Linoleum Interview: Rhea Seehorn on Studying Scripts & Jim Gaffigan
ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke with Linoleum star Rhea Seehorn about the upcoming dramedy. Seehorn discussed studying scripts with Jim Gaffigan and her role in the 1997 Magic: The Gathering PC game. Linoleum is set to debut in theaters on February 24.
“Cameron Edwin (Jim Gaffigan), the host of a failing children’s science TV show called Above & Beyond, has always had aspirations of being an astronaut,” reads the movie’s synopsis. “After a mysterious space-race era satellite coincidentally falls from space and lands in his backyard, his midlife crisis manifests in a plan to rebuild the machine into his dream rocket. As his relationship with his wife (Rhea Seehorn) and daughter (Katelyn Nacon) start to strain, surreal events begin unfolding around him — a doppelgänger moving into the house next door, a car falling from the sky, and an unusual teenage boy forging a friendship with him. He slowly starts to piece these events together to ultimately reveal that there’s more to his life story than he once thought.”
Tyler Treese: There’s so much to unpack in this movie. Colin West really managed to put a lot into this script, with so many interesting themes like the passage of time, chasing after your dreams, and family dynamics. What stood out the most that made you want to be a part of this project?
Rhea Seehorn: It’s kind of what you said — I just thought it was so brave and amazing that Colin took what’s ultimately a love story between this husband and wife and going through the chapters of life and the ups and downs … I’ve got to figure out how to not spoil things. Ultimately it is Erin, my character, that is telling this story and you find out why at the end. But I think I was drawn to the script because of what you’re talking about, because I was like, “These are huge questions he’s asking. These are very hard-to-answer philosophical questions of what does it mean to be successful in life? What does it mean to make something of your life? To make something of yourself?” Which is something that I feel like social media has just magnified, and you see it in people.
The desperation to define what it means to be successful and to do something great keeps getting more and more narrowed down to just involve fame, you know? And to be a caretaker and to take care of one another … to be defined by how you see yourself versus how others see you. To hang on to the part of you that’s a dreamer, even when you are saddled with everyday pedantic needs and paying bills and living in a world that’s handing you a lot of chaos.
They were just these big huge questions that he approached with love and with hope. It’s ultimately a hopeful film to me. And Colin wrote a beautiful letter that he sent with the script to me about his experience with his grandfather, that he was very close with, passing and his going through dementia, and that it left Colin with … instead of just a negative, terror-stricken response that many of us have, like, “Oh my God, what if you got dementia or someone you love got dementia?” His take on it was just this incredible hope about what are the multitude of realities that reside within all of us? And what does that mean?
And I know I’m talking in circles, but it’s because of what you said — the film is about so much and it manages to be funny and clever and dramatic and kind of sci-fi and a little bit of magical realism. And a love story. I think that, as an audience, if you can not try too hard to hang on tightly to one thing or another and just experience it … the people I’ve talked to that have seen it said they were sort of surprised by how moved they were at the end, of just being kind of overcome with feelings. Part of that is going to be whatever you bring to the film, you know? Whatever your experience is is going to highlight what resonates with you. But it’s just this beautiful kind of poem that he’s written about trying to be a human
I love that you focused on the hopeful aspect because your character, even though her marriage is kind of deteriorating, you still see there’s such love there. How interesting was it to explore that aspect in this movie?
I’m glad you mentioned that, because that is something that I brought up to Jim Gaffigan, who was an amazing scene partner and we had such a good time working on this. We talked about it at length with Colin as well, that there’s a lot of things to be concerned about these scenes of what’s the actual reality versus what you’re seeing. What is actually going on versus what’s colored by memory or distorted memory and this, that, and the other. But at the end of the day, no matter how frustrated or no matter how disconnected, these two characters love each other and are actually terrified that one or the other one is falling into the abyss, the way they see it — which has a different kind of resonance by the time you get to the end of the film.
But it was important to Jim and I and Colin definitely agreed that even when irritated with each other or even when unable to speak, it’s love. These two people love each other and are trying to claw their way back to each other. There’s just a lot of obstacles in the way, at the moment, but I think that’s the glue. If these two people no longer needed anything from each other, then the scene’s over and, ultimately, the film’s over.
There’s a real beauty to that aspect. You mentioned Jim as a scene partner — every couple of years, I kind of forget how great of an actor he is and what range he has. What stood out most about working with him and him showing his skills in this versatile dual role here.
I really liked how collaborative and studious Jim is. Jim’s very funny — as you might imagine — and dry-witted. Because we were operating in a little bubble in upstate New York at the height of the pandemic, pre-vaccine, his family — Jeannie, his wife, and all his amazing kids … I just love Jeannie. I spent weekends with them because I couldn’t fly home to L.A. And really got to know them well. I guess what stood out about Jim the most is he’s pretty studious and nerdy about script analysis and breaking down scenes, and I am that way, so I was delighted to have a scene partner that wants to … and Bob Odenkirk was the same way. Staying up till all hours of the night to discuss the multitude of meanings of one single sentence is, to me, blissful Eden. It doesn’t get better.
So when I find scene partners that want to do the same, I’m in heaven. But this film had so much to unpack, so I was happy. I’m not saying that nothing ever happens organic — I don’t have to overthink every single line, but my point being that Jim was there. Jim was not going to operate as a satellite, which you don’t know. This world-famous stand-up comic personality, you don’t know if he’s going to show up and be like, “I’m fine. I’m just going to do my own thing over here and you’ll do yours.” He’s so invested in wanting to be in service to the story and find the truth of a scene. So it was great.
It seemed like some of the organic moments might’ve come in the show-within-a-movie parts where you’re doing the low-budget local TV educational kids show. I always loved like Bill Nye and Cosmos, so I thought that was so fun. What did you like most about getting to be on that local access television set and having fun with science?
Honestly, what I liked most is the props and the art direction. I was just like … I wanted to pick up every little thing that they made. Nichole McMinn doing props, but also we had Mollie Wartelle being head of production design and July Rose White’s costumes and Kaili Corcoran was the art director. All of the lo-fi elements that they did for the sci-fi show-within-the-show has them, so it’s clearly a callback to have other things very handmade. But throughout the show, there’s there’s texture, to me, because nothing is CGI. And Ed Wu, the way he shot it … like even the masks in the Halloween party when all the kids were doing that Halloween party towards the end, I think there was maybe 50 masks and I think only about five of them were purchased. They are handmade.
The guy that has a popsicle stick house on all the props and things that are in all the show-within-the-show that you’re talking about, like these people … and we’re in a Ramada and they’re down on their hands and knees hand making all of this stuff in the atrium with chlorine from the indoor pool wafting by. I think because I come from a fine arts background too, I was just fascinated to literally watch people create the magic that my character is seeking. It brought me such joy in those scenes.
I wanted to take you back to one of your earliest roles. You were in this Magic: The Gathering video game as the Tutorial Witch and that game is still very beloved by Magic fans. So I was curious about how that came about and if you have any memories of filming that,
[Laugh] Is that tutorial still attached to new versions of the game?
I mean, that was back when you actually bought software and it came in a box. I remember going to, I think … Best Buy? I can’t remember, after it came out. I remember going there and — this so silly — but I mean, I had to have been in my 20s and they’re called industrials, and I was doing theater in Washington, D.C. and not a lot of film and television was shooting there then, except for like, people that want to use the White House as a backdrop and all that. Much more shoots there now, but back then, you could sort of supplement your income as a theater actor by doing these things called in-house industrials, which are like in-house training videos for AT&T., because a lot of people have their flagship headquarters there in D.C.
And in this case, I forget who was producing this, but this was a tutorial and it was super low-budget. I think I was non-union … yeah, I was definitely non-union. If you look closely, and I was doing it with my friend Regi [Davis] — he’s the other sorcerer — and if you look really closely, our gladiator-style sorcery boots are actually … I’m wearing white tube socks that they’ve taken gray or silver electrical tape and made the X’s and made a shoe. I don’t even have shoes on. We had fun. It was just a non-union part, not a lot of money, but it was another chance to try to work on camera and to better myself as an actor on camera.
But anyway, it was so silly — I went to Best Buy and I actually thought that they would give me a copy for free just because I was … I showed them on the back of the box, the little itty bitty microscopic picture that had me. And I was like, “I’m the person that did the tutorial!” And they were like, “That’s wonderful miss, can you please get out of the line?” Nobody gave a shit [Laugh].
That’s an amazing story. I wanted to briefly touch on Better Call Saul because getting to be in a character like Kim for seven years has to be really remarkable, as few actors get to show that much depth, let alone through such a long period of time. So what was most fulfilling about going on such a journey with that character and them being a part of your life for almost a decade?
Yeah, there is no one thing. It’s the whole thing. I start to tear up when I even talk about. It’s the best writing, it’s the best production design, it’s the best directing, your best scene partners, the best acting all around you. Just this height of what storytelling can be in television. Then when you say to yourself, “What if that group of people said, ‘Hey, I think you’re capable of the same. We believe we believe in you.'” And that’s such a gift and that is how they work on that set. It’s not a “break you down so they can build you back up” kind of place where it’s screaming and yelling.
It is all about building you up. People go to watch each other’s work, even when they’re not in scenes, and people will rehearse and run lines with you. We made a point of any guest stars and guest actors, if at all schedule-permitting, made it possible to go get them from their hotel so that they could run their scenes with us and not feel frightened when you walk on the set the next day because you haven’t met anybody. It was just this whole thing that was in service to telling this brilliant story. And as an actor, to get to play that Kim Wexler character, which I’ve never seen a character like her on television. If I didn’t get to play her, I would still be thrilled that that character is on television. Just unburdened by having to be palatable or likable.
Peter [Gould] told me very early on, he said, “If Kim has her own code of ethics and she sticks to it, people will respect her and therefore they will like her.” And I had no idea what people would make of her. Then the fans and the critics accepted her — because I wasn’t from the Breaking Bad universe, so I didn’t know. They might be like, “What’s this person? Please get rid of her.” Their acceptance of that, and then Vince [Gilligan] and Peter seeing in me the kind of subtext work that I love to do, that I was doing Season 1 and wanting to build on it, is a compliment that I can’t overstate. It’s a beautiful feeling. Any actor or a journalist or interviewer in your position, a host … it’s a beautiful thing when somebody gives you the gift of being able to do what you love, but then also says, “What if you could get better at it every single day?” And that’s what I got to do.
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