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Space Force puts Tawny Newsome among the stars where she belongs
The new Netflix comedy Space Force is a weird show for weird times. Relishing in the kind of absurdity that can only exist in our reality, the series follows General Mark R. Naird (Steve Carell, who co-created the show with Greg Daniels) as he attempts to get "boots on the moon" and establish this new branch of the military. Space Force features an abundance of comedy icons, from Carell to Lisa Kudrow to the late Fred Willard to the delightfully weird John Malkovich, but one stand-out among the pack is Tawny Newsome — comedian, musician, actress, and myriad other things (as she says, she's overextended). Newsome spoke to SYFY FANGRRLS about her character, Angela Ali, Spaceman First Class (nothing embarrassing or comical about it) and how she's staying positive these days.
So, Tawny. How's your quarantine going?
Courtney, I cannot complain. I am not a nurse or hospital worker. What a weird time to have one of the most frivolous jobs in America, to be told at every turn that there's nothing about me that is essential, which is just fine.
You're a performer in so many different areas — improv, music, television, and so on. How are you finding ways to stay creative? Is that harder now? I know it's hard for me and I'm only in one.
It's actually great for me because I do too many things, as you very nicely put in a different way. I'm going to go ahead and say I'm overextended. So for me, having everything slow down has really given me a chance to focus on music. I've been writing a ton of music with friends, and to take any sort of production pressure off of it, because who knows if we'll get to play these songs live anytime soon. But just writing them and creating them and having it be a studio project has been really therapeutic.
It seems like you're staying positive.
Yeah, I don't experience much doom or gloom. I think it's just because I'm fortunate. I was employed all of last year, so I'm in an OK place to not be employed until we figure this out. That's not where most people in the world are, so I have to stay positive just because I feel so fortunate and good.
How would you describe your character, Angela Ali?
She is a lot like me in that she has a mastery of different — I won't say masks, like it's deceitful, but she's got a different face that she puts on at work. She's got a different face that she puts on with her boss, with her boss's daughter, with Jimmy [O. Yang], who plays Dr. Chan. I think the writers were so open to input and we all collaborated together on the characters that you really get to see this fully rounded out person, I hope. That was my intention anyway. She's a military person, but she also has a math degree, but she's also very funny and into weird nerdy stuff. I think you just get to see a lot of sides of her. Yeah, I guess that speaks to me being an over-extended, constant multitasker, too.
At the beginning, in the first episode, you start out a straight man to Steve Carell's character, but over the course we really get to know her and see these various sides of her personality.
Yeah. I think it's funny because I was obviously nervous, a little understandably I hope, to work with Steve Carell, just because he's the king. I just looked up to him for years and years. Couldn't be nicer and more like a regular normal dude. So I quickly wasn't nervous anymore, but I think you do see her journey through the season mirrors my journey of getting comfortable with him and with everyone and with the role on set too. Because yes, in the pilot, she's nervous. She's starting a big new job. When I filmed the pilot, I was nervous because I was starting a big new job.
Between this and Star Trek: Lower Decks, you're carving out a space niche. Have you always been interested in sci-fi?
I've definitely always been a moderate fan of sci-fi. I've always watched Star Trek. That was something that my parents and I watched from when I was really young. It was actually appropriate and something they wanted to watch that a kid could watch too. So yeah, definitely, I've always been a Star Trek person. I don't know how I got to be this full time space dude though. I mean, it's very funny. I'm sure there are people who know way more about space, who should be the ambassador. A lot of times people will tweet me the actual US Space Force Command logo next to this Star Fleet Command logo, because someone suggested that they are quite similar. I'm just like, "Yeah, I don't know what my life is right now either, you guys. This is weird."
It's such a weird plot, but it's also obviously based in reality. It's a weird time right now. What's it like being funny and being in a comedy, but it's also kind of real life?
What's so weird, Courtney, is that everything was written before we got any info about the actual Space Force. I think literally they announced that they were going to create a Space Force, and Steve and Greg went and wrote the pilot. It was literally just a premise. Then our team of writers, with Steve and Greg, wrote the other nine episodes well before they had a logo, a flag, a uniform, any of that stuff. So any similarities or anything, is just such weird parallel thinking. Because what our writers really did was, they really took "what if these people, what if these types of people, top of their class, military people, scientists from all over the world, all were thrust together and forced to figure this out." So that's already a great premise. Then to have the real world events dovetailing or not, I don't know. It's very surreal and weird, but I want to make sure everyone knows, we were weird first.
You originated the weird of it all.
Yeah. I'm sure the military was doing their own weird stuff before we came along. They thought of it separately and it's very strange to see the parallels.
There's a ton of improv talent on the show. There's you, there's Ben Schwartz, there's Jessica St. Clair. Pretty much everyone involved is famous improvisers. Is there room for improv on Space Force or is it pretty locked into the script?
There's definitely room from the standpoint of Greg is open to it. Steve is open to it. The writers are chill. The only reason why there isn't a ton of improv — there is some — but the only reason why there isn't a ton is because it is so big. There's so much going on. There are tanks rolling down an alleyway towards you while 200 background actors do flips and stuff dressed in camel gear. There's so many moving parts that a lot of times the steady cam doesn't have time to whip around and wait for me to decide which is funnier, hats or socks, or whatever bullsh** I was going to come up with. Sometimes I'm just trying to spit out the words so the other much bigger stuff can happen. I couldn't do that to these sweet stunt people.
What are you FANGRRLing over right now?
I've been a long time fan of Homeland and they just ended the final season. I did not want to watch the series finale for so long because I didn't want those characters to stop existing. That sounds so sad and lame, but I was just like, no, Carrie and Saul need to still be out there spying around. I finally brought myself to watch it. Then a friend recommended to me the podcast, Wind of Change. Oh my God, have you listened to it yet? It's two things that I love: espionage and rock music. You have to listen to it. It's all about how there's this CIA rumor that the U.S. government wrote the song "Wind of Change" by Scorpions. It's an incredible podcast. Anyway, I guess I've been FANGRRLing over spies lately. I don't know what that says about me. Maybe I'm trying to examine essential jobs for the future.
That's your next phase, being a spy.
Yep. Improv probably comes in really handy in spy work.
Probably, yeah. And you're used to trying on costumes and stuff like that. I say we bring back Alias and it's you.
OK, I'll do it. I accept the job. Thank you so much.
Space Force is now streaming on Netflix.