The Ghostbusters star’s turn as Hillary Clinton on Saturday Night Live made her one of 2016’s breakout stars. Her latest impression? A mischievous take on the PM
Hi Kate. I’m also Kate.
Oh, Kates are the best Kates, aren’t they?
I just watched your new film, Ferdinand, in which you play a scrappy goat (1). How long did it take you to perfect your goat scream?
It sunk in in about a day. There’s one in particular, a compilation of the best goat screams, and I have seen it upwards of 75 times. I still cry with laughter every time I watch it. It might be the funniest thing in the entire world.
One of your other recent impressions on Saturday Night Live was of Theresa May (2), which was very funny.
[SQUEALS] Thank you!
Do you ever get nervous about portraying powerful people, or does that get easier (3)?
I just assume that they are not going to see it because they are reading bills or voting on things, or something. With anyone I do an impression of, I always find something that I really love about them. I watched a lot of videos of [Theresa May] and I … I thought there’s a lot of things that about her that I find … endearing (4).
What did you really love about May?
I’m not sure. I found her cheerful, from afar. I don’t live there so I’m not completely immersed in the nuances of the politics of the UK. But just as a speaking voice, I took delight in it.
Didn’t your penchant for the British accent make you want to be a comedian in the first place?
Oh, it was just a little skit or something in fifth grade about the Queen, and everyone was auditioning, and I thought: “Wouldn’t it be funny if I did a British accent for this?”, and everyone laughed. I got such a high from that laughter that I never stopped.
Is that still what sketch comedy is about for you: chasing the laughter?
For me, it’s an exercise in sharing fascination and joy. By embodying something and showing it to the audience, and us all taking delight in it, it’s a way of trying to connect and share with a group of people in a way that I might not be able to if I was just playing myself.
Sometimes the people you are lampooning and reality collide: what was the experience of playing Hillary opposite the real Hillary like (5)?
It was one of the most incredible moments of my life. You don’t often find yourself in a situation where you’re impersonating someone to their face … She couldn’t have been more gracious or have had better natural comic timing.
Do you miss playing her?
[Long pause] Yeah … I have found little ways to continue to do it, and I hope that I’ll continue to do that. But, yeah, I really love the character (6).
Do you think comedy has the potential to enact political change?
I feel like it definitely has the ability to shape the way that we think about public figures, and try to elucidate their inner life and their essence a little bit. Could it cause someone to change their political convictions? Probably not. I think people’s political convictions run on a longer timescale than one sketch show. But I do think that it helps inform how people think about these people. A good example is when Will Ferrell played George W Bush on SNL and he said “strategery”. The president never actually said that but that became something that everyone thought he said.
You’ve played a goat, you’ve played the British PM. Is there anyone you wouldn’t do an impression of?
Oh, that’s interesting … I wouldn’t attempt an impression of someone I truly hated, because it would be a bad impression.
Paul Feig said recently that he regrets that his Ghostbusters reboot turned into a cause (7). Would you be up for round two?
I’d love it.
And Theresa May. Is she going to make a comeback on SNL?
I pray, yes. She has to do something in real life in order for me to do it. So would you let her know that if she does something outlandish (8), then I’ll pop back in?
I’ll send her a text right now.
Great, thank you so much.
1 McKinnon plays Lupe, the garbage-munching sidekick to Ferdinand’s lovable bull. Even as a goat, she steals the show.
2 During a skit on May’s “savage” take down of Trump’s Britain First retweets.
4 Were the impression not so good, I would wonder if she had got the right person.
5 The character for which she is best known. The real Hillary appeared as a bartender to McKinnon’s Clinton in a pre-election show.
6 So much so that when she performed Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah as Hillary, to open the first SNL show after the US election, she was palpably trembling with emotion.
7 Feig’s all-female Ghostbusters remake, which starred McKinnon, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones and Melissa McCarthy, was the subject of criticism from misogynistic internet trolls.
8 Keep those eyes glued to BBC News, Kate.
Ferdinand is released in cinemas on 16 December.