible.