Adult Swim’s animated series, Birdgirl, wrapped its first season last month. While we’re keeping our fingers crossed for a renewal announcement, we have this exclusive interview with Kether Donohue, who plays Judy/Birdgirl’s assistant, Gillian.
Kether shared how her improv skills helped her land the role, the collaborative process of voice acting, and how Birdgirl looks at mental health through a comedic lens.
You can also listen to the full interview with Kether over at Fem TV.
What was it about Birdgirl and your character, Gillian, that really caught your attention?
When I knew we were going to be doing this interview, I went into my email and pulled up the original Birdgirl audition that I got from my agents. I always like to look back at the script and the sides that they had me audition with. I remember being very excited by the people involved in creating it: Erik Richter, Christina Miller, and Michael Ouweleen. I’m a huge fan of theirs. What appealed to me was that they were looking for comedic actors who liked to improv, and I love improv. There was no artwork available for Gillian when the audition came in. Sometimes for animation auditions, you see what the character looks like and that might inform how you create their voice. What was very cool about auditioning for Gillian was that it was a blank slate. They really pushed the idea that Gillian is the best at being an assistant. She takes this job so seriously.
When I submitted my audition, I did a little improv here and there, and then something in me said, “Let me milk this.” There’s a line where she says, “I’m Gillian with a hard G,” so I looked up all hard G words. I just listened to my audition and I went on a riff, listing hard G adjectives. When I met the Birdgirl team for the first time, they told me that was what got me the part.
Can you share a bit about the magic that goes into delivering a funny performance when you don’t have your co-stars in the same room as you?
For the first recording session, I was actually with Paget Brewster, but from then on out it was solo. When you’re by yourself, it’s about the energy between you and the creative folks behind the glass. There’s a palpable trust involved. Eric, Christina, and Michael set a tone of freedom. They make the actors feel free, take it line by line, slowly and precisely. They’ll give each line about three takes in a row. It’s like a multi-cam sitcom where there is a live studio audience. The audience is your gauge if something is landing. When you’re in the booth, you rely on the energy of riffing off the reactions. And because they’re so open to improv, it becomes collaborative. That’s what ultimately makes the performance and for me, that’s my lifeline when I’m performing.
Gillian really shines in the third episode, “Thirdgirl.” It’s hilarious, but also makes an important statement about how women often take on more than they can handle in day-to-day life. What can you share about bringing that episode to life? And do you enjoy it when topics like that are explored through a comedic lens?
Absolutely. All of a sudden, all the panic attacks that I’ve ever had in my life felt very useful. I understand what it’s like to be overwhelmed, have bags under your eyes, and drink 5-hour Energy at five in the morning. I’m naturally an anxious individual, and any time I have an outlet to transfer my anxiety into a character is fun.
I was so grateful to be part of You’re the Worst for five seasons, a show that talked about depression and PTSD through the lens of comedy. It’s really awesome that I end up in projects that end up touching on mental health through a comedic lens. The best way to get people to listen to serious issues is through comedy and laughter.
Birdgirl is a very feminist show with a female empowered and driven style that doesn’t sugarcoat the issues. Women wear all these different hats, and we’re often in positions where we’ve felt like we have to be overachievers for people to take us seriously. It’s nice to look at that in a comedic way because every woman can relate to some degree.
By the end of the first season, Gillan is an important part of the Birdteam although she doesn’t get to suit up. Do you think that she should eventually get her own uniform, or is she destined to be more like the Alfred to Batman in this universe?
When I talk about Gillian with the creative team, something that we all love about the character is that she takes being an assistant so seriously. If there’s a Season 2 — knock on wood — I think we’re going a bit more of her background. Perhaps she comes from a long line of assistants.
When I was a server in New York City, waiting tables and auditioning, I remember feeling offended when customers would say, “Oh, what else do you do?” In my mind, I was saying, “Why do you assume that I do something else?” I enjoyed being a server. There’s honor in being a server. Why is there this idea that you’re only a server to pay the bills to do something else? And what I liked about Gillian and her relationship with being an assistant, she finds so much honor in it. She’s not an assistant to get to the next level of being a boss. She takes pride in it, so I think it’s perfect how it is. She’s more like the Alfred’s to Batman. She would look very cute in her own little uniform because she’s a hottie, but Gillian is great as is because it reflects the psychology behind a position that she really takes pride in.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about your experience working on Birdgirl?
I love the show and all of the other actors and characters. I’m grateful to be a part of it, and having the time of my life. I hope we all get to do it again.
(Image Courtesy of Adult Swim)