Dylan Gelula is in on the joke. That’s also true of Support the Girls, an indie feature that outwardly appears to be a comedy about the hijinks at a Hooters-esque wing shack in rural Texas, but is actually the most ruthlessly honest film about capitalism to come out of the American film industry in years.
It’s also true of Gelula in a more holistic sense, as an actress who’s spent no small part of her career lampooning the idea of being a hot young actress. She got an early break on the ill-fated sitcom Jennifer Falls as a more complicated take on the typical exasperated teen daughter, and then landed a key role in the riotously funny yet short-lived Filthy Preppy Teen$, in which she strung up adolescent soaps like Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars by their plaid tie belts. But most viewers know her as The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s Xanthippe, a fun-house mirror take on the sort of spoiled Manhattan high-schooler vomiting onto Upper East Side streets out of the rear window of an UberBlack. Before she swapped it out for something a bit more professional, Gelula’s Twitter bio read “I’ve been good looking my entire life,” a digital deadpan somewhere between sarcasm and sincerity.
Directed by Andrew Bujalski, Support the Girls brings her another role in this particular register as the new hire at Double Whammies who’s got a mind for making money. (In her job interview: “I’m, like, a marketing major, so professionalism is huge for me.”) In her onscreen work as well as her forays into the world of comedy writing, Gelula has thrived when her audience can’t tell whether she’s messing with them or not. In a chat with Vulture, Gelula spoke about the making of Support the Girls, going blonde, her antipathy for the Steve Martin–Queen Latifah buddy comedy Bringing Down the House, and searching for validation online.
When you first looked at the script for Support the Girls, what jumped out that made you want to be part of it?
I vividly remember reading it. I’m sent scripts all the time, and mostly, they’re not even things I could be part of. But I just like reading through everything. This one was in my big to-read stack, and I remember immediately thinking, “Oh my god, I can’t believe nobody’s ever made a movie about this before. This is exactly how I want to spend my time.” And it was all I could think about, all day, every day. I bothered several different agents about it every single day for about three months until the producers let me be in it. I aggressively chased down as many people as I could until I got a part. If I wasn’t in this movie and found out it existed, I’d drive very far to see it. I can’t say that about a lot of things.
It’s an odd creature — it looks like a broad crowd-pleaser, but there’s a lot of politicized content right beneath the surface.
I don’t know that I was attracted to it politically; it’s more that when something’s well-written, it has to be political, because we’re living under late capitalism and absolutely everything is colored by that — the service industry more than anything else.
Have you worked in the service industry in the past?
A little bit. I worked at a restaurant when I moved to L.A., and I totally lied in the interview. I said that I’d worked at a restaurant I had made up and used my mom’s number as the contact info. I was like, “Sure, I know how to use this system!” and then when it was clear that I didn’t, I got fired. I lasted about three weeks! It wasn’t terrible. It was fine, not quite as rough as Double Whammies. I think the girls who work in that restaurant — and it’s not far from any other waitressing job — are really overlooked and underestimated.
I was looking up some of your interviews, and I found one from four years ago where you mentioned that your favorite music at the time was coming from Junglepussy, who ended up being your co-star on this film. Were you starstruck when you met her?
Is that for real? That’s so embarrassing! Shayna [McHayle] already knows that I was obsessed with her, but I had no idea there’s video evidence. That came up so often on set, though. At first, I didn’t even realize she was going to be in it. I saw who else was going to be in the movie, and it just said “Shayna McHale,” so I Googled her and nothing came up. I assumed she must just be starting out. Then, somehow, I figured out she was Junglepussy and I started to freak. She is incredible, so hugely talented — the dynamic was very much “Dylan’s your biggest fan.” She is a lot cooler than me.
I wanted to ask about the past season of Kimmy Schmidt, in which your character had a pregnancy scare. I see that as being of a piece with the episode from the previous season, where Kimmy meets your character’s woke friends at her college. Do you find that the work you take often ends up as a comment on being a millennial?
Maybe just by virtue of those being the roles I’m cast in. Nobody’s going to cast me to play someone’s grandfather, as much as I might want to. But when adults write about millennials, it’s hard for it not to look like a judgment on the whole group, even when the story’s more specific.
I feel like I’m subjected to so many articles about millennials and what we’re doing and what it all means, it’s driving me kind of crazy. Is that something you think about?
Maybe, if I read the news more? I guess I’m not plugged in enough.
That might be for the best. If your answer to anything is “I don’t spend enough time on Twitter to know what you’re talking about,” you’re probably doing something right.
I really don’t spend a lot of time on Twitter! I go there to tweet a joke and get validated, but I don’t look at anyone else’s stuff. And yet I get very upset if people don’t like mine.
But even though I know it’s dumb and evil, I can’t help but get invested! How does a person break out of that cycle?
Oh, I have no idea! You’re asking an actor how to stop desperately needing constant validation? I don’t fuckin’ know! I am on Twitter only because it is socially inappropriate for me to ask people point-blank, “I’m funny, right? You like me?”
You’ve played troublemaker-type girls in Kimmy Schmidt, Casual, and Flower — is the pattern deliberate? No actor wants to be typified, but is this the kind of role you go for?
Eh, I guess? My dream is to play, like, a Republican. Who’s in a sorority! Because I know what it means to be disaffected and weird and isolated, but I want to know the rest of the range of experience. The last movie I did, Her Smell, I had to dye my hair blonde. Now I’m keeping it blonde in the hopes that that might change things. But people see right through me. “You! You’re Jewish. You’re from the East Coast.”
Has life been radically different now that you’re a blonde?
No. I thought it would be, but I am still depressed.
When you’re not working, how do you decompress from the stress?
I don’t know. I think about it all the time. I don’t know how people can do that. I don’t know how you can be in your early 20s and building a career and then be like [does funny dumb-person voice], “Oh, I can switch off, time for family!” I’m trying really hard. I keep waking up at four in the morning, thinking of things. I’m very stressed out, but I feel like I’m at a time in my life where that’s fine.
I’m sure it’s to a lesser extent, but I feel that same way, and I’ve always kind of assumed I’d grow out of it. Like, by my 30s, this sort of neurosis will just have cleared up.
Probably! I’m thinking that once you’re in your 30s, you’ve fully embraced that nothing matters and none of us matter at all and so from there it’s pretty low-pressure.
Yes! I am down to embrace the void.
I would like to embrace the void, and then die.
Not to bring everything back to being a millennial, but: that kind of joking despair about basic existence seems to be the big unifying factor for our age bracket. I’ve always wondered why that is.
Oh my god, yeah. My brother is a lot smarter than I am, he lives in Chicago and works with the DSA and has spent his whole life thinking about things that matter, whereas I’m like, “I wrote a short today!” He was telling me he was reading something about classist societies and that one of the surest sociological symptoms of this is the feeling that everything is surreal. Everything is funny, but in a delirious way. I saw Bernie Sanders tweeting that Cardi B is right — do you remember? — and I thought I was hallucinating. Donald Trump is president? What?! [Laughter.]
I read that they’re making a TV show out of the song “Hey There, Delilah.”
At first, I laugh at these things, and then it’s just pure fear.
I went to Los Angeles for the first time this past January. I understand you moved there from Philly; what’s your opinion of the city’s culture?
I hate it here. Everybody’s dumb, and nice. Are you from the East Coast?
Right, so you know: Your dreams are something to be mocked, and I need you to get out of my way.
You strike me as someone allergic to the actorly taking-yourself-seriously thing, but judging from your filmography, you clearly take your work pretty seriously.
I have really low self-esteem, so taking myself seriously is not an option. But I take my work seriously for no other reason than it makes me feel fulfilled. I don’t think I’m changing anything. I don’t think I matter to anyone but myself. But I feel good when I’m really sinking into a role. That’s the end of it. I don’t think acting matters. I could be replaced with someone else tomorrow. It’s weird, because when I say things like this, that acting doesn’t matter, people want to console me, like, “Aw, no,” but it’s true! And that’s okay.
What’s the movie that you’ve rewatched the most?
Hmm. It’d have to be White Chicks. It’s terrible. I’ve seen it so many times since I was a child. And before that would’ve been Coming to America, with Eddie Murphy. I saw that for the first time when I was 6 years old, and I was instantly obsessed with it. But my most-watched movie would probably have to be something embarrassing, like how your most-played song on Spotify is always something lame. The other day, with some of my friends, I rewatched Bringing Down the House. Have you seen that movie?
Is that the one with Queen Latifah?
It’s her and Steve Martin. Do you remember how fucking crazy and racist this movie is? Steve Martin’s a lawyer who’s been having a romantic online relationship with “lawyergirl1” or whoever, then when she shows up at his door, it’s Queen Latifah, and we’re all supposed to be shocked that she’s black. Chaos ensues! The premise of the movie is “what if a white accountant had a black friend?”
Betty White calls her a Negro a bunch of times! The whole movie is so very racist. Eugene Levy’s the one who gets to deliver the iconic line, “You got me straight trippin’, boo.” He’s got a crush on Queen Latifah and believes the way to her heart is talking like that. The last shot of the movie is him getting cornrows.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.