Chances are you’ll recognize David Krumholtz. He has a huge list of credits to his name with memorable roles in television and film. It will be a lot harder to recognize him as Gertrude Rotblum, aka Gigi. With a change of gender and age, David develops into Gigi for IFC’s Gigi Does It, a character based off his own grandmother who loses her beloved husband Harold and gains a new lease on life in his absence. The unexpected inheritance opens the door to complete her bucket list of missed opportunities and experiences.
I spoke with David about the origins of Gigi, the physical transformation, and the dangers of crossing the line when you’re changing genders.
How did the show develop and where did the inspiration come from?
Ricky Mabe, who plays Ricky on the show, and Zach Golden are two of the executive producers and creators that were involved in a weather website called WeatherFrom.com, the conceit being that you put in your zip code and instead of getting a regular weather report, a character would read you the report in a small one-minute vignette. We did that first and the character is still up online. Ricky knew I could do this, I don’t know how he knew; I must have done the impression of my grandmother a long time ago and he remembered it. Instead of going out and getting a real older woman, wouldn’t it be fun to get a man in drag? He reached out to me and I said I’d rather not do drag, but a couple of small prosthetic pieces to sell that she’s really a woman. Before you knew it, my whole face was covered in makeup – four and a half hours worth. Once WeatherFrom was a big success, we knew that there was a story to tell, every character has a story. So we abandoned the weather thing and went deeper into who she was, where she was from and what she wanted out of life. We all came up with this idea to create a series where you would get a slice of her life on a weekly basis.
How did you develop the different aspects of her character? Was it based on research or your own grandmother like you mentioned?
It was based on my grandmother and my mother, and for the most part, it’s gonna sound strange, but she kind of developed on her own. When I play the character, the character kind of tells me who she is, I channel something. I know it sounds super actor-y and gross, I hate hearing myself say it but I do channel a weird thing and I’m not exactly sure where it comes from; some deep, repressed part of me I suppose. She definitely teaches me who she is while I’m playing her and different things come out of her; both good and bad. There’s a lot of stuff that ended up on the cutting room floor that wasn’t appropriate for television or stuff that was more juvenile. She’s kind of a bratty 16-year old trapped in a 76-year old’s body.
It can be easy to oversell while wearing prosthetics and changing gender and age. You can fall into that trap of losing the satire and moving to a shtick too goofy for a real character’s story.
We were desperate while writing this to ground it in some sort of reality to make her feel like a real person, a real character instead of a caricature. At the same time we were having as much fun with it as possible, but trying to go away from the inherent joke of, “Grandma does non-grandma things.” Everything she does and accomplishes is in the perspective of what a grandma would do, what her tastes were, what she aimed for in life, rather than fitting her into some sort of comedy mold. We didn’t want the show to be one joke over and over again; we wanted emotional stakes so you’d care about her journey.
What was the creative process like? Did you enjoy throwing ideas out quickly or working things out while in costume and makeup?
It’s terribly challenging. Ricky and I go back awhile – I trust his sense of humor more than my own at times; I think he has a similar trust in me. For him and I the biggest challenge was in shooting the show. We were doing ten hours of improv a day, on our feet. It was based on outline, but when you’re dealing with real people all the rules go out the window; anything you might have planned gets turned on its head. Especially for me getting up in the middle of the night and getting into makeup for four and a half hours then doing ten hours of improv every day was really, really tough. About two hours in you’re kinda spent and somehow you have to find the other eight hours of material. We were lucky in that a lot of time the material kinda presented itself. When all else failed I just told fart jokes.
Have you ever had a role that demanded you changing physically? Did the four and a half hours of makeup give you a new perspective on that aspect of production?
The whole beautification thing is kind of a bit much, especially Gigi who comes from an era where you wouldn’t be caught dead without makeup. Thank God there’s less of that nowadays. The nails… I don’t know how women do that. They make eating gross and now with touch screens, how do they do it? I wore them for nine weeks off and on. I was in LA which is pretty liberal so no one questioned why I had two inch long, mint green fingernails.
How did the bucket list premise develop? Was it based on a driving force in the story?
Initially we pitched the show as a straight-up reality show. Gigi came into this money and would cross each item of the list. Then it sort of gestated towards a scripted/hybrid thing where we got to know her and developed an emotional motivation for each item. There was a reason she had something in her sights, which proved to be a lot more fun than doing twenty minutes of reality. We felt that was the best way to get her out of the house and give a backstory that she was making up for lost time and missed opportunities.
It is also very sweet because it makes you think of items on your own list.
We were very, very conscious of not having her jumping out of an airplane or the typical bucket list items. We wanted to be true to her character and motivation. The target audience on IFC is not the geriatric crowd but if we can get some of them it will make me personally happy. If I meet an old lady one day who comes up to me and says she was inspired to fulfill her bucket list because of the show, it will make me much happier than some hipster kid playing drinking games with it.
What do you have coming up?
I’m in this movie I Saw the Light which comes out at the end of the year with Tom Hiddleston playing Hank Williams Sr. I’m also in this Coen brothers film that’s really cool called Hail, Caesar! that’s out next year. I’m really excited for this animated movie called Sausage Party from Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. It’s like a really, filthy version of Toy Story with talking food instead of toys… I play a demonstrative, very disgruntled lettuce wrap.
Gigi Does It airs Thursday nights at 10:30pm ET/PT on IFC.