GQ

Comedian Patti Harrison on Making Her Big Screen Debut and Subverting Rom-Com Cliches

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Patti Harrison is making her big screen debut in Together Together, but she’s not sure when she will actually get to see the film in a theater. The indie rom-com garnered buzz and a lucrative distribution deal after premiering at this year’s virtual Sundance festival, and since then she’s only seen the film at a socially distanced rooftop screening for cast and crew. “With my luck I would be like, ’I’m fully vaccinated, I feel safe to go to the theater,’” she said over the phone from her home in Los Angeles, “and then I roll in and I get bedbugs.” Pondering gross-out body horror amidst personal triumph is typical for Harrison, who began her comedy career with gonzo sketches in New York’s live scene and has since built up an impressive resume onscreen, including several Tonight Show appearances, a recurring role as an acerbic assistant on Shrill, and award-winning writing for the most recent season of Big Mouth.

In Together Together, Harrison plays Anna, a young woman working as a barista who agrees to be a surrogate mother for app developer and would-be single dad Matt, played by Ed Helms, who finds new emotional dimensions in the manchild archetype. Nicole Beckwith, the film’s writer-director, first saw Harrison on the Tonight Show and cast her in the role without an audition. Harrison’s character is the heart of the movie as she navigates the challenges of pregnancy and her unique relationship with her client-turned-friend. Onscreen from the first scene, her performance rises to the occasion, communicating layers of feeling with a glance.

A week before Together Together opened in theaters, Patti talked to GQ about the distinction between the film’s leads, rom-com cliches, and the cult following around her I Think You Should Leave sketch.

Patti Harrison and Ed Helms in Together Together, 2021.Everett Collection / Courtesy of Bleecker Street Media

Anna plans to use the income from being a surrogate to pay for college. Do you see an element of class in this movie?

They’re definitely in different brackets. Anna is a barista, and she’s doing this because she needs money. I think [Matt] is in a place where he’s a Silicon Valley guy, and he does have a lot of money. San Francisco is like, the most expensive city to live in, in the United States. If she was living there, even more motivation for her to need money, to make this decision.

I loved the barista scenes with Julio Torres. How was it working with him again?

Um, he’s fine. I didn’t like his performance. He was on time, and he remembered his lines. But then he would try and improvise and everything was so unfunny and bad. And then he smelled like there was unwiped poop in his butt. And I don’t know if a lot of people know this, but he is one of the ugliest people I’ve ever seen in person. I tried to tell him in a really light way. I was like, “Hey, don’t get offended. I’m not trying to be mean. I’m only saying this because I care. You’re the ugliest person I’ve ever met.” And he got really, really upset, like, didn’t want to shoot, wouldn’t come out of his trailer. And it just held up production for so long. It sucked that he would do something so selfish. I like that I’m spending most of my time saying this stuff. And I feel like you’re probably going to be able to run maybe one line of what I say when I’m like, “Oh, no, but he was actually nice.”

No, no, I want to include the whole spiel.

He is a very close friend and it was so fun. At that point, most of my scenes had been with Ed, who I didn’t know very well, so I was pretty nervous around him still. Which I think worked for the movie, we mostly shot chronologically as the characters got to know each other. I met Julio pretty early on in my time in New York. And same with Jo Firestone and Greta Titelman. And so it was just very cool to have them there, it felt very surreal.

How did this role compare to characters you’ve played in sketches or in TV series? Did it feel like a level up in your acting?

Yeah, it was way more work than I’d been used to. Even my part in Shrill. I would only shoot in Portland, like, on average, two days a week. Meanwhile, Aidy Bryant is literally there every day. She’s an EP on the show, she’s writing on the show, she’s just completely like, up 24/7 awake. It was incredible to see how much she worked. She’s a powerhouse. She was the one who I would think of when I was getting tired shooting. ”Well, Aidy would do that.”

It was way more dialogue than I’m used to memorizing. Coming out of Shrill, depending on who’s directing, they’ll let you ad lib sometimes, you can pitch ideas if you have them. And Nicole allowed us to do that in certain places, too. But a lot of the dramatic dialogue, the more grounded stuff, we were very script attentive.

The two main characters bond while watching Friends, and there’s a scene where they discuss intergenerational dating and Woody Allen. Do you have your own thoughts on those?

I agree 100% with what the character says about Woody Allen in the movie. That scene in the script is a huge part of why I agreed to do the movie. That was a turning point in the script where I was like, oh, cool, Nicole is addressing specific things about the genre that people expect the movie to fall within. It was just so smart. And I mean,I watched all of Friends in college. I liked it growing up, and it’s a very nostalgic show for me. Watching it now, there’s so much problematic fucked up unrealistic shit in it and it’s just like, the most violently white show on earth, but also Lisa Kudrow was such an influential performer to me. And I feel like that character should have had her own show. Like the way she played it was just so unlike anything else and so real. I’m definitely more of a fan of Friends than I am of Woody Allen. I would say that I’m not a fan at all of Woody Allen’s. [laughs] But I hope he still casts me in all his movies. I hope he doesn’t read this and casts me in every movie.

Ed Helms and Patti Harrison in Together Together, 2021.Everett Collection / Courtesy of Bleecker Street Media

Were there any romantic comedy tropes you wanted to avoid?

I really didn’t want it to be like the younger girl, older guy situation, where they fall in love, or a Knocked Up situation where they end up together. My biggest pet peeve about the release of this movie is that they have, in the marketing of the movie, literally on the poster [movie presenter voice] “A platonic story,” “A story of platonic love,” but part of what made it such an exciting read for the script is it set up all these expectations and lets the viewer project onto it all of their expectations with the genre. It is a movie that I would have loved for people to see with less information, I guess. Not that it’s like some big M. Night Shyamalan reveal, but I liked that it really thoughtfully plays with what the audience is expecting.

Which is why I think Nicole’s so brilliant. This movie is such an extension of Nicole. One of the best things about this movie has been having our friendship grow out of it. She has this razor wit, but she’s so kind and so gentle and sweet and sincere. She’s like the perfect combination. I feel like I joke too much and have a hard time being earnest, and being friends with her has helped me be better about voicing when I’m like, “I like my friends.” “I like that you are my friend.” Saying things that feel maybe corny or embarrassing to say or too mushy.

The film ends on an ambiguous note as to what happens between the main characters after the pregnancy. Did you have an idea of what happens to your character after the script?

I’ve answered this question before, and I’ve answered it to play nice with other people who’ve interviewed me, but with you, I will be very honest, and say that it does not matter. Because it’s not what the movie’s about. That’s something that would be left to the audience to mull over. I would say, Nicole doesn’t want to explain that. I don’t think it’s like a JK Rowling thing, where she comes back like, “Oh, and by the way, Snape likes butt play. And it’s pronounced Dumble-dort.” If the audience is supposed to know, put it in the book or the script. I hope there’s fan-fiction written about it, where my character goes on to be an astronaut. And she lives in a little hole in the moon and one day, she gets so comfortable on the moon, she’s like, “I’ve been here for three years. I think it’s time I take my dome off.” And then she takes her dome off and her fucking eyes explode out of her head. It’s hyper graphic. It’s in slow motion. It’s super detailed. It’s like a $20 million scene, like the CGI is so intensive.

But I just think that the message of the movie is completely encapsulated in the start to end. We’re so conditioned to believe that the only relationships that matter and are worth fighting for are permanent, or ones that we know will last forever. And this is a situation where there is no assurance. Is it still worth the risk of getting attached to this person?

I have to say your I Think You Should Leave sketch was amazing. Great performance. Maybe my favorite in the whole series.

Thank you. I only took part in that sketch so I didn’t really know what the whole vibe of the show was going to be, and even if I wasn’t in it, it would be one of my favorite shows. It’s interesting that I didn’t get paid a lot to do it, and it was a small sketch, maybe two or three minutes long. And it’s the thing that I get recognized for the most. People will scream “Santa brought it early” to me in public. It’s pretty aggressive. It’s opened a new demographic of followers to me, which are these, like, comedy bro guys. Most of my fans or my followers are queer, delicate, kind teens, or artsy teens, or a lot of women and gay men. It is nice that like, people connect to it, just so interesting that it’s these guys that look like they’re going to hockey practice after, which is really hot. [laughs] I just feel warm that people have embraced it. But I’m like, “Damn, you guys are horny for this sketch.” It’s really cool.

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