Sofia Black-D’Elia loves playing characters who are the most obnoxious people in the scene. The 25-year-old actress has done so on teen classics from All My Children (where she got her big break at the age of 17) to Skins to Gossip Girl to The Night Of.
Playing someone so unlike herself is where she shines, even if she knows she couldn’t stand these girls in real life. Or, in her words: “I think it’s always fun to play those kinds of people that you feel really familiar with and especially when you can’t stand them.”
In her latest role in The Mick, a new comedy on FOX premiering January 1 at 8 p.m., she plays one of her most out-there characters yet: Sabrina Pemberton, the oldest child in a wealthy family that is turned upside down when her parents are arrested for embezzlement. Her wacky, boozy, and totally ill-equipped aunt, Mackenzie Murphy, also known as Mick (portrayed by the brutally hilarious Kaitlin Olson), has to rise to the occasion and take care of Sabrina and her two younger brothers to the best of her abilities. Immediately, Sabrina despises Mick, who is loud, brash, and unrefined — the complete opposite of Sabrina herself, who is polished, snobby, and kind of a bitch. Put them both in a room together, and all hell is sure to break loose.
The role is a far cry from Black-D’Elia’s standout performance of the year as Andrea Cornish in HBO’s The Night Of, but that’s what makes it so good and so funny. Refinery29 was able to steal the actress from set to catch up over the phone and hear more about The Mick, going from The Night Of to near-slapstick comedy, and how proud she is of her former co-star, Riz Ahmed. Plus, she tells us how comedy has helped her get through this bananas-crazy year.
Thank you so much for taking time when you’re on set to talk with me. I’m so excited to talk to you about your project.
“Of course. I hope you don’t mind that I’m wolfing down a cheeseburger while we have this conversation. I promise that my attention is devoted to you.”
No worries! I watched the first episode already, and it’s hilarious. I’m so excited to see where the rest of the season goes, and I just think that you guys have such a great dynamic onscreen. What’s it like being on set?
“It’s really fun. I think it’s as fun as you might think it would be to work with Kaitlin Olson every day. She’s really fun, and she keeps you on your toes. And our writers are amazing. It’s been a blast.”
What about your character, Sabrina, made you want to be involved in the project? She has such an attitude, so that has to be so fun to play.
“I personally know a lot of Sabrinas. I’ve met them. I think it’s always fun to play those kinds of people that you feel really familiar with and especially when you can’t stand them. I think it’s always fun to play the obnoxious person in the room, so that appeals to me, but more than anything just like the idea of working with Kaitlin. And the script was so good. I just wanted to kind of be a part of this team. These guys are from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and I’ve just admired their work for so long, so I kind of relished the idea of getting to work with them.”
Have you always watched It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia?
“Yeah, I definitely. I have been a fan of Kaitlin’s character on that show for as long as I can remember. I just think she’s been doing some of the best work on TV for a long time.”
I totally agree. Have you always been interested in doing comedy?
“I have always wanted to do comedy. It definitely terrifies me, and I think that’s part of why I wanted to do it. It’s not my comfort zone at all, which I love. I thought, If I’m gonna do this for the first time, I have to do it with somebody that makes me feel safe and that I can trust and that I can fail in front of. Kaitlin is that person. Also, just to have a female boss throughout this whole experience has been such a blessing. I haven’t figured any of it out yet, but it’s been really fun to try [laughs].”
I especially loved the scene toward the end of the episode where you and Kaitlin have this face-off at the dinner table. I feel like your characters are a lot more similar than they think.
“I think that’s exactly what it is [laughs]. They face off a lot throughout this season. My favorite moments of the show so far have been when we have a common enemy and we have to team up because we are so like-minded. We’re both kind of psychotic, you know.
“I think that they direct all that energy at each other because they can challenge each other, and that doesn’t happen too often in their lives. I think that’s why they enjoy their relationship so much. But what’s been really fun for me to play as an actor has been those rare moments when she and I both have the same plot against someone else together and just destroy them, because we’re both crazy. Both of our characters are crazy.”
Now, I have to talk to you a little bit about The Night Of, because it’s one of my favorite shows of the year and I recapped it for our website, so I was especially devoted to it.
One of my favorite parts was, people started sending me theories about the show. One of them theorized that Andrea really had a twin and that you were gonna come back. And I was like, that’s crazy, but I do want her to come back. But that’s nuts.
“That would be hilarious. I feel like that’s like the American Horror Story version of The Night Of.”
Speaking of American Horror Story, what have been some of your other favorite shows on TV this year?
“I really, really love The Crown. I think that Claire Foye’s performance on that show is so beautiful, and it’s one of my performances of the year for sure. So I’ve just been a huge fan of that. And I really love Search Party. I think that show is so funny and real and bizarre. I binge-watched that whole season.”
How long were you actually filming with The Night Of? Because you kept popping up in flashbacks throughout the whole season, but were you only just on set for a little while filming that first episode?
“We shot the first episode in three weeks, so about the normal length of a pilot. My experience with that show felt like shooting a short film, because that whole whirlwind of Nas and Andrea, to me at least, felt like this standalone short film. And then the rest of the show kind of played off of that. I feel like I just had this little small bubble that we lived in. And then I disappeared. And then I got to watch the rest of the show as a fan. It was fun.”
So you had only read the script for the first episode.
“Yes. I mean, I obviously knew things that I needed to know as an actor. But it was such a wonder to watch everybody else kind of kill it the rest of the season.”
Do you still keep in touch with anyone, with Riz [Ahmed] or John Turturro?
“You know, I learned a lot from Riz as an actor. He was very kind to me while we were shooting that show, so I think we’ll always have a friendship.”
I think I saw you tweeted at him when he got nominated [for the Golden Globes] and I was like, Oh my god. I love this.
“I just think he’s so deserving of that. Just the story of that character isn’t something that we see on American television, and I think that alone deserves attention. I’m really happy for Riz and the year that he’s having, because he’s had a long career of really great work, and I really think he deserves it.”
Yeah, absolutely. Back to your character, Andrea: I really liked a quote I read where you talk about the manic-pixie-dream-girl trope and how that was not what Andrea was. I agree and think that it’s really important for women in film to make sure that they’re not falling into tropes like that, too.
“Yeah, I mean, I think I got really lucky with that because she was so well-written, so my job was really easy. I think it’s harder when you’re a young actor and you have to work and you can’t. It’s a luxury to be selective about the women that you play. So I think it’s just about the rest of us being brave enough to have a voice when we’re taking a part that isn’t so fully formed on the page, and having the guts to go up to somebody and say, ‘Hey, I wanna make this girl real, and I want you to help me with it. Let’s do this together.'”
Do you find it difficult to find fully formed female roles in TV?
“It’s a weird array of gals there. I do think that, for the most part, people are really well intentioned when they write these characters. And, you know, a 45-year-old guy doesn’t really know the inner life of a 17-year-old girl, so maybe that’s normal [laughs]. I think the best thing that’s happened to TV is just the influx of female writers that do know what that’s like. I actually think TV’s a really great place for that — that’s also what is so special about working with Kaitlin on this show, because she’s so aware of all of these people being funny, not about, oh, that’s a girl or, oh, that’s a guy: It’s just about making people funny. That’s the kind of environment that we should all be so lucky to work in.”
Yeah, and especially now people, like, want to laugh more than ever.
“Yeah, Jesus Christ. I remember the day after the election, Kaitlin and I had a scene together that morning, and we were both kind of crying in between takes, and I just felt so lucky to have a job that I love, that I’m appreciated in, that I could connect to people on a personal level, and we could just make each other laugh for a little while. Because it’s easy to go down the, like, ‘Everything we do is meaningless…what the f*ck…what is the point of anything’ route.”
Totally. It’s cheesy, but it is the best medicine.
“You know what, sometimes it is. I think there has to be a balance of getting your ass up and doing something and taking action and having a voice, and then also keeping yourself sane and trying to be happy.”
Speaking of things that make you happy, what are some things that you like to do when you’re not on set?
“Oh my god, these days I don’t know when that is. But I, well, I don’t know. I guess we’ve been shooting in L.A., and I live in New York, so when we’re not on set, I try to go home and see my friends and family. And hang with them. Because that makes me pretty happy. And I read a lot. And I watch a lot of movies. And I try to stay off Twitter.”