Susan Yeagley is no stranger to the world of improv comedy. A multi-faceted performer, she cut her teeth in the art form as part of prestigious Sunday Company of the Groundlings Improv Group. In one of her most notable roles to date, she has joined the ranks of Christopher Guests amazing troupe of actors to bring his latest comedy to life. ‘Mascots,’ a Netflix Original film, takes place in the ultra-competitive world of sports mascots where they compete for the most prestigious award in their field, the Gold Fluffy. Written by Christopher Guest and Jim Piddock, “Mascots” will launch globally on Netflix on October 13, 2016. In the film, Susan Yeagley stars alongside comedic powerhouses Jane Lynch, Parker Posey, Fred Willard, Ed Begley Jr., Christopher Moynihan, Don Lake, Zach Woods, Sarah Baker, Chris O’Dowd and more! Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently had the opportunity to catch up with Susan Yeagley to discuss her journey as an actor, bringing her characters from script to screen and more!
You have become a familiar face to audiences over the years. How did you get started on your career in the entertainment industry?
Well, I don’t like needles and I don’t like the sight of blood, so I thought I would run away from medicine and be an entertainer. [laughs]
Did you have reservations about taking the plunge?
The good news is that I have no family, on either side, that had ever made a living in show business, so there was no pressure on we whatsoever. I thought, “If this works out, great! If not, then I can always do something else like work at a bank or take care of old folks.” Luckily there was no pressure to knock it out of the park!
It is definitely working out for you so far, so that’s a plus!
Let’s talk about the influences that had a big impact on you as an artist.
Sure! I would say one of my biggest influences was Johnny Carson. Growing up, I remember my parents not getting along during my childhood but the one time they were unified was when Johnny Carson was on TV and there was laughter in the house. I remember coming downstairs in my pajamas and sneaking around the corner and watching them watch Johnny Carson and all the characters that he did. I remember realizing, right then and there, the beautiful neutralizing effect that comedy can have on people and relationships. Even if people are arguing, they can put that aside for a little while and disappear into a place of joy. So, Johnny Carson has always been a big one for me.
You’ve carved out a great career. Where do you look for inspiration these days to fuel your creative fire?
That’s a great question. I am always looking for characters. Now that I’m a mom and I go to these kid’s birthday parties, I find other parents to be great sources of comedy. It also comes from traveling a lot or even going to the grocery store. I am fascinated by what people are passionate about and what they love. The older I get, it seems there are more people to play because I can kind of age myself and play these older characters. I’m definitely always on the lookout for interesting characters.
You have a new project on the way with Netflix’s “Mascots.” How did you get involved with the project and what excited you the most about the role?
I have always wanted to work with Christopher Guest. That has been on my bucket list since I saw “Spinal Tap” in 1984. I have always been a fan of his and his work. I never quite understood how you could get into one of those movies because he has such a great little family of actors he uses over and over again for all of the films. I wasn’t sure how one penetrates that group because they are all so delightful and he uses them over and over again. I just really got lucky and timing was great! I got a call from my manager that he was looking for an actress from The South who does improv to play Parker Posey’s sister. The stars aligned because it was exactly the right match for me because I have a southern accent, a lot of my characters are southern because that is my whole life and I draw from that. It was really timing!
Tell us about the character you play in the film and what you brought to life this time around.
This character is named Laci Babineaux and she is sisters with Parker Posey’s character, Cindi Babineaux, and they are from Mississippi. I’m going with my sister to the eighth annual Mascot Convention in Anaheim, California. She is the Armadillo for the Amelia Earhart College for Women. You are going to see a whole bunch of mascots in this and it is a big ensemble cast. There are lots of great performances in the film. A lot of Christopher Guest’s movies end with a big event, whether it’s “Best In Show” with a dog show, “A Mighty Wind” with a big performance or “Waiting For Guffman” with a play at the end. This one will not disappoint as it ends with a big mascot show at the convention. We are there and we get into a lot of trouble while we are in Anaheim and that is really when the fun ensues!
The way I understand it is when working on a Christopher Guest project, you are given a loose outline of your character to allow for improvisation.
Yeah! What he does is give us about a 30 to 32 page outline that is kind of like bullet points. Chris was so smart because he gave me Parker’s number and vice versa and we started talking a couple of months before cameras started to roll. We got to know each other and talked about life, love, dogs and everything else! We really got to know each other and painted in between the bullet points of who these sisters were and what they were about. It gave us the opportunity to dive pretty deeply into them, so by the time we showed up on set together, we felt like we were sisters. That was great!
What is your typical process for bringing a character to life before you hit the set?
I tend to draw from people I know. I follow a lot of different people on Twitter and I love their voice in that concision. I follow a huge array of different types of women ranging from women in Africa who are raising their children there to women evangelists. You can hear about what they love and what their dialog is like, so I am influenced by getting to know these characters. I also draw from my own family members. As any southern woman has, I have some real kooky characters in my family! I always have an ear out for something unusual and something that excites me. These characters we developed, working with Parker, were so exciting because we could be so wild. We were two sisters from Mississippi who get to go to California, have a blast and take the world by storm.
Are there similarities between you and your character?
Yeah, I think we are similar in that we both have a naughty side. The great thing about doing this character was that I actually got to be full-on naughty, out there and a little trashy! In my own life, I have to keep that hidden! [laughs] It was fun to get to play someone who was much more overt in her maliciousness and naughtiness!
Every project has its own set of challenges. What did you encounter with this role?
Everyone was so supportive and so helpful on this project because it was my first Christopher Guest movie and they brought me right into the cake mix beautifully. Everyone was so trusting and helpful. The only problem I really had physically was chewing the gum everyday for 10 hours! My jaws were so sore at night! [laughs] I would have to come home and not talk because I had been smacking gum all day! Those are really good problems to have if they are your only problems! [laughs]
You wanted to work with Christopher Guest for some time and this project made that a reality. What did he bring out of you creatively?
I feel like I have waited my whole life to be directed by someone like him, someone so respectful of women, so kind, so brilliant and so heart-centered. He understands the process because he himself is an actor. He feels that everyone is equal, a team player, an incredible listener and is so supportive. He brought out so much in me because he made me feel so safe. He truly gave me wings to fly!
Looking back on your career, how have you most evolved as an artist?
I think I care less about what people think of me. That is probably more of a personal thing and I think, as people age, that is one of the gifts of getting older. Just knowing what works for me, what I like and trusting that and what makes me laugh provides a real freedom. It doesn’t have to make other people laugh but if it is something I find peculiar and interesting, I am able to trust that and go with that gut instinct and that’s enough!
What is the best lesson we can take from your journey as an artist?
I would say to never give up! I am 45 years old. To be 45 years old and be able to get into a Christopher Guest movie is a miracle! This is something I have wanted my whole life. The fact that this happened later in life is very inspiring. I believe in late-bloomers! I believe we are all probably going to live to be 120 years old, so it is never too late, no matter what your dream is! You are never too old! If you are still breathing and can get up in the morning, go for it! Life is short, so go for it! This experience has taught me that if it can happen to me, everybody else can find in within themselves to make their dream happen as well! It is possible!
Are you involved with any good causes we could help shine a light on?
I’ll always be supportive of GLADD and The Trevor Project. I have a gay mother, so gay rights are very front and center to me. I also love J/P HRO, which is Sean Penn’s charity. They are doing tremendous work in Haiti. I have friends who recently adopted from Haiti and have been working closely with the organization. We love all of those charities!
Awesome! Thanks so much for your time today, Susan! We wish you continued success in all of your endeavors!
Thank you, Jason! Have a great day!
Catch Susan Yeagley in Christopher Guest’s ‘Mascots’ when it premieres on Netflix on October 13th. Follow Susan Yeagley’s continuing adventures on Twitter!