Ellie Kemper Discusses the Perks of Being a Redhead in Her New Book

4 minute read

On the cover of your book, My Squirrel Days, you’re posed with a squirrel. Was that a real squirrel?

Yes, her name was Squirrel. She had done a lot of commercial work and was comfortable on set. She sat on my arms, on my shoulder, on branches, on the desk. There was one scary moment where she slipped on my blouse, and I didn’t know whether to catch her or not. I think Squirrel lost confidence in me then. The particular shot on the cover was probably Photoshopped because it looks too perfect. But I want to be clear that there was a live squirrel at the photo shoot and, yes, I am very brave.

How did you come up with the title?

I look like a really sneaky squirrel in my first headshot. My husband and I were looking through photos–I can’t remember why, I don’t just spend my days sitting around looking at headshots–and he said, “If you ever write a book, you should call it My Squirrel Days.” The title also refers to one of the essays in the book, about a friendship I attempted to forge with an obese squirrel I named Natalie as a child.

You write that people treated you differently when you dyed your hair brown for The Office. How so?

It was an interesting social experiment. First of all, I didn’t realize how much I used my red hair and girlish laughter to attempt to charm people and get free desserts. When I was a brunette, I felt like people took me more seriously. I don’t know if it’s the characters I play or the fact that I’m a redhead, but people laugh at me before I say anything. This just happened at FedEx the other day.

Your character on Kimmy Schmidt is locked in a bunker for years, and the show begins when she’s saved. How did you know the creators, Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, would successfully turn a very tragic situation into a comedy?

Honestly, I was really worried about that when they told me the premise of the show, because there’s nothing funny about that situation. I went home and was like, Are they pranking me? Is this a test? But I figured if anyone could turn tragedy into comedy, it would be them.

As a writer, what have you learned from Tina Fey?

I’m not in the writers’ room, but I’ve learned a lot about precision of language from performing their words. We said those lines down to the preposition. If we said a instead of the, we were corrected.

Did you ask her for advice on writing a book?

Her book Bossypants is so brilliant. She possesses an unrivaled ability to make a joke and a statement at the same time. But I felt a million times better after listening to her experience: She was sobbing in the shower on deadline–she had just found out she was pregnant. I was pregnant while writing too, and was like, I’m having a baby–that’s an actual deadline. But it was another two years before I finished.

I hope this wasn’t the case, but did you sob a lot while writing your book too?

Oh yeah, I sobbed in the shower. Sobbed on the subway. Sobbed at SoulCycle. I cry pretty regularly about things like missing the train, so that was inevitable.

This feels like a good time to bring up your love of SoulCycle. On Kimmy Schmidt, a similar cycling class is revealed to be a cult.

I know, I know. But I’m obsessed. When I’m in a bad mood, my husband suggests that I visit Rique, my favorite instructor. It makes me feel like I’m 18 again on my college field-hockey team, and we’re working as a team to get through this training session. I’m the idiot who is whoop-whooping the whole time. I do it whether it’s encouraged or not.

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Write to Eliana Dockterman at eliana.dockterman@time.com