It's a detour Natalie Zea is very glad she took.
The actress has always been known for making adventurous and diverse choices in her TV roles, from her breakout stint on "Dirty Sexy Money" to extended stints on admired series like "Justified," "Californication," and "The Following," but it was the offbeat TBS comedy "The Detour" -- produced by "Full Frontal" host Samantha Bee and created by star Jason Jones, Bee's former "The Daily Show" colleague -- that Zea's gotten to truly show off her flair for comedy ... and really edgy, borderline inappropriate comedy at that.
As the series -- which features Zea and Jones as hapless and often hopelessly misguided parents on an extended and constantly ill-fated family vacation when Jones' character secretly loses his job -- returns for a second season to once again blend bawdy antics with sophisticated sitcom subversion, the actress joined Moviefone to reveal just why the show fit Zea to a tee.
Moviefone: These poor, well-meaning people, who make such questionable decisions. Tell me what got you excited when you heard the plans for the second season.
Jason [Jones] has, I hope he doesn't mind me saying, but he's pretty much got the first five or six seasons mapped out already. So this is something that we kind of knew about early on. We didn't know exactly how it was going to take shape.
I knew, I guess, around the end of the first season, that Season 2 was going to focus a lot on my character, and because I'm an actress, we always love that. So I had a long hiatus to gear up for it. I've seen the first three episodes, and it's even more ridiculous. I don't understand how that happened. It's way edgier, I think, even than the first season.
Tell me a little bit about what we're going to see with Robin. I know that the landscape's going to change and we're going to learn a little bit more about her backstory. What can you say about what's around the corner?
This season, Robin has a defined waist, because the actress playing her isn't pregnant anymore -- so that's a really big deal! In addition to that, there's a lot of costume changes. There's one episode in particular where you get to see the genesis of the past that's coming to surface to haunt me. You get to see kind of the genesis of how that comes about. I don't think it's a spoiler to say there's some flashbacks. We like to do that on the show.
We're kind of all over the place. It's not necessarily about New York. It's still about mostly mine and Jason's characters as a couple, and how we, like you said, we're very well-meaning, but we're just big f*ck-ups. You just get to see more of us f*cking up.
That, to me, is the amazing trick of the show: keeping these characters likable while they make really bad mistakes and questionable decisions.
It's so hard. It's so hard. I give all the credit to Jason Jones, because he makes it look really effortless, but really, it's just what's on the page and the characters that he's created.
For you as the actor, what's the fun of finding that edge to teeter on, and to play her with a certain reality, but also be able to get away with the more outrageous stuff?
As a woman working in television, something that we have to contend with a lot is the "likability factor." There are a lot of executives out there who get very scared when they feel as though the viewers are going to dislike a female character. It's really ingrained into the TV zeitgeist. And Jason doesn't care. He doesn't worry about that. He doesn't need her to be likable.
I think with that freedom, I don't think she's less likable because we don't care, I think we're just not worried about it. And not being worried about it, we tend to be able to find really interesting, fun, creative ways to just let her express who she is, and not worry about, ooh, is that going too far? Who cares? It's cable. Nobody cares.
I feel like, too, from the choices you've made throughout your career, you've never cared too much about it. You've been real willing to leap off the cliff with characters.
Yeah, I've never really understood it. Obviously, I feel it's a double standard. I've just been sort of perplexed about it from the beginning. I don't know. I don't know what it is. I don't know when we got caught up in making sure that women characters needed to be -- I mean, relatable, yes. And I think that may have been where we got a little mixed up. I want the characters I play to be relatable. I want people to understand them and to be able to recognize themselves in them, but they don't necessarily have to be parts of themselves that they like. That's I think what draws me to the characters that I choose.
With this show, have you heard feedback from the viewers about the ways they do relate to Robin?
Yeah. People are like, "Wow, Robin's such a ..." -- "people," meaning the status quo. You're supposed to say Robin's a really bad mom, but at the same time, there are women and men who relate to these people as parents. I certainly do. I'm a parent. Maybe I shouldn't be saying this out loud, but I don't think that all of what she does it questionable. The decisions she makes as a mom are all very earnest, and good-intended. They're sometimes wrong, but I think that's kind of what parenting is.
So I think people really relate and really respond, and I think people are very surprised when they watch the show. It's not what it appears to be initially, and then once you kind of delve deep into it, you realize that, yes, it's hilarious, and there's a lot broad comedy, and it's ridiculous and gross. But at the core of it, it's about these two people that people can very much relate to, even on a kind of sentimental level even.
I love the notion that you're playing this mom finding her way very awkwardly, just as you're becoming a mom yourself.
I know, I know! It's very strange timing. It's good. I think it's certainly important for the character. We were shooting a scene early on, and we were on a really busy New York street. We were kind of in traffic. After we were done with the scene, the director yelled cut, and we were walking back to the first position, and I found myself wrangling the kids. Sort of getting in front of them, between them and the traffic, and Jason looked at me and said, "You didn't have that instinct last year." I was like, "Yeah, I know, I didn't care."
When you're a mom, you just relate to children differently. So I think that being able to do scenes with these kids, even though they're much older than my daughter, I think there's a depth there. It can't exist unless you've experienced it.
Not just as a mom, but as an adult, what kind of reaction have you had when the kid actors are exposed to some of the raunchier material that the show is doing? Has there been a weird like, "Um ... ?"
They're so cute about it. They're so good. Because they are older this year, they're teenagers now, so they're in a very different place than they were when we met them in the pilot. By the way, of the cast, of the four people in the cast, the kids are by far the most mature. Jason and I are just 11-year-old boys, but these kids, they handle it really well.
They don't shy away from the fact that they're maybe a little embarrassed, maybe a little uncomfortable, and they're very open about that, and humble, and sort of upfront, and yet they're able to kind of just shrug it off and let it be what it is. They have great parents, and they're handling it so much better than I think I would at their age.
Now that you and Robin have a waist, are you going to be the subject of more of the blurred-out-nudity burden that Jason has carried through much of the first season?
When I told him I was pregnant, before we shot Season 1, I saw his mind. He was like, "OK, that's great, that's great ..." But I could see in his eyes, I could see him going through, because he'd written the entire season. I could see him going through, "OK, that's not going to work, that's not going to work ..."
He'd written all these stunts for me to do that I couldn't do. So I just assumed in Season 2 I'd be doing massive amounts of stunts. I don't do all that many, I have to admit, which I can't believe he didn't take advantage of. There are a couple, though. There are a couple things that I would never have been able to do last season. As far as the nudity goes, there's not a lot. He knows I'm up for anything. I actually did more nudity in Season 1 than I did in Season 2. Because he's a pervert.
You have the boss in for a guest spot: Samantha Bee stops by for a fun role.What was that experience like having her be able to join you guys for the fun on set?
I didn't get to go -- I wasn't there! That was one of the few days that I wasn't there. She was on the set for the entire pilot. Then, for Season 1, she definitely made an appearance throughout. This season, she's, like, busy saving the world. So we didn't really get to see her much. So I was a little disappointed that I wasn't in that day. But we feel her presence.
Were there some more fun guest stars that you're able to talk about that you did get to directly work with?
Laura Benanti is doing a big arc on the show, of Broadway fame. She's extraordinary. Who else can we talk about? James Cromwell -- he's in the previews, so I can talk about him: he's a legend and wonderful. Daniella Pineda, who's not really guest star, who plays my sister. She's a regular on the show, but she makes a couple of really funny appearances.
Jeffrey Parise, who if you're a soap opera fan, he was Carlos on "General Hospital." Big fan favorite, and he and I did a film together a few years ago, and we were looking for somebody to play this part, and I said, "I've got the guy." So it was fun to be able to work with him. So those are a few to mention.
Even with your gameness to go wherever the show wants to go, has anything given you at least a moment's hesitation just figuring out how you're going to pull it off?
Every day. Every single day we show up and I say, "There's no way we're going to be able to do this." For various reasons, whether we're not going to have time, or this is way too big, or the network will never let us do this horrible, disgusting thing. Or I don't know how to act my way through the scene.
I had a really, really tough issue this year that I didn't have last year, about breaking during scenes with laughing, and not being able to control myself. And I got really mad at myself. I remember I came home one day. I told my husband, I'm like, "I'm not good at this, this thing that I'm doing. It's really unprofessional, and it's not how I do things. I'm really upset with myself." I talked to Jason, and Jason was like, "I hadn't really noticed." So he's not paying attention.
Yes, I had a really hard time with that. Everything else we somehow ended up pulling off, and if we didn't, we found a solution that was just as gross or raunchy or edgy or naked, that was even better than the first idea.
What's your favorite edgy comedy? What's the thing that shaped your sense of humor to the point that you could easily do a show like this?
I really love "The Larry Sanders Show," from way back in the '90s.
One of my very favorite shows of all time, ever, period. Love that show.
Right? Yeah, wonderful. It covers all the bases. I think it was way ahead of its time, even though, when you watch it, it's dated, but the concept of it is so modern, and the humor is so dry, and yet sometimes so big, and you can't believe it's working. It's sort of the perfect comedy I think.
What's left on your bucket list? You've had a really great career with both regular series, with films, with being able to pop into shows for a while or for a one-shot. What's still on the bucket list for you to accomplish as an actress?
Oh God -- geez, that's such a great question. If you had asked me that a year and a half ago, I would have said, "I just really want to do a comedy, man. I just really, really want to do a comedy." So now I have to think about that. I appreciate you putting that bug in my ear, because I don't know. I don't know.
I think you've got a while to keep going with the comedy. I think this is working out well for you right now.
Thanks. I really enjoy it.
You've got time to think about the next thing.
OK! All right, good!
"The Detour" Season 2 premieres tonight (February 21st), on TBS.