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Erinn Hayes on Medical Police and How to Soften Up a TV Bitch

Erinn Hayes. Photo: Cassidy Sparrow/Getty Images

Erinn Hayes has done it all. On Netflix’s new Childrens Hospital spinoff premiering tomorrow, Medical Police, she jumps out of a plane, impersonates an interior decorator, and visits water parks across Europe. The globetrotting mystery parodies big ensemble global conspiracy shows like Blindspot and Manifest, and reunites cast and crew from the dearly departed Adult Swim show. Hayes’s Lola Spratt joins Rob Huebel’s Dr. Owen Maestro to make the dumbest jokes and save the dumbest version of the world you’ve ever seen. (Yes, even dumber than the world we currently inhabit.)

Beyond her new show, Hayes has done everything from starring in prestige dramedies (The Dangerous Book for Boys) to being killed off between seasons on a sitcom (Kevin Can Wait). She spoke with Vulture about how to sell a joke while commenting on it, Kevin Can F*** Himself, and how things are improving for bitches on TV.

What was it like coming back to this character and this crew after such a long time?
It was such a dream to come back to work with everybody. And truly, it was so much of the same crew from Childrens Hospital. Not just the cast, and not just the executive producers, but the camera guys and our set designers. Everybody was back. It felt like not much time had passed, so it didn’t make sense that we look older. We didn’t skip a beat. The tone didn’t need to be explained, or how we do things. It felt nice and easy.

You’ve said before that shooting Childrens Hospital has a summer-camp vibe, because you would always do it between shooting other things. Was doing it with Netflix more of a big production?
One-hundred percent. For Childrens Hospital, we shot six weeks a year, and it was usually either over our Christmas break or over the summer. You’d be in certain days, and then you’d be off for a few days. And this is ten half-hour episodes, where I was in every single day. It felt much more legitimate, and was a little bit bigger production. It had the same kind of, Hey let’s make a show! kind of vibe.

You are basically the star this time. You have the big emotional arc in Medical Police, which is a big departure. Childrens Hospital didn’t have a lot of continuity. What was that like?
It was quite a shift. Childrens Hospital didn’t have any episode-to-episode through line. There were a couple of things that were always the same: We’re always in Brazil, we’re always doctors. But you could be married to someone in one episode, and the next episode is set in the ’40s or something. So it was only tricky in the way that we had to put more thought into, “Wait, where did we end the last scene? What is the arc of the whole series? How confused should I be at this point?” Because we had actual facts to figure out: “How sick should this person be? How far along are they with this virus?” That was the one part that definitely veered away from the Childrens Hospital experience.

But it’s fun. It’s exciting to take the world of Childrens Hospital and give it a more global feel. If we’d just come back and made more episodes, people might have been excited about that. But this is the same tone, the same characters, and feels like the natural progression for it.

Speaking of making the show more global, what was your favorite “L.A. is doubling for a place around the world” moment?
Oh my God. Well, we shot on this set, out in Santa Clarita. I think it was supposed to be the Sudan. And it’s the set that they built for American Sniper. So it was made for this big, Oscar-bait movie, really serious, and we’re there making jokes about the dumbest stuff. It was also China; it was a bunch of locations for us. But we’re there making the dumbest jokes in the same building where Bradley Cooper was just emoting his heart out.

Is there a difference in the way you approach acting on a straight sitcom vs. acting on this Airplane-style deadpan parody?
For sure. It’s tricky, because with a comedy, you take a joke and play the joke for what it is. You do it as best you can, because you have a fresh take on it or something. But with this style of humor, which is more meta, you have to know, first of all, what the joke is. Because it’s usually some hack joke that’s been done a million times. And then you have to have an opinion on that joke. So you’re playing the joke and the commentary on the joke at the same time, which is a much different preparation. You want to call attention to how stupid and how hack the joke is, but you still want the joke to be funny.

We had a while doing Childrens Hospital to get the way the guys wanted us to do it, or find a way that worked for us. I think some of the guest stars had a trickier time, because they would come in, and about halfway through the day would be like, “Ohhh, I see what we’re doing here.” Maybe they hadn’t watched the show before. But then, every single one of them turned up and was fantastic.

Stepping away from Medical Police, you’ve said before that you often get cast in one of two roles: the bitch that needs to be softened up, or the woman who makes the irresponsible dad seem like not a monster.
I have done my share of those, yes.

How do you make those fun for you?
It’s interesting, because I think in more recent years — Huge in France being one of them, and then a couple pilots I did — I’m just now coming to roles where they’re just letting me be a bitch. And that’s been so fun. Because I think certain times, writers will write a script, and they have this character that they want to be a bitch. But then they get this studio note that says, “She’s just a little too mean. Can we make her a little softer?” So instead of doing it in the writing, they will just cast someone who has kind of a softer feel. They’ll be like “Can you play that line nicer?” And I’m like, “But the line is written so harshly! I’ll give it a shot.”

It’s tricky sometimes, but I do prefer that one, Soften Up a Bitch. I prefer that to the ones where you have to make the audience love the goofy guy. That one’s a little harder, because it requires a little more suspension of your own disbelief. That woman would have left that guy a long time ago.

I’ve been rewatching The Simpsons on Disney+, and the whole Homer and Marge dynamic is so much more troubling as an adult.
Oh my God, that’s what it is, right? She’s a delightful character in her own right. So I think that’s what you have to hope for. It is what it is. There are those people that are never going to leave the goofy guy, and so you have to find what that is. You have to find the love that’s there, make that person a flawed person as well — that’s the easiest way to do it. Because if they’re just some saint that is putting up with all of this nonsense, then it’s harder for the audience. But if they’re a little messed up as well, then you go “Well, these are two people [who belong together]. The guy does wackier stuff, but the woman is no saint herself.”

How do you imbue that character with flaws? Do you work with the writers, or is it some secret actor’s choice?
It’s a constant conversation with the producers and writers. Sometimes something can be written straight as the wife supporting the husband. And you can play it like she’s commenting on that. I ask, “Hey, can I play this ironically, and give her a bit of a sideways glance in the way I deliver it?” Which has made me feel better about delivering things like that. Make her a little smarter, like she knows what’s going on and chooses to participate.

Since Kevin Can F*** Himself was announced, Vulture has been heavily campaigning for you to be involved in the show.
Well, bless you. I did read the script. I just reached out through my team in Hollywood, because I wanted to see what their take on it was. And it’s so good. The woman who wrote it is so smart. The angle she takes on telling this particular story has nothing to do with me. It has nothing to do with Kevin James. It’s just exploring the trope that we talked about earlier.

It’s way older than that.
It’s so much older. It’s The Honeymooners. It’s bananas how old this trope is. And she does it so well. It’s so good, and I’d kill to be in it. It’s fantastic. That being said, maybe I’m the only one in town that won’t get a chance to read for it. Who knows? That would be a story in itself, and I don’t know if they’d want to make the casting a story.

Because it would make it too specific to your own case, as opposed to about that trope more generally?
Because then it’s like, “Oh, it’s Erinn Hayes, who was killed off Kevin Can Wait.” It makes that part of the story. But if there’s any way I could do that part, I’d love to. The part they’ve written is so full and so interesting. They just did a great job, and I’m excited to see how the show turns out whether or not I ever get a chance to read for it or be a part of it in any way.

Would you soften up a bitch on that show?
Oh, I’ll soften up any bitch on that show.

Erinn Hayes on Medical Police, How to Soften Up a TV Bitch