But many of her worries were eased after meeting with Levinson. “I was a little choked up on my way home from meeting him,” she says. “I called my agent and manager. I was like, ‘I can’t believe that I’m going to get to do this.’”
Before she could delve into the darkness, Kelly told Levinson she was uncomfortable with the sexual implications of one particularly sinister scene. In euphoria season two’s fifth episode, a strung out Rue shows up on Laurie’s doorstep. The drug maven offers to curb Rue’s withdrawal from her by injecting her with morphine while she bathes. “In the initial script that I read, she was much more creepy, physically, with Zendaya, and there were implications about human trafficking and stuff,” Kelly tells me. “In the scene where Rue gets into the bath, in the script, Laurie basically undresses her because she’s shaking so much. I was like, ‘That’s very pedophilic and I do n’t want to do that onscreen.’” Kelly says that Levinson was“ very understanding ”of her request from her, noting how that element of the scene was shot out of focus to ease her fears of her.
Most of Kelly’s screen time was shared with Zendaya, who reassured the actor after she flubbed her lines during their first take together. “She acts like a kid who’s home from college. Ella she does n’t act like one of the most famous people in the world, ”Kelly says. She also found herself stunned by Zendaya’s ability to slip in and out of her Emmy-winning role. Kelly compares her cost of it to Adam Driver, whom Kelly worked with in Noah Baumbach‘s Marriage Story: “Neither one of them was in character between shots,” Kelly says. “But they could go from small talk with somebody to ‘okay, rolling, action,’ and immediately be in character and be really natural and believable. The level of concentration that must require—it’s just really impressive and really intimidating because I’m like, ‘I know my lines, guys. That’s what I bring.’”
So what was it like watching herself in a role that Variety says should make her a “bona fide star”? Kelly found herself fixing on an all-too-human element. During the aforementioned bathtub scene, “I’m in a short-sleeve shirt that shows more of my arms than I want to,” she says. “It’s a low angle—no middle-aged women, acting or otherwise, want a low-angle camera. And I was like, Fuck. But then I was like, Well, worst on-camera fear is realized—short of just being naked, which I’ll never be on camera. It’s fine, and no one came onto my Twitter to be like, ‘Fuck you.’”
In fact, that was the episode for which Kelly says she received the most social media love—much to her surprise. “Once in a while, the internet gets mad at actors, especially women, who play characters who do things they don’t like,” Kelly says. “Sometimes they go online to be mad at the actor, and I was kind of scared that it would happen—but so far it hasn’t.”
Many in euphoria‘s passionate fan base have even discovered Kelly’s stand-up in the wake of season two. “I did not know scary drug lady from euphoria was a comic,” one viral TikTok featuring a clip of Kelly’s set reads. “I really did think, This is a villain,” Kelly says. “It’s also on a show with a bunch of model-level attractive young people, and then I’m a middle-aged monster. I really was afraid there’d be a lot of mean comments, but I was very surprised at how sweet they are.” Kelly, who is only now dipping her toes back into stand-up after a pandemic-induced hiatus, is n’t sure whether her newfound recognition of her will cross over. “By the time I’m doing it more, I don’t even know if euphoria fans will remember,” she says.
Viewers surely won’t forget that Laurie’s story line is left frustratingly unresolved in season two. But one has to believe that a seasoned drug dealer won’t be forgetting the $10,000 Rue owes her anytime soon. “A couple months ago I asked about it, and Sam hadn’t started writing season three yet. I probably won’t find out about whether Laurie’s going to be in it for maybe a year or so,” Kelly says, adding, “I’m a little afraid if Laurie does go back, you’ll find out more of what a monster she is.”
The other actors on Hacks, Kelly says, “are way funnier than I am and way more comfortable acting than I am.” Molly Shannon, star of I Love That for You, sent her “an extremely sweet email, and my response was very starstruck, so I probably ruined it.” When she started on Gaslite, a period drama about the Watergate scandal, Kelly “really thought it would be a serious show where everybody hates me, but it was fun.”
She admits that her imposter syndrome can be a problem. “My first response to any offer is, ‘I can’t do that,’” Kelly says. Then again, in an industry dripping with ego, Kelly has a refreshingly practical approach to showbiz. “I just am so focused on making the director happy and not making the crew’s day longer, giving the other actors in the scene what they want, that when they get the shot and then I’m wrapped for the day, I’m like Okay, no one’s mad at me. I did what they wanted and I can feel good about it,” she tells me. “It’s different from stand-up, [which] is something I love and I’d do for free and will do for the rest of my life, even if I never get paid. But with acting, it’s like, this is a job.”
Does she see her fear of failure fading anytime soon? “It’ll probably always be something I think about, just because in 2014, I was 46. That was my first acting job,” Kelly points out. “So I don’t think I’ll ever be confident acting.” She’s also frank about her perceived limitations of her as a performer. “I mean, I can’t do stuff like cry on camera,” Kelly tells me, “and occasionally directors have seemed a little frustrated—not Sam, but [with] other things I’ve done where it’s like wanting me to emote some complicated feeling…Because in real life, when I’m actually feeling really intense feelings, they don’t easily come out, so it’s like, that’s not going to happen in front of a camera and crew.”
It’s Kelly’s monotone inflection—and its ability to evoke both creepiness and comedy—that makes her presence so disarming. I ask if it’s strange for people to fixate on her voice de ella, given that it’s not an affectation or accent. “I keep thinking that at some point, someone is going to be onto me and be like her, ‘She’s actually just playing the same person in every show or movie.’ So I’m insecure about people being like, ‘Oh, this is just a party trick, not real acting,’” Kelly says with a slight shrug. “But at the same time, acting is the only job I’ve ever made a good living at, so I will ride it out as long as I can. And then when it ends, I’ll be like, That was really fun, and I can’t believe I got to do it.”