A Conversation with The Brink’s Maribeth Monroe

The Brink kicked off last week on HBO, and we got to chat with Maribeth Monroe (Kendra Peterson) about her role on the political comedy. Read our conversation below — which was so much fun — and check out The Brink on Sunday nights at 10:30pm on HBO.

This is a political satire, and often when we’re dealing with subject matter like this on TV and film, there’s some distance from the actual conflicts being addressed. Is there a bit of a rush in being able to tackle this subject matter when there are imminent threats in real life?

That’s a big thing that Tim Robbins has talked about in some interviews, and our producers. Hopefully we’re at a point right now where people are concerned but also in tune with these global issues that America’s finding itself in. We were hoping and banking on the fact that audiences in America, in the world, will be ready to make fun of us or laugh at these situations, and it would be a cathartic thing, especially in other countries.

I think, unfortunately, America has developed a reputation that we are really extending ourselves into a lot of situations that many people feel that we should or shouldn’t be getting into. Globally, I think our show is going to resonate on a level of what’s actually happening, what we’re actually doing. There’s definitely a rush about that. If we get it right, I think audiences could be ready for facts there, especially with where the show is going. I have to say the last five episodes really get even more intense as we build this story and get into our fictitious situation which resonates on a lot of real ones. It’ll be exciting to see the reaction. I think there will also be a reaction of people being offended, but that’s also good in creating a good show. You want to create strong opinions about it.

That’s such an essential part of comedy. It’s supposed to make some people uncomfortable.

Yes, exactly.

Your character, Kendra, has quite a challenging role in terms of dealing with her boss, Walter Larson (Tim Robbins). He’s a hot mess, there’s no nicer way of putting that.

I think that’s a very eloquent way of putting that. He’s a hot mess.

But Kendra’s so put together, and gets the job done without complaining or being a pushover. Is it just that she’s seen so much in working for Walter and knows that this is part of the job, or is there a meltdown bubbling underneath the surface?

In this season, and I think especially after Episode 5, you do kind of see this. I don’t want to give up too much — but there’s a moment where Walter’s really questioning everything, and he’s gone as far as he can go, and we go rogue. We’re going to try to do things through back channels, and he really feels like he’s at his last rope with what he’s able to do. There’s a really great scene where I think you really hear why Kendra sticks with him, regardless of his behavior. I give a lovely monologue of “Yes, you’re a hot mess” — I’m paraphrasing of course — “but there’s no one else who can get us out of this if you bail, and I didn’t choose to work for somebody who’s going to bail in a situation like this.” Eventually yes, I think the character has a quote/unquote breakdown, but also, this is her whole life.

I had many conversations with the writers in the beginning, especially when I didn’t know where scripts were going, [asking if she’s in] a relationship? Is there anything personally going on in Kendra’s life, and they [told me they were] really modelling Kendra after many chiefs of staff my age. where your whole life is this man. Your career is riding on the back of this person that you really, truly believe in, and you know that you want to align yourself with despite his peccadilloes. That was really telling to me. I’m this woman in her early 30s, totally devoted to this person, and if his ship goes down, she’s going down with him. I think that plays into what you’re saying. She is very put-together, focused, and [keeps Walter] on the right track throughout the season. Her motivation is him and helping him do a good job.

I think in Season 2 they’re already talking about getting into more personal stuff with Kendra and how Walter reacts. That’ll be really fun to play with. But definitely this season, she has a one-track mind — getting him to do his job. All of her time, all of her energy is based in helping to save the world.

I was curious to know if we were going to see anything about Kendra’s life outside of her job, because with some of the other characters, we’ve seen their wives or husbands or families.

Season 2 will get a little bit more playful with her. But I think for the function of setting up the show, and the dynamic of it being political satire, we’re really focusing on Walter, the bureaucracy of D.C. and obviously exploring his character, since he is the lead. With any show, you want to develop all the other characters, so I think, knock on wood, if we keep going Kendra will definitely be more fleshed out.

She’s definitely someone I want to see more of and I want to know more about.

Thank you. We’re in the same boat about that, so hopefully the writers will think the same thing.

I love seeing a female character who’s not hung up on romance and how she’s going to bed her boss or one of her co-workers. It’s refreshing to see a role like this.

I agree 1,000 percent, and I think it’s a beautiful contrast to Walter. He’s the one you are torn about — love him or , hate him, and what does this guy feel? I do think it’s lovely to see a strong female character that is about business and about smarts, about keeping the story going and keeping Walter going in an intelligent way as opposed to relying on old tropes.

There’s a notable trend on television at the moment, with limited series and serialized shows that are becoming much more cinematic and more like a 10-hour film — or a 5-hour film in the case of The Brink. I’m always interested to learn why actors find this format appealing.

Up until this point, I’ve worked in cable. I was on a show called Workaholics. Wonderful show. We have an amazing following. The 15- to 20-year-old boys are in love with that show, so it’s an interesting demographic. I never really thought my career would end up in that place, but to come to HBO and have a budget like we have, I have to say, it was completely mind-blowing and a completely different experience. Not better or worse, just different in the sense of the production value, the budget. I remember walking on set one day, and they had 500 extras for one scene of a television show. A lot of movies don’t even get 500 extras, like independent films. HBO really goes for it, and they do it to create this wow factor of big-budget, high-action, exciting, and visually stunning work.

I think that it’s any actor’s dream to get  work in every genre. Right now I’m working on an independent film that will be super small budget. We’re still in the writing phase, and getting producers attached, but I’m also really excited about that. I think doing an intimate independent film is just as exciting as doing something on HBO. Theyre different genres, but of course I would be lying if I said when you have the hundreds of crew members, someone like Tim Robbins attached, and all of this money being put into production, of course you want to take in every second and enjoy it, because who knows if I’ll get the opportunity to do this again on this level?

The Brink has a really strong ensemble cast, but it doesn’t feel like any characters get lost in the mix.

I agree. They’re so intricately woven, and you find that out so much more later in the season, of how this is all going to come together. Our pilot, obviously, is three disparate men, and you’re figuring out how it’s all going to tie together. As it goes on, the writers did a good job of playing against predictability and keeping it exciting.

I know a lot of people who did not watch the premiere yet, and I’m trying to persuade them to watch it because I think it’s really, really worth their time. Some aren’t really into political satire in the first place, or they think Veep has set the bar too high. How would you convince them to give this show a chance?

On behalf of Kendra, by the end of this season they’ll hopefully fall in love with the idea of this woman being the clear-eyed compass for this man who otherwise wouldn’t be able to get the job done. [She’s] the brains behind the operation.

There are also many other wonderful characters that you’re going to meet. Carla Gugino is playing Walter Larson’s wife. Again, she’s a very strong woman in a man’s game and has her own peccadilloes, and the two of them together are just fabulous. There’s a wonderful actress who comes in to play as the Israeli foreign minister, and she’s just hilarious and great. There’s also a British couple that’s coming in and are these whack-a-doodle, out in the middle of the desert sex addicts. These women come in and not just play the voice of reason, but also have their own interesting character flaws that I think are unusual and unexpected in a show like this.

I really like the confidence in these female characters.

That is for sure. I can honestly say every woman — including Zeke’s ex-wife, who you meet in the first episode (Mary Faber) — there are no weak women. Even the women that Walter beds have a strength about them, regardless of them getting caught up with this guy in a compromising situation. I think the writers did a really good job, and I’m really hoping in Season 2 they’re going to dive even more into developing these characters in an interesting and smart way.

I’m so excited to see more of this show.

I just think it gets better, and better, and better. The last five episodes are pretty mind-blowing. It’s been the coolest thing I’ve done in my career so far, and I just want to do it forever. I want to be 60 years old and Kendra.

That’ll be the spin-off!

Yeah, exactly. I agree. A couple of people have thrown out this spin-off idea, and I’m like yes, bring it! Let’s do it.

Photo Courtesy of HBO

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