Recently, I had the pleasure of sitting down to lunch with Maya Rudolph for an EW feature about her surprisingly dramatic role in the new film Away We Go. And like many comedians, she was much more low-key than the often riotous characters she played on Saturday Night Live. But she was more than happy to give me a few behind-the-scenes tidbits about some of her best-loved SNL characters.
Whitney Houston Her fake Geico commercial opposite Andy Samberg is perhaps the funniest thing I’ve ever seen on SNL. “All I was trying to do was make Andy laugh,” she says. “You could see him just barely holding on at the end. But my goal was to get him to break.”
Oprah Winfrey Remember the genius skit where the audience member’s head exploded? “When I did Oprah, I picked up on her talking [in sing-song voice] like thii-iiisss. I felt like it conveyed the feeling of Oprah to me. It made me laugh. And now I swear she does it more!”
Donatella Versace “That was so fun to do because we didn’t make her a real person, so any scenario worked. She could sit in a bathtub with a hairdryer because she loved the feeling of electrocution. She broke things over her head, walked through walls, burned herself. And she was into it. She thought it was fantastic.”
Jodi Dietz Rudolph channeled a New York City housewife on the talk show Bronx Beat. “I still find myself slipping into Bronx Beat. She’s our real friend, Jodi Mancuso, who works at the show in the hair department. She loves it. She’d give us ideas: ‘You should tawk about prime rib. You should tawk about cutsa meat.’ I love that woman.”
Pamela Bell Rudolph’s over-the-top National Anthem singer is one for the ages. “I was making fun of this new style of singing that people seem to do, where not only do they lay it on thick, they have, like, 20 different voices in the same song, which I find so incredibly strange. I actually got the idea from American Idol, one of those montages of people singing the same song. Everyone was singing ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game.’ And there was this girl who was supposed to sing ‘Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks,’ and she said, ‘Buy me some ee-nuts and Apple Jacks.’”