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Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph Just Want You to Like Them

Sometimes Maya Rudolph will watch a movie and marvel at how miserable an actor looks. “They’re covered in fake blood and broken glass, and they’re crying the whole time,” she said. “I don’t know how people do that for work! That looks so hard and stressful.”

“And how do you get all of that glass off your skin?” her friend and former colleague Kristen Wiig said.

“Listen,” Rudolph said, “glass seems tough.”

This was on an afternoon in late March, and Wiig and Rudolph, who specialize in lighter, glass-free fare, were perched high over New York in the penthouse suite of a luxury hotel with a zillion-dollar view — rooftops, rivers, the Statue of Liberty in the distance. They were dressed in natural fabrics and neutrals, a far and elegant cry from the demented spandex and polyester they so often wore during their years on “Saturday Night Live.”

Acquaintances since their early days in the comedy scene (they met at a bridal shower hosted by Melissa McCarthy), they were both members of the famed comedy troupe the Groundlings before they found their separate ways up the 30 Rock elevator to “S.N.L.” And they have wound in and out of each other’s lives and careers ever since: as co-stars in “Bridesmaids” (Wiig was also a writer of the movie); popping back into “S.N.L.” together; jointly presenting an Oscar. Now they are both leading Apple TV+ shows, each a comedy of wealth and status.

In “Palm Royale,” which premiered on March 20, Wiig stars as Maxine, a frenzied social climber in 1960s Palm Beach. In “Loot,” which returns for its second season on Wednesday, Rudolph plays Molly, a divorcée with a multibillion dollar settlement.

During a brisk chat, they discussed laughter, likability and what “Bridesmaids” taught the world. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

How did you each end up at “S.N.L.”?

KRISTEN WIIG Both of us through the Groundlings at different times. I started at “S.N.L.” in 2005.

MAYA RUDOLPH I know, because that’s when I had Pearl [Rudolph’s first child]. I remember seeing you, and I was like, Who’s that? My thought was, I want to go have fun with her! I said the words, “I want to go back and play with her.”

During your “S.N.L.” years, were there particular kinds of characters that you gravitated toward?

RUDOLPH I always wanted to be the wife or the girlfriend, but I never was. I was the wacky neighbor.

Maybe I’m thinking of your impressions, but I remember you playing high-status types, the Beyoncés, the Oprahs. And Kristen, I recall you playing a lot of lunatic outsiders.

WIIG Yeah. I don’t know what that says about me, but it was fun to play the person you don’t really want at the dinner party, the person you stare at.

What made you decide to leave?

RUDOLPH I thought motherhood was me leaving, and then I couldn’t leave. I would watch the show from home and my friends were on it, and I would be very upset. I felt like I died and was watching my life. I wasn’t ready to leave when I left. I kind of left twice, I said goodbye, and I was like, Oh, I’m back for one more.

WIIG I knew when it was time to leave. That place thrives on you not totally knowing your place. I always said the moment I feel totally comfortable, here’s the moment I have to go.

Once you left, did you have any anxiety about what your career would look like after?

RUDOLPH It was less about what it was going to look like and more about, this was all I’ve ever wanted. So now what? But I was always going to be an actor that did everything. I was surprised when people said, like, “Wow, I didn’t know you wanted to do drama.” I was like, Oh, you didn’t know I was human and experienced human emotions?

WIIG I wouldn’t say I worried. That’s not because there was any confidence there. I just went day by day. Because so much of your career, what you’re asked to do, is out of your hands. So it was like, I can’t freak out about this. I have no control.

RUDOLPH Were you still at “S.N.L.” when we did “Bridesmaids”?

WIIG Yeah, that was my sixth year.

Remember the discourse around that movie? Remember people seeming so surprised that women were funny?

RUDOLPH Wasn’t that delightful?

WIIG Some people even went so far as to say that it worked because we were women acting like men, but we weren’t acting like men. Women swear, women get drunk.

RUDOLPH Do you think we taught people that women can poop?

WIIG I hope so.

So how did these Apple TV+ series happen?

WIIG “Palm Royale” came to me initially through Laura Dern, who had been creating it for years. She said, “Do you want to look at this thing?”

How do you refuse Laura Dern?

WIIG and RUDOLPH (simultaneously) You don’t.

RUDOLPH Alan Yang and Matt Hubbard, they’d developed a show for me and Fred Armisen called “Forever.” We really liked working together, but we only did that for one season. Then they came to me with this idea, a woman who just became divorced from a billionaire.

Tell me about Molly.

RUDOLPH I never knew what kind of lady she was before. She was probably a nice girl, maybe from the Bay Area. She met her husband in college and he developed this crazy business and became a billionaire, and she never really asked herself who she wanted to be and what kind of life she wanted. So she’s just learning to answer those questions. But I like her. I try to make her out of touch in a fun way. Molly has to have a little heart. She needs to be nice to people.

WIIG Because the audience has to be on her side. And root for her.

RUDOLPH I hate being a [expletive], character-wise. I just can’t do it. Unless it’s funny. Molly’s always striving to do the right thing. I like that the show has a moral conscience.

Maxine has neither wealth nor status.

WIIG She doesn’t, and she doesn’t know who she is. Maxine is not from money. She has striven to be in high society since she was a kid. You can tell she’s not an evil person, but her want is her main goal. We both play characters that on paper are like, No, thank you. But you need to have the audience like you. Otherwise they’re not going to care about the show. That’s something we both learned with even comedic stuff. It can be joke, joke, joke, but unless you care about the person, it’s not going to be funny.

RUDOLPH At “S.N.L.,” early on, I wrote a character based on my friend’s really annoying girlfriend, and I just found it painful to do. I realized, Oh, I actually have to be invested.

How far can you go and still maintain that likability?

RUDOLPH It’s hard. I have to go big. I always have to be reminded that there could be levels.

WIIG But you’re so good at subtle, even sad.

RUDOLPH Hey, thanks! I know that I have that in myself, but it’s nice when people see those levels of emotion. Something small, something quiet.

These are ensemble-driven series, but how does it feel to be first on the call sheet?

WIIG Honestly, that number is just a number. Because I’m in a show with Carol Burnett.

RUDOLPH I have younger people in my cast. I forget that I’m like the tribe elder. I feel like, Oh, honey, no, it’s just me. It still surprises me that I’ve been doing this for a while. I don’t love that so many young people don’t get pop culture references that are integral to my being. I find that strange.

WIIG Yeah, I made a “Three’s Company” joke the other day.

Are there more opportunities now for women over 35, beyond just playing the mom with the laundry basket?

RUDOLPH I don’t know, because I never fell into that category. Nobody ever saw me as that. I mean, I have a laundry basket at home.

WIIG And you carry it so well. As far as roles, on paper there are more, because there are so many streamers. But the ratio is still off. I will always believe that there aren’t enough roles for women who are older. I’d like to say it’s changing, but I don’t think it’s where it should be.

RUDOLPH Oh yeah, I don’t believe it’ll ever be where it should be. But I definitely don’t feel stifled.

Will you work together again?

WIIG God, I hope so.

RUDOLPH It’s such a luxury. It’s the most fun. And it’s the thing that you can’t fabricate. The chemistry between people that are friends, that make each other laugh — it’s an indefinable, yummy thing.

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