Maya Rudolph Is a National Treasure

in loot, now in its second season, maya rudolph plays molly wells, a newly divorced megabillionaire
Maya Rudolph Is a National TreasureRuven Afanador
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The more Maya Rudolph learns about the superwealthy, the less she understands. “Like, who are these people?” she says, sitting in the dining room at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills on a Friday morning. Meaning not the people around us, who—although they’re sitting on Louis XVI chairs and ordering from a menu that includes a $92 Dover sole—are most likely ordinary rich people, not the island-owning type of stratospherically wealthy people Rudolph has become more aware of working on Loot, the series she produces and stars in for Apple TV+.

“Everything feels like a secret,” she goes on, telling me about a friend of hers who was recently invited to some kind of ideas conference, “one of those things where they all go to some ranch somewhere and talk about things.” Her friend told her he was leaving the next day. “Where are you going?” she asked. “And he said, ‘I don’t know,’” Rudolph says. Her eyes, which are brown and round and already very large, like Bambi’s, widen further. “I was like, ‘What?!? Are they going to send you in, like, a Wonder Woman clear helicopter?”

town and country magazine maya rudolph

That’s probably what Molly Wells, the character she plays on Loot, would do. The ex-wife of a cheating tech mogul whose $87 billion divorce settlement has made her the “third-richest woman in the world,” Wells is partial to excess and whimsy, which is one of the reasons Rudolph loves playing her. “Something I realized about myself fairly recently is I love magic,” she says. “And that kind of infinite wealth, it’s like magic. You can do anything, go anywhere. You can buy an island. Anything can happen, which I find so fun.”

Loot isn’t the only show in recent memory to spin preposterous but true headlines about the ultra-rich into satire. “The show writes itself” is something creators Alan Yang and Matt Hubbard routinely say whenever a photo surfaces of a certain serial monogamist and his new girlfriend in matching leather pants, or some megalomaniac decides to build a utopia in the desert, or, better yet, in space. Molly Wells’s disconnect—such as when she serenades inhabitants of a women’s shelter with a rendition of “All the Unhoused Ladies”—feels familiar, even as it’s dialed up for laughs. But unlike, say, The White Lotus or Succession, which portray extreme wealth as a kind of incurable disease, or a curse that dooms all who possess it to a lifetime of Machiavellian fuckery, Loot—with its lingering shots of stunning homes, rainbow suites of sports cars, and party montages set in international locations—makes clear that, actually, it is better to cry in a sprawling mansion, with a dedicated candy room, overlooking an infinity pool. “I would almost compare it to shows like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” says Ron Funches, who plays Molly’s endearingly opportunistic cousin Howard, of the show’s wealth-porn aesthetic. “We’re making fun of the wealth and opulence, but at the same time it’s fun to see a house that’s, like, half an aquarium.”

town and country magazine maya rudolph

If it sounds as if they’re trying to have it both ways, well, they are. “We’re definitely having our cake and eating it too,” Yang says. “But the observation that rich people are terrible and broken has been made, and as people who are relatively optimistic, we wanted to tell a potentially more optimistic story.”

This extends to the character of Wells, who is given a more redeeming arc than we’ve come to expect of people in her position. “I’ve seen this rich person who is clueless and dismissive, and I don’t find it funny,” says Rudolph, who says it was important that Wells be “likable and interesting and someone you care about.”

This may be a hard sell to someone who sees “likable billionaire” as an oxymoron. “I’m pretty open about my left-leaning politics, and when it was first presented to me, I was like, I don’t necessarily want to be part of a show that is glorifying billionaires,” says Joel Kim Booster, who plays Nicholas, Molly’s caustic assistant. He was persuaded to take the role by the twist at the end of the first season, when Wells decides to give away all of her money through her charitable foundation. “When I found out we were going to end the show by saying plainly that billionaires shouldn’t exist, I was like, ‘Sign me up.’ ”

town and country magazine maya rudolph

He and the other members of the cast were thrilled when, shortly after the first season aired, Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, announced that he and his family were donating ownership of the company to fight climate change. “I don’t know if it was a direct influence,” says Rudolph, who was among those in the Loot group chat speculating that maybe Chouinard had been inspired by the show. “But it’s nice to think we might be able to rub up on somebody in that way. Because why not?”

Prompting the world’s billionaires toward the mass forfeiture of their wealth may seem like a lofty goal for a half-hour comedy, but if there’s anyone capable of inspiring that kind of benevolence, it may well be Rudolph, who is regularly referred to as a “national treasure” and was once literally compared to God by the New York Times.

“She has this innate likability,” says Booster, who first became aware of Rudolph when she was on Saturday Night Live in the early 2000s. “There’s a kind of purity to her intentions that makes you want to root for her.”

town and country magazine maya rudolph

The early 2000s were, in retrospect, a uniquely toxic time in pop culture, and in comedy in particular, so it is indicative of Rudolph’s nature that she was able to come to prominence during this period without ever donning a fat suit. “I have a really hard time with mean comedy,” she says. “Those things that are like, ‘Oh, I’m being funny, but I’m making fun of you’? I can’t watch it. I can’t stomach it. And it doesn’t feel good coming out of me.”

She recalls a time she attempted to develop a character based on a friend’s “really fucking annoying girlfriend,” early in her tenure at SNL. “Because those are the characters that stand out, you know? You’re in a room like this, and you’re seeing somebody really obnoxious, and you think, Oh my god, that would make a great character. And then you write it, and you realize, I don’t want to hear this person talk.”

The impressions she did end up doing felt more like tributes than mockery. “I say it all the time, but I think I’m a drag queen, really,” says Rudolph, who played a lot of dress-up growing up. “I always wanted to be, like, this fabulous woman.”

She credits her mother, singer Minnie Riperton, for inspiration. Once a backup singer for acts like Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters, Riperton had a breakout hit in 1975 with “Loving You,” but she died a few years later, when Rudolph was six. “Growing up in a house with this incredible mother onstage, but then also with my brother and my dad,” says Rudolph, who was raised by her father, a music producer, in Los Angeles, “I didn’t really feel like a real girl. And I wanted to be a real girl.” After college she thought she might be a fashion designer. Then she found the improv troupe the Groundlings and started dreaming about Saturday Night Live.

She joined the cast in 2000, around the time that Beyoncé was separating from Destiny’s Child. Rudolph was smitten. “I think a lot of my impressions come from watching people because I love them and I’m obsessed with them, and I want to be them somehow,” she says. “So when I started getting to play Beyoncé, I felt like, I know how to do this. Because it’s the same thing I did when I was little. You’re dressing up like a princess. You put on the leotard and some weird scarf, and you’re like, ‘This is my beautiful ball gown.’ ”

Rudolph thought she’d live in New York forever. Then she met Paul Thomas Anderson, the director of Boogie Nights and Magnolia, at an SNL afterparty he had come to specifically to meet her. “He said he saw me in a sketch and said, ‘That’s the girl I’m going to marry,’ ” she says with a note of mock suspicion. “But I don’t know. I wasn’t there. Maybe he just told me that to be sweet.”

They had their first child, a daughter, in 2005. “I thought, This is all going great!” she says. “I’d always wanted to have kids. I’d always wanted to live in New York. I’d always wanted to be on Saturday Night Live.” But Anderson, who is to the San Fernando Valley what Fellini was to Rome, was set on moving back to Los Angeles. For a while Rudolph tried commuting, flying back and forth to SNL, sometimes with her daughter in tow. “This little bald baby, listening to the musical guests warm up,” she says. “I look back and I can’t believe I did that. It was crazy. I don’t think I slept for two years.”

town and country magazine maya rudolph

She left SNL in 2007 and committed full-time to Los Angeles. She and Anderson had three more children and settled into a life that, to all appearances, seems the platonic ideal of a freewheeling, artistic, bohemian Hollywood existence. He makes quirky, critically acclaimed yet commercially successful indie movies starring A-list ensemble casts. She plays quirky parts in commercially and critically acclaimed movies and TV shows starring mainly members of her friend group, which happens to consist of the best comedians and actors alive. Also, she occasionally shows up in a glorious caftan to save M&Ms in a Super Bowl ad or show Oscar presenters how it’s done.

“I think half the stuff I did is because a friend said, ‘Will you come and do this?’ and I’m like, ‘Oh, that sounds fun,’ ” Rudolph says. “I never really knew what direction I was going to go in. I still don’t want to know. I want it to be informed by what I’d like to do, as opposed to what I’m supposed to do. I think that’s when it’s the most fun and the most alive.”

This was how, back in 2018, Rudolph ended up forming a production company, Animal, with her longtime friends Natasha Lyonne and Danielle Renfrew Behrens. At the time she was in her mid-­forties and starting to realize she was becoming, for lack of a better term, an “elder statesman” of her tribe. “I thought, Why not use that power for good,” says Rudolph, who imagined herself as a “creative doula,” helping to usher into the world projects that, ultimately, belonged to other people.

The company was a success out of the gate, with an eclectic mix that included Lyonne’s Netflix series Russian Doll, the teenage rom-com Crush, and a documentary about a Lebanese heavy metal band. Lyonne, for whose animalistic ambition they named the company, was eager to keep going.

“But more and more I was starting to feel like there weren’t enough hours in the day,” says Rudolph, who started filming Loot in 2021. “It takes a lot to create a show, and it’s great to be able to create it, but then to actually show up and be on the set every day, it’s, ‘All right, then I don’t have time for this, this, and this…’

“I like working, but I don’t like killing myself. I used to not have a choice, and so I did it, because that’s what you did. You exhausted yourself. You ended up in bed, comatose, because you left it all on the dance floor or whatever. But when you’re taking care of children, that’s not really an option.” So late last year she decided to step away to focus, she says, on “quality over quantity.”

town and country magazine maya rudolph

Right now that means the eighth season of Big Mouth, the star-studded animated coming-of-age Netflix sitcom for adults, in which she voices the character of Connie the Hormone Monstress, and a role in John Krasinski’s upcoming fantasy comedy IF.

She and her friend Gretchen Lieberum are doing a few shows with their Prince cover band, Princess, and after her guest appearances as Kamala Harris on Saturday Night Live, Rudolph is thinking about putting together a live show. “It’s such a great way to remember, Oh, you’re a live performer,” she says. “You love being on a stage with people who have got your back, who love you, you love them, you all make each other laugh. It’s a joy. It’s a luxury and a joy.”

“Also, I really want to get back into pottery,” she adds. Then she catches herself. “I’m pretty sure that’s actually a joke in Boogie Nights. Someone says they want to get into pottery, and you’re like, ‘Oh, honey.”

And, of course, there’s Loot, which she hopes will get renewed for a third season. There’s no shortage of material, after all, given Jeff Bezos’s and Elon Musk’s ongoing midlife crises. (“I’ve been noticing the Tesla Cybertrucks a lot lately,” she says, pulling up a picture of one of the Mad Max–style cars on her phone and snickering. “It looks like a little boy designed it.”)

It’s possible, also, that Loot’s stealth mission to change the world via Apple TV+ may be bearing fruit. Just the other day, Joel Kim Booster sent an article to the group chat about an Austrian heiress who, to make a statement about inherited wealth, announced that she’s recruiting 50 strangers to help her determine how to give away $27 million of her inheritance. “I have no idea if she’s a Loot fan…” he said.

But who knows? Anything can happen.

Photographs by Ruven Afanador
Styled by Rebecca Grice

Hair by John D at Forward Artists. Makeup by Molly R. Stern for Retrouvé at Forward Artists. Nails by Ashlie Johnson at the Wall Group. Tailoring by Kristine Gaplanyan for SCD Inc. Set design by Charlotte Malmlöf. Production by ViewfindersLA.

In the top image: Gucci cape gown ($12,000); Gucci Allegoria High Jewelry earrings and necklace.

This story appears in the May 2024 issue of Town & Country. SUBSCRIBE NOW

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