On The Couch With Andree Vermuelen

Arielle Gordon

photo by Robyn Von Swank

Buddy cop comedies have recently been redeemed from the likes of Paul Blart with refreshing takes on the genre – think of Melissa McCarthy’s tough-as-nails attitude in The Heat, or Chelsea Peretti’s absurd interjections in Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Today’s guest plays a role in redefining the cop comedy even further, playing a no-nonsense medical examiner with a tough exterior alongside Rashida Jones in Angie Tribeca. She’s not easily shaken – in one episode, she smacks a victim in the forehead with impressive force just to prove that he’s really dead. These strong, female characters did not come out of thin air – they’re products of a diverse production team and the uniquely hilarious actors who shape them. Today’s guest is no exception – she developed comedy as an armor as a child, and was recognized from an early age as “the funny girl.” But how does she balance that with societal pressures to look beautiful, act graceful, and appear demure? We talk about using comedy as a safety blanket, staying silly even as an adult, and grappling with self-image as a woman in the entertainment industry. She may be cold and calculating as Dr. Monica Scholls on Angie Tribeca, but Andree Vermuelen is sweet, admirably vulnerable, and hilarious.

AG: Looking back on your childhood, were there any premonitions that you would be an actress?

AV: So my parents trained racehorses when I was really little, and everyone with my family worked with horses. I didn’t really want to do what everyone else did, so I think I was three years old when my mom put me in dance class, which I loved, loved, loved. We would have recitals and that was my first start in any sort of entertainment. And then for a while, all through elementary school I didn’t perform. But then in middle school I started doing school plays, and then that continued through high school. I always sang and I would do musicals throughout middle school into high school, and then I went to college for theater. So I’ve been doing performance most of my life.

AG: When did you first discover your comedic voice?

AV: Well, I’ve always been funny. My family in general is very funny, they’re pretty quick. I think it’s interesting. When I was seven years old, my parents divorced, and my mom took me and we went to my grandmother’s house for Christmas and never came back. So that was a weird way to do a divorce – no one explained to me what was happening, and I didn’t see my dad for two years, and then my mom started dating. When I was in middle school, my mom dated a domestically abusive person. And during those four or five years, I got really sad, so I was for sure eating my feelings, I was very scared and unhappy. Things weren’t really safe at home. I think that there’s always been a tendency towards being funny, but I think when you’re in middle school, if you’re a fat kid and you’re not funny, you’re going to be bullied. I’m trying to figure out why I am funny, but this is part of it. All of my friends were like, “Oh, you’re going to be on Saturday Night Live one day!” But for some reason I didn’t think I could do it for a career, I’m not sure why. So I went to school just for theater in general, which is what I did. Then I went to college for theater performance and it was all really dramatic training, I thought I was going to be a Shakespearean starving actor. And then in my senior year we were finally allowed to do a comedic piece, and my advisor pulled me aside and told me, “You need to go do comedy,” and then I went to UCB.

AG: Do you think that your dramatic theatrical background prepared you for being a comedian in any way?

AV: Totally, and I think it’s made me much better at comedy. Especially, as far as sketch goes, I’ve been able to ground a lot of ridiculous characters and make them seem very realistic and not kind of a weird performance that is floating on top of the surface; this character fully exists. As far as television or film, it’s really helped. I’m just a much better actor as well. So even if it is a comedic show or film, I think it just makes my performance a little better and more grounded.

AG: Do you see any ways in which your sense of humor has changed since you were performing plays in middle school?

AV: I think I’ve always been really silly, and I still am. But I think now that I’ve been doing comedy for so long, there’s definitely a smarter within my silly. Not all the time, for sure. Sometimes I’m just straight up dumb. But I think when I was younger I was straight silly, and that was it. I would constantly talk in different dialects and be in different characters all the time, whereas now, I can be silly but I don’t usually walk in talking in a country accent or make a point in any sort of different character other than myself. I think I have much more dry humor now. Especially after working on Angie Tribeca, your brain kind of flips into that mode. So I’ve noticed even in real life, I’m much more dry in public, which is interesting to me.

AG: Angie Tribeca is kind of unconventional in casting two female leads in a cop show. What is the creative process like for each episode? Is it highly scripted, or is there room for improv?

AV: We have really, really great writers. They are especially good, because the show is stupid, and I mean that in the best way, but it’s a smart dumb. Just any old dumb doesn’t fly. It has to be very specific. It’s kind of like comedy science. They’re definitely really, really good at their jobs. And then because of that, we don’t get to improvise very much on set, and it’s not because any of us don’t like improv or don’t think it’s useful – we certainly do. The show just has such a specific tone, and the timing is also very specific, and then the jokes are very specific on top of it. Anything that we would come up with wouldn’t be better than what has been tirelessly written and rewritten a million times in a room. Just for this type of comedy – it’s not rambling dialogue; it’s really meticulous, particular timing. If one of us has an idea on set, it’s always heard, and we can try new things. But in the end, in the edit, it’s very rare that something like that would actually make it in.

AG: How does Rashida as lead actress create a different production environment from shows with male protagonists?

AV: As far as the cast as a whole, there are definitely still more men than women – Rashida and I are the only women. But it is definitely much more powerful to have a woman in the lead role, and I’m so incredibly glad that Steve and Nancy Carell are on the pulse of moving forward. For my character in particular, it’s really amazing to get to play such a rich, sort of strange character. I feel like a lot of female roles on television are boring – you’re just the straight man, saying, “Yes, dear.” In most comedies, I think a lot of women end up in those roles. You’re just lobbing tennis balls so that guys can hit them. So It’s pretty awesome that she’s the lead and is crushing it, and is given such an interesting and hard job. Her role is such an incredibly hard job and she makes it look really easy. And then for my character, I’m just so grateful they made my character a woman. It is a really big difference, and I haven’t been a series regular on another show, so I can’t say what the difference would be, because this is amazingly all I’ve known. But it definitely feels better. I’ve always been very wary of being sexualized in comedy. I’ve always told my reps that I will never go out on roles where a woman is essentially a hooker, but the director is like, “Oh, but she’s so funny!” And I’m like, “Is it? I personally don’t think it is.” And I never have to worry about that on this show; this show kind of hates that sort of humor because it’s too blue, especially in terms of a woman being the butt of a sexual joke, so that the guy can live kind of a weird fantasy. And Rashida would never let something like that fly. So in that sense, it feels especially safe to be on a set with her as a lead, and having a lot of input, and then Steve and Nancy Carrel also keeping that best interest in mind.

AG: Have you ever faced any sexism in casting based on your looks, being a young, blonde, female comedian?

AV: I feel like I’ve always been in a weird grey area, because I’m too quirky to play the pretty-girl lead, and then I’m too pretty to play the quirky friend. So I’ve always been in this strange pocket, which is fine, and I think as people start to know me it will be less of an issue. But I also shot myself in the foot for a short period of time, where I had breast implants, which was a tragic life mistake for me. And that really kind of put me in a strange corner, because then I really looked like this blonde bombshell even more than I do now. And I had them removed a year ago, which was such a great decision for me. You learn a lot of things when you’re young, and it was a good life lesson, and I wish I had never done that. I think it definitely hurt me in casting, and that’s another thing – being on a show with Rashida, and Steve and Nancy, in season 1 I had those breast implants. I decided to remove them before season 2 and there was a period that I was scared that I would lose my job, but in the back of my mind I was like, “There’s no way on Earth that Rashida or Steve or Nancy would fire me because my breasts were smaller.” And I think that’s a really special thing that wouldn’t be the case on a lot of other shows, unfortunately.

AG: How has comedy affected your mental health?

AV: I’m not sure that comedy has affected my mental health. On my own, I’ve had a lot of therapy. For a little bit, I was worried that after therapy, I wouldn’t be funny anymore, which is totally not true, thankfully. I think it’s made me have more interesting perspectives on things to be more emotionally healthy and know and be able to identify what certain feelings are, what certain experiences are, and then be able to comment on and sort of make fun of my own self. But you can’t really do that if you’re not self-aware and you’re not willing to look at yourself and make changes. I think the two are, for me, positively connected. But I don’t think one relies on the other.

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