Sometimes you find characters on TV shows that just resonate with you. Katy Mixon's character on ABC's “American Housewife” was one of those characters for me. Karla Souza‘s character Marina in ABC's newest sitcom “Home Economics” is another one of those super relatable characters.
I had the chance to interview Karla Souza about her role in ABC's “Home Economics.” She's so personable and down-to-earth. She's the kind of celebrity you'd almost not know was a celebrity. Karla seems like the person you'd run into in a coffee shop or wine bar and just strike up a conversation with and talk like you'd known each other for years. Her love of life just shines through her smile.
An Interview with Karla Souza
What is it like to go from playing something dark like ABC's “How to Get Away With Murder” to something much lighter and comedic?
KS: It's so much better. I mean, don't tell my “Murder,” family but, I'm like, “How will I ever go back to drama after this?” I'm so in love with laughing at work all day, especially, you know, we all had that heavy year.
It's weird to have table reads through Zoom and rehearsals with masks on right before shooting; it's so hard to be funny and to receive people's intentions with a mask on, so then when you take it off and you're barely getting their performance, the camera is already rolling so there's a lot of adjusting to do when you're filming a comedy in Covid.
But all of that said, we're so lucky to have been on it, and as an industry, able to continue to work and to be putting out a project when people are so hungry for things right now, and so hungry to just like lay back, relax, and have a few laughs.
So for me, the contrast of doing drama and getting on this comedy, it's crazy 'cause I also forgot how hard comedy is. It's hard, it's kept me on my toes, and especially the cast—like obviously, Sasheer [Zamata] from “SNL” and like Jimmy [Tatro] does his own program on YouTube of comedy—so they came full-force warmed up.
I had to kind of warm-up again because I'd come from”How to Get Away With Murder” for so long, so it was a really fun way to kind of shed that skin and sort of start fresh on TV with something like this.
What aspects of Marina are like you?
KS: I wish I could have a glass of wine for every diaper I changed. It's funny 'cause further on she says that she's coming clean with her husband, Tom, and says, “Sometimes I say I'm taking a shower, but I actually just locked myself in the restroom and I'd go to sleep on the bath mat.” Legitimately, there's a lot of me in her. I love my kids, don't get me wrong…no one will doubt like as Moms, we love our kids.
There is just so much of the exhaustion and also using pumping as an excuse, which I do a lot sometimes, where she's just like, “I'm gonna go pump, I will be right back.” And using the Spanish against her husband who doesn't really speak it and talks to her daughter in Spanish. And then the really, inappropriate comments she gets from her in-laws, like the “Cafe Con Leche” and she's like, “Yes, those are Spanish words.” I have people in my family who literally every time they see me they're just like, “Oh Karla, Tortillas, Tequila, Mexicanos.” And it's just like yep, that's me.
So I have so much to relate with the situations, the sibling rivalries I have a brother and sister. We definitely grew up competing for everything—grades, our parents' affection, all that stuff—and all that's on the show, so I know that a lot of people are gonna relate to that, and it's just light and fun.
On how being Mexican affected Marina's character development
The showrunner's wife is Peruvian, and much of the show is based on his life. Karla mentioned when they were casting her, that while she loves Peru, since she's Mexican, she couldn't laugh at self-deprecating jokes if she was Mexican. If they wanted the character to be Peruvian, they needed to cast someone who was Peruvian.
KS: I could like stand up for a lot of the actual things that I go through, or that we go through as Mexicans, and I also said it doesn't mean that to a lot of the Latin community and other communities it will still be relatable.
I specifically asked for there to be writers that are Spanish speakers, they're mothers, they're women, and that have the attributes that Marina has so that it's very specific and isn't like a man writing for my motherhood experience. Even though they know a lot about it, it's never the same as someone who lived in our culture or living in the U.S. being a Mexican.
Being a woman that's married that a white man, and what it feels to be in their family on Thanksgiving, all those things that are very specific that have a lot of comedy potential is what I really care about when talking to the Producers and the Showrunners and to Topher [Grace] when we were talking about whether or not I would be Marina.
I don't know if you guys saw but in Episode 1, the shirt is from La Golondrina, and it's a Mexican old company from a woman in Houston. And we talked to the Costume Designer and there's a bunch of clothing and leather from Mexico and things that are very authentic to our ethnicity, and so that's why I also wanted that in her wardrobe and not to be a “whitewashed' version of what they thought Marina would look like.
How much of the script is improvised?
KS: There's a lot of improv, and I guess “Alts” are what they would call it. So that first moment where I call him a chicken, that wasn't in the script until the day of shooting. We were talking with Dean Holland, who's an Emmy Award-winning Director for “The Office,” and he was great because he was like, “Would you speak the dynamic of speaking in Spanish trying to nag her husband that way,” was definitely improvised. The part where I meet Lupe, who works with Connor, she's from Colombia and she says, “Oh nobody's perfect,” when I say, “Oh I'm Mexican.”
That was in the script but Lupe (Lydia, who's the actress) is also incredible and she is phenomenal and improvises and so we were given a lot of free reign to…do full-on like conversations in Spanish, and who knows what's gonna make it in or what doesn't, but for this one it did, and I was very happy to see that cause I feel it's very fun and authentic.
What's it like working with Topher Grace and the rest of the cast?
KS: They are so funny that it's so hard to keep a straight face. Let me separate them. Topher, I was very surprised at the amount of commitment, discipline, and just determination to make every scene count. He will not let go of a moment or a scene until it is as best as he thinks that he imagined it or he wanted.
He really asks for his takes and that's something that I was like, you know, what? I'm gonna do that too. I used to film in Mexico with actual film so it was like you can't really ask for that many takes cause it's so expensive and now that it's digital, it's just still in my head though, and I'm like, “Well, no.” We need to run it a few times until I get everything out. And he was so lovely with compliments, as well, from Day One, 'cause he's in the editing room and so he was telling me, “Karla, you gave us so many options,” and I was like, “Yeah, 'cause I also produce stuff, so I know that when you're in the editing room, and you don't have like that many options, you're like what do I you?”
And as an actor, when you don't know that, you're holding onto your choice and your way of doing that one line, but you don't know that, then it doesn't work as well as you thought it worked, it's better to just kind of be fluid with him, all of it. And so he is such a machine and super lovely and very professional. Sasheer and Caitlin and Jimmy were such a pleasure. I mean, Sasheer comes from “SNL” and was just, oh my gosh, like she and I connected immediately, obviously because we're like the in-laws or we're outside of the family per se. But you know she's so funny and she brings such different dry humor than all the other characters.
Is it challenging to go between the comedic to the more serious moments in the same episode such as the wedding scene at the end of Episode 2?
KS: It's funny because that is very, very tricky and that's in the hands of each Director, and so Dean Holland was incredible at directing us specifically. He knows when a moment is supposed to be funny, right? And then where the moment is supposed to come down and be like short and sweet and loving and all of that. For example, if we are on set, we're just like having so much fun with each other and we're in comedy mode, he lets us get that out so he lets us do the fun take, and he comes and he kind of whispers in your ear, and it's “You know, this one…”
Like to Caitlin, I remember him saying something like, “You're just speaking, looking at Sasheer and just saying it to her, and you're thinking that no one else in the room. You're not presenting it to anyone.” I'm watching, and I'm going, “Oh that was really clever,” 'cause sometimes you feel like you have to play the comedy in some things 'cause you're doing a comedy, but that's when the Director really comes into play 'cause they give you those slight little moments that should be a little bit more vulnerable or heartfelt.
So I feel like they're the person who we yeah we really depend on because, I don't know if you guys know, sometimes on shows, you can shoot the pilot, and then the pilot is fully reshot. And that's what happened with our show. Our pilot was fully reshot and you can really tell the differences in exactly what you're saying, which is when it needs to be a comedy, it does need to be comedy because if not, there are no colors in the episode and when it doesn't need to be comedy, it needs to be heartfelt. That really needs to shift and change. If not, the show doesn't really work.
What's complicated with ours is that it's just 20 minutes. So in 20 minutes, you have to present the show, present the characters, have laughs, have heart; it's a lot of stuff. So I don't know if it felt like a lot or too much, but I feel like as the episodes go on and you know the characters, I feel like people are gonna be more invested in them and won't need an explanation for everything.
What is it that you loved about your character and what would you like your audience to learn your character?
KS: I love that she has a glass of wine while she's in the gym. She wishes she could have a glass of wine for every diaper she changed, and she's such a dry, sarcastic, just a matter-of-fact says it honestly, very authentic, no BS person.
I feel like she is to me, at least, because I feel all of her stuff is very relatable to my life, and it's a breath of fresh air when I read it. I feel seen and I hope that when women also watch it that they feel seen. When I became pregnant, when I had kids, when I was married—I didn't really see myself in the comedy spaces at all—you would just see the really funny but not a mom.
I just didn't see that like growing up as much, so I'm really happy that we're getting more and more female funny meaty characters like that.
About ABC's “Home Economics”
From writers and executive producers Michael Colton and John Aboud, “Home Economics” takes a look at the heartwarming yet super uncomfortable and sometimes frustrating relationship among three adult siblings: one in the 1%, one middle-class, and one barely holding on. The comedy is inspired by the life of writer and executive producer Michael Colton.
“Home Economics” stars Topher Grace as Tom (and executive producer), Caitlin McGee as Sarah, Jimmy Tatro as Connor, Karla Souza as Marina, and Sasheer Zamata as Denise. The series also stars Shiloh Bearman as Gretchen, Jordyn Curet as Shamiah, Chloe Jo Rountree as Camila, and JeCobi Swain as Kelvin.
“Home Economics” premieres on ABC Wednesday, April 7 (8:30-9:00 p.m. ET). Episodes can also be viewed the next day on demand and on Hulu.
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