If you haven’t seen the latest NBC webseries “In Gayle We Trust,” you really should check it out. Each episode is several minutes long, and contain a delightful look into the life of Gayle (an insurance agent), played by the wonderful and talented Elisa Donovan. It is the brainchild of Brent Forrester, a writer for The Office. I recently had the chance to participate in a Q&A with the former star of “Clueless,” where she spoke about her inspiration for the way she plays Gayle, working with kids, and how great it is to finally be playing a nice protagonist.
On juggling family and work: Well, you know, it’s funny, Brent does have children, yes, the creator and director. I don’t have children but every – all of my friends who – many of my friends do have children – and they have all responded so strongly. I mean it’s really funny because I think all right well, I mean, I’m having a great time with having a child onscreen but I don’t have the actual experience of it. And in particular one girlfriend of mine in New York, (Eileen), who’s a teacher, called me and was just in hysterics and she said this is what we do with our – this is what we do with my son at the table. And she has literally had that experience with the voices and the things. And she is like oh I can’t even tell you how great it is. And she passes it on to all of her, you know, her associates because she’s a kindergarten teacher. And everyone clearly has had that experience before. And, you know, I have nieces and nephews and friend’s kids but that’s what I’m drawing from.
Favorite insurance moment on the show: Oh I love, I mean, they’re all hilarious but I love the man who comes into get insurance for his dog. When he – in case, you know, in the unlikely event of his demise. And it’s hilarious because he’s clearly delusional first of all but he thinks that the dog is completely in love with him and, you know, needs his companionship and then you realize that the dog has simply left the building and is desperately trying to get away from this man. So I think it’s really, you know, it is something that I’ve realized and people who deal in insurance that you are really dealing with people’s personalities and their fears and their, you know, their apprehension at losing they love and it gets incredibly personal which is really something that I never thought about it from that angle. So we kind of exacerbate that dynamic to the fullest. But it is pretty real, you know, because people are talking about losing things that they love so it – it’s pretty I guess it can be pretty intense.
On playing a sweet character vs. a saucy one: You know, that’s so funny, I’ve been asked that before and well I have to say I am really pleased to be playing such a nice person now because it’s nice to take, you know, you take these characters home with you and you live with them. And it’s amazing how – what a difference it is to bring home such a nice person who’s happy to be there and everybody’s happy to see her. And it really is a very different experience. But I love being, you know, the spice in the soup which is Amber or Morgan or those kinds of characters but they are, you know, they generally are – they are the spice in the soup so you can have too much of them or else it overpowers everything. But somebody like Gayle is just, you know, she can be around all the time because everybody loves her. You know, and she’s just as flawed as everyone else but she’s, you know, the hero. And I love it; it’s been so much fun. I base her a lot on my mom. And my mom is not from the Midwest but she has this just relentlessly positive attitude that, you know, you could just see the edges of her patience being stretched after, you know, an inordinate amount of pressure. So I kind of base Gayle on my mom who I love being around so.
On how her previous roles have helped her prepare for this one: I think they made me deserving of this one – to finally get to play someone nice. You know, when you – I always approach characters from the opposite place so, you know, if you’re playing somebody, you know, it’s the old idea of like if you’re playing Iago in Shakespeare who’s this horrible, horrible man you have to see, you know, the human side of him or why he does these things. So, you know, that’s an extreme example but you look at the opposite side of things. So in terms of Gayle or Amber or Morgan I would just always see them as these very human people who just had different, you know, had specific needs and saw the world from a certain perspective. And so with Gayle, you know, maybe her – I sometimes look at her relentless positivity as, you know, maybe she’s just afraid of losing some things on the other side so she, you know, doesn’t want to hurt people. And you kind of look at it from the opposite perspective so that there’s a certain level. Because, you know, if you watch Gayle there is just a little bit of impatience that comes up towards the ends of certain episodes. And you see, you know, she does have a boiling point; she’s certainly human. But, you know, she has a bit more patience than most.
On what she has learned about kids: In particular I just love Shane, he’s just a doll, this kid. And I have definitely learned that, you know, it’s really easy to be the onscreen mom or the buddy and you can, you know, they look up to you. And I really have learned the difference between having to – the amount of patience and time and nurturing it takes to really have a child. Like I only have them, you know, when I work with them for 12 hours or day or really eight hours I think is what kids – that’s the most they can work. And I realize how impressionable they are, you know, and how you can – anything that you say they really pick up. And with Shane in particular he’s so – I just – I really, really adore him and we had a great rapport immediately. And he’s really – he’s really curious and really smart. And he’s one of these kids that is – he’s unusual. I think I was an unusual kid. And so I – unusual meaning that he’s really perceptive and he talks about, you know, feelings and things he observes. And he’s a really great kid. And, you know, it teaches – I think it just teaches me about life and, you know, in general. So I’m enjoying it.
On whether or not she hopes this will become a 22 minute comedy series: …like yes it is the hope. I mean, I think ultimately that would – that’s probably the goal in the traditional sense but I really think that, you know, this is such uncharted territory so I think nobody really quite knows where all of this stuff, you know, where it’s headed. But certainly, yeah of course, you know, I would love to make Gayle a half-hour sitcom that’s in primetime, absolutely I would love that because, you know, you reach a wider audience sort of in a more saturated way. And you know, then the budgets get bigger, everything kind of gets easier. But, you know, I would also love to do it again just as it is because ultimately you just want to work with great people and on material that you love. And in this case that’s absolutely what it was for me. I mean, (Francis) just a gorgeous human being and a great man and super kind and uber-talented. So, you know, you – for me that’s more what it’s about. And then you want to reach people. So certainly, you know, we don’t want to do it in a vacuum. You know, I don’t know if that’s even a consideration, you know, I don’t know if that’s something that they look at when they create these things. I think it starts, you know, as it is and then you see what happens.
On how hard it is to tell a story in 5 minutes or less: This is where Brent is a genius and where the writing is just the most – one of the most important elements because you really do have to have an entire arc in a couple of pages. And, you know, I – that is completely Brent genius. It’s more like a sketch really in that, you know, structurally speaking. So you have to really distill down what it’s about. So you know, okay, this particular scene is about Gayle trying to tell these two people that they can’t come in here anymore for their relationship issues. So you know from the beginning that’s what it is. And you have to get to that point really – like everything has to kind of go there directly. And the humor then comes out of it. So it’s – I guess what you have to do is be really laser-focused in what the intention is in this scene so that it doesn’t meander because you don’t have time, you know, you don’t have time to kind of let something develop; you have to know what it is immediately. And it’s really fun in that way too because it’s very clear and you know in the writing exactly where you’re going. And that’s super important like I can’t stress that enough that the writing is really important. As much as in certain – some of the episodes we improv’d a little more than others and, you know, went off script which Brent wanted us to do. But that was really only possible because he had created the structure that was very clear.
On the similarities and differences between her and Gayle: Okay well I think the similarities are I really do just love people. And I think I generally am a person that likes to – that cares about people, that is interested in their welfare, that I have a real support – I’m a really generous and supportive person so I think those are definite similarities. The differences I would say is I have – my patience is not nearly as extensive as Gayle’s. I am a bit more – my sense of humor is – is maybe – I wouldn’t say more biting but definitely I think I’m a little – I might be a little more combative than Gayle I would say. I think most people are. She was, you know, bordering on sainthood I think.
On what sort of research she did for the part: I was given some information about, you know, the American Family and the insurance company that were working with. So I knew kind of what sort of – what their brand means and what their way of working is and how they deal with clients and I had to learn about what’s, you know, what’s confidential information and how to – how they deal with their own clients and that kind of thing. And then in terms of other research it’s more, you know, being a parent, that’s – I just talked to other parents and things like that.
On her own problem-solving abilities: I would like to think that I’m brilliant at it; I’m not sure I am. But I definitely do play the role of people – I wouldn’t say coming to me for advice necessarily but more for support and insight. I certainly do play that role I think in a lot of my friendships. But I have – my friendships are that way like we’re very supportive of one another and very verbal also in that way. So it’s a really open dialogue. But I definitely think that, you know, and with a lot of younger people for whatever reason I’ve always been that way, you know, where young people – and I don’t know, you know, it could be because of the roles that I’ve played not the specific roles but the shows and the movies, you know, between Sabrina and Clueless especially that, you know, that age group of people they kind of always, you know, look to those characters – look up to those people. So I think I’ve always kind of, you know, been a little bit of a role model and not to sound too egotistical here but, you know, where girls do – they ask me questions and things. So even in that capacity yeah I have – I do kind of play that role.
On her favorite resident of Maple Grove: Oh that’s a good question. You know what, I’d have to say my – well aside from my husband and my son I would have to say my rival because he just really, really needs a lot of love; he needs a lot of – a lot of support. And I think that, you know, Gayle is really the person to get him on the right road.
New episodes of “In Gayle We Trust,” air every Tuesday night on nbc.com. Also, look for a great giveaway from the show!