Ellie Kemper: The actress from ‘The Office’ talks about landing serious roles and donating to Wash. U.
Student Life: This film is a big change from a 30-minute sitcom format. What did you hope to gain from the role?
Ellie Kemper: I was excited to work with Sofia. I met her through my agent at a restaurant one day, and we chatted. I kept thinking, “God, she’s so cool.” So when I was told I had received the role, I couldn’t wait to begin shooting.
SL: How was it to work so closely with some of Hollywood’s more well-known directors, producers and actors?
EK: Inspiring and exhilarating. I was surprised by how professional they were. I have heard nightmare stories about Hollywood arrogance, but there were no big egos or diva behavior on set. In my experience, the best actors are humble about their success.
SL: What was the greatest challenge for you in your role as Claire?
EK: Staying cool in front of Sofia. I look up to her and the scene was so improvised; I thought I might lose my timing or say something too crazy for the scene. In the end everything worked out okay…I think.
SL: There are a lot of similarities between “Somewhere” and “Lost in Translation.” They both involve a girl, father figure, swanky hotel, etc. Did you like “Lost in Translation”?
EK: I loved “Lost in Translation,” Bill Murray at his best. Sofia has this style where scenes, like the opening scene of “Somewhere,” go a little longer than expected.
SL: Like Sofia is giving you time to ponder?
EK: Exactly. “Somewhere” doesn’t demand to be seen like most movies; it lingers there until you notice.
SL: As a comedian, do you have a funny anecdote from the “Somewhere” set?
EK: As I recall, nothing too funny happened. The entire experience was very civil. Call time for actors is usually 5 a.m., but for “Somewhere” it was 8 a.m. We only worked for four hours then had lunch. I remember thinking that it was all very European, like we were making a film in Italy.
SL: What would you say has driven your transition from improv to Hollywood?
EK: The more serious roles pay money. Back when I performed improv in New York, I was responsible for all aspects of production, but improv doesn’t pay the bills.
SL: Where do you see yourself in five years?
EK: Taking on more non-comedic parts. My dream is to star in a Woody Allen film. I really hope he reads this.
SL: Woody is a huge Student Life fan, but his movies don’t offer many non-comedic roles…
EK: Some of his newer work does! Have you seen “Match Point”?
SL: I’ll put it in the Netflix queue.
EK: Well, I think I would take any part offered to me by Woody Allen. I also want to be a talk show host. Getting paid to chitchat with interesting people is my dream job.
SL: What’s it like to be a St. Louis native living in California? Do you miss it here?
EK: Seventy degrees and sunshine in January is great, don’t get me wrong, but coming from St. Louis makes it seem kind of eerie here. It’s like this isn’t the winter that I know. I enjoy the sun, but California weather disturbs me.
SL: Any chance you might sort of forget that you went to Princeton and be driven to continue the Kemper family tradition? You know, maybe donate some of your salary toward another building on Wash. U.’s campus?
EK: No way.