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How did Kate Berlant end up on Prime Video’s A League of Their Own series? “It came about [the way] essentially everything I’m in comes about, which is that somebody knows me and likes my shtick,” she says over Zoom.
Turns out a lot of people these days like what Berlant cheekily calls her shtick. In the past five months, she released Would It Kill You to Laugh?, a Peacock special with her frequent collaborator John Early, and a Hulu stand-up special, Cinnamon in the Wind, directed by Bo Burnham, and starred in a solo stage show, KATE, also directed by Burnham, in New York. She also appeared in Olivia Wilde’s feature Don’t Worry Darling — “I’m, like, somehow in this big splashy Hollywood movie” — and is, as previously mentioned, a regular on A League of Their Own, playing Shirley, a neurotic member of the Rockford Peaches who eschews canned foods. “Of course it’s a thrill for me,” Berlant says of her multitude of projects.
The actress and comedian, a fan of Penny Marshall’s film about the World War II-era all-female baseball league since childhood, was drawn to the new version of A League of Their Own because of the source material as well as a desire to work with everyone who was involved, including co-creator Abbi Jacobson. But the uptight Shirley also gave Berlant the opportunity to exercise new muscles. And not just physical ones, though she did have to go through baseball training camp. At the moment she feels “pretty good” about her swing. “I haven’t really been seen in that comedic energy, but it also feels very close to me,” she explains. “I do share a lot of her attributes, they are just not as horrifyingly calcified as hers.” Shirley, who has a collection of humidifiers and wears her hair in tightly braided pigtails, comports herself with a formality that’s a product of the time period in which she lives. “It’s not a modern anxiety,” says Berlant. “We live in a world now where everyone talks about their feelings and anxieties, so it was exciting to think about what that might have been like for her.”
The League of Their Own team encouraged Berlant to improvise. It’s a medium where she thrives — when she does stand-up, it’s largely improvisational. “I love being given a script, but I also find that improvising is the way that I reach a character and a way that I like to tell jokes,” she says.
That said, the project that is closest to her heart at the moment is carefully plotted. Her live show KATE, which she wrote, is like her “child.” At the time of this interview, she has just returned to Los Angeles after a sold-out stint in New York, but she’ll be returning to the material for another run in the winter. In the solo piece, Berlant is “Kate,” a heavily warped version of herself, an actress drawn to the camera but concealing a secret. Before she takes the stage, a clip of her work in A League of Their Own flashes on a screen, a joke tucked into a “blatant careerist moment.”
KATE is a performance about the idea of performance, a topic that fascinates Berlant. “It very much is about this person who is trying to prove they’re an actress and outside of it is me, Kate Berlant, trying to be, like, ‘Hello, I’m an actress. I want to act,’ which to me is really what’s so vulnerable about the show,” she says. “To me, the show is very revealing of myself because it really is a very naked attempt to be seen and the effort is so clear.”
This story first appeared in a November stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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