There’s a moment in Shrill’s final season between Fran and Annie (played by Lolly Adefope and Aidy Bryant, respectively), as the series flashes back to their early college days. Annie is laughing as she tells Fran about how she just awkwardly had sex for the first time, to which Fran sincerely tells her that she just kissed a girl for the first time. The two talking earnestly is something we’ve seen plenty of times on the Hulu series, but here, it’s new to them. As the two bond over first times and room-temp pizza, we finally get a glimpse of how Fran and Annie — what Aidy Bryant tells Vulture is “the whole heartbeat of the show” — officially become friends.
Shrill, based on Lindy West’s memoir of the same name, may be presented as Annie’s story of finding authenticity in a world full of people who want to define her for themselves, but it’s Fran and Annie’s friendship that actually propels the show forward. Fran knows Annie better than she knows herself sometimes, and vice versa. For three seasons, their friendship weaved together and apart as they grew into themselves through romantic relationships, work, and family drama.
And while Annie and Fran’s friendship grew, so did Bryant and Adefope’s. The two spoke with Vulture over Zoom, and even from behind a computer screen, separated by thousands of miles of ocean, their vibrant energy together and love for each other was anything but subtle. Bryant and Adefope talked/gushed with us over their on- and offscreen friendship, Fran and Annie’s best moments, and of course, their characters’s heartfelt ending.
Minor spoilers for the final season of Shrill lie ahead.
I haven’t seen much about the first time you guys met. Was it through Shrill or before?
Aidy Bryant: It was through Shrill.
Lolly Adefope: It was love at first sight.
Aidy Bryant: Yeah, it really was. It was a little creepy. I kind of knew about Lolly, though. We had a mutual agent, so I had always been a fan. When we were making Shrill, in the early, early casting days, they flew Lolly out for a screen test, and that was the first time we met, on the Warner Bros. lot. Very glamorous.
Lolly Adefope: I was waiting, holding my script notes, and then Aidy came out, and we both gasped. I didn’t think I was going to see you straight away. I think you just came out of the casting room to go somewhere, and I was there and then we gasped.
Aidy Bryant: No, I mean, here’s a little new feedback: I came out to say hi to you.
Lolly Adefope: Wow.
Aidy Bryant: Romantic.
How do you think your characters’ friendship has grown as your personal friendship has evolved making this series?
Aidy Bryant: What a nice question. I mean, it’s funny because we’re acting like we’re friends, especially the early days of the show, but I think pretty quickly Lolly and I were like, “Oh, we’re going to be real friends.” It was just so natural. Then doing the show, it’s long days of filming, so yes, you’re spending time together, but I also think things like doing emotional scenes, you end up having emotional conversations, or needing to help each other get through the duration of shooting, or you miss loved ones who are back home, so you’re kind of bonded in an almost summer-camp way. It really blossomed into something much bigger than just that summer-camp kind of friendship. It was like, “Oh, this is someone who really views a lot of the world in the same way that I do.” And that feels so refreshing or just easy, and really worth the extra effort, even though we’re like, oceans apart.
Lolly Adefope: Yeah, it makes the emotional scenes so much easier to do because I think there’s a lot of trust between us, and I’ve always felt very comfortable in those scenes because I know that Aidy brings out the best in me.
Aidy Bryant: I’ll also just say this: I love everyone in our cast, and I’ve gotten in such an easy rhythm with everybody, but I feel like for Lolly in particular, especially in these later seasons, it was always such a sigh of relief for me when Lolly came onto set. It was just like, I know we got it. It’s not going to be hard. Things fall into place for us, and we can improvise together, or follow each other’s lead in a way where it just felt like it took so much less effort.
How often did you find yourselves improvising on Shrill? Were there any particularly memorable scenes that you guys just did off the cuff?
Aidy Bryant: We improvise a lot.
Lolly Adefope: We would always work out a scene, get it how it is in the script, and then have fun with it. I think it’s like the ribs scene where I’m eating ribs, and then there’s the bit where you’re coming down the stairs, and I had to improvise a song. I don’t know if that stayed in.
Aidy Bryant: [Laughs.] You know what’s weird is that I do feel like with Lolly, we sort of broke new ground, at least for me, and it was something I had never really done until the very first episode of the very first season. There’s that scene where we’re talking about whether I should get an abortion or not, and we’re at the vintage market. That was a scene where it was going okay, and then the director was kind of like, “Why don’t you guys do an improvised take where you don’t say the words that are in the script, but say like the spirit of them.” That entire scene is almost entirely improv from both of us, and that’s what we ended up using in the cut, because it just felt so much more real. That laid this foundation for most of our scenes where we use the script as a kind of blueprint. We usually shoot it once or twice pretty tightly scripted, but then almost always, especially for scenes with Lolly and I, it was like, okay, let’s loosen it up. Let’s put it into our own words. Even, actually, to the very last scene that we ever do in the show together, that is also almost an entirely improvised version of what was written.
Looking back at past seasons, the Fat Babe Pool Party was a top Shrill moment from the minute it aired. Now that there’s been space between it, do you still feel that impact?
Aidy Bryant: I definitely still do. People bring it up to me all the time. I would say that and Annie breaking up with Ryan are two of the things I hear the most about. But really, those days were really intense. We shot the pool party over two days, and it was just overwhelmingly emotional to see all these beautiful women comfortably dancing, swimming, and hanging out together. I know Lolly and I were both kind of overwhelmed by that. It was totally thrilling. I do feel like that was where we got to bond together. We’re having these days together of being in swimsuits and being on camera together, and it is an intense experience.
Lolly Adefope: I think I got asked the other day if I thought that scene had changed television in any way, or if it had inspired other TV shows to create scenes from that gaze. I haven’t noticed it, maybe it takes longer than a few years for it to change the landscape of television, but it still feels significant that before or since, I haven’t really seen anything like it.
To that point, your show really captures the feeling of wanting to be wholly authentic; being fat or being a woman shouldn’t be all that defines you. To that end, when was the first time you truly felt comfortable to be authentic, especially in the entertainment industry?
Aidy Bryant: It’s hard to say. I don’t know that this is necessarily me in the entertainment industry, but when I was in college in Chicago, I went to see the Gossip perform. Their lead singer, Beth Ditto, is a fat, queer woman, and she was in a little tiny outfit dancing and moving her body so unapologetically, and here was this crowd of people cheering for her and obsessed with her powerful voice. For me, that really was my pool party moment where I was like, Oh my God. I want to have that kind of power. I want to feel that confident and share myself in that way. I think for me that was what Shrill was in a lot of ways.
Lolly Adefope: I feel like I had a similar thing with seeing Kanye West at Glastonbury. Even though he’s a man, it’s one more situation of a person being completely themselves. I’d also say the Edinburgh Festival, doing solo shows there in front of loads of people every night, to just do whatever I want and thinking, Yeah, I want to be a comedian. I want to sometimes talk about race and sometimes not talk about race, but mainly just do silly voices and pretend to be like strange people, and having people be like, “That’s fine, we accept that.” I think that’s maybe not so much as completely authentic, but definitely the most satisfied I’ve been with myself, I think, in terms of just doing whatever I want.
One of Fran’s big moments is “Wedding” in season two, which digs into more of Fran’s story through her and her family. What was it like making that episode?
Lolly Adefope: In a similar way to the pool party episode, it was a very emotional and real experience. It felt like we were at this wedding and the dancing and party scenes felt very euphoric. I spoke to Aidy and the writers to draw on some of my own experiences in order to infuse that into moments with Fran and her mom, which obviously are very emotionally charged. I think we hadn’t really seen that from Fran up until that point, so we wanted to make sure it felt as based in truth as possible. Solomon [Georgio] who wrote the episode did a very good job of not making anything seem too on the nose. I think that sometimes when topics are dealt like that on TV, it can feel a bit like preachy, and we’d steer clear of that. I tried to draw on my own Nigerian heritage as well. The kinds of conversations that I would have with moms and aunties and that feeling of wanting to go down another path and wanting acceptance, that’s all universal.
There’s a really powerful moment between Fran and her mom that really gets me.
Lolly Adefope: Yeah, Patrice Johnson is an incredible actress. She makes it real easy to cry when she cries.
Aidy Bryant: I was on set when they were filming those, and I was at the monitor with our director Shaka King, who just directed Judas and the Black Messiah, and he was just like, “Lolly is a perfect performer,” and it’s so true. She’s not just one of the funniest people, funniest writers, and has a writerly brain, but she can also carry those deeply emotional moments. I was just studying her face because she’s barely moving her face at all, but you feel it so deeply. I just always felt very in awe of Lolly in those moments where it’s like, this is such a complex performance and to be so good at both things is so remarkable.
Moving on to season three, there’s this really hilarious moment when Annie, Fran, Ruthie, and Maureen go party at an empty bar. Please tell me everything you remember from that day.
Lolly Adefope: My greatest memory of that day is when we do the slow-motion walk. While they were setting up the cameras, we were like, “Should we have music? We should have music playing while we film this to help us do this walk,” and then like the four of us just sat around basically screaming suggestions for what the song would be. Eventually we settled on … What was the song?
Aidy Bryant: It was Britney Spears’s “Gimme More.” The one that’s like, “It’s Britney, bitch!”
Lolly Adefope: I don’t know how they managed to set up huge speakers.
Aidy Bryant: Yeah, they absolutely blasted it so hard for us. Also, it was like 30 degrees outside and we were all scantily clothed. That was another one where we shot over two nights, and we were basically just dancing and singing and yelling together every time that the camera wasn’t rolling. Long portions of one of us holding up an iPhone, so the music was playing. Then all of us dancing in really long coats while it was raining. I kept thinking like, Oh man, we should like pace ourselves. We’re going to be exhausted. And instead, it was almost the opposite, where it was like, human Red Bull psychos pushing each other. It was the most fun ever, and we’re all four friends on top of it.
Lolly Adefope: It was the last time I got to do scenes with Patti [Harrison] and Jo [Firestone] as well.
Did filming during the pandemic feel like summer camp on steroids?
Lolly Adefope: We were bonded by the restrictions, but I missed going for dinners and going to the bars afterwards, though it didn’t feel like there was a huge gap missing from the experience. If it had been [season] one, though, it would have been a lot harder to form that bond. By now, we thought, We can do this. We’ve done this twice, and we can work through this.
Aidy Bryant: Definitely. There was a huge trust and love and support with the crew as well. I certainly felt so privileged to be on set and be working, when me and most people had been in our houses for months and months at a time. Even though we couldn’t go to the dinners or bars on the weekend like we normally would, it still felt like we got our time in. That was part of why filming an episode like a girls’ night out was total wish fulfillment. I can’t remember what scene it was, but it was one of the first scenes that we shot of the season where something like Annie, Em, and Fran did a three-way group hug. I remember we all did it, and we’re kind of like, Oh my gosh. It felt really thrilling to hug a friend after all this time.
The seventh episode has flashback moments to when your characters first met. Was that always how you imagined they met from the beginning?
Lolly Adefope: I think there’s moments in season one where we allude to their college friendship. There’s a scene where I talked to Ryan, laying down the law, and I say how amazing Annie is, how we first met at college and how welcoming she was to me coming from London. We had hints of this college friendship, but it was so nice to dig deeper into it in that episode. It’s very cute to see young Annie and young Fran. There’s one bit, in that college flashback, where Annie has a different best friend in the beginning and is a dweeb. [Laughs.] There’s like one scene where I can’t remember the character’s name, but Annie’s friend does something with her hand that’s quite cool, and then Annie has to do it as well. And I mean, it killed me, like I cried forever.
Love how the college flashback features Aidy in a straight bang.
Aidy Bryant: Oh, I mean, I had those in college that I cut myself, which is like, so violent. Why did I think I could do that? And I don’t think they look bad, but like, the version that I cut myself was really an act of defiance.
I had really lopsided bangs in college that I’d love to never revisit.
Lolly Adefope: I’ve had hair from one ear to the other, like swept over to the other side.
Would you ever put your friendship to the test and trust each other to cut your bangs?
Lolly Adefope: I would trust you to cut my hair.
Aidy Bryant: I would trust you to cut mine, too. I feel like weirdly I wouldn’t hesitate to do that. Is that the true mark of a good friendship?
Lolly Adefope: Yeah, I would trust you to pick a tattoo for me.
Aidy Bryant: I feel the same. I’m ready and willing.
Since you didn’t know going into season three that it was the end of the series, what did you feel like you wanted to include once you found out?
Aidy Bryant: When we wrote and shot this season, we didn’t know it was going to be the final season, so it was more in editing that we were, you know, massaging the footage to get it to this final resting place. [Laughs.] That makes it sound like it died, but you know what I mean. To me and really to all of us who write [on Shrill], the whole heartbeat of the show is Annie and Fran and their friendship, and I think both of their stories then branch off from that. In a weird way, it just naturally happened that the show ends with them. They [have this] next-level connection. It’s the guiding force of this show.
I really like how it ends on a quiet moment between you two. The very first episode of Shrill ends on a similar note, too, so it feels like a full-circle moment.
Aidy Bryant: Yeah, the show ends in a really simple way, which is just two friends who really understand each other on a bench. It feels like a very realistic ending to me, very grounded and not overly cartoonishly triumphant. These girls are going to face more difficulties, and their relationship may evolve and change, but they always have each other. And there’s something so fortifying about that, just knowing that you can process the hard stuff with someone who understands you.