Melissa McCarthy’s role in Bridesmaids earned her an Academy Award nomination in 2012, buoyed by the praise that finally women were being allowed to play crass, impolitic characters. But long before McCarthy’s star-making turn, there was Kaitlin Olson, who as Sweet Dee on FXX’s It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, farted, stumbled, and caroused in the name of gender equity. Now in her own starring vehicle on Fox’s The Mick, Olson finds herself once again in a role cut from the same raggedy cloth. She plays Mickey, a smiling grifter who is forced to take care of her obscenely wealthy niece and nephews after their parents flee the country for tax evasion and fraud. Both these roles require Olson to tread a careful line with the audience—playing at once a horrible human being but also someone you sort of wish would get a few more breaks in life. The A.V. Club spoke with Olson on the eve of the season two premiere of The Mick, which airs Tuesday, September 26 at 9 p.m. on Fox.
The A.V. Club: You’ve done one season of The Mick with Fox. Both the show and the network probably know where the boundary of propriety lies. Now that you’re in season two, do you plan on pushing that line?
Kaitlin Olson: Yeah, I’m not comfortable with comfortable. It’s always much more interesting and fun to keep people on their toes and subvert any storylines that you maybe see coming. Otherwise I would get bored, and I like to do things that make me laugh. It’s the only way I know how to do it.
AVC: What’s the difference, creatively speaking, between writing an FX show and a Fox show?
KO: FX is more comfortable with us doing subject matters that are a bit more—I don’t want to say shocking because that’s never what we’re trying to do. I’m trying to have what happens happen out of left field, because I think that’s funnier. On Sunny, we’re not trying to be a family show. We’re literally trying to make the funniest show possible. On The Mick we want to make the funniest family show possible, but maybe pushing the boundaries of which family members you want to be watching—some kids will be too young for it.
AVC: Mickey is the moral center of the show. She’s obviously a better guardian to the kids than her sister and husband. But Mickey is still someone you love to hate. There’s an element of despicableness to her. How do you toe that line for a character that’s both easy to hate and someone you want to root for?
KO: That’s definitely the idea. We wanted to make sure the parents are so despicable that you didn’t just feel terrible for these children. Ultimately, my character is such a lone wolf and so independent and gets thrown into the situation, but sees that these kids are ruined by how their parents have raised them, and [understands] what’s important to them. And it doesn’t line up with what’s important to her. So she feels she needs to teach them how to live in the real world. And that becomes really important to her. The way that she does it might be classically horrific parenting, but she has their best interest at heart. She’s trying to teach them how to survive in the world, because she’s a survivor. So she wants to teach them how to figure it out on their own. It’s okay with me that Mickey has a little bit of heart. I don’t think Sweet Dee has heart at all. And that totally works for the place that it is.
AVC: You’re working with kids on the show who are saying some very grown-up lines. Do they understand all the references?
KO: We’re writing very adult dialogue. But that’s why it’s so funny. Especially for Thomas [Barbusca, who plays Mickey’s nephew, Chip Pemberton], it’s funny to hear that pompous dialogue coming out of his little teenage body. There’s plenty of time he says, “I don’t know what this means.” And I really appreciate that he asks, because we’re all in this together. Obviously if you know what you’re saying, you can perform much better than spitting out someone else’s lines.
AVC: Do they understand the context of the jokes? I’d imagine sometimes you’re explaining uncomfortable subject matters to a kid, like about sexting or mail-order brides.
KO: It depends on the scenario. I don’t really do that for Jack [Stanton, who plays the youngest Pemberton, Ben]. Jack just says his lines. If he has a question, I’ll answer it. I have two little kids that are around Jack’s age, so I’ve got a lot of practice dealing with stuff like that. So far we haven’t run into anything where he—well, he was a bit curious about the episode where I dressed him as a girl to get into an all-girl school. I welcome those kinds of conversations. It’s really short answers—he’s wearing girls clothes because he wants to know what that feels like. Thomas is different—he’s 14 and a half. I can have conversations with him. There are things where he might be uncomfortable—he has a wet dream scene in one of our episodes. I said I don’t need to be there for that, if that would make you more comfortable. The good thing is we’re developing a great open dialogue and that they trust me. And I hope that remains and I can continue to build on that. We’re a little family.
AVC: It’s giving you good practice as a mother, because you get to live out all those parental life experiences on set, you’re working it out, and you’re getting paid for it.
KO: That’s exactly right! Although my kids are a lot wilder. I have a feeling their teenage experience will be much different. Plus they’re not spoiled brats like these kids are.
AVC: Your character doesn’t care what people think of her, whereas Dee Reynolds from Always Sunny is always seeking people’s approval. Where do you fall on that spectrum?
KO: I 100 percent care what people think. Which makes this particular profession so terrifying. I don’t know how I ended up here. I find it so freeing to play this character because she’s just unapologetic. I can learn a lot from that. Dee is a fun character to play because I’m not that insecure. It’s fun to make fun of myself and take that to the extreme.
AVC: When people meet you in real life, do they assume you’re the character from TV, which gives them permission to get rude with you?
KO: When I post anything at all on Instagram or Twitter, I get hundreds and hundreds of “shut up” after I say anything. But it’s all out of love. I know they’re doing it because they love the character and love the show. So I don’t think they’re being mean. But people think they’re being real funny to be rude to me.
AVC: John and Dave Chernin wrote some of my favorite episodes of Always Sunny—“The Gang Goes To The Jersey Shore,” “Frank’s Back In Business”—and they’re the showrunners on The Mick. How do you describe their comedic sensibility?
KO: When they joined Sunny, not only were they amazing writers, they were cool people to hang out with, and we became friends. I really love them on a personal level. They’re very smart, they’re very quick, their dialogue is smart and interesting, and they say things that make me laugh that I haven’t heard a million times before. When they punch up dialogue, the essence of the scene is the same, but they play around with it in such a way [that] I’m thinking, “Whose brains come up with things like that?” I feel lucky I have them on my team.
AVC: What percentage would you put on Glenn Howerton being in the Always Sunny cast next season?
KO: I can tell you 100 percent there will be another two seasons. We start shooting season 13 in the spring. As for Glenn coming back? I don’t know. We’re still holding out hope that enough time has gone by that we can trick him into coming in and acting on it. Danny [DeVito] and I act on that show; we don’t write. And our timing commitment is two months out of the year. It’s the greatest, easiest job—it’s an intense two months, but it’s so much fun. Glenn’s never had that experience. He’s always writing and producing, which is a much bigger commitment. But I’m holding out hope, because it’s not the same without him.
AVC: Over or under 50 percent, can you quantify the odds?
KO: At the end of last season, when we were done and [Glenn] was really burned out, it would’ve been under 50 percent. Let’s say AP Bio goes well, and he’s having a great time, and he’s had a good experience, and he doesn’t feel burned out. You know what, whether AP Bio does well or it does horribly, I think that’s a better chance for us. I’ll say 100 percent. I will 100 percent be able to talk him into coming back. Let’s put that on my shoulder.