'Great News' Star Briga Heelan Is Working on Her Andrea Martin Impression
Lately, it's just been one bit of great news after another for actress Briga Heelan.
After a string of recurring roles and guest stints on series like "Cougar Town," "Jane by Design," "Undateable," and "Love" that established both her comedic bona fides and leading lady potential, the actress was tapped by no less than "30 Rock" veterans Great News," playing Katie, a young, ambitious nightly news producer who's saddled with overseeing a very unusual intern: her overenthusiastic mother, Carol (Andrea Martin).
Along with the career good fortune, Heelan's also just become a mom herself, welcoming a newborn daughter with her husband and "Ground Floor" co-star Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" fans as Father Brah).
Heelan was still very much in expectant mom mode when she sat down with Moviefone recently to reflect on how the comedy gods have favored her, and how playing a daughter too entangled with her mother has affected her views on being both a child and a parent.
Moviefone: You've been on this terrific career trajectory recently. To have this happen as the next step, are you still like mind-boggled at how quickly everything's come together?
Brigga Heelan: Yes -- yeah -- absolutely! Obviously -- I'm stuttering! To be working with this particular group of people, yeah, and it all came together really fast. That's kind of the nature of TV, I suppose. It goes pretty quickly. So then I find often it's afterwards that I go, "Did that just happen? That was so fun. What?"
How did it come your way? Did your agent say, "Hey, there's this thing..."? Or did the producers tailor it to you?
I just remember when my agent said, "We're sending this one over to you," and pilot season had already kind of kicked up, and I read it one night amongst some other scripts, and I went, "Okay, well, that's the dream one." It was so funny off the page from the pilot, and it was a story that I was really excited to even just take a crack at being a part of.
I haven't been part of a mother/daughter project before. I have a very close relationship with my own mom, so I was kind of excited to know what it would be like to explore that through someone else's experience -- in this case, [creator] Tracey Wigfield. Yeah, so it kind of had sparkles all over it from the beginning. The auditions, I guess they went well, and then it worked out.
Tell me about your relationship with your mom. What are you able to draw from, and how is it entirely different from this sort of somewhat dysfunctional dynamic?
Right, it's like beautifully dysfunctional. My mom and I have always been very close, best friends, kind of obsessed with each other. Then I think I just really have, my whole life, put my mom on such a pedestal. I'll continue to do that always. She's this joyful, really insightful, incredible person. She's just like a walking morale booster.
The part that I love kind of exploring is, as you become a woman, myself, as you turn 29, 30, you start to go, "Oh, there are these things that, because I've sort of needed my mom and she's always been there for me, I need to start knowing how to do these things myself. I need to sort of put some space there so that I can fully mature and fully know what it feels like to be my own adult person." And that's certainly the journey that Katie's going on with her mom.
I've absolutely found that, in my real life, I've had to find out what that means for me. So it's really fun to sort of be the same age as my character, and going through actually what is a very real thing that needs to happen, only in one we're also doing ridiculous things.
Then they match you up with Andrea Martin.
Legend, icon, force of freaking nature.
Yeah, yeah. I know. And this big, yay high! I didn't meet her until we started filming. We never did a chemistry read together. And how quickly we got along, and our real-life senses of humor really aligned really, really quickly. She's so sassy.
I've learned so much from her in terms of like not being afraid to ask questions and get clarification on stuff, and really search for what works for you. I feel so comfortable. I feel very comfortable and very safe with her. There's a very maternal thing also that I get from her very naturally. So got lucky.
What are you stealing from her?
What am I stealing from her? Oh, my gosh. I feel like I'll find that out, like, five years from now. You know what I mean? We're all really honing our Andrea impressions, though. She'll go, if she's not sure exactly if we're supposed to be doing something, and she's not exactly sure what's going on, she'll go, "Well, let's give it a try!" Like that, so that's now what we all say. I do that in my real life. I just go, "Well, let's give it a try. Let's give it a try."
When did you figure out you were funny, that you had skills you could bring to comedy to your acting?
I've been hilarious since the day I was born. No. [Laughs] I have very funny, very silly parents. And as I grew up, they introduced the concept of doing bits from birth for me. So sort of joking, and doing bits, and sarcasm, and all of this different nuances of different senses of humor was introduced to me pretty young, and then we just sort of kept playing as a family.
I started doing improv in college. I went to USC, and they had a pretty intense improv scene there. So I sort of started playing around with that, and I went, "Oh, I like this, and this feels hard, and it feels scary, and uncomfortable, and amazing." But comedy in terms of TV was just sort of, like they say, "Just go where the light is." I was like, "It feels warm over there, so that's where I want to be." I just got lucky enough that I got to stay there.
On a show like this, it must be fun, too, when you come in to figure out how your comedy style fits with Andrea's, and with everybody else. You've got such a deep bench on your cast of comedians, really. It must be fun to see catch those rhythms and see how they play.
It's the most fun. That's my favorite part about it. The thing that I love about our show is that any pairing of characters and actors on our show just turned out to be fantastic, and different, but equally fantastic. That was so fun to discover, because you do your first scene with somebody that you hadn't really done a scene before.
I'll never forget my first time getting to act with John Michael Higgins, and do a one-on-one scene. I grew up watching that man, and then I got to start to do scenes alone with him. It was incredible. But that's my favorite part, watching and experiencing the different combinations of people, and just sort of honing what you had that's special with each one of them.
That's always the mark of a great ensemble comedy, how those different perspectives gel together.
Right, right. And that you enjoy watching any combination.
Is there anything in your experience that's unique about a Tina Fey / Robert Carlock / Tracey Wigfield show?
Everyone involved was just so great at their job, and supportive. You could feel that it was a comfortable environment, and a warm environment, and that's how we can be funny. It's not born of fear, or status, or intimidation, or any of that stuff, which also sometimes makes things funny as well, but it just comes from a different place. It was just a very happy, comfortable environment, and that led to a happy, hopeful, funny show. They created that.
Is there something nice for you, too, in having two female leads, essentially, in the show, with the female writer-producers behind you telling female stories? Tell me what that means to you.
It means so much at this point. I think especially knowing I'm going to be a mom to a little girl. So getting to be involved in that, at this juncture in my life. It was actually really important to me. It was one of the main reasons why I wanted to do it, to be in a female-driven story, and look at the nuances of intimate female relationships, while we all get to be doing huge jokes, and taking risks, and playing around, and at the epicenter of all of that. Yeah, of course.
Nice symmetry: On TV, you're figuring out how to be a daughter, and in real life you're going to be figuring out how to be a mom.
I know. Oh, my gosh! Yeah, seriously. I'm sure my perspectives will shift. If we have this interview again a year from now, I'm sure it will be different. Yeah.
"Great News" premieres tonight (April 25th) on NBC.