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Mandell Maughan

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There are a bajillion laughs to be had in Seeso’s “Bajillion Dollar Propertie$” with many of those LOLs originating from the comedic mind of Mandell Maughan. The San Diego native studied sketch comedy and improvisation with The Second City and The Upright Citizens Brigade before landing the role of Victoria King in “Bajillion Dollar Propertie$” where she has put her improv training to good use. She can also be seen this fall in the new CBS series “Me, Myself and I” opposite Bobby Moynihan and John Larroquette.

We recently sat down with Maughan to discuss how working on “Bajillion Dollar Propertie$” stretched her as a performer, how she approached scenes opposite comedy greats, and… high-waisted jeans?

TrunkSpace: Given the improvisational nature of the show, has “Bajillion Dollar Propertie$” taught you anything about yourself in terms of your abilities as a performer/entertainer? We know that you have an improv background, but did the show itself sort of take you anywhere that you didn’t think you could go?
Maughan: Absolutely. I think that one of the things that’s brilliant about Kulap (Vilaysack) is she saw something in all of us that maybe we didn’t see in ourselves. I think she saw that capability in me, but I had never improvised to the extent and how frequently we have on the show. I mean, I would do shows, but when we’re filming, we’re improvising for 10 hours a day, day after day. I’m improvising with some of the best improvisors in the world that are our guest stars. Frankly, my castmates are also some of the best improvisors in the world.

There was no way for me not to grow. There was no way for me to not get better. I will forever be in debt to Bajillion for that because I think I honestly grew more in the times we would shoot for those few weeks than I did in years of doing classes. Now, that being said, I studied at Second City and I’m still grateful to Second City because they gave me a foundation that made it even possible for me to do this show. But, you know, they always say, “Experience is better than even just taking a class.” Well, that was definitely true for me here.

I also became so much more confident, which in improvising, that alone changes how well you’re doing. If you’re just more confident on stage, if you don’t second guess yourself, you’re just capable of so much more.

TrunkSpace: And we would imagine that confidence grows as you get more comfortable with your character and your costars?
Maughan: Absolutely. We were very fortunate. We had chemistry right off the bat. I remember we met a couple times for rehearsal before we started shooting the first season. Robert Ben Garant was there and Kulap and Scott (Aukerman). They said, “Okay, let’s just improvise. Let’s just see how it goes. ‘Cause if we’re gonna fall flat on our face the first time, let’s just do it now.” We did it. Ben Garant was like, “You guys are where we were at in ‘Reno 911’ in season 5. It’s amazing the chemistry you have.” We just got so lucky.

I think that’s also Kulap too seeing all of us and being like, “I think all these people would do really well together. I think this would be a good group.” We complimented each other really well. Now, of course, yes, every day that we did it, we got better, and we realized each other’s humor and what we could set each other up for. Everybody started to develop their characters more, which developed the relationship between the characters. I knew as Tim (Baltz) and I would improvise more and more, Victoria would grow more hateful of Glenn. That really directed where our improve scenes were gonna go. Each relationship kind of directed that and helped that. I think that Kulap must have seen that in us, but I think we were very lucky that we started at a great point.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned the great guest stars you have worked with on the show. Did it take some focus to maintain that confidence when you were in a scene with some of the comedy legends who stopped by?
Maughan: When we’d have these big guest stars on, yes, of course, you have the thought when you’re getting ready in the makeup chair, “Holy shit, I don’t know if I can cut it. Holy shit, I hope I can do this. I hope I can come up with anything to try and help them. I hope I can be a supportive improvisor.” But you also realize when you’re having these guest stars, that it’s such a treat for the viewers.

So, me personally, I would really let them have the show. I would, of course, support them, and bring Victoria to the scene, but I would really try to let it be about them. Because that’s what we wanted, those moments to be for them. The series regulars, we had our in office stuff, where it was just us. But those guest star scenes, we wanted to get as much of them as we could. Really what being a good improvisor is about is… if someone’s a good improvisor, it should be very easy to improvise with them. Since all these people are good improvisors, it was very easy to improvise with them.

TrunkSpace: In terms of spending time with a character, is this the longest you’ve ever spent with one?
Maughan: Yes actually, this is. I love her. I’ve loved this process so much. I kind of knew who Victoria was right from the audition. When I got the audition, and I got a little bit of a breakdown, I just got it. I was like, “This is my version, at least in my head. I know this woman. I think this woman’s funny. This is my type of comedy.” Kulap said she saw that in the audition, that right away I was Victoria King. As much as I work hard in the show and it’s incredibly gratifying, it became kind of easy. It was easy for me to step into her because I just understood her so well, and I had defined her.

TrunkSpace: In terms of playing a character for an extended period of time, at any point does it ever sort of feel like dating someone, where as much as you love the character, you get to a point where you’re like, “There’s those small things that I wish I change about the person”?
Maughan: Well in this case with our show, it’s so collaborative that before we even starting filming season 1, we came in for meetings with the writers. I pitched a lot of ideas about her. I got to have a lot of say on my character, even when it came down to the wardrobe, where Rahel (Afiley) and I really collaborated and I was like, “I think she’s always dressed up. She’s always dressed to the nines.” Rahel even said, “I think she’s always in a dress, never even in a pantsuit.” I was like, “Yes!” because I thought Victoria’s wardrobe was such an important part of her.

In that sense, we got to create our characters with them, so we had a lot of say. But the writers are so good as far as coming up with plot points that are new and interesting for each season, that it gives us an opportunity to explore, “What would our character do in this situation?” It never gets boring. I don’t know, maybe someone would answer differently, and maybe it’s ’cause I just love Victoria so much and I find her funny, but she’s fun to play.

TrunkSpace: And you shot a pilot for CBS called “Me, Myself and I” that recently got picked up, correct?
Maughan: Yes, we premiere on September 25. I’m really excited about it. My character on that show is opposite of Victoria. I know I just said I’m not bored playing with her and I’m not, but it is kind of fun and interesting to play someone totally different.

TrunkSpace: You spoke about Victoria’s wardrobe, but this show takes place in the early 90s. Do you have any cool wardrobe pieces with your new character as well?
Maughan: Well, the woman who does the wardrobe for “Me, Myself and I” did “Clueless,” so if anyone does 90s well, it’s her! The first thing I said to her was, “Thank you for inspiring my fashion still to this day from that movie.” (Laughter)

I really like that aspect of creating a character. Of course, when you’re an actor, you want to feel good in what you’re wearing and feel confident in it, but I wanted it to be 90s because I really wanted to stay true to that, even down to the nails. My nails were done differently, and the makeup artist was really good about that too. I was excited for my french tipped nails and my wedges and my kind of crop tops with the high-waisted jeans. I don’t know how these women were doing it, but I love it.

TrunkSpace: It’s kind of painful to hear that the 90s is now considered a period piece.
Maughan: I know. I know.  That’s sad. It made me feel really old. (Laughter)

Visit Seeso to learn more about “Bajillion Dollar Propertie$” and to watch the latest season!

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Deep Focus

Kulap Vilaysack

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In our new column Deep Focus, TrunkSpace is going behind the camera to talk with the directors, writers, and producers who infuse our world with that perennial pop culture goodness that we can’t get enough of.

This time out we’re chatting with Kulap Vilaysack, creator and showrunner for Seeso’s “Bajillion Dollar Propertie$” starring Paul F. Tompkins and Mandell Maughan. We recently sat down with Vilaysack to discuss her upcoming documentary “Origin Story,” how she became a showrunner, and what it’s like working in an environment that nurtures improvisation.

TrunkSpace: We know that networks and execs love working with showrunners that they trust and have an established track record so we’re curious how you broke into the position?
Vilaysack: I think Seeso is the unusual place, because they’re very much creators first. You look at their lineup, a lot of the people come from podcasts. So their main goal is to really make sure that they have a point of view. I think with that said, their knowledge of me, plus me having the strong backup of Mr. Scott Aukerman of “Comedy Bang! Bang!” and Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Grant from “Reno 911!” and many other things, I think they had full confidence in me.

TrunkSpace: Was being a showrunner always in your sights or did it just happen as part of a natural career progression?
Vilaysack: It happened because, I know I talk about this a lot so forgive me, but it really came from Tom going, “Well, you’ll showrun it, right?” And I’m like, “Yeah, you’re right, I will.”

TrunkSpace: Did you feel confident right out of the gates in the position?
Vilaysack: It takes doing. It takes figuring it out. It takes listening. It takes putting together a great team whom I trust and who never let me down. It takes having great mentors and examples. Yeah, like with anything you just learn from doing.

TrunkSpace: You worked on plenty of others shows throughout the years in different capacities. Did you absorb the position through watching other showrunners?
Vilaysack: I don’t know if I learned from other showrunners but certainly I’ve learned from just being on set, seeing how sets work and then watching and going, “Okay, I think that’s great, I’d like to use that for my own project.” Or, “That’s not so great, maybe I’ll try a different way. I think there might be a better way of doing things.”

TrunkSpace: A large portion of “Bajillion Dollar Propertie$” utilizes improv. Does that change the role of a showrunner at all?
Vilaysack: I don’t know, I don’t have any other experience. For me, the show is semi-improvised so we have really strong and clear outlines that have a premise and we know who everybody is to one another and what everybody wants from one another. Then we have the beats of the scene and we have where we’re going to heighten each beat. “Okay, here are examples of dialogue that you can use or not use, but you know what I’m looking for.” And then we have an ending plan. That ending can change and oftentimes does, but there’s no feeling like you’re not supported.

But when you ask me questions in reference to what it’s like to run other shows, I don’t really have any context to share with you.

TrunkSpace: Has a moment of improv within the show ever inspired any of the broad strokes that you guys created beforehand to change? Have any gems come out of stuff where you went, “Okay, let’s rethink what we’re doing longterm?”
Vilaysack: I don’t think so. I’m trying to think here.

We have amazing, genius improvisors. The show is, in many ways, produced like a reality TV show and so we have set stories. In the beginning of the season we sit down and I sit down with all of our cast members and talk to them about what their season long arc is as individuals and then what the arc is for the show. From there we just do a bunch of different scenes and not every scene ends up in the show.

TrunkSpace: As they always say, work begets work in the industry. Do you hope to do more showrunning in the future?
Vilaysack: Yes, I’d love to.

TrunkSpace: You are also currently producing a documentary called “Origin Story” which is very close to you in terms of the subject matter. Did you ever second guess taking that journey and putting it out there for others to see?
Vilaysack: Absolutely. It’s very personal.

TrunkSpace: Where are you in the process of completing the film?
Vilaysack: I’m in post production looking to finish the film and looking to submit to Sundance this year. I’m deep into finishing it.

TrunkSpace: When you first started the film there was no funny in it at all, but from what we understand, you have since gone in and added some lighter moments throughout. Was that an element that you felt the film needed in order to find an audience?
Vilaysack: I think you just need levity. It’s hard for us as humans to go through something and not have a place to take a break. Who wants to watch suffering? As much as a fine film “Dancer in the Dark” was, I’ll never see that again.

TrunkSpace: As a showrunner and creator, you’re creating content that could one day inspire others to create their own content. Do you ever think about that in the course of your day?
Vilaysack: I don’t think about it like that. I think about creating an environment where people can do their best work, where they feel safe and held, and where people can work hard and try things. I think about setting an example. I just think you treat people right and that’s a good idea.

It’s about being present with one another. It’s about getting into a sandbox and playing and it’s about making a cool show.

Visit Seeso to learn more about “Bajillion Dollar Propertie$” and to watch the latest season!

read more