Saturday Night Live is famously one of the most demanding jobs in show business — particularly if you’re Kate McKinnon, the two-time Emmy winner of the current cast who appears in nearly every sketch. Though McKinnon doesn’t have a ton of time for outside projects, occasionally an opportunity comes along that she can’t resist. For example, playing a goat.
“I just immediately connected with the idea of a goat with big dreams,” McKinnon said during a phone call with Yahoo Entertainment. “Who gets kicked around — literally, kicked around. And who’s louder than her little body will allow.”
The goat in question is Lupe, whom McKinnon voices in the animated comedy Ferdinand (based on the classic children’s book The Story of Ferdinand, about a Spanish bull who’d rather smell flowers than fight a matador). Lupe is a “calming goat” whose job is to keep skittish bulls in check, but her secret dream is to be a trainer. When Ferdinand enters her life, scrappy Lupe believes she’s found the Rocky Balboa to her Mickey, despite the hulking bull’s insistence that he’s a pacifist.
Naturally, Ferdinand’s messages about respecting differences and choosing nonviolence are sandwiched between visual gags and bodily-function humor. Lupe is constantly hacking up objects that she ate earlier, meaning that McKinnon spent a lot of time in the recording booth making regurgitating noises. “I had done barf sketches before, but I really got to hone that skill set, and that was a joy,” she says without irony.
For McKinnon, this character quirk just made Lupe more appealing. “I love goats because they eat garbage,” she explains. “I don’t eat literal garbage, but I just relate to that for some reason. They’re making the best of what they got, and I like that.”
One of McKinnon’s gifts as a performer is her ability to transition fluidly between male and female impersonations; on SNL, she has played Justin Bieber, Robert Durst, and Jeff Sessions, to name just a few. The goat in Ferdinand has a feminine name, but none of her jokes seem gender-specific, leading us to wonder: Was the character female before McKinnon came along?
McKinnon said that she was but also acknowledged that she’s drawn to comedic roles that might have been written for men. “Sometimes they don’t write those really ‘out there’ characters for women,” she says. “I mean, it’s done more and more, and that’s great, but sometimes those do originate as ideas for men. And so I like to be able to show that a woman can embody that level of wackiness as well.”
Ferdinand opens in theaters on Dec. 15.