Mascots' Susan Yeagley on Joining Christopher Guest's Gang and Playing Parker Posey's Sister
Mascots premieres on Netflix today, Oct. 13.
Nashville-born actress Susan Yeagley is one of the new faces joining the Christopher Guest troupe in Mascots, a feature-length movie premiering today on Netflix. Yeagley, a veteran of the legendary Groundlings improv group who's had recurring roles on Parks and Recreation and Rules of Engagement, plays Laci Babineaux, whose sister Cindi (Parker Posey) is competing in a global mascot competition. "It’s incredible to be invited to the Christopher Guest dinner party," she says of the career-changing role. Read on for what it was like to join the director's gang, work with Parker Posey, and more.
How does the Christopher Guest casting process work?
He does something that I wish more people would do. He doesn’t have you read lines and you don’t go in and do characters. He just meets with you. So there’s no pressure. So I was just told, last August: "On Tuesday at 2:15pm, you have a meeting with Christopher Guest. There’s a part in his next movie to play Parker Posey’s sister and they’re looking for someone from the South." So I went in and we just spent 20 minutes to about a half hour just talking about different things. And about three weeks later I got a call, "Would you like to play Parker’s sister?" I pretty much fell on my knees in the office. My husband came running down the stairs because he thought somebody died. It was a glorious day. And I would say it continued throughout the filming. Every day I would show up to work and I could just feel hearts flying out of my eyes if I was a cartoon.
So much has been made about Guest’s process and the fact that it's very freeform. What did you know about your character, Laci, when you went in?
That’s a good question. There was 30-page outline about all the characters. Beforehand, I knew the part was the sister from the South. But then once I was in the room with him, he said, "These are the girls' names, Cindi and Laci," and he gave me their backstory and a little bit about them. And then, once I got the part, he smartly hooked me up with Parker Posey immediately. So we got each other’s cell phone numbers. She’s in New York and I’m in L.A., so we tried just talking all the time. It was just a blast to get to know her, because we thought, if we were going to play sisters, we should get to get to know each other.
When you watch the movie, you really do sense a closeness between you two.
It was important to Parker and I to make these sisters really like each other. We see so many women on television and in films where they’re fighting and bickering, catfights and all that. My women friends from my life and my sister, we love each other. There’s a lot of love and affection–women helping women. Parker and I, we really wanted these sisters to get on well. So by the time I actually met her, we had been talking for five or six weeks and it felt like we were already sisters. We wanted it to be honest.
Laci is there to support Cindi, who's prepared this very intricate performance number. How much of that was improvised?
Parker designed the costumes, she was very involved designing the costume and worked along with the choreographer to come up with the dance. So she did a lot of the execution of that. It was so great because it was her as an actress and also as the performer, it was her piece. It’s her mascot. It was great that she had so much to say about it.
There were a couple of scenes where Parker's character is practicing and you're subtly shadowing her moves, communicating that you knew this routine front and back, too. It was a nice physical touch to show the intimacy to both the routine and with each other.
We were welcome to sit in at dance rehearsals. I'd go in and watch the dance and watch the choreographer working with Parker on the dance, so I would be able to grab some of those moments to mimic. It’s such an incredible process to do one of his films because you’re just involved head-to-toe with everything. He gives us the prop guy’s email address. We talked about the luggage my characters would have at the airport. So the prop man sent me pictures of different luggage. So I was able to say, "My character would definitely have pink luggage and would have her name on it in cursive." It was almost like doing a play—we had so much space in creating these characters.
There's a core group of actors and actresses that pop up in many Guest movies–but you were part of a couple of newcomers. Did the new kids stick together?
I feel we were all in it together. Everybody was helping each other out. Zach Woods and Sarah Baker were the other newbies with me. And they're so skillful at improvising. But everybody’s ready to play and the whole group is so inclusive, you already feel like you’re at a family reunion by the time you show up.
You got your start in the legendary Groundlings comedy troupe. How many years were you working with them and were there any particular moments that were the most memorable during your time there?
I graduated from USC in 1994 and started right after that, just for fun. I took classes for three or four years and then I was with the Sunday Company for a year. And with them, it kind of stays ongoing. They’re such a close part of my life. I talk to them every day, my core group, we text each other. And I go back and do shows once or twice a year. There’s a show called, “Beverly Winwood Presents” that Tony Sepulveda created. And I play Beverly Winwood. It’s a faux-actor showcase. Jennifer Coolidge is in that show as well as Michael Hitchcock and Cheryl Hines and so many others. It's always a fun time to see everybody.
I can’t think of anything better to prepare you to go into the Christopher Guest universe than something like that.
Yeah. And really the heart of it is listening. I learned so much from Christopher Guest movies, from watching them and being a fan and now doing one ... it’s just listening. And it’s okay to not respond and to not talk. Some of the greatest moments, I think, in his movies are the reactions of other people, when you don’t know who’s going to say what. And the stillness, and being really comfortable being quiet and reacting. That takes time.
As a big fan or Parks and Recreation, I have to ask about your role as Jessica Wicks, Miss Pawnee 1994.
That was such a gift because honestly, I just came in for one episode. I was just supposed to do a little, small part and just a judge of a talent contest. Amy is a dream. Talk about such a pro. God, I love working with her. She’s so warm, giant-hearted, so supportive. But I did one episode and a couple days later I get a call to come back and a few months later, "Hey, can you come back?" And it just kept coming and it was delightful. It was such a fun job, really, really fun.
What informed your sense of comedy when you were growing up?
I don’t want to make this too sad, but I grew up in a home where my parents did not get along. And there was one time a night they would get on well, watching Johnny Carson. And sometimes I would come downstairs and I would sit and watch them watch Johnny Carson and watch them laugh together. So I have really have a fondness for comedians for that reason. And I saw what it could do, that it could take people out of their bad marriage, take people away from their bad things.
And you’re married to a comedian, Kevin Nealon.
Yes, I think it’s an excellent choice to marry a comedian. I highly recommend laughing all day.
One quick fashion question before we wrap up ... What's the last thing that you bought that you were really excited about?
I bought a vintage butterfly pin in upstate Maine at an antique store and it’s just fabulous. It's colorful and that makes me really happy. It’s a tie between that and a white Tom Ford dress that I just got that basically makes my head explode. He can do no wrong. I love Tom Ford. Just flawless. I may put the butterfly pin on the Tom Ford dress. Then I’ll really, really be happy.
VIDEO: Tom Ford Talks to InStyle's Eric Wilson
Watch Susan Yeagley in Mascots, now exclusively on Netflix.