Last year, Maya Rudolph ended her seven-year run as SNL’s go-to actor for riotously funny, often-belting, variously raced characters. Now, the daughter of the late soul singer Minnie Riperton takes a dramatic turn. In Away We Go, written by husband-and-wife novelists Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida and directed by Sam Mendes, Rudolph plays pregnant Verona, who, along with her boyfriend (John Krasinski), travels in search of a place her new family can call home.
Time Out Chicago: Let’s get this over with: the scene where Krasinski goes down on you. Maya Rudolph: I have no idea what you’re talking about.
TOC: The first two minutes of the movie? Maya Rudolph: It was the first day of shooting—if I haven’t completely blocked that out of my memory.
TOC: One to ten, how awkward? Maya Rudolph: Oh, that’s a normal day for me, to put on three pairs of Spanx shorts and have a person I like and admire but barely know be like, “I’ll see you later,” and then go under the covers. It couldn’t be more embarrassing.
TOC: I just spoke with John Krasinski about an hour ago. Maya Rudolph: What did he say about me?
TOC: Very nice things. I asked him how you’d describe working with him. Maya Rudolph: He probably did an impression of me and was like, “It was great! Great! We had fuuun. We ate together. Watched movies. Played some Guitar Hero.”
TOC: Exactly—minus the impression. Watching the film, I was struck by the chemistry between you two. How’d that come about? Maya Rudolph: A lot of classes, a lot of, like, mirroring exercises. You gotta do this thing where you jump in a lake. You know that scene in Purple Rain when he makes Apollonia jump in Lake Minnetonka but it’s not Lake Minnetonka?
TOC: My childhood is rushing back to me. Maya Rudolph: I took John to Minnesota, and I was like, “Listen. Get on my motorcycle. Let’s play ‘Take Me with U.’ I’m gonna take you to Lake Minnetonka.” Then he took off his leather jumpsuit and removed his high heels and took the flower from behind his ear and jumped in, and as he covered his boobies, I said, “That ain’t Lake Minnetonka.”
TOC: That was beautiful. Maya Rudolph: I’m a very big fan, can you tell? Ask me anything from Purple Rain.
TOC: Sing the title song for me? Maya Rudolph: What do you want, me to sing it in Yiddish? I’ll sing it in any language you want. I like when he goes, um, [Belts an unintelligible lyric, à la Prince], and you’re like, “What did he say?”
TOC: To get back to Away We Go— Maya Rudolph: Oh, right.
TOC: You’ve said Verona’s “so close to me in real life it felt like fate.” Maya Rudolph: The chance to play a real girl that has hair like me and looks like me and isn’t some totally bizarre 65-year-old lady who loves her liquor and her young men and is out of her gourd, which is what I normally write and love to do, was a really nice change of pace.
TOC: There was one parallel in particular that struck me— Maya Rudolph: Her moustache? I tried really hard to get rid of it.
TOC: She’s pregnant and not married; you had a kid with your boyfriend, director Paul Thomas Anderson. Maya Rudolph: After I read the script, I felt like I had to call David and Vendela and say, “Did we have that baby together?” Just the onslaught of people’s opinions: “This is what you need to do.” There was a guy in the market. He said, “Whoa, you’re huge. You’re about to have a baby any day now, huh?” “Um, two months.” “Jesus, what’re you having, twins?” “All right, buddy. Buy your fuckin’ challah and get the hell out of here.”
TOC: What about the parallel between Verona’s loss of her parents and your loss of your mother? Maya Rudolph: That’s the thing I identify with the most, just knowing what that experience is like, to lose a parent.
TOC: You lost your mom at a much younger age than Verona, right? Maya Rudolph: Yeah. I was little and that’s a totally different experience, but you’re definitely part of a club when you experience that. It changes the world and your way of looking at yourself. The connection comes in knowing how enormous that loss is and connecting it to: “Oh, shit. I’m about to be a parent.”
TOC: Also like you, Verona’s of mixed race and her boyfriend isn’t—yet it’s never a big issue in the film. Maya Rudolph: I certainly don’t spend my time going, “Hey, you’re white, and I’m not, and isn’t this crazy?” I just loved how [in the film] no one felt the need to belabor it. It felt very real to me.