Edi Patterson currently stars on HBO’s darkly hilarious comedy, Vice Principals as Jen, opposite Danny McBride and Walton Goggins. If the name Jen Abbott doesn’t ring a bell, you’ll remember her as the promiscuously aggressive civics teacher whose lust for Vice Principal Gamby in season one went largely unrequited (unless you count a blowjob in a broom closet as requited). In a cast that includes positively brilliant performances from McBride, Goggins and the rest of the cast, it would be difficult to stand out, but Edi was positively unforgettable and hilarious. Neal Gamby definitely met his match in Jen both in terms of finding someone willing to go to places few characters on television ever have, and comedically. Their comedic chemistry ranks among the best on television today, and their screen time together is magic. And what you’ve seen so far, is only the beginning. Ms. Abbott is back in season two and her character ups her game considerably.
With the premiere of season two just around the corner I got to speak with Edi about her role, and it was so fun to talk with her about being a part of Vice Principals, what it was like on set, and her upcoming role in Tracy Morgan’s The Last O.G. Edi is a badass on and off camera, and I love her joy talking about the show, the cast, the crew and her character. I can’t wait to see what she does next. Be sure to clear your Sunday nights at 10:30 starting this Sunday to take the wild ride that is Vice Principals.
The Interrobang: What a role to get! What an outstanding character to play. And the cast! Was Vice Principals so much fun to be a part of?
Edi Patterson: Dude, like, the most fun ever. And going in, all we knew was that it was a few episodes in the first season, but we just had such a good time and such a good vibe that it sort of thankfully grew. Yeah, it was the most fun ever, and we were in Charleston (S.C.), and did it all back-to-back, and yeah, it was a blast, man.
The Interrobang: How did you shape this character of Jen? Did you have very specific instructions from the writers or did you improvise some of her persona?
Edi Patterson: It was a big mix. There were some major things that I knew just from the writing, immediately. Like, all that was in there from the first season of her, like blowing him in the broom closet. So, I knew she dug him, and I just took that to as desperate a place as I could see that being real, and turned it more into desperate in love as well as in lust, you know? But because of Danny and because of David and Jody; Jody directed the first season and David directed the second season– they were open to improvising stuff, and Danny and I discovered pretty early on that we had a really good comedy chemistry and could improvise, and it seemed to tickle him for us to go down those roads, and so yeah, stuff kind of was able to morph and grow into what they wrote. It was all kind of there, but the way that we filmed it did allow for full-out downfield running, you know what I mean? Pretty early on … gosh, maybe the first day I ever shot, I could sort of tell from the way Danny would do a scene and then play around with it, so I asked him pretty early on, like, “Do you ever want us to throw something different at you?” And at one point, he said, “Yeah. Once we get the thing out, say whatever you want.” So, I was like, “Okay, great!”
The Interrobang: Do you remember some of the first descriptions of Jen that you were given?
Edi Patterson: Yeah. Let’s see. The … When I first got the character description stuff … Initially, it’s hard to say. It might have been that they were even featuring a slightly different type. I remember there was some information in there about her always having a frappuccino drink or something, and I think she might have initially been seen as a little older, but then it just kind of morphed a little bit. But all that stuff that you see in the seven episodes of the second season, all of that was, for sure, written. In no way did we totally improvise her. By that point, they definitely had started writing her as a very desperate person, and fully into Gamby.
The Interrobang: Right. But there are moments that seemed like — nobody could have written that. Not to give anything away, but there’s a moment at a party with a parrot…for example…
Edi Patterson: Oh! Oh, yes. Yes. That, no, that was definitely not written. That was just fun stuff that once we had done that a couple of times, and I knew that on the way out, I know I’m drunk at that point. My character’s drunk at that point, and I’m like, “You know what? She would try to take something from this house.” And Danny and Walton are awesome improvisers, so they’ll make something of that. I know that if I throw something out there, they’re not going to just go, “Hey, wait. What’s she doing?”
The Interrobang: So many characters in the show have such great wardrobe choices, but I think Jen’s might be my favorite.
Edi Patterson: Oh, dude, mine too. I’m not kidding you. Every time I would go in for a fitting, I would laugh until I was crying with Sarah Trost who was our wardrobe designer. She’s, by the way, a full-on genius, and she discovered pretty quickly that she loved those double-opening sleeves for Jen Abbott. I don’t know if you noticed that, but there’s always these weird … I don’t know, there’s air flaps in all of her sleeves. Yeah, the whole upper arm shows, and then there’s a tiny point where the fabric meets, and then the whole lower arm shows, but not a sleeveless shirt. Yeah, it was really fun because it would just be like… She’d have options and we’d go, “Well, this one with a see-through cut-out seems more right.”
The Interrobang: And great shoes. I may have just missed it or forgotten it. Was the necklace ever explained, or is it just a piece of the wardrobe that’s always there, that big padlock?
Edi Patterson: That’s awesome Sarah Trost. It’s just weird enough that you go, “What is the deal with that? Why … ” And it kind of evokes S&M almost, or, like … I don’t know, to me, it was just one of those things that just made me laugh so hard because it just made my mind wander, like, “Oh, my God. What is this chick into?”
The Interrobang: So many actors who play “different” characters say they have to learn to love that character and understand why they are the way they are. Did you love Jen?
Edi Patterson: Dude, from the jump, I don’t know why, but I had such an immediate affection for her, partly because it’s … I think part of the show is that they’re all basically the kids in the school. Everyone is so immature, and just sort of letting their id show constantly, and I don’t know, I felt like she had a vibrancy and a love of life, but was also sort of shit on. I don’t know, I just felt bad for her sometimes. She wasn’t allowed to be at the cool kids’ table, but she was doing all the stuff that would make you a cool person. But because it’s pushed too hard … I think about this a lot with Groundlings characters, too, when I write characters at Groundlings. I love and I gravitate towards characters that are more confident than they should be. They don’t realize how they’re coming off, I guess, and that they’re in actuality, pretty embarrassing, but all they know is they are just really going for it in life. I think there’s a purity in her and a … I don’t know, there’s something really true in her that’s … She just wants to party and love the dude.
The Interrobang: You know what’s amazing about the show, is that no matter how bad anyone’s character behaves on this show, you genuinely feel heartbroken for them when something bad happens to them.
Edi Patterson: Yeah, I totally agree. I think that’s … Man, oh man, it’s like a superpower those guys have, in cracking characters I think. Yeah, everyone on the show is a fucking nightmare, but you genuinely root for them and you feel sad when they’re sad.
The Interrobang: This must have been a really hard cast to say goodbye to when you guys wrap, knowing it’s not going to keep going.
Edi Patterson: Yeah. The worst. Luckily, it’s one of those rad stories you hear where we genuinely are pals, and I’ve been collaborating on stuff with Danny and this other guy who was one of the writers, but a bunch of us live in L.A. and see each other when we can and literally go to lunch or go on a hike or something. So, it was really kind of a special thing, and even when we were there, we would go places on weekends and hang out, and I know their families. Yeah, it was a really, really, fully magical experience and time. It was very cool, and yeah, incredibly hard to go, “Ugh, this part’s over? Yuck.”
The Interrobang: Yeah, I can’t say I blame you for that. But you’ve got other very cool things coming up. I know you’re doing something in the new Tracy Morgan show, right?
Edi Patterson: Yeah. I went out there not too long ago and did about half of them. I think they’re doing 10 episodes and I did five of them where I’ll be his boss. He comes out into the world again after being in prison and I’m his kind of dickhead boss. And the show-runner on that, this guy John Carcieri, was one of the writer-producers on Vice Principals, so that was cool to go into that with him and know that he wanted to play around and play to my strengths and let it fly sometimes. And Tracy likes to improvise, too, which was really fun. Yeah, it was a very cool thing to get to go do.
Vice Principals – Season Two premieres on Sunday September 17, at 10:30pm on HBO. And you can follow Edi on Twitter @edipattersonhi