Jess Day had a high-school nemesis. It’s hard to believe that Jess — glitter-loving, always-hugging, everybody-get-along Jess — could have had a mortal enemy in her teenage years, but she did. Or, at least, she thinks she did. Ashley, played by It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Kaitlin Olson, doesn’t remember things the same way. Technically speaking, she doesn’t remember Jess, like, at all. Ashley, a recovered sex addict (it only took her four tries to break the habit!), is only back in Jess’s life because of the most awkward reason possible: She’s dating Jess’s dad (played by Rob Reiner). Olson talked to Vulture about teen mean-girls, playing drunk, and switching gears from a show where everyone is constantly vicious to the sunny, supportive universe of New Girl.
You play Jess’s high-school nemesis and her dad’s new girlfriend, which sounds like a very uncomfortable combination.
The way I was seeing it, or playing it, was that I kind of remembered her in high school but not really, so I love that she hated me and considered me a nemesis, but I didn’t remember her like that, which I find really insulting and hilarious. I was a year or two older than her in high school, and she’s going to make an attempt to be really nice to whoever this girlfriend is, because she’s been hard on her dad’s ex-girlfriends in the past, she’s going to be positive this time. And then they open the door and it’s me there. It’s really funny and cute, and it was a lot of fun, and working with Rob Reiner was amazing.
That is the ultimate insult: for her to think of you as a nemesis, and for her to have hardly been a blip on your high-school radar.
They’re talking about having all these terrible memories of me, and I was like, “Hi! I barely remember you!” Which is so rude.
Did you have a high-school nemesis?
I don’t know that I had a nemesis. I didn’t have many friends, so I don’t know that I had a nemesis. I was really shy and kept to the theater department. I was keeping my eyes down when I walked through the halls. So, no nemesis. Not in high school, anyway.
This sounds like there was a nemesis from another stage of life. A college nemesis?
No, much, much younger. Junior high and elementary school, those girls were so, so mean to me.
Middle-school girls are the meanest people on the planet. This is just an immutable fact of life.
They’re the worst! I don’t know what that is about. They were SO mean to me. Plus, I got in a huge accident right at the end of sixth grade going into seventh grade, and I had to shave my head. And it was a really terrible idea: to have a girl shave her head, with a scar on her head, right before starting a new school. That pretty much secured my place.
You would think that people would feel badly for you because you’d been in an accident. Other people would. But not middle-school kids.
I had, like, a hole in my head, and Casey Johnson threw jelly beans at me in the lunch line, trying to make them go into the hole in my head.
Oh, wow. That is terrible.
I know! It’ll always be Peggy Lee and Casey Johnson. And Matt Callahan, whom I was desperately in love with and did not know that I existed. Maybe he’s in love with me now!
Maybe they all watch Always Sunny and tell everyone they know that you were friends back in the day.
That’s the only reason I’m doing this.
Let’s talk about this element of being Jess’s dad’s girlfriend trying to make it work with her family. Has that ever been challenging for you: being the significant other and meeting a guy’s family for the first time?
Oh, no, there’s nothing I can tell you here. Maybe if you called another day!
You can just be really general! No one will know who you mean.
Blending families is challenging. Especially if you grow up on opposite coasts, with opposite backgrounds. So, yes, meshing two families together is always pretty interesting. Of course, I can relate to that. I got lucky, I love my in-laws.
Which do you think is harder: being the girlfriend or being the family member of someone introducing a girlfriend to you?
I think being the girlfriend, coming into a situation, especially into a big family, is always going to be intimidating. Because you’ve got a ton of people sizing you up. You’re walking into a room full of judging people.
I love that, of all the shows, you’re doing this guest role on New Girl, because it’s sort of the inverse of Always Sunny: On New Girl, everyone is so nice and is just trying to do the right thing and make everyone else happy. And on Always Sunny, everyone is depraved and trying to be terrible to each other.
Oh yeah, it’s the total opposite [from Always Sunny]. I’m playing this character [on New Girl] who is so sweet and positive and happy and, to some extent, clueless to how Cece and Jess feel about her. Plus, this show takes time to light properly. Everyone looks good! You get to do take after take after take. At my show, we just speed along at lightning speed. No one cares if you look good.
What surprised you the most about your experience on the New Girl set?
What always surprises me, when we do anything other than my show, is how slowly everything moves. There’s money to take your time. We, on my show, move so quickly, I’m just running around all day for ten or 12 hours, and I’m exhausted. This is a lot of waiting around and chatting. It gave me time to talk to Zooey and Hanna and Rob Reiner. He had a million amazing stories. I was just enamored with him. He’s directed so many of the best movies.
When you met him, did you just go full-fangirl?
I’m way too cool for that. I let it kind of seep out day two or three. He right away was just so warm and friendly. I told him I took this part because I was so excited to make out with him.
That’s probably the best way to introduce yourself.
You might as well throw it out there. “I was promised full-frontal nudity with you, and that’s why I accepted the part.” It was interesting, I’m not around a ton of people where I’m like, “Oh my god, I love everything you’ve ever done!”
Well, usually you’re around people you’ve been working with forever. And in this case — I really can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I don’t know if I can avoid it — you have to be the new girl.
And I’m pretty aware of this when we have guest-stars on our show: It’s very hard to come onto a show that’s up and running and into a groove and trying to fit in. You really do feel like the new kid, and I always forget that. They could not have been lovelier or warmer or more complimentary. There’s nothing that relaxes an actor more than that kind of environment.
What was it like to work with Rob Reiner?
We were sitting at the dinner table and they wanted me to try something in a different way and he’s like, “Do the When Harry Met Sally thing!” Like, I’m doing what he said, yes, of course, just tell me what to do! Just put me in your next movie!
Really, you’re making it so easy for him to cast his next movie, just by being there.
We should have each other’s cell-phone numbers. We’re best friends now. I’ll probably show up at his house and peer in windows. I wasn’t invited, but I’ll be there.
What can people expect from the next season of Always Sunny?
It’s just another great season. Rob [McElhenney] has been in the editing room since we finished shooting in the summer. He finally just brought home one episode when the five of us are drunk in the entire episode. I’m excited to see them. I love this show so much. I don’t know what I’ll do without it.
Do you ever actually drink when you’re playing drunk?
In season one, there is a scene where I was very self-conscious about playing drunk, so I thought, This is a good idea, I’ll have a couple drinks first. It is NOT actually a good idea. You’re drunk. You can’t make smart choices. So, no, I don’t really. But I’ve got a lot of experience to draw upon. The good thing is, I’m not doing a dramatic, cinematic spectacular. I’m doing a stupid, bad drunk, so I just embrace it. I think the sillier, the better.
That’s probably for the best.
You know who does the best drunk performance? Glenn Howerton, Dennis. He’ll do a drunk that is so real and so legitimately drunk-looking that it’s creepy and upsetting.
What is his secret to drunk-acting?
He’ll tell you that it’s Juilliard. [Ed. note: It turns out this is true!]
So what’s your go-to method to play drunk?
Once I do a couple gags and head shakes and deep drunk sounds, I just repeat them over and over. Mix up the order and there you go, drunk scene! My parents will be so proud.
And your nemesis will be so jealous!
That BITCH. You know who you are.