On Wednesday night’s season premiere of Key & Peele, Luther, President Obama’s anger translator, met his match in the form of Hillary Clinton’s own anger translator, played by Stephnie Weir, an old colleague of the duo from their days on MADtv. While on that show, Weir created outlandish characters like Dot Goddard, Leona Campbell, and Vera Magnus; more recently, she just wrapped a season of FX’s The Comedians. A few days before the premiere, Vulture spoke to Weir over the phone to discuss her role in bringing Angry Hillary to life.
You go back with Key and Peele a long way.
I knew those guys from Chicago, at Second City. Keegan [Key] I met at Second City, and Jordan [Peele] was at IO in Chicago. I knew Jordan a little bit more, but I was a big fan of both of them. I’d heard how fantastic Keegan was. He was on the Detroit stage, I was on the Chicago stage, and everybody just raved about him. His reputation preceded him. You know how sometimes people can build somebody up and you’re ready to be like, “Yeah, I’ll judge for myself”? But I have to say, he’s such an original. He just doesn’t do mean-spirited sketch comedy, which is rare. Like, even if his character is saying something mean, somehow he manages to make it sound likable. He left a real impression with me. Jordan felt like a 12-year-old. I’m sure he was older than that. He was just original in a whole different way from Keegan. Everything out of his brain was something I hadn’t seen before. He did a show with Rebecca Drysdale [a future K&P writer] called “Two White Guys,” and it remains one of the best two-person sketch shows I’ve ever seen. It was polished and original, and it flowed from one scene to the next. Nothing was cliché.
Working with them on MADtv, I thought some of the stuff they brought to the show, even the stuff that didn’t get on the air, was so original. And they connected on that show, and it became apparent that these guys really work well together. I’d kind of given up on sketch. When I decided to leave MADtv, I didn’t really have another job lined up or anything, but I had gotten bored with it. It was kind of like, oh, there’s nothing new I’m interested in seeing. Just like anything, you need to go replenish the well. Their show, when it came out, I was just taken right away. It was like nothing I’d ever seen. It’s always exciting and surprising when you can rediscover a form.
How did you get brought on to do the anger translator?
They reached out to me. I was such a fan of the show. I wanted to do it, but I’m always like, I don’t want to step into something I don’t think I can pull off. Especially when the bar is so high. I’m such a huge fan of Luther, so it was a treat to play a counterpart of that character in that world. And that was really it: They just asked me, and I said yes.
What was the process of building that character like?
It was kind of sticking your toe in the water and finding out where they wanted me to go. Did they want an exact mirror of Luther? He’s so bold, so you need an energy that matches him. I was trying to find whether they wanted me to play it really big and brash or tone it down. Just being willing to go out there and give 110 percent, and then not being embarrassed if somebody said, “Hey, that’s too much, you need to pull it back.” Which is always the scariest part. You have to take some big risks, and then you have to be okay with yourself if it didn’t go over well. There were quite a few different takes, and my guess is that they just picked the balls-out, aggressive, white-trashy cuckoo-bird version.
How did you land on that specific version of trashy?
I’m southern, so that kinda comes out. There’s something about playing opposite Luther, my register just kept mirroring his. And I kept checking in and saying, “Is this okay?” And that’s where it landed. I’m leaning into the idea that they’re from Arkansas, and there’s some trashy nugget of her that lies behind Hillary’s exterior. And Kate Burton is so stellar at Hillary. It was a weird energy to be behind someone who’s doing such a grounded, fantastic job, and you’re flying around on another planet.
Zadie Smith has a quote about Luther where she says he “seems to articulate an unspoken longing among many Obama supporters” for the president to show his real emotions. Do you think Hillary’s struggling with that same thing?
There’s part of Hillary that would probably love to roll up her sleeves, pull her earrings out, and take down her naysayers. Like, “Let’s do this, I’ve had enough. You wanna go at it, let’s go at it.” She’s never been a prissy, stand-by-her-man type of woman. She’s got that bitchy side to her that every woman has. She’ll cast out her fine education and her intelligence and just get guttural.
It’s hard because society still isn’t comfortable with a woman showing anger.
For sure. I don’t know when that will change. She’s in such a tough position. There’s a sexy element to a man who’s just like, “Here it is.” It’s refreshing. In your head, you’re like, look at him go! But for women, it really falls into that, Oh, it’s hysteria. There’s something hormonal about it, instead of strapping into your power. She has got the toughest job, of walking that fine line, like, “Hey, I can do this,” and also having to play a courtesy for us to feel comfortable. She can’t win for losing.
Keegan did Luther with Obama at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner this year. If she wins, would you do the same for Hillary?
Oh my gosh, even if she doesn’t win. I won’t be asked, but I will be there in a terrible powder-blue tacky outfit, just in case!