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Love’s Claudia O’Doherty on cursing like an Australian and her obsession with pasta

Photo: Netflix
Photo: Netflix

In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people 11 interesting questions—and then asks them to suggest one for our next interviewee.

As the charming Aussie transplant Bertie on Love, Claudia O’Doherty gave one of our favorite television performances last year. She repeated that in the Netflix series’ second season, deepening her character while also remaining hilarious. On the phone, O’Doherty—also an Australian currently living in Los Angeles—is as delightful as one might expect given her onscreen persona. She also loves pasta, so much so that she was kind enough to share with us her carbonara recipe. And you know how we feel about carbonara over here.

1. If you could spend the rest of your life inside one movie or TV show, which would it be and why?

Claudia O’Doherty: Well, I think for comfort reasons, it would be a Nancy Meyers production. It’s Complicated is one of my favorites. That comes to mind because she is a cook, and you would get the great food Meryl Streep would be cooking. There’s a lot of beige and gray cashmere everywhere. She’s very comfortable all the time. And also, the weather is good because you’re in Santa Barbara. It feels like there are no real problems there.

The Americans, but just their domestic life of being a travel agent in Virginia in the 1980s, because it reminds me of growing up in the late ’80s, and being around mothers and fathers wearing neutral-colored knits and high-waisted pants and watching TV. So, that also seems like it would be very nice, but I’m not interested in living in the murder, espionage part of The Americans. But I would like to have Keri Russell’s hair.

The A.V. Club: Who wouldn’t? It’s amazing.

CO: Incredible. I have very thin hair. Often, when I do jobs, the hair stylist will tell me I should get a wig, but I can’t afford a wig. A convincing wig is, like, $12,000, and I can’t afford that.

2. Do you have a favorite swear word or phrase? How often do you use it? And in what circumstances?

CO: I don’t think I have a favorite. I mean, I do swear a lot. I say “fuck” pretty regularly. I do think I found that, moving to America, I probably use more Australian swear [words] and exclamations than I had previously. I’m not trying to make myself Steve Irwin, but I do say like “bloody,” “bloody hell.” I say “crikey.” But those are natural things for me to say, but they might sound sort of quaintly Australian to an American ear.

3. How did you spend your last birthday?

CO: I was fostering a dog at the time, a small dog who was originally called Bella Swan when I got her. I switched her name briefly to Beth. Then I changed it to Peppercorn. And I went for a hike with my friends and my dog, and then later, I went for dinner at an Italian restaurant in Eagle Rock. It’s a great Italian restaurant my friend recommended. It has a man playing piano, and all the food is terrible, but it’s very familiar, bad Italian food in a very old, nice Italian restaurant.

AVC: What was it about Beth that just wasn’t doing it?

CO: It just didn’t have enough flare. It didn’t really suit the dog, who is a terrier mix. And now my friend has adopted her, and he calls her Pepper.

4. What is the worst professional advice you’ve ever received?

CO: When I was in college, I did the university sketch show, and from that, I was cast in this sort of “Best Of Australia” university sketch show, a mega sketch show. We had this creepy old producer who had been working in comedy for about 30 years in Australia. And he took the three girls in the cast aside one day, and he told us that there was a nude sketch that we had to do, and we had to be completely nude. The sketch was the thing that would make our careers, and make people talk about us. And if we didn’t do it, we wouldn’t have careers. And we didn’t do it.

AVC: That’s not even bad professional advice. That’s just flat-out harassment.

CO: It’s harassment.

5. If you were a medical doctor, what kind of doctor would you be and why?

CO: Interesting. I like telling people what to do. Is that what psychiatrists do? Do they get to tell people what to do? I like to hear people’s secrets and then tell them what to do. If that’s a psychologist or psychiatrist, I’d like to do that. I’m interested in skin care, so in a way dermatology. But I’m also very easily disgusted by other people, so maybe I wouldn’t like to be a dermatologist. I mean, I can’t watch those videos people watch with the blackheads. I can sort of peek at them for a moment, but you know the ones on YouTube where people are squeezing blackheads—I can’t really watch them. I do want to watch them, but then I can’t.

6. What’s your perfect Sunday?

CO: I really like cooking. So, probably, like, having friends over and cooking a slightly too-complicated dinner, the kind that, you know, you have to start in the morning. Maybe walking somewhere to buy the food so I feel like I’ve expended enough physical energy to make me hungry enough to eat all the food.

I would probably make a pavlova, which is a signature Australian dessert, even though New Zealand also thinks they invented it, but they’re wrong. [It’s] like a giant meringue that you pile whipped cream and fruit on top of. I like to top the pavlova with whipped cream and red berries, raspberries, strawberries, etc.

AVC: What would you do for your main course?

CO: I like to roast a chicken, but there’s this [Yotam] Ottolenghi recipe for braised chicken thighs with cardamom rice. I think it’s in the Jerusalem cookbook. That’s easy for a group, and also, it’s got some foreign spices, which also makes you seem very accomplished. Essentially, the dinner I’m describing is a way for me to show off, but I also hope people enjoy the food and company.

7. What do you get snobby about?

CO: Food.

AVC: How so?

CO: Well, I like restaurants. I think it’s because I’m 5’2”, so I’ve got a pretty small body, so I can’t eat that much food without feeling sick. So I just don’t want to waste a meal on food that’s not that worth being eaten. And so, there are lots of restaurants that people are like, “Should we go there?” I’m like, “No, the food sucks there. Absolutely not.” Which is probably annoying to other people, but I just like nice food.

AVC: Is there any sort of general category of food that you don’t do?

CO: I’m not particularly into snack food or processed food, just because I feel like it’s taking away from my daily opportunities to have a nice, freshly prepared meal. So, if you have a granola bar or a package of chips, you’re just chipping into your full meal privileges later.

AVC: What’s your favorite thing to eat?

CO: Pasta. Definitely pasta. I really love pasta so much. I can’t walk by a plate of pasta. I went to Glaze Fire with [Love co-creator] Lesley Arfin recently, which is this place where you paint ceramics. I made a bowl. I wrote the word “spaghetti” across the bottom of the bowl. I’m worried because I think the word “spaghetti” will trigger me to eat spaghetti or having that in the bowl will make me eat more spaghetti.

8. What book have you read the most?

CO: The book I probably reread every few years and is a book I give to people is Heartburn by Nora Ephron.

AVC: That’s a food book, too.

CO: Yeah, it’s a pasta book. It’s a book she wrote when her husband left her when she was seven months pregnant. So, it’s this amazing, very funny, honest book about her tragic, calamitous breakup, but it’s also got recipes all the way through it so you also get hungry. But it’s so funny, and it’s also so short. You can read it in a day or so. It’s a treat.

9. What are you afraid of?

CO: I’m very afraid of rats. I’d never encountered a mouse or a rat in my house until I was 24 when I was living in Sydney with my friends, and our place got infested with baby rats. It really violated my sanity, and my safety, and it broke my brain, and now I have an actual phobia of them. But I did make my family watch the Morgan Spurlock rat documentary on Christmas night last year. In the same way that people are sort of drawn to blackhead videos, I want to know everything I can about rats to protect myself from rats. I hate rats.

10. Who are you a big fan of that we wouldn’t necessarily guess that you’re a big fan of?

CO: Oh, I love Joanna Newsom. She’s a genius. She’s a magic genius from space. But would you guess that?

AVC: Maybe. You can never assume anyone is a Joanna Newsom fan. She is sort of an acquired taste, so that probably wouldn’t be a first guess.

CO: Right. Well then, that’s my answer, and I stand by it.

11. What advice would you give to your younger self?

CO: I would probably say, “Learn how to drive now, because it’s going to be embarrassing later when you can’t drive and you move to L.A. where driving is really crucial.”

AVC: Do you drive now?

CO: No. It’s important that I talk about it in interviews to try to shame myself into learning how to drive, but I’m scared and I don’t want to.

AVC: How do you get around L.A.? Do you take cabs? Do you use public transportation? Can you walk from where you are?

CO: I use ride-share services. I also walk a lot. Then, also my friends drive me around, which makes me sound very pathetic.

Bonus 12th question from Caroline Dhavernas: What item of clothing will you never get rid of and why?

CO: I am obsessed with sweaters. I’m trying to think of my most cherished sweater that I wear the most and would never get rid of. Well, I have a yellow raincoat that I bought when I lived in London, but, you know, in L.A., it would seem to be very useless. But when it does rain you feel like a genius for having it. I do use it in a live set that I do sometimes. So, it’s useful professionally and personally.

AVC: And it has rained a lot in L.A. in the past year.

CO: It has! I’ve been wearing it a lot lately.

AVC: You use it in a live set?

CO: I wear it in a live set where I do a character who is a lighthouse keeper.

AVC: What would you like to ask the next person?

CO: Holy moly. I would like to know what is the next person’s signature dinner party dish, and then I would like the recipe for it.

AVC: Maybe we should include one of your recipes, considering you’re asking this question.

CO: Sure. I’ll give you my carbonara recipe.

AVC: Yes, please do.

CO: First, put water on to boil for your pasta. Then you get the pancetta, and you put it in a pan with olive oil over very low heat. You want to render all of the fat out of the pancetta and get it nice and crispy. Meanwhile, I like to have parsley. I’ll chop up the parsley. I’ll put one egg in a cup. You whip that in the cup, and you add salt and pepper. Get some of the fat from the pan of pancetta, and you add that to the egg. Also, you’re going to put the pasta in the water. Once the water has become starchy, when the pasta is cooking, get a spoonful of that hot water and also whisk that into this egg/pancetta-fat mixture. And you’re also going to add some parmesan cheese to that, so it becomes this runny, yellow situation. Then, when the pasta is cooked, drain. Reserve more cooking water just in case, turn the heat off in the pancetta pan, and then toss the pasta through the hot pancetta and the hot fat. Pour over the mixture and stir it in, but you don’t want any heat from the stove anymore because that will cook the egg too much. Add a little more pasta water to it, and then transfer it to a bowl, and put more cheese on top, and the parsley. And I like a squeeze of lemon for some freshness.

AVC: The squeeze of lemon is really interesting.

CO: That’s really my personal twist.