Alex Borstein Loves Being 'a Beautiful Mess'
What was it about ‘Getting On’ and the role of Dawn Forchette that appealed to you?
It’s so funny. I’m always asked, “What appealed to you?” as though I have this huge buffet in front of me and I get to pick and choose. I’ve spent most of my life writing and developing everything that I’ve wanted to be in -- which is why I started writing in the first place. I was busy developing something else with the BBC when this came up. I had just had a baby a week before the audition came up, and I was like, “You guys are ridiculous! I just had a baby!” But then I pulled up the British version and completely lost my mind over it. It was exactly what I would want to do -- walking that fine line between drama and comedy and getting to be a real three-dimensional human being, and not, at my age, just playing the mom or the voice of reason or the wet blanket or just a woman looking for love. This is a real f*cked-up character! [Laughs.] Dawn’s just a beautiful mess. I can’t imagine anyone not wanting to play her.
As the season progresses, you realize there’s a lot more to her than meets the eye.
I think of her as that tree that’s growing crooked in the forest. You think something’s wrong with it, but then you realize it’s doing that to get some light. It’s got to bend that way to live. Dawn just bends whichever way she has to, to get what she needs.
Were you given any backstory on Dawn?
As an actor, you create your own ideas. Sometimes you talk it over with the showrunners, and sometimes you just keep it to yourself. I’ve done the latter. I believe Dawn was in a situation where she was forced to play mom to her brothers and sisters and was always the caretaker. She never had a childhood, so she’s really stunted, stuck at age 13 or 14. She never learned how to be a woman or learn how to have a real relationship -- even a friendship. I suspect her mom was a piece of work because daddy was kind of a schlub -- unemployed, didn’t help out, drank too much. Dawn worshipped daddy and saw mom as the evil one who left to go to work and bossed her around.
Did you do anything special to prepare for the role like learn about nursing or extended care for the elderly?
Yeah. We spent time at senior care centers. We went to an Alzheimer’s center. I followed a nurse around for a couple days. One thing that stood out to me was the politics between doctors and nurses. The doctors come around maybe once a day and check in, but the nurses are the ones doling out the meds and responsible for the actual care. It’s a real interesting system, and it’s amazing that it works at all.
Is there anything about this show that’s different from the way you’ve worked in the past?
It’s very different in a lot of ways. The biggest difference is that I’m playing a complete character, running a gamut of emotions. It’s not a drama, it’s not a “punch-line, punch-line” comedy like a typical sitcom. Mark [V. Olsen] and Will [Sheffer], the showrunners, are artists. They know exactly what they want their painting to look like, and they’ve hired actors they believe can create the brushstrokes they’re looking for. I never get to work like that on other things. People rarely have an actual vision of what they want the end product to be. The closest experience I’ve had with this kind of rawness was working on ‘Good Night, and Good Luck’ with George Clooney.
Do you have any favorite scenes that stand out in the first four episodes?
One of my favorites was from episode four, where we happen upon a homeless woman who’s just taken respite in the hospital overnight. While filming that scene, there were often times when Niecy [Nash, who plays fellow nurse DiDi] and I started gagging, even though the woman was really a background performer. We knew the clothing she was wearing was done by wardrobe, but we were both so in the moment that we were nearly throwing up anyway. Niecy and I had a real hard time getting through it. We laughed our asses off.
Another big moment in episode four is when Dawn wins the raffle. It really seems like that’s the brightest point in her life thus far.
Isn’t that sad? That this is the happiest moment in her life -- winning some weekend at a second rate hotel casino. It’s funny, that type of thing is the hardest stuff to play. We went through so many different versions of it to get to what felt the most pathetic without just being sad.
It’s great when she stands up to the jerky ER doctor for being “a lousy dumper.” Dawn doesn’t seem to have any gumption.
That’s such a fun moment because we’re like a family unit. Me and Niecy are siblings and Dr. James [Laurie Metcalf] is mom, and while we bicker and we fight like teenage girls, when someone comes in and threatens the family, we’re a united front. It’s such a gratifying moment for Dawn; to feel like someone was standing finally by her side. Dawn was finally pushed over the edge: “I will not take this from you. I will take this from ‘Mom,’ from Dr. James, and from our patients, and I’ll take it from the guy I’m dating -- who I don’t know what his sexual preferences are -- but I’m not going to take this from you.”
Speaking of the guy she’s dating…why Patsy? Why’s she so hung up on him?
In the first episode, Dawn tells DiDi about how this other cute doctor left and that they could use some testosterone on the ward. She lives and breathes this job because she never wants to go home. It’s either caring for these women or an empty house -- even the cat doesn’t need her. The workplace is the only place she looks to meet people, and she always gets it wrong with men. She confuses any kind of physical relationship with love. If anyone touches her or hugs her, then they love her. If anyone lets her give them a blow job, then they want to marry her. When Patsy entered the scene, she found new hope and saw someone she could impress. No matter who it would have been, no matter what man walked through that door, she would have made a move towards a relationship -- or at least sex.