Actress Sarah Baker on Christopher Guest’s Mascots

In case you missed it, Christopher Guest has given the world a new movie, Mascots. I had the chance to sit down with two of the film’s stars, Susan Yeagley and Sarah Baker. The other day, I brought you my interview with Susan Yeagley. This is my interview with the amazingly talented, smart, and beautiful Sarah Baker.

I loved Mascots. I am so excited about this film. It is so good.

Oh good. I’m so glad.

How did you get involved in Mascots?

About a year ago David Ruben the casting director called. He and his associate Melissa Pryor were like, “I know you don’t normally do commercials but we’re casting a commercial and Christopher Guest is directing it. So would you be interested to come meet with him?” And I was like, “Yeah, of course I would!” I’ve never met him. Would love to get that chance, and so I did. It was just like a conversation. I didn’t really audition or anything. We just chatted and I ended up doing the commercial and I was like, that’s it, I’m good. I got to work with Christopher Guest.

Check that box.

Exactly, check that box. Then a few months later he got in touch and said he was writing a part for me in this movie. I was like what? What? Me? Sarah Baker? But I also didn’t know. You know, things get said and they don’t come to fruition, or he ends up writing that part out of the movie. Who knows what happens? So I felt like the whole time I was not gonna let myself get too excited about it until it was actually happening. And then by last fall it was actually going to happen. And then I found out Zach Woods was gonna be my husband and I was like…what? Am I dreaming?

Can you wake me up right now?

I know.

Because you come from the world of improv so was this kind of one of those things where you’re like, oh my gosh, if one day–

Yeah, the ultimate.

Right? The sketch world has SNL, but in the improv world, it’s the ultimate.

Yeah. Oh yeah, it’s the ultimate. I never even thought about actually taking part in one of his movies. It’s your wildest dream, but even beyond your wildest dream. Because I would have never even thought that it would be. I’m always like how do those things happen? How does it work?

Yeah, you don’t want to question it, you just want to go with it

Yeah, it happened to me. It’s amazing.

You and Zach have a really great, on-screen cantankerous relationship.

Yeah. It’s like good/bad chemistry.

It’s a love/hate relationship. There are parts where Mindy is really nagging, but then we find out, no spoilers, that maybe Mike hasn’t been on his best behavior

Yeah. Thank you.

As for the parts, I know you guys are given some stuff, right? Christopher gives you a little bit. So how much of the back story did you create? How much was given to you?

There’s a pretty substantial outline. It doesn’t have any dialogue in it. There might be maybe an odd joke here and some of the jokes are written or the name of the school where they teach or those kind of things. But who these characters are, their relationship, what the arc of the story is. The plot of the movie mostly takes place over this one weekend, so you kind of know what happens over the weekend. But all the dialogue is improvised.

So in our case, because we were playing a married couple and most of our stuff is together we wanted to get to know each other a little bit. We hadn’t met before, so we wanted to get together, get to know each. Nothing like writing out extensive histories, but we did want to talk about things so that if we’re improvising we felt like we’re drawing on the same facts. So it wasn’t like he’s thinking we’ve been together 12 years and I’m thinking 5. That kind of stuff. We wanted to sort of be on the same page. I think it was good to just sort of get to know each other a little bit so that we would have that familiarity going into these scenes where we’re supposed to me a married couple. And luckily we hit it off much better than Mike and Mindy.

I don’t know why. I don’t know whatever happened to get them married. We had our thoughts on it, but…yeah. So he’s amazing. He’s so funny. Also he’s incredibly smart and I mean he’s the type of person that can literally pull out an Emily Dickinson quote just to get you to react to him. I was happy to do that.

What did you guys do to get so fired up with one another? In the scene where you guys are practicing pitching and batting, before you have your costumes on, you two just get so mad at each other. Did you take yourself through exercises to get yourself to that level because you’re pretty pissed off at each other and there’s a lot of anger and resentment that comes across on the screen. And that’s not just something that’s easy to just pull out. That anger is really believable. You believe that there’s a lot of issues going on.

Not really. I mean for me, knowing that the idea is that he had an affair years ago at this event with another one of the characters and she’s there! It was enough for me to feel like that would always be bubbling up under the surface. The idea of us coming back to the same event where this awful thing happened.

Right, like revisiting the scene of the crime.

Right. Exactly.

And he is making her go back to the scene of the crime.

Yeah. I think that is what really helped me. I think we just kind of got into that rhythm with each other where the moment things got sort of angry, talking as the characters, the script was out the window. The true anger came. I just think that (anger) was their go-to against each other.

That’s how they communicated. It was with anger, and even when they’re trying to work things out. Like they want to stay together just for the sake of saying, “we’re staying together.”


They shouldn’t be together, but they just stay together.

Yeah. I mean you know those couples where you’re like, “why?” I think it was one of those couples where, and I mean, I think they’re trying in their own way but I think they’re just not being successful. In the post script of the movie you see that they think “we’re doing so much better and the audience can see.” No, you’re not. You’re exactly the same. You know? I think people tell a lot of stories to themselves.

I was talking to Susan (Yeagley) about the idea that this film is really, and a lot of Guest’s films are about people on the fringes. People really living in their own reality and their own identity. But Guest doesn’t mock it. He doesn’t mock the subculture, he just celebrates it. I just wanted to know what you think about that, because mean is easy, right? It’s easy to say, “Look at that, it’s so stupid.”

I mean, that’s my sensibility. I’d much rather celebrate. That’s how I feel in life. Those are the interesting people. You know? The odder the person, in most cases, the more I want to sit down and have a conversation with them and not in a way where you’re making fun of it. It’s just interesting. Because I feel like so many people are so, or want to appear to cookie-cutter that when you see that person who’s doing their own thing…and particularly if they’re happy and celebrating it, you’re like, how did you get to that? Like you meet kids like that lot where you’re like, you are you’re own person already and either you’re just so indomitable that you’re able to be it no matter what the kids around you are saying or like, it’s gonna get beaten out of you at some point, but for right now you’re really being your own.

They are just living who they are.

Yeah and I find those people fascinating. I would always rather myself be the butt of the joke then to ever make fun of somebody. It’s just not my sensibility.

I don’t like mean comedy either. I can make fun of me. I don’t want to make fun of other people.

No. Me either. It’s lazy. Super lazy.

So, did you in high school or junior high, belong to a subculture like this? Were you in marching band or tall flags or anything like that?

I was in the theater group, which is sort of its own little geek squad. And even before that, just like in school, in the classes I was in I definitely had some friends who were way smarter than me. I had friends who would make up their own like language and stuff like that. Their own written language to pass notes. The really brainy kids. And then there was the weird theater kids. That’s where I always felt…I mean, I feel like I was kinda that kid, who could kind of go in between the groups but yeah, for sure one of the outliers.

As women, we get to see women in this film who look like real women. It’s not just like everyone looks perfect or the same and that is a staple in Guest’s films. So how does it feel not just being an improviser, but as a woman to just be in this incredible role and to show the reality of a woman in a relationship, who’s got a lot going on and is trying to live her own dreams and have her own voice in that?

Well, I think the great thing, one of the great things about his movies is that all the characters are so specific and not people you’ve seen before. But really when you think about people from your life…you know, I remember taking a Groundlings class and one of the exercises was to come up with a character. They said, now if you say, “Ok I’m going to be a sorority girl,” well, what do sorority girls like? It’s not just going for frozen yogurt or beer with frat guys. In actuality, nobody is that straight down the line with anything. So if you think about your Aunt Susan, maybe she is an accountant but she collects dolls and she also has a motorcycle because she had four brothers growing up. You know what I mean? The people you know are a lot more varied than the stereotypes that are out there.

And I think sometimes TV and film rely on these sort of archetype characters, and I think in Christopher Guest movies you’re playing these people who are not that easily definable in the best of ways. I think as an actor, that’s all you want, is to get to play these sort of interesting characters that aren’t straight down the middle, you know, the cat lady or whatever all these little weird archetypes are. You know, that’s one for me that I play a lot, the cat lady and this is just a different person.

I think that the people in these films are relatable even if what Guest is tackling is mascotting or dog shows or the film industry. I think that we all know someone like that. We all know a couple like Mike and Mindy who you’re like, “I don’t know how these two are together. I don’t know why they’re together.” And you see these types but they are not types because you know them because they come from your life. I think that Guest does such a great job in the midst of comedy telling some really tough stories. Because it would be very easy to show a couple having a really rough time and then button it up at the end. I think you don’t expect to this couple move away from mascotting which is really the thing they love instead of moving away from each other.

Right. Like that will fix it.

What was your favorite scene to shoot?

That’s a good question. You know I think some of the most fun was to get to do the group scenes just because I got to work with Parker Posey, who to me is inseparable from his movies. And there was another larger scene where Mike Hitchcock, who’s now a friend of mine, gave this amazing, welcoming speech and this poem that’s not even in the movie, but it was so funny. Those moments were surreal because I was like, “Wow. Normally I’d be watching this in a movie theater but now I’m here. I’m in it and I’m getting to watch it and it’s amazing.” Probably my favorite scenes were the interview scenes with Zach and I because that was what we really prepared for. Those were the moments where we really just got to explore our characters and our dynamic. It was so fun and it felt like being in a Christopher Guest movie because that’s the part you think of the most I think in his movies are the interviews. So I think those were really the crystallizing moments for me. I’m pinching myself because I’m in this movie.

How much time did you have to spend in that crazy turtle costume?

Not that much because we had stunt doubles and dancers to do the heavy lifting. Thank goodness. There was like a couple of scenes where we were like heading to stage or coming off stage where we were in them. Even then, I didn’t really have to wear the head very much. I was mostly in the body, and it was really hot, as you can imagine, and it was just very cumbersome. The feet were so big that people are trying to move out of the way and you’re like you don’t understand the amount of room I need just to walk through here.

Yeah. You can’t scoot slightly to the right. “I need you to really get out of the way,”

I need a wide berth. And you can’t really see that well, but it was mainly my feet. My feet felt so big. The sort of under shoe thing that was happening, it felt crazy. I can’t imagine the stuff they did in them. All the acrobatics and what not.

The gymnastics and running around for hours and hours

Yes. It’s crazy.

What surprised you the most about making this film? Did you have an expectation that was either beat or was changed going into this? I would imagine working on a commercial is obviously going to be very different than working on a film set.

Although it isn’t much different. I mean I think he only does commercials where he can kind of shoot the way he likes to shoot. But I think in retrospect that was a pretty good introduction to how he works. I had heard he’s not going to be like laughing uproariously. If you meet him you know, he’s a fairly reserved person but he’s also very kind and warm in his own way.

I think that doing that commercial had prepared me somewhat, but i certainly didn’t know before, just watching his movies, what the process was. So it’s interesting to see how he kind of lets the scene breathe and as you go on, he’ll say, “Ok. Let’s make sure you hit that point and that point.” I don’t remember there being anything like, “Don’t do that.” or “That didn’t work.” But he would just be like, “These are the parts. Let’s make sure we get to all of these little moments.”

And then you just kind of do it again and again until he feels like, ok we’ve got it. It was a very, very gentle sort of process. I was a little worried about what do you do if it’s not good? It’s kind of an evolution and so you end up feeling like you have a lot of time, which was nice.

Do you live out here in Los Angeles? Does Zach live out here?

Yeah, we both live out here.

So you were both able to spend time together and get to know each other.

Yeah, I had talked to Mike Hitchcock actually who, he and Parker were together on Best in Show and I said, “Did you guys get together at all before you shot?” And he was saying, “Some people do, some people don’t. It’s different for everybody so whatever you want to do is fine,” But they did and we ended up getting together. It’s not like we got together and we were in character or anything.

(Laughs) Just you two fighting as you got to know each other.

Yeah, we just kind of got to know each other. We would meander from talking about ourselves and our lives because we didn’t know each other. And also we were talking about the characters and certain things we wanted to sort of lock down or just discuss even.

You mentioned earlier that you guys have your own theories about why Mike and Mindy got married. What’s your theory?

I feel like we thought like maybe they got pregnant and when they got married and it was like, “Oh, not a good match.

And then they kept having kids.

Yeah, we have two kids.

Yeah, on the outside it looks like the atomic family. Two children and a dog and this nice house, but then it’s like, “No. No. No.”

Yeah, yeah no.

This is terrible.

This is not great.

When I was talking to Susan, she mentioned that the working environment is a very safe environment. As an actor and as an improviser, can you speak to that a little bit?

Yes, I think it has to be because you don’t know what you’re going to say. So I think Chris definitely makes you feel like everything’s great and everybody just keeps trying. Plus, I don’t know how many people from the cast you’ve met now, but all of the people that he assembles to work with are, you know, he assembles nice people, talented people, but also I think you feel pretty comfortable to just to try things. You know there was this awkward kiss in the end–

That kiss is so amazing! I love that kiss.

I said beforehand to Zach, “I’m going to do something physical.” I didn’t want to tell him, but I was like, “I’m gonna do something, so I hope that’s ok.” And he said, “Yeah, do whatever you’re going to do.” And then Chris was saying, “Yes, definitely keep doing that.” I think, that when you’re working in that kind of intimate environment and Chris’s manner is very easy, it doesn’t ever feel tense or rushed, any of those things that you sometimes you do feel on a movie set. So you just felt like you had time to figure it out, which is a huge luxury, and that sort of sets the tone for the actors.

Mascots is now playing in theaters and is available on Netflix.

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Darcy Staniforth

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