There’s a doe-eyed innocence required to believe in the American dream. It demands faith that people are fundamentally good, trust that systems are fundamentally just, and conviction that America, in spite of so much conflicting evidence, functions as a meritocracy. On the surface, Killing It, Peacock’s new sitcom premiering April 14, is about people participating in the Florida Python Challenge, a Burmese python–hunting competition held by the state every year to preserve the health of its Everglades ecosystem. But at its core, it’s about how people respond differently to this ideal.
No one in the show’s ensemble responds with unflinching optimism as purely as Claudia O’Doherty’s character Jillian, an unhoused gig-economy worker who meets Craig (Craig Robinson) while picking him up in her Uber and teams up with him to enter the competition. “It’s actually awesome,” she tells him about relying on Starbucks to use the bathroom. “Does your bathroom get cleaned twice a day?”
Building on a persona she began shaping in 2016 while playing Bertie on Netflix’s Love, O’Doherty animates Jillian artfully, softening her eyes, lilting her voice, and tilting her head agreeably — as if to signal she’ll share her Social Security number with anyone who holds a door for her. It’s a testament to her construction of the character that Jillian is multidimensional despite these traits: less naïve than endearingly hopeful, less a terrible liar than prone to panic and desperate for a win. Ahead of the premiere of Killing It, O’Doherty opened up about playing optimistic characters, Australians’ love of reptiles, and the comedic virtues of lying.
I read an interview you gave to the Sydney Morning Herald, and there was a line in it about how you saw “the Crocodile Dundee appeal” of the show. I think it’d be really funny if that was people’s takeaway from the show: Those Australians just can’t stop making comedies about reptiles.
I mean, obviously it’s a very old joke — it’s from the mid-’80s — that Australians love reptiles. But the thing is, we do! There are a lot of reptiles in Australia. And the old-fashionedness of that joke does really make me laugh. Because also, I love snorkeling and going to the beach, but I’m not the most outdoorsy person, and I consider myself a fairly un-Australian Australian. So when I came to America — and I was also doing this in the U.K. — I found really emphasizing my Australian-ness kind of funny.
What would you say Americans find most funny about Australians?
I guess they think we wrestle crocodiles. They kind of think we’re stupid as well, which I don’t mind. You know, if you think we’re all like Steve Irwin, that’s okay by me. I guess the thing I’ve noticed more recently is that you all think we say “no” in a funny way. Because people love doing their impression of an Australian “no” to me. I get that a lot.
Your character in Killing It is so optimistic in the face of overwhelming reasons not to be. It’s somewhat similar to your character on Love. Is it a conscious decision on your part to keep playing characters like this?
It’s not a conscious decision, but I think it’s an attitude that I find funny. When I would do festival shows, I would usually write myself as an idiot — either a mean idiot or a friendly idiot. But when I got the part in Love, it wasn’t a specific part. They knew I’d be playing Gillian Jacobs’s roommate, but I think they’d written a much cooler character. When I went in to meet with Judd Apatow, Paul Rust, and all the writers of the show, I think I was probably pretty nervous. As a result, I was very friendly and very optimistic and tried to act like I was having a great time when, in reality, I was scared. And I think they were like, Oh, that’s funny. Why is she acting like that? That was where that character came from, and I guess that’s a little bit what Jillian’s like as well.
As an outsider to America, it can be pretty easy to be suspicious of the American dream, which is a theme Killing It tackles extensively. But I’m curious to hear your perspective as someone who moved to America and carved out a successful career in show business.
I think I am in a pretty rare position where I came to America and my dreams came true. So I can’t really say that the American dream is not real and that it doesn’t work like that. I was really lucky. But being here — and this is the story of the show — you realize that people are working so hard, and it’s really hard to get a foothold and make real money. It’s really a bunch of rich guys who are the ones making money. It’s pretty impossible to make money being an Uber driver; it’s some guys in Silicon Valley who are doing really well at Uber.
Have you ever worked a job as grueling as driving an Uber?
Doing telemarketing in my early 20s was pretty unpleasant. I think I did it for a real-estate company, and we knew that we were kind of tricking people. We were annoying people by calling them and then trying to convince them to let us send them newsletters about property-development seminars. But we, the very young people working there, just needed money for rent. It was like, I’m working for bad guys. I know that. I really just need some money. That was a pretty grim job.
Were you interrupting people during dinner?
Absolutely. One week I did really well at that job because I realized that if I just said to the people, “I’ll get off the phone if you just let me mail you this one newsletter. You don’t have to come to this seminar,” they would generally let me do it. That week I was the top seller. But I was, you know, lying.
Jillian is a really bad liar. Why do you think liars are so funny?
Because lying is so embarrassing! Especially when you are bad at it. It’s like Elizabeth Holmes putting on that deep voice. That’s so funny because it’s like, We can all see what you’re doing. There’s something actually deeply vulnerable about a bad liar because you’re seeing them doing this really embarrassing thing in front of people.
It makes me think of Hilaria Baldwin, who got caught pretending to be from Spain. There was this cooking segment with her on a talk show–
When she asked what the English word for cucumber was? Yeah, that’s pretty amazing. Especially when you’re preparing a recipe that involves cucumbers on television? It’s an incredible thing to do.
Can you think of an anecdote from your life when someone has told you a very obvious lie that you found particularly funny?
I can’t really think of times when people have lied to me so much, but when I was a kid — and even as a teenager and moving into my 20s — I would constantly lie just to get out of uncomfortable situations. I would pretend to have seen movies I hadn’t seen just because it felt more uncomfortable to admit that I hadn’t seen a movie. It actually makes you kind of stressed out because you’re constantly lying to people. When I would have bad jobs in my early 20s, I would rather lie than ask people to fully explain to me what my job was. I would just pretend I understood everything they were telling me I needed to do, and then I would have no idea how to do my job. It was a bad situation.
How much did you have to interact with actual snakes while filming?
Very little, really. The one snake I actually held was a snake that was just on set because we were shooting in the swamp. But whenever we’re killing snakes, obviously they’re rubber snakes. Occasionally they would use a real snake for an insert, but I never had to actually interact with a snake for the show.
Your previous experience working with snakes didn’t end up being relevant at all?
No. I had done a sketch on Inside Amy Schumer where I played a snake doctor, and I had to interact with snakes a lot more on that. I had a python wrapped around me for the entire sketch, and I had to hold up other snakes, too. It was winter in New York while filming, so the snake went inside my clothes, which was kind of confronting. But I knew that — first of all, I’d written the sketch, so it was my fault that this was happening — and also that if I wanted to stop having to hold the snake, I just had to keep going. So I just let it go wild inside my costume. And I was like, “This is horrible!”