Jessica Williams talks ‘Shrinking’ and transgender rights

Jessica Williams is no stranger to tackling complicated issues with humor. From being the youngest and first Black woman correspondent on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” to now starring opposite Jason Segel and Harrison Ford on the AppleTV+ show “Shrinking,” Williams uses her improv skills and authenticity not only to entertain but also to hit on deep truths. “Grief settles in and it just changes you,” she says. “It doesn’t leave. It just makes a home in your body.”

In this episode of “The Envelope,” Williams reflects on how personal experiences, including her years of therapy and the death of her partner, have shaped her performance. She also gets into her view of the “Black lady therapist” trope, the controversy surrounding J.K. Rowling and transgender rights, and what she learned while making the “Fantastic Beasts” films. Plus, Williams offers tips on “decolonizing” your garden. Listen now wherever you get your podcasts.

Mark Olsen: Hello and welcome to “The Envelope” from the Los Angeles Times, where we bring you in-depth conversations with some of the talents behind your favorite movies and TV shows. I’m one of your hosts, Mark Olsen.

Yvonne Villarreal: And I’m your other host, Yvonne Villarreal. And I have to say I was so, so excited when I found out we booked this week’s guest. Mark, why don’t you tell our listeners who you talked to?

Olsen: I spoke to Jessica Williams, and I have to say I was pretty excited about it too. Ever since she became the youngest correspondent on “The Daily Show” at age 22, as well as the first Black woman correspondent on the show, Jessica has just been this radiant talent.

Jessica Williams

More than one profile of her has mentioned how quickly people feel like they know her — like she could be their friend. And from this conversation, it’s easy to see why. She has a way of addressing complicated issues in her work in a way that feels positive and useful. And so it’s no wonder she is now getting such acclaim for her role on the Apple TV+ show “Shrinking” as Gaby, a therapist in a practice with characters played by Jason Segel and Harrison Ford.

Villarreal: Listen, I watch a lot of TV, but the moment that Jessica is carpool karaoke-ing with Harrison Ford to Sugar Ray’s song, like: all-time greatest moments on TV. But selfishly, I hope you also talk to her about her podcast-turned-TV show, “2 Dope Queens.” That podcast was such a staple in my car on the drive home from work back when we, you know, went into the office. It had this way of making you feel like you were meeting them for happy hour. The conversations were so loose and so funny. I hope you talked to her about that.

Olsen: Oh, we definitely talked about “2 Dope Queens,” and she had a lot to say about the really special and really immediate dynamic that she had between her and her co-host, Phoebe Robinson. And Jessica and I also talk a bit about gardening.

Villarreal: Oh!

Olsen: So let’s get to it.

Jessica, thanks so much for joining us.

Jessica Williams: Hi, Mark. Thanks for having me. I’m really excited.

Olsen: So, Jessica, I understand the co-creators of “Shrinking” — Jason Segel, Brett Goldstein and Bill Lawrence — tailored the role of Gaby to you. What is that like? Is there a moment where you’re like, “This is what you think of me?” Is it strange when people say they’ve written something for you?

Williams: That’s funny. No, you know, I think they met with a few people and it was sort of this thing where in the first couple episodes you don’t really see Gaby. But they knew whoever they hired that they wanted to tailor her, so I think I was one of a few that they considered. And then I remember having a really, really good initial meeting. It was super long. We talked about everything from therapy to basketball, and I just remember being like, “Oh, that was actually really nice.” I really got along with them. They were all really cool. Like, “Good luck with the project. I hope it goes well,” you know, whatever happens. I just walked away really liking them.

And then I think maybe the next day they said they wanted to work with me. And what was great and what I was most excited about was Bill Lawrence and Jason and Brett, they were all just like, “Yeah, we want to write to your sensibilities, and you can improvise on set, and so we want to figure out who Gaby is together.”

And initially with Gaby, they knew a couple of things. They knew that they wanted her to balance out Paul, who’s played by Harrison Ford, and Jimmy, who’s played by Jason Segel, at the office. So they knew they wanted her to be sort of a counterbalance to them. And so we knew she was kind of a bubblier person and then we kind of filled her in around that.

What was great was that even when we had our table read, Bill Lawrence was like, “My rule usually is that you as the actor are in charge of your character. And if you feel like something doesn’t make sense for the character, if you feel like you’d rather not do that or you would like to do something, you have free rein because I trust you with the character.” So that was really exciting and that literally was what it became on set. It was a really kind of magical experience on “Shrinking.”

Olsen: Your main co-stars on the show, Jason Segel, Harrison Ford — on the one hand, Jason certainly knows his way around a sitcom. And then Harrison Ford is, you know, Harrison Ford. What was that like in those early scenes? Because if nothing else, I would imagine those two people have very different energies. How did you figure out how to kind of navigate with the both of them?

Williams: Yeah, actually that’s a really good question. Nobody’s asked me that before, but they do, they do have two different energies, completely. And so in the beginning I was really nervous about that. I’d already seen all of Jason’s stuff for the most part, and Harrison’s too, I guess, but I guess I just did some light rewatching.

But I found that on my first day, one of our first scenes was the three of us in the kitchen. And that was really helpful because I found that we all had a pretty quick dynamic that we could understand. And with Gaby, who I play, and Jimmy, who Jason plays, they both sort of turn into siblings when they’re around Harrison’s character of Paul. And they both sort of, kind of talk s— to each other and sort of, kind of try and vie for Paul’s affection, which I don’t think is that far off from when people usually meet Harrison Ford. Like, you probably just want to have him pat you on the back and tell you, “You did decent!” Like, you kind of just want him to tell you did a decent job at minimum. And so that really fueled us, and we figured out our dynamic really quickly.

Sometimes I think when you’re doing the first season of a show, especially the first few episodes, it is this really kind of gentle experience of trying to figure out if we all work well together and if these characters make enough sense. And luckily they did. They did make sense. Jason was really easy to kind of lean on as far as how he’s used to doing comedy stuff, and I feel like he was a very good team captain for all of us on the show. And it was really fun to kind of — he just kind of had my back and he had all of our backs. And so it was really nice to kind of know pretty quickly that I had that support, and especially in regards to trying to figure out Gaby and Paul’s dynamic with Harrison too.

Olsen: Given your background in improv, how is Harrison Ford as an improv partner?

Williams: He’s good. I mean, Harrison Ford is really funny, and he’s always been funny. I think the reason why his, you know, most famous characters work: Han Solo’s funny. Indy’s funny, you know? He had it. I wasn’t worried about that at all. And who am I to be worried about the legend, you know? He was good. He’s a giving actor too, like he’s just a damn good actor.

In the beginning it took me like a day to get used to his face because it is a little bit of an adjustment period, realizing just how good of an actor he is and how gorgeous he is and how seared into my mind his existence is simply from being alive in America and liking film. And so once I got used to that, it was a no-brainer. I think one of my favorite, my most favorite, relationships on the show is Gaby and Paul’s relationship. There was just a lot of meat on the bone, as some people say. It wrote itself, Gaby and Paul, I think — it didn’t, we have amazing writers — but as an actor, it was such a gift to be able to do those scenes with Harrison. Like you have this millennial Black lady and this older white guy in his 80s. That’s a really fun relationship that you don’t really see on camera.

Olsen: One thing I like so much about this show is the way that there are all these different pairings of characters. For example, the scene where your character Gaby goes to her ex-husband’s art show and you get these great moments both with the character of Liz and the character of Sean, and then you have this sort of meltdown. First of all, a scene like that, how much of that is improv? Do you guys kind of workshop stuff before you’re shooting? Or how did something like Gaby’s meltdown come about?

Williams: I was really, really excited by the time we got to those later episodes because we were finally able to start mixing and matching our characters. And one of the things, even before I signed on to do the shows, they knew that Gaby and Liz would become really, really good friends. And I’m really, really proud of that because I love working with Christa. And I also just think that Luke Tennie, who plays Sean, is just an incredible actor. And so I was really excited to be able to kind of break off with them.

That episode is directed by Zach Braff, who has a longstanding relationship with Christa and Bill Lawrence from “Scrubs,” because Bill Lawrence created “Scrubs” as well. And Zach really understands comedy and comedic beats. Now, with the breakdown that Gaby had, it’s sort of like a “who told who?” thing because a lot of that was improvised, but I thought somebody jumped in and told me to say that my ex-husband loved thumbs in the butt, but the writer said nobody wrote that.

[Clip from “Shrinking”: GABY: I shouldn’t do this, but I will. LIZ: No, don’t. GABY: I’m not going to kink shame, but maybe I will. LIZ: No. GABY: He loves thumbs in the butt. LIZ : All right. SEAN: It was nice meeting you. GABY: That was part of all the work I did. LIZ: Mmhmm. GABY: I put thumbs in the butt. LIZ: Yep. SEAN: It was nice meeting you. GABY: Sometimes I would put two thumbs in his butt — SEAN: Thank you. GABY: — and he’d be like, “More, more.” SEAN: Sorry. It was a lovely event. Lovely. I mean, y’all just killed this s—. GABY: Nico’s a finger-in-the-butt man…]

Williams: I said one of the writers told me that, ’cause I didn’t make that up, but they’re kind of putting it back on me. So I genuinely don’t know what parts of that breakdown begin with me and begin with the writing or ends. But it just became what it became. And that’s just one of those things where you just try and stay as present as possible and you just kind of get in this flow state and you just kind of go.

And I’ve always loved — like I tried out for my school’s improv team when I was 14, when I was in high school — and I love not knowing what’s going to happen. And I had that in high school. I had that when I did ComedySportz in college and Upright Citizens Brigade. And then I had it when I got “The Daily Show” at 22. And then I had it when I did “2 Dope Queens” in New York. And I love not knowing what’s going to happen. It really excites me to be a little scared, and it excites me to kind of black out and be so present with my partner that I don’t know what’s going to happen.

Now that I’m in my 30s, I feel like I really homed in on that. And I really came back from doing “Fantastic Beasts,” which was a very rigid movie where you have to stick to the script. And then I jumped into “Love Life,” which was this really elastic sort of thing where we developed this character that I played together. And it was really like the first time that I felt like I was a slightly older actor that had homed in on what she wanted to do.

Olsen: I mean, it’s interesting to hear you say that you feel like you’ve developed that skill, that it’s something that’s kind of come through all your experiences. Because I’ll be honest with you, Jessica, I don’t really understand acting, like I don’t know how it works exactly, and the idea of being that sort of present and open to what’s happening but while in character, like freely reacting as Gaby? That, to me, is the dark art. That’s the thing I can’t —

Williams: That’s really funny.

Olsen: — quite get my head around.

Williams: Everyone does it. Really, there’s just no secret. Everyone does it differently, and I think it’s like — on this job, about doing comedy in this aspect and about being Gaby, she’s a really present, heart-on-her sleeve person, so she’s about being open. And so it’s about improvising within the confines of the scene. When I learn the lines the night before or the morning of, I try not to overrun them, but I like to have in my head three different responses that I would do, three alternative lines, to each line. And I try and really focus on the intention of the scene. And Bill Lawrence really likes to get — he calls it getting the base. So I’ll give them the lines. I’ll give them the lines in the first few takes. And then he’s just like, “Then go nuts.”And usually they found that on this show, for me, for Gaby, they would just use the “go nuts” lines.

Olsen: One thing, as well, that I like so much about Gaby — and I hope this doesn’t sound silly — is she has great outfits throughout the show.

Williams: That’s not silly.

Olsen: I feel like it says a lot about the character, and I’m curious: How much of her look and vibe on the show do you feel like you’re allowed to have input on?

Williams: A lot. I got to work with Allyson Fanger a lot. I think costumes and wardrobe, they’re doing just great work. It’s like you almost shouldn’t notice the costumes, but they should be in your subconscious as a viewer. It’s a really delicate line to walk. And so I know, for me, I really care about fashion and I love the wardrobe — it helps me understand the character better. So whenever Allyson Fanger wanted to do a fitting, I was there. Like, whatever she wanted, I was like, “Yes, whatever you need.” And for Gaby, they always knew she wanted her to be bright and colorful. When I met with Bill and Brett and Jason, they said that it was important to the writers that whenever you saw Gaby on screen, you’d be like, “Holy s—, I want a therapist like that. Where did she get that?” You know, “Where’d she get that outfit?”

I was really lucky because we worked a lot with this local L.A. company called Big Bud Press. And they do these really amazing, really inclusive, kind of really colorful jumpsuits, and they make them in just great sizing. ’Cause, I’m like, as a woman, I’m like a size 14, 12, 16. I’m like a — I think it’d be called midsize or curvy or whatever, who gives a s—? But it was really important for me to see her be cute on screen and look like me and my friends.

A lot of what Gaby wears is at a great price point, like, that’s more accessible than when you’re watching TV and you’re like, “What the f— are they wearing? Why are they so together? That is so expensive.” It’s like, no, we don’t want to do that. She’s just, like, a lady. We didn’t want to show something that felt aspirational and rich. We wanted to show something that just felt aspirational and doable for her.

Olsen: And then the show is about these therapists and has a really interesting take on the therapist-client relationship. And you’ve talked often about your own experiences with therapy, and I’m wondering how that has impacted your relationship to the show.

Williams: Yeah, I’ve done loads of therapy. I go in and out with my therapist that I’ve had for about eight years, and I love her. She always has me check in with myself. She makes me a more thoughtful person. It’s just such an important thing for me in my day to day. And so with “Shrinking,” I was really excited to play a woman whose profession has really been a big part of my life for the last eight or nine years. And it’s affected me in that I feel a little more self-aware, hopefully.

Olsen: There was an article that Aisha Harris did for NPR’s “All Things Considered” that was about this kind of TV trope of the “Black lady therapist.” I’m curious how you related to that idea and if there were ways in which you did or did not want Gaby to fall into what some of those more typical versions of that character might be.

Williams: Yeah, that’s a great article. There was also a really interesting discussion on Twitter about it that I thought was really cool. Yeah. I think in a lot of ways, that is a version of the “magical Negro” trope, which is another trope in film and TV that’s like a Black person that feels cozy enough that you can tell all your problems to and that they’ll kind of take care of you, like a Black nanny or something, which is another trope, and they don’t have an inner life or inner world of their own. And it’s sort of this profession that allows you to get kind of comforted and coddled by a Black woman — which, I think, there is a part of society that really responds to how cozy we seem. I don’t know, maybe it goes back to us being caretakers a lot of the time, or “the help” in households, which is really fascinating and really interesting.

I think with Gaby, the reason why I wanted to do it, knowing about that trope, was — I knew that they were all therapists and that Jason was a therapist and Harrison was a therapist and Gaby was a therapist, and that Gaby was quite messy. And I think one of the keys to breaking any trope or stereotype is to attack things with specificity as much as possible. Specificity, specificity, specificity. And I think, knowing before I signed on that I’d be able to improvise meant that I was going to be able to listen to pop-punk in my car in a scene and sing Sugar Ray with Harrison Ford because I do those things on my own. I was able to bring that to the character. And that, in its own, breaks out of a trope because it’s specific.

And then not only that, but then the white people in charge, both on the show and both at the network, need to allow room for the Black actors, the people of color, the queer people, to breathe on screen. I got really lucky because there’s not a lot of environments for Black people to do that. There is this thing where people will hire minorities or others and say, “OK, now you have to be mixed,” or, “OK, now you have to be within these confines. Now you have to play this trope.” Which, you know what, shoutout to every Black person, woman of color that’s had to get on screen and play a therapy trope, because I don’t want to invalidate that experience because you had to freaking get on screen and you had to f—ing work. I don’t wanna slip into that slippery slope of invalidating those that have come before that have had to play those parts because I think that’s bulls—. You know, that’s being too hard on our people.

However, now that we’re aware of the trope, that means that the white people in charge have to let us breathe. They have to let us exist. They have to let us live. They have to let us be awkward and quirky and funny and confused. They have to give us the opportunity to sing Sugar Ray with Harrison Ford. They have to ask you, “What do you wanna sing with Harrison Ford?” I was like, “Sugar Ray.” They’re like, “Great, we’re going to do that.”

[Clip from “Shrinking”: (GABY and PAUL singing “Every Morning” by Sugar Ray.)]

Olsen: “Shrinking” is a show that at its core, explores grief. And that’s something that — it’s not an easy topic to tackle because on the one hand it’s very relatable, but it’s also something that’s extremely personal. Gaby, the character, is going through a lot of different issues, both grieving her marriage and grieving her best friend, and yet she’s so often kind of the energizer of things. She is this supportive character for other people. Was it difficult for you to create space for the character of Gaby to address her own emotions, to have her own grief on the show, that she wasn’t always having to support everybody else?

Williams: No, it was — I’m a very emotional person. I cry, you know, all the time. Now, I think as an actor it’s important for me to be open to however I’m feeling on a day. I think when I was a younger actress, you wanted to be tough, you know, like it was like, especially as like a woman of color, but that doesn’t serve me. And then I personally have had my own grief and like, I had a boyfriend die a few years ago of a heroin overdose. And, you know, I’m grieving all the time. Some days it’s good, some days it’s bad. But I know I came out of that experience having had a profound sense of loss and I had a palette — a painter’s palette — and then I came out with different colors. Like, you know, grief settles in and it just changes you. It doesn’t leave, it just makes a home in your body.

And so, ever since that happened, I’m especially, especially always open to a hug. I’m always open to laughing or crying; it doesn’t bother me at all. And so to play Gaby, it was actually more of a cathartic experience, where we needed each other. It was a delight. It’s like the best, one of the best, jobs I’ve ever had was playing her, because emotionally I really understood her and I was able to go and do comedy, and sometimes I would just do hard comedy as Gaby, and then sometimes I would just be emotional as Gaby and sad and grieving. It was just such a blessing of a role because I got to explore all the facets of Gaby, which also helps break her out of that Black female therapist trope too.

Olsen: Jessica, I find it striking how comedy is so often a way to tackle really hard topics but also prompt more thoughtful and meaningful conversations. Looking back at your career from “The Daily Show,” “2 Dope Queens” and now “Shrinking,” how do you find balance between entertaining with humor but also engaging audiences on a deeper level with these very real social and emotional issues?

Williams: Hmm. I think a lot of people actually do have this, especially people of color, queer people, women, that have to straddle a line in their day-to-day of just kind of what comes with living in a complicated society. I think in my head, as I get older, I think we will always have this struggle between what you would consider good and evil or right and wrong. Sometimes I see it as a tug-of-war where people are tugging in one way and, you know, for a few years it’s this, and then we’re tugging in the other way. As opposed to one day, in the immediate future, everything’s going to be taken care of.

And so there’s this interesting gray area that we all live in where, when you’re sad, actually, things can be profoundly funny. And like, I know when my ex-partner passed and I watched, you know, when he died, it was beyond sad. I literally thought I would die because I was so sad. But around that time, things were actually really, really funny that made me laugh, you know?

And also just being a person that — living in a society that you have the pandemic, which is incredibly sad — people are always dying, you know, which is always really sad, and most times things are unresolved — you’re still laughing sometimes, hopefully, or you’re finding moments to smile. And I think that sort of speaks to where we are as far as how complicated the experience is of being alive right now.

And I think now with what’s on TV, that’s sort of the state of modern television is exploring that idea that things can be everything. You know, literally the most popular movie last year was “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” It’s this sort of dynamic kind of existence that we live in where things can be happy and sad and scary and funny and sexy and silly all at the same time.

Olsen: Your podcast-turned-HBO special, “2 Dope Queens,” it paired you with Phoebe Robinson, and the two of you had such a great dynamic together. Was that difficult to find? Was that just the two of you together, or was that something you had to really work to figure out what that dynamic was going to be?

Williams: No, she and I — I remember doing my first show with her. We were like, “Whoa, that was really fun. We should do that again.” Sometimes with chemistry — you can fake it, actually. I do. You can. And that’s your job as an actor is to make it work no matter what. And I in particular pride myself on being able to create chemistry with anyone. I really work hard to do that, and sometimes you just have to fake it till you make it.

But when it’s real? When it’s really real, you can’t, you just can’t fake it. And with her, it was one of those things where if you’re in the zone, if we’re in the zone, it’s like flying. It’s like you don’t know what’s going to happen, which is that thing that I like. When you have chemistry with another performer, especially “2 Dope Queens,” — the format was that we were just talking — and to be able to go from doing live shows every week, and then selling them out for years, and then getting HBO comedy specials and selling out the Kings Theatre, which is a huge theater in Brooklyn, and doing eight of those and selling out those shows — it speaks to how special it is to get chemistry with someone. It makes you feel like you belong somewhere and you belong with someone. And it’s like, ah. It’s the best feeling. It’s like a high, almost like. It’s the best.

Olsen: And then “The Fantastic Beasts” movies that you’ve been in — so much of what you’ve done has been like on a smaller scale, like kind of indie stuff. What was it like for you to step into the biggest-budget movies you can kind of go in? That must have been a real change of pace.

Williams: Yeah, that was insane doing that, because that was like my first, at the highest level, doing a movie like that. I had my own huge trailer, which was insane. We had a chef that makes us food and whatever you ask for. And I left that job a better actor because I did that job for about five months and I got to watch — you know, there’s something to English actors. I got to live in London, which was freaking amazing.

I’ve had a Harry Potter tattoo for many years and I was now in this universe. I was working with Colleen Atwood, who’s just one of the greatest costume designers of all time. I got to be on these sets that were the size of small cities, that were like two to three stories tall, and every detail was thought of. And we had the budget. They would be like, [director] David Yates would be like, “And then you’re going to disappear!” And I’d be like, “Do we have the budget for that?” And he’d be like, “Ha ha ha, yes.” You know? Like, yes. We do have the budget for special effects, you know? And so that was a profoundly shaping experience for me.

And you had to stay on the lines. I didn’t get the crutch of being able to riff and do improv, which for me can be a bit of a crutch ’cause it’s almost like a kind of collaborating and rewriting. And then just watching people up close, like Jude Law and Eddie Redmayne, just kind of like BAFTA dudes, BAFTA boys, just really working up close. Mads Mikkelsen, I got to watch act. Just being able to watch them, I learned so, so much.

I walked away learning the space you could ask for. And because those are really serious actors, quote unquote, because they’re award-winning actors — and they’re polite, they’re very nice and very lovely. But I learned about what it’s like to carve space for your process. And I learned that it’s nice to kindly ask for, for your process at the highest, highest, highest level. If I’m not getting space to quietly prepare for this scene, pull the director aside or the producer aside and ask for what I need. Or I’m going to wait till we’re wrapped and I’m gonna kindly ask for what I need. And I learned that watching really, really, really good, really polite, really kind English actors work. Because they’re craftsmen. They’re men of the craft.

Olsen: And now, given that — and also knowing that you’ve been a fan of the “Harry Potter” books for so long — is there now a difficulty for you? The controversy around J.K. Rowling and her continued comments about the transgender community, is that something that’s difficult for you now to reconcile?

Williams: I think, like without question, the bottom of my heart and gut, there is just no question at all that trans lives matter and that it’s like, it doesn’t make sense for me as a woman of color, minority, Black person to be pushing for the safety of myself without looking around and pushing for the safety and thought and equal rights of others. I wasn’t raised like that. That doesn’t register to me. I literally just, fundamentally in my heart, believe in the validity of trans people. And I hope that with my work, that that is something that is very clear and that I never, you know, that that never comes into question.

And so, yeah, I mean, I just don’t agree in any way, shape or form. And as an actress, it’s tough because I’m separating my work from the energy around the work. That, like for me, being a part of this big kind of machine in this big world, which is like a network and a studio and a creator, it’s a really, really tough position as just an actor in the whole thing to be a part of. And an up-and-coming actor. It is really, really tough just because at the core of my being, I just don’t agree.

Olsen: When you were on “The Daily Show” and Jon Stewart was leaving, there were a lot of people who wanted you to take over the show or to be considered for host, and you very pointedly at the time said you did not want that job. I’ve always been curious how you look back on that decision now, from where you’ve gone in the years since then, how do you feel about making that decision then now?

Williams: I think I made the right choice. I don’t want it. That’s a hard job. It’s a grind. Also, nobody really knows what they’re talking about. If anybody’s seen what the job is like, it sure as f— is me. You know what I mean? If anybody knows the intricacies in all of the world of that job, it’s everyone that’s worked at that job. And to me, especially for Jon, that’s what the money’s for because you’re working long hours. You’re watching the news, which is depressing. That’s not good for — I’m gentle, that’s not good for me to watch the news all the time. I’m very sensitive. I just can’t. It’s not good for me. I need to go be, like, braless in my backyard and like, paint and listen to like Animal Collective in my backyard. That’s the life that I need to do. You know?

It’s also like, I ran into somebody that was like, “Yeah, but we love Jon, like, why isn’t he running for president?” And then it’s like, ’cause that’s like a s—y job. That job sucks. Or like, “Oh, Michelle Obama, why isn’t she running for president?” Because she already, she’s seen how it is to be the — you don’t know what it’s like to be the president of the United States. You just don’t. That job probably sucks, like really badly. You can’t go anywhere. You gotta stay in this big, white house, which for all intents and purposes, for all the photos I’ve seen, looks busted. The White House doesn’t look like it’s designed that well. It looks ugly. You’re stressed. You have to have a secret service follow you around all the time. Everyone’s mean to you. Like everyone’s talking s—. You’re not making your constituents happy. You’re not making — no. It’s like, nobody knows what they’re talking about unless they’re in it. Not really. You’re just saying opinions.

Late-night is a hard job. You do it every night. There’s only seven or eight people that do it right now. It’s not an easy job. It’s just not.

Olsen: And now do you have some idea of what you have kind of coming up? I know a lot of things are in flux for a lot of people right now. But could we expect more from the “2 Dope Queens”?

Williams: No, no, no “2 Dope Queens” coming up. But I do, you know, we got our second season of “Shrinking,” and we were supposed to be filming it now, but we do have this writers strike, so we’re just kind of waiting. That’s kind of the biggest thing.

I have a movie coming out at some point in 2024. And now I’m just kind of waiting for the next thing. I’m not nervous. Right now I can pay my mortgage. And I really want to do stuff that speaks to my skill set now because I just got this incredible experience of “Shrinking” and I learned so much on this set about what my process is.

Also, that I want to have in my dream world — because I’m from here where I live now, I just moved back from New York, all my family’s here, my friends that I’ve known since elementary, middle school, high school and college are here — I want work-life balance. I don’t want my life to just be acting. I’m happiest when I’m bulls—ing with my friends at a bar down on York. I’m happiest doing inside jokes with my friends on a Duffy — like, a small boat — floating around in Newport Beach, you know? And so I want to do that. I want to be happy in my home, with my friends and my loved ones while doing really rewarding work. But I just want to have a sandwich with my friends, I think. I want to laugh with my friends and then be able to put that into my work.

Olsen: Well, Jessica, I have to say that I follow you on Instagram —

Williams: Oh, I’m following you. I’m going to follow you.

Olsen: Oh! I’m a huge fan of all your home renovation and in particular gardening content. I love your garden so much, and I always enjoy it when you post photos from your garden.

Williams: Thank you. It’s really important to me. I looked for a really long time for a landscape designer. She’s just a badass. Her name is Sarita, and I’m obsessed with her, and we work together to create the garden. And now I can tell you everything.

It’s a mostly California native garden, so I get bees and butterflies and it smells like salvia after the rain. And the coolest thing she taught me is, the most progressive thing you can do is decolonize your front yard, which is a lot of times, in the ’50s when they were building front yards at the birth of suburbia, they were modeling their lawns, the traditional lawn, after England and those parks. And those are traditionally kind of white-centric, European-centric yards. And so what’s cool is imagining our landscape in Southern California — or wherever you live — as how it was when the native people lived here. And doing your best to plant, as much as possible, plants that are native to California. Because they’ll do better. They’re meant to be here.

And so that was a really interesting concept that she taught me about, you know, you don’t just want to have roses, roses, roses. I mean, that’s gorgeous, but are there California native wild roses? Yes. Then maybe plant that, because that’s kind of decolonizing your garden. And it makes it easier for all of the animals that live here and you don’t have to spend so much on water, and it’s just naturally gorgeous.

Olsen: Uh —

Williams: Your face is so funny right now!

Olsen: Well, no, I think that — you know, I’m just really appreciating what you’ve been saying, and honestly I’m thinking a bit about my own lawn right now so, it’s just, Jessica, I’m so excited for more gardening content from you.

Williams: Oh, I’m so glad. Anytime. I appreciate that.

Olsen: The show is “Shrinking.” Jessica Williams, thank you so much for joining us.

Williams: Thank you, Mark. I appreciate it.

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