It’s impossible not to love Molly Shannon.
For seven seasons on “Saturday Night Live,” the actress/comedian made us laugh with iconic oddball characters including Mary Katherine Gallagher, Terri Rialto and Circe Nightshade. Since leaving the NBC sketch show in 2001, she has shown her dramatic chops in films such as “Promising Young Woman” and “Other People,” written and directed by former “SNL” writer Chris Kelly.
Now she stars in Kelly’s razor-sharp HBO Max comedy “The Other Two” (new episodes streaming Thursdays) as an exuberant stage mom turned talk show host named Pat Dubek. The second season tracks Pat’s rapid ascent to the daytime TV throne as she interviews guests such as Mayim Bialik (really just a pharmacy employee she mistook for the “Big Bang Theory” actress) and teaches her audience long-winded catchphrases (“The grind never stops, but it can stop if you want it to – and that’s what’s cool about the grind”).
“We had a great time” shooting Pat’s daytime segments, says Shannon, who looked to Oprah Winfrey, Rosie O’Donnell and Drew Barrymore for inspiration. “We were in a real studio with a real audience, so it felt like doing your own show.”
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Shannon, 56, also appeared in this summer’s most-talked-about new series, HBO’s “The White Lotus,” playing the rich, casually cruel mom to the entitled Shane (Jake Lacy). She’ll next co-star with fellow “SNL” alum Vanessa Bayer in the Showtime comedy “I Love This For You,” set at a home-shopping network.
“I feel really grateful right now,” Shannon says. “Other Two” creators Kelly and Sarah Schneider “are supremely talented, and then to also be on ‘The White Lotus,’ I couldn’t be happier with these two jobs. I’m so excited. I really have been in a place of just celebrating that I worked hard in show business, and I feel incredibly lucky for these opportunities.”
She talks to USA TODAY about both shows, as well as the 20th anniversary of the 2001 cult comedy classic “Wet Hot American Summer.”
Question: What do you love most about Pat’s relationship with her kids Cary (Drew Tarver), Brooke (Heléne Yorke) and Chase (Case Walker) this season?
Molly Shannon: She is very excited that they’re coming into their own, and she wants all good things for all her children. She’s just such a mom. But at the end of the day, as much as she’s excited about what everybody is doing, family is still No. 1, and she would never want to lose what she had (before fame): that tight-knit group. Now that her first husband is dead, that’s the most important thing to her.
Q: How would you fare as a daytime TV host?
Shannon: It seems hard, yeah? That would be really fun, but I wouldn’t want such a crazy schedule. I wouldn’t mind doing it three days a week as opposed to five, with two weeks on and two weeks off. I wouldn’t be happy if it was just go, go, go, go, go, no break. I don’t envy that type of thing, if you have no life and it’s all work.
Q: How did it feel going from playing a very humble, generous mom like Pat on “The Other Two” to an overbearing, pushy one like Kitty on “The White Lotus?”
Shannon: They’re such different characters, so I’m glad I didn’t shoot them both at the same time. That would be hard. Pat feels like one of the people; she feels like she is one of her fans. It’s all the same. Kitty feels above it all. She lives in her own world. I don’t even think she would think twice about someone like Pat. That wouldn’t really interest her. But it could be a fun dinner (with both of them).
Q: “Wet Hot American Summer” turns 20 this year. What do you remember about making it?
Shannon: We shot at this camp in upstate New York and it was really fun, because it’s like Paul Rudd! Amy Poehler! Everybody was hanging out and we were staying in cabins, so it was like camp in real life for all these comedians. Nobody knew what it would turn into. When we were first at Sundance, people were like, “What is this?” But then it just grew and grew and grew over the years, and people really discovered it.
Q: Even now, is there an “SNL” character that fans quote back to you most?
Shannon: Definitely Mary Katherine Gallagher. I was just on vacation in Hawaii and people were (sticking their hands in their armpits and sniffing their fingers, like the character). And Sally O’Malley I get a lot. But I never get sick of it. It’s very sweet and it means a lot to me that people never get tired of it.
Q: Do your kids watch any of your work? (Shannon has two teenage children, Stella and Nolan, with artist husband Fritz Chesnut.)
Shannon: They came to see “Superstar” (1999’s Mary Katherine Gallagher spinoff movie) with me a couple of years ago. It played at a theater here in Hollywood and they brought their friends, which was so special. Stella’s watching “The White Lotus,” and Nolan watched some, too. Both kids really like it – they’re pretty sophisticated.
Q: You get personal in your new memoir that’s due out next year. (Shannon recently opened up to the Los Angeles Times about the car accident that killed her mother, sister and cousin when she was 4 years old. Her father was driving under the influence.) What has surprised you most about writing it?
Shannon: I like the quiet of a book. It’s so different than performing, but I really like getting those stories on paper in case I ever forget. I always took notes of certain things my dad would say that I was like, “I’m gonna write about this someday.” He was such a funny character, and I put a lot of his energy into my characters at “SNL”; the “joyologist” is the very excited part of my dad. And then Sally O’Malley, the character comes on limping – that’s my dad. So I wanted to write about him, my childhood, losing my mom, “SNL” – it’s all in the book. I’m really proud of it.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Molly Shannon talks HBO Max’s ‘The Other Two,’ famous ‘SNL’ characters