Army Of The Dead’s Tig Notaro on green screens and being a heartthrob at 50


Tig Notaro’s so closely linked to her brand of wry, personal humor that it can be easy to forget she’s one of the many multi-hyphenates taking over Hollywood. The Together Together actor is a stand-up comedian, published author, podcaster, talk show host, TV series creator and writer, and, as of this month, a newly minted action star. Zack Snyder cast Notaro as the dry-witted helicopter pilot, Marianne Peters, in his return to the zombie genre, Army Of The Dead. The One Mississippi creator replaced Chris D’Elia, who was accused in June 2020 of sexually harassing multiple underage women. Reshoots required more of the usual tech wizardry, but the results are worth it. Notaro is effortlessly cool and charming as part of Scott Ward’s (Dave Bautista) heist crew in a zombie-infested Las Vegas.

Ahead of the Army Of The Dead premiere on Netflix on May 21, The A.V. Club spoke to Notaro about acting in front of a green screen, her pop culture knowledge, her signature stand-up style, and naturally, what it’s like to become a heartthrob at 50.

The A.V. Club: Your character in the movie, Peters, has been one of the most talked-about elements of this movie since the trailer came out, and not just because of the unusual process you went through to film it. Have you seen the movie? What did you think of the finished product?

Tig Notaro: Yeah, I’ve seen the finished product. I actually saw the film before I was in it. I saw it to kind of just give me a gauge of what the vibe of the film was so I could just think about my delivery with things in certain scenes. So, yeah, I was sold on the movie immediately. I think that they did such a great job.

AVC: You do have a wide-ranging career: You’re a stand-up comedian who’s been in movies and TV shows, and you created and starred in your own TV show. You’re also an author and a podcaster who’s been the subject of a documentary. What’s it like to have people view this as kind of a breakout moment when you’ve been at this for a while?

TN: I feel like in careers, you have your different moments where it just seems like there’s so many different little moments. Even when I was doing stand-up and open mics, I felt like just getting into that felt like a breakout moment. You know what I mean? Starting in TV, it felt like, “Oh.” It’s just a different way you look at things. I don’t really know—I can’t imagine my life is going to change that much now, because I have had all these little breakout or breakthrough moments.

AVC: You’re involved in so many different types of pop culture. But with a show like Under A Rock, where you interview actors you’re not familiar with, you open up about how limited your pop culture knowledge is. Do you have plans to do more of the show, or are you secretly bingeing all kinds of TV shows and movies to beef up your knowledge?

TN: [Laughs.] No, I’m not secretly bingeing anything, and I would love to do more Under A Rock. In fact, I heard from our executive producer last night that there’s discussions to revisit that with the pandemic, hopefully, coming to an end or getting more under control. So, yeah, I would love to do more of that show. It’s fun because aside from trying to figure out who celebrities are, what’s so amusing to me about the show is that people get so outraged where they’re like, “How do you not know who that person is?” My feeling is there are people that are recognizably famous to me. I’m just having the ones on that I don’t know.

I follow all types of music, but I follow country music closely. So I bet I could recognize so many classic and new country singers that most people couldn’t recognize, and I could be the one saying, “How do you not know who that is?!” What’s nice about the show is whoever my guest is, the format of the show actually allows for really great and fun authentic conversations with the guest. It does get whittled down to five- to seven-minute episodes for online, but we end up taping 30 to 45 minutes of conversation. Because I don’t know who the person is, I’m really talking to them and trying to understand who they are. So it’s not a typical talk show where it’s like, “So, I heard you do a lot of pranks on set. Tell me about this.” You know?

AVC: Have you ever run into someone after interviewing them and still had trouble placing their face?

TN: No, I don’t think I’ve run into anybody, but maybe I forgot. But I think I would remember them for sure.

AVC: As a performer, you get used to being discovered by new audiences all the time. There is also, of course, the ongoing public acknowledgment of “sexy AF Tig”—you were even on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon to discuss. But I also think this is another case of people catching on to something well after the fact. There was a similar reaction on Twitter when you joined Star Trek: Discovery as Jett Reno.

TN: Yeah, it’s old news that I’m sexy AF. My wife says, “Where has everyone been?”

AVC: I do think it’s interesting because on the one hand, it’s not surprising—you were basically playing a heartthrob on The Sarah Silverman Program more than 10 years ago.

TN: [Laughs.] I’m sure [Sarah] fell asleep watching people talk about me on Twitter. She was like, “Please, this is old.”

AVC: And now you’re part of the same “hotness” discussion as the Chrises and other action stars. People are embracing talking openly about what they like.

TN: Exactly, and I have to be honest, it’s fun to turn 50 years old and be trending for being in that topic of what is hot.

AVC: You’ve also shown a romantic side in One Mississippi. It’s one of my favorite shows for how it explores grief and trauma recovery, but I think it’s also just a great rom-com. There was so much story left to tell, especially about Tig’s relationship with Kate, who’s played by your wife, Stephanie Allynne. Have you thought about where you would have liked to take that story?

TN: I wanted that storyline to run through the whole show and it did. We had so many more ideas for the show and for the love story. There were clearly so many different topics that we wanted to touch on through that series. But not everything in that show is actually from my life. That was also the fun of the love story, is that there’s some things that are based in truth, and it’s not always my truth. It might be Stephanie’s or the writers’ on the show, but we wanted to also play with that. If we had future seasons of One Mississippi, we had other ideas of what we wanted to do with our relationship that wasn’t really based on [Stephanie’s and my] truth.

AVC: When you go from conceiving of a show, acting in it, seeing it through to the end, having that kind of creative control to then being directed as part of an ensemble for something like Army Of The Dead or Star Trek: Discovery, what is that shift like?

TN: I love it. There is something so fun and freeing about not being the producer, not being the writer, not being the star. One of the fun parts about Star Trek: Discovery, for me, is that they let me just pop in from time to time. Often I hear like, “Oh, they don’t use you enough,” or, “How come they’re not letting you…?” I’m like, “Star Trek lets me do whatever.” I have a full career doing stand-up and other projects and the fact that they’re so flexible with making my schedule work—I’m so lucky, and it’s so fun to have other people write for me and nail it. Star Trek, whenever I get a script, I’m like, “Oh, I can’t wait to see what my character is going to say.” That was the thing with Army Of The Dead. I just really enjoyed saying those lines.

AVC: Because of the circumstances with reshooting Army of The Dead, you probably weren’t in a position to play around with the dialogue or scenes. But in general, when you’re working with other people on their shows or films, have you found that you have room to workshop a bit or improvise? And is that something that you look for in a working environment?

TN: I really don’t improvise too much when I go on to somebody else’s project. I’m typically taking on the project because I like it and I like what they’ve done. There might be a word or a line a little bit here and there that I might adjust, but it’s typically very minimal. I’ve heard people say, “Oh, I can tell you were riffing on Star Trek,” and I’m like, “No. No, I’m not. Somebody wrote that for me and they did a really great job.” It’s not my go-to to show up on a TV show or movie and just say, “Hey, I’d like to kind of go nuts here. I’m going to riff a bit.” If it comes up organically in a scene, or the director encourages us to, or my scene partner is going off, maybe something will happen. But I typically just try to learn my lines and do what they wrote.

AVC: Had you done much green-screen acting before Army of The Dead?

TN: No. I’ve certainly been on a green screen before and had a background placed behind me, but nothing like this.

AVC: The theatrical release for Army Of The Dead is one of the latest signs of going back to the “before times.” What’s your idea of getting back out in the world or returning to normal? What does that look like for you?

TN: I have to say, I have two kids, and they’re 4, and my biggest need right now is to go do stuff with them. Stephanie and I are just so anxious to take them places and have them see their family, bring them to see all their cousins in Texas, and go to the beach and a pool. That’s really what I’m so anxious to do is, just to get them out in the world again and experience it together.

AVC: What about in terms of work? Is more stand-up on the horizon for you?

TN: Oh, yeah, for sure. My agent is currently booking a major market tour around the country, and I’m hoping to do a stand-up special based on the material I’ll be out doing on this tour. I’m excited to do it but I also was perfectly fine taking some time off and not doing stand-up for a year and two or three months. It’ll be more than that by the time I get back out. I might return and be the worst stand-up in the world.

AVC: This is probably different from your perspective, but for me, one of the hallmarks of your comedy is you get a lot of mileage out of an anecdote. Happy To Be Here has some really elaborate, extended setups. A lot of times with stand-up, or really most performances or productions, people are thinking about pacing, and they want the jokes or the action to just be constantly happening. But with your stand-up, it’s a very serpentine kind of storytelling—there’s a real journey in these jokes. How did that evolve?

TN: I feel like I always have to blame it on or give credit to my mother. She was my comedy hero growing up and was very much who was just such a key person in my comedy. I remember after my mother passed away and I did stand-up, and her best friend had come to one of my shows, and she came up to me afterwards and she said, “You think you got that on your own?” I said, “No,” and she goes, “Yeah, that’s your mother.” I know it. I can feel it.

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