Vice Principals shot right to the top of our favorite viewing list when it debuted last year, and stayed right at the top through the second and final season on HBO this year. Danny McBride and Walton Goggins are brutally funny as the series lead characters, but when it comes to darkness the women of the series give the boys a run for their money. We spoke to Edi Patterson who played the deliciously twisted Jen Abbott on the series back when Season 2 premiered, but we hadn’t yet had the chance to talk with her about the developments in the closely guarded final two episodes. Earlier this month I got the chance to speak with her about the series finale and about playing one of the darkest characters on television. I also spoke with Georgia King who played Amanda Snodgrass- Ms. Abbott’s main rival in her quest for Neil Gamby’s affections. Spoilers all over the place here, so read ahead with caution…
The last two episodes of Vice Principals took the phrase dark comedy to an entirely new level, and while you might have predicted dramatic answer to the ‘Who Shot Gamby?’ storyline, you certainly didn’t see any of the details coming. There was face shooting, wedding dresses, live tigers and plenty of characters left for dead. The last time I spoke with Edi Patterson, I knew her character had been enjoying more screen time as the season went on, but I hadn’t yet learned that her character Jen Abbott was the shooter. But Edi couldn’t say a word.
Now that the season wrapped I asked her what it was like filming those last two episodes. She described it as one of the greatest acting experiences you can have. “Oh, God. Beyond. Just the best. The funnest,” she told me. “They were like, “OK, so you get to do this, you get to do this, and then you’ll get to do this. Oh, yeah, and then there’s a big physical fight in the bathroom, and then, oh, yeah, you’ll have a wedding dress on. You’re going to shoot Lee.” It’s just like, “Oh, my God. This is so awesome.” It may have been fun, but the challenge for Patterson was making such a far-fetched scenario real instead of silly, and there wasn’t a lot she could look to in terms of prior on-screen inspiration. This was totally new territory. Edi knew she’d be going into “vaguely Fatal Attraction territory” but the real key to playing those scenes, she said, was just to understand what her character was feeling. And that, she said, was hurt.
“Just like any scene, I just tried to mean it, and tried to really feel what that person would be feeling, and try to mean what I say, and then try to let things land on me, and listen, and see,” she said. “But man, oh man, was it fun. This is going to sound insane, but it all made sense to me. It’s not dots that I would connect, but the dots connected for me. I’m like, “Oh, fuck yeah, this is a really hurt person who is now at the tipping point.”
In fact, Edi saw all the characters as based in reality- just amped up in terms of details. And while nobody is innocent, she believes there are some good guys. Edi says her character Jen- despite being the perp- is a good guy, and she thinks Gamby is a good guy too. “If you look at Gamby, he wants what’s best for that school, which is hilariously awesome. Yeah, his own wants are definitely layered in there, especially in the first season, but ultimately, he wants it to be good for that school, which is kind of like a high-minded idea. And, I think Abbot wants love, which is kind of an awesome universally human idea. I think she wants to have a good time and have a boyfriend. What the fuck’s wrong with that? She’s seriously the best.”
Vice Principals can be seen as a model for the universe, in a way and everyone in the world of the show can be compared to regular people you know in your life. Maybe not in terms of actions but in terms of motivations and broad strokes. “I’m thinking of a microcosm for the universe…but in a blender, sort of sped up and amplified, and more colorful, and more dark, because I think the fun of it is that everyone, the guys, the girls, they’re just people. They really screw up sometimes, and they don’t always get the karmic payback you want them to get, because that’s not really how life is. Sometimes they have to eat shit, but sometimes they weirdly get rewarded. I just dig how gray it all is.”
Georgia King, who plays Amanda Snodgrass on the series also loved the shades of gray found in the Vice Principals characters. “What’s really awesome is the writers on this show served up characters that were so multifaceted, and real, and detailed, and that’s a really exciting and cool thing to get in a comedy. Not to have just, okay, this is the crazy guy. This is the sad one. You know what I mean? We were real people. Some wilder than others. Some darker than others,” she said.
Even her character Amanda Snodgrass who is the closest thing to a straight man in the series, has darkness and light and unexpected motivations. “I was experiencing things, and going through self-doubt, and vulnerability, and feeling lost, and making weird choices, and finding love in the most odd places. You know what I mean? Like, I ride a motorbike. I mean, sure, okay, didn’t anticipate that. And I love that element of the unexpected,” she said. “These scripts…they’re funny, and they are crazy and dark, but they’re also very human. And so, I just feel like I was surprised at how much I connected to … I’m not Snodgrass, but I could find things that I related to, and I think a lot of people could relate to her, and some other characters. And I think that’s a huge, huge asset to the show.”
And while Snodgrass didn’t get to be as crazy as some of the other characters, she did serve as somewhat of a moral compass, where how the others treated her revealed a lot about their own characters. “You’d think Hayden would be maybe the cool teacher compared to Gamby, and then you realize, actually, he’s way worse when it comes to his romantic treatment of Snodgrass. Not that Gamby’s excellent with how he treats his ex-wife. He certainly isn’t the best with women, but he wants to be. There’s definitely certain truths about characters that are revealed when they’re next to Snodgrass.”
The best part about the series, Georgia told me, is that the stories are written in such a way that the audience can’t figure out how they feel. “I think one of the most brutal, uncomfortable scenes in the show is in season one. The very end, when Gamby and Russell tell Belinda Brown that they’re behind everything. That they’ve taped everything, that she’s out. And she has that fight scene with them, and she’s at her most desperate, and most stressed. That is gut-wrenching to watch. And you feel so much empathy, and you’re so sorry for her. And then, two minutes later, you’re so happy and excited that those two guys are co-principal. And it’s the weirdest thing to move….it’s like this weird, feel-good aspect to it, and then it turns in a second. And it’s the worst, and it’s so uncomfortable, and sickening.” She credits Danny, Jody and all the writers with writing stories that are so complicated, that you are constantly being tested and questioned as an audience. Her role is to find the truths of her character, what motivates her, what ambitions she has, and what drives her.
“Once you can see those clearly, as long as you’re honest, then I think the rest kind of makes sense. You know?”
One of King’s favorite scenes to film was hijacking the podium at the writers conference to read from her book. “That whole episode was just the best. Again, just to go back to the idea of the writing kind of taking you one way and then slipping you another. If that had gone down a sort of formulaic route, I should have done a reading that got everyone on their feet applauding. That’s how that should have played out. So, you expect that to happen. You know Brian’s going after Amanda for the wrong reasons. We’re at this point; the veil is dropped, and she realizes … really, she kind of wakes up, I think, and realizes that she’s dating someone that’s so wrong for her, and she’s been in such denial.”
Georgia said she knew she was on board for something special as soon as she read the script. “I was in London. I think I did a tape in a friend’s living room. I flew back to LA, and that was Jody Hill, and the next day, met with Danny, and read some scenes, and improvised, and got the job later that day. Initially, I got sent the first two scripts, and they were the best two scripts to TV show I think I’ve read in … maybe ever, or at least for a long, long time.” The script was from the episode where Gamby and Lee burn a house down. “I was immediately … oh, okay, this is seriously good, and different, and this is gonna push some boundaries in, I think, the best way. And then, I got sent the first nine scripts, which was just unbelievable for a TV show to be given that many scripts at once. It’s just … is like Christmas– five Christmases at once. And so, I just read them all and the character was there on the page, but the guys were so cool with collaborating, and welcoming me in, and every actor was encouraged to bring ideas, and thoughts, and … It was really awesome. It was one of the most exciting, creative experiences I think I’ve ever had.”
We don’t know what’s next for the Rough House crew, but Edi Patterson did say she wrote a movie with Danny that she’s hoping somebody will give them the money to make, and we’re all hoping to see how that turns out. But for now you can own the darkest comedy on TV because Vice Principals: Season 2 is available for digital download on all the digital download platforms. Vice Principals: Season 2 comes with deleted scenes and an exclusive blooper reel. Vice Principals the series is available everywhere digital downloads can be found.