Ellie Kemper: TV’s new underdog in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Eric Liebowitz / Netflix
Eric Liebowitz / Netflix

Look out New York City — and the world for that matter — because there’s a new underdog to cheer for and her name is Kimmy Schmidt. Season 1 of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, starring Ellie Kemper (The Office), officially lands on Netflix Friday. All 13 episodes of the comedy, co-created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock (30 Rock) are now available for streaming.

The comedy stars Kemper as a woman starting her life over after being freed from a cult for the last 15 years. She impulsively decides to move to New York City to start her life over. Despite being armed with nothing more than her backpack and eighth grade level education, Kimmy gets a job as a nanny working for the rich and self-absorbed Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski from 30 Rock).

While the show may deal with the serious issue of Kimmy and 3 other women (dubbed the “Indiana Mole Women”) being freed from a cult, Kemper was eager to sign on for the opportunity to work with Fey and Carlock on their first post-30 Rock project. “I was worried at the beginning when I heard the premise. I thought this is a very serious subject and we want to make sure we treat it in the appropriate way. But I knew that Tina Fey and Robert Carlock were running it and they are geniuses and masters of comedy,” she told reporters in a recent conference call.

The show chooses instead to focus on what happens after Kimmy is freed from the cult and how she moves on with her life going forward. “The story does focus more on the post-cult experience, the aftermath of a traumatic experience like that, without dismissing what happened to her. It’s been sort of inspiring, what happens as she moves forward,” explained Kemper. In fact, Kimmy moves forward by keeping her Mole Woman identity a secret from her employer Krakowski, as well as new roommate Titus (Titus Burgess). “I think it’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt for a reason and no, she won’t be broken. She refuses to let outside circumstances control her success,” said Kemper.

Despite her unique background, Kimmy plays very much into the familiar fish-out-of-water story as she navigates New York City and it’s hard not to root for her. “I think Kimmy has an optimism that anyone would like to share, and that I, as a person don’t always share. But it’s something to aspire to because she sees the best in situations without being pollyanna about it. She is genuinely enthusiastic about life,” said Kemper.

Kimmy’s optimism and positive outlook on life may remind viewers of two other beloved television characters that are notorious for looking on the bright side: Leslie Knope (played by Amy Poehler on Parks and Recreation) and Mindy Lahiri (Mindy Kaling on The Mindy Project). Kemper agrees that there are some definite similarities between Kimmy and those women as she noted that “All three of those ladies are smart, crafty women who are very resourceful.” The similarities don’t stop there. “All three of those women are able to endear themselves to other people. A quality all of them have shared is that they are good people at heart, so their co-workers, or friends, or bunkmates look up to them in some way,” said Kemper.

Eric Liebowitz / Netflix

The series also marks a return to television for Fey’s 30 Rock co-star Krakowski, and working with Krakowski was one of the best things about this role for Kemper. “After I’m around her I feel more like a lady. I can’t really explain it. She’s always so put together and polite and warm and I always feel better after, like I just had a facial,” joked Kemper, before going on to say that, “I learned so much from just watching her. She can deliver a line like no one else. It’s been nothing short of a thrill to work with her.”

While Kimmy and Krakowski’s Jacqueline, a bored, rich, stay at home Manhattan mom, seem to have nothing in common upon first glance, that may not really be the case. “Jacqueline sees in Kimmy a similarity to her, even before she knows Kimmy’s story, she sees that she doesn’t want to be told what to do or have a man tell her what to do,” said Kemper. Those qualities, along with some revelations about each character’s history, lead to a great relationship between the two women. “They both left places behind and are searching for new beginnings. That’s what’s so refreshing about Jacqueline, she seems like a very shallow woman with materialistic needs, but then when we learn about her backstory it’s an important depth to her,” explained Kemper.

The series arrives on Netflix after originally being slated for NBC. “We filmed the entire first season thinking it was going to be on NBC,” recalled Kemper, before noting that the switch of venue really didn’t, and shouldn’t, have a big effect on Fey and Carlock moving forward, as the show has already been renewed by Netflix for Season 2. “The move to Netflix doesn’t mean they are going to shift the tone of the show. My sense, as they develop the second season, is that it won’t be drastically different from the first,” said Kemper.

So what do you think? Are you going to check out Kemper’s first starring role as Kimmy? How do you think Fey’s first post 30 Rock effort will go? Sound off in the comments below and if you’re still not convinced whether or not you want to give it a try, take a look at the trailer here: