Sunday, June 16, 2024

Whitney Cummings on acting in dramas, her evolution as a comedienne and more

Whitney Cummings in a still from ‘Accused’

Whitney Cummings in a still from ‘Accused’
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

At 28, Whitney Cummings had a television show named after her. She went on to create the popular show, 2 Broke Girls soon after. During her meteoric rise in the comedy industry, she donned the hats of a stand-up comedienne, writer, director, producer, talk-show host and even a podcaster. Now, she is moving on to tackle acting.

Featured in the seventh episode of Howard Gordon’s Accused, Whitney plays Brenda, a struggling stand-up comic who was raped by her former boyfriend and colleague, Zeke Thompson. The 40-year-old opens up on working with the creator, acting in dramas and her journey in an exclusive video interview with The Hindu.

“As a comedienne, doing drama is scary”, confesses Whitney, adding that she draws strength and inspiration from her heroes, Robin Williams and Jim Carrey, who made a promising leap from comedy to acting in dramas. Playing the role of an amateur stand-up comedienne, who is not a “perfect victim”, made her job harder. “I had to make sure I was working with someone that could protect and guide me on how I could approach this sensitive matter,” she says. 

Whitney Cummings in a still from ‘Accused’

Whitney Cummings in a still from ‘Accused’
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

She did not anticipate acting in dramas until later in her career but “willingly jumped into the project” after she realised the team she would be working with. “I have great respect for Howard Gordon… he created some of my favourite high-octane shows like Homeland and 24 and I knew I could trust myself to do justice to the role under his tutelage.”

Whitney adds, “Howard gave me the freedom to perform. He sets up the sandbox, lets the performers play in it and does not intervene unless he has to… If I was a part of some dramatic takes, he would first let me do my thing and in case he had notes, he’d pass them on to the director gently to keep me from being distracted from the space I had to be in.”

While one would assume that playing a comedienne would come easy to a veteran, she points out that she had to trudge past her prejudices and past to completely immerse herself in the role. “My character has issues with alcohol and drugs; she is desperate and reckless, and I was worried what the team would think of me because I had some of these qualities in my past.” 

A still from ‘2 Broke Girls’

A still from ‘2 Broke Girls’

“A lot of Brenda’s qualities are things I worked hard to change in myself. I was very hard on myself I have tried to grow and mature and so for this part, I had to go back to who I was or who I could’ve been had I not tried to work on myself,” says Whitney, adding that that having a supportive team helped her in the process.  “When you are in Hollywood for too long, you tend to have a sour taste in your mouth about movies and TV and everything starts to feel like a chore. So, I really look forward to collaborating with people whose work sweeps me off my feet and makes me forget that I am doing a job.”

To understand her character better, Whitney tried researching social traditions that govern American society and culture. “I tried to understand the foster-care system better and the imprint it left on Brenda, my character.” She also looked at understanding how children are raised in the US and how their self-limiting beliefs are affirmed in the process.

Finally, she explains how she wants to pay an ode to comedians with her character, “I wanted to take parts of every comedian I knew, not judge them, and incorporate them into this character. To pay homage to all the broken toys in our business and all the maladaptive coping mechanisms that people doing stand-up had to learn at an early stage.”

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