Fox cop comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine could do for Andy Samberg what Parks and Recreation did for Amy Poehler: prove that the former Saturday Night Live star can hold TV viewers’ attention for more than three minutes at a time. Brooklyn Nine-Nine, from Parks executive producers Michael Schur and Dan Goor, casts Samberg as a goofy but skilled detective who will have some growing up to do under his new boss (played by Andre Braugher).
You’re engaged to harpist-singer-songwriter Joanna Newsom. How’s the wedding planning going?
No, it's going well. Thank you for asking.
You just finished promoting Lonely Island’s The Wack Album and now you’re filming a new show, so I wondered if you were pitching in.
I am helping, but I think it's good that I'm busy because if I was trying to help too much I would get in the way of the wonderful vision that is hers, not mine. I'm trying to think of a good analogy. It's like, “Don't ask a finger painter to come in when you've got Picasso there.” I'm the finger painter. Maybe I should have said a female painter. It’s like, “Don't ask a photo booth guy to take the photo when Diane Arbus is right there.” I couldn’t think of a female painter.
I loved the song she wrote, "Esme," which Mike White used to close out one of the best episodes of TV ever on Enlightened.
We cried, it was so good. I love Mike White. I've never worked with him, but I've hung out with him and met him socially many times. He's the best.
I was pretty torn up when HBO canceled it after two seasons.
Yeah, there was like a national, "WHAT?!" I actually, through mutual friends, had dinner with Laura Dern right after it got nominated for a bunch of awards. It was the first time I had met her and she was like, "Yeah, it's great that we got nominated. What the hell was HBO thinking?"
You portrayed a lovable underachiever in last year’s Celeste and Jesse Forever (co-starring and co-written by Rashida Jones). It was pretty low-key, relative to your previous work. Did you see Brooklyn as another opportunity to stretch?
Yeah, and it’s definitely a challenge for me, because I have less experience with it. But if you can pull off those dramatic moments, it makes everything else funnier. Mike Schur told me that one of the reasons he thought of me for this show was because he watched Celeste and Jesse and he felt that I pulled off some emotional scenes there well. I told Rashida, “Hey, thanks! Thanks for the hookup.”
What have you learned about cops so far?
One thing I’ve learned is that with a lot of cops, having a normal life or any kind of home or social life is really challenging. You’ll see my character, Jake, deal with that. It’s stuff The Wire touched on a lot. Those great scenes with McNulty and Kima where they’re commiserating about how hard it is to keep a relationship going. Hopefully we’ll be doing that on Brooklyn, in a funnier way.
In the first episode, you try to show up the new captain (Braugher) by wearing a Speedo to work.
I’ve worn far less on SNL, and that’s in front of a studio audience.
So doing it for Andre — no big deal.
Everyone keeps saying they find Andre intimidating, but I don’t find him the least bit intimidating. Probably because he is extremely nice to me.
It took you a couple of days after you got the offer for the show to sign on. Did you have reservations?
Well, I hadn’t seen a script. And I just did seven years on SNL. There was no doubt in my mind I wanted to work with Mike and Dan and that I liked the premise of the show, but if it works, it will be years of my life. I needed to talk to my lady [fiancée Joanna Newsom]. I also have another love story in my life, which is with [Lonely Island’s] Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone, and I needed to talk to them. Our goal and hope is to still be working together for our whole lives.
What did they say?
Well, they gave me shit. We all give each other shit any time one of us takes a job and the other two aren’t involved, just the nature of being three best friends.
So when Jorma got a role on Girls …
Oh, yeah. Are you kidding? Showing his ass and everything? He hasn’t heard the end of it. I’d love for him to do something on Brooklyn, actually. He grew up in theater, so he wouldn’t be shy about Speedos. Or showing his butt and maybe even the shadow of his balls on Girls.
I didn’t look that closely.
Oh, I did! Best believe I frame-by-framed that. I really didn’t. I wanted it to end as soon as it started.
Can we talk a little bit about the origins of "Cherry Battle"? I've watched it many, many times. It is the best.
Thank you! That was so last minute, that thing. Me and Akiva had been up all night, two nights straight, and coming up empty. At one point, I was like, "What if we were just spitting cherries? Bright red against black in super slow-mo. It could be like spitting cherries back and forth at each other and catching them in our mouths." And then we were like, "Yeah, yeah, and we could put really epic gladiator music." [Laughs.] "Maybe it's a gladiator thing and we treat it like it's this ancient Roman competition." I can't remember when we thought of the best part, which is the cherry singing. I don't remember when we thought of that. It maybe came of the fact that I knew I wanted to have that choir boy falsetto music in it, like [he sings] Aaahhhhhhhhh-aaaaaahhhh-aahhhhhhh.
What did Gabourey Sidibe say about it?
She was immediately into it. When we were shooting it, she was like, "This is funny. Weird as shit, but it's funny." We had no idea what it was gonna end up being when we finished cutting it. We was like, "The footage looks great! We're definitely spitting cherries into each other's mouths!" But I was blown away actually because it's not like we actually spit cherries into each other's mouths, you know? Akiva did such an amazing job editing that thing. That's the other beauty of doing it against black, he was able to do that split screen and then run half of it in reverse, so there's moments where the cherries crest, you know what I mean? He would have to take each cherry individually and move it to the exact moment where the cherry crosses the plain so it looks like it's on a clear trajectory, thus creating the illusion of a constant flow of cherry-spitting. Nice.
This interview is an expanded version of the one that originally appeared in the September 2 issue of New York Magazine.