KAITLIN OLSON TURNS SHINING STAR
One of the hardest working people in all of Hollywood these days likely is a hyperkinetic comedienne who regularly gets skewered on one situation comedy, does the majority of the skewering on another, and now wears the hat of executive producer.
The link connecting the digital cable channel FX and its breakout hit, "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," to the FOX television rookie show "The Mick" is Kaitlin Olson, who got her acting chops at Tigard High School.
From amateur theatrics on Durham Road to two premium time slots on two well-watched channels isn't a half-bad vertical leap. And add to it Olson's other hats — spouse and mom — and you can see why her engine revs up to a gear most of us couldn't match.
"It's been a little busy, yeah," Olson said of her life since "The Mick" made its 2017 debut. She speaks with the full-throated laugh that audiences have become accustomed to on "Sunny," which is in its 12th season on FX.
Olson sends a couple days per week playing Sweet Dee on "Sunny," then switches to the role of Mackenzie Murphy on "The Mick." It's possible that both productions allow the freedom to do two shows because she's a comedic cyclone. Then again, it probably doesn't hurt that she's the executive producer of "The Mick," while the co-creator and executive producer of "Sunny" is Rob McElhenney. Who also doubles as her husband.
"It was watching Rob produce that convinced me that, yeah, I needed to do that, too," Olson said. "He's good. There's no question."
Local girl makes good
Every actor who starts as a teenager wonders if he or she might be the one to grab the brass ring and turn a fun extracurricular activity into a career.
Kaitlin Olson was born in Portland and spent her earlier years living on Vashon Island, in Puget Sound. She and her family moved back to the Portland area when she was 8. Her father, Don Olson, was the publisher the Portland Tribune from 2000 to 2001.
She graduated in 1993 and moved on to the University of Oregon, graduating from there in 1997 with a bachelor's degree in theater arts. And, like so many aspiring young actresses, she upped stakes and moved to Los Angeles to seek her fame and fortune.
A funny thing happened on the way to stardom. The plan worked.
Chalk it up to fatherly pride if you'd like, but her dad said he wasn't surprised about his daughter's trajectory. "She certainly has passion," he said.
But, like most fathers, he watched his daughter's theaterical pursuits through a practical lens. "At college, I suggested — a couple of times — that she pursue a second career. Something to fall back on," he recalled. "But she remained singularly focused on her passion."
Her move to Los Angeles led to some consternation from her dad, too. "Look, 180,000 people go there every year to make something happen. We'll, she went ... and she made it happen."
In L.A., Olson landed a much-coveted gig with the famed improv troupe, The Groundlings. The comedic aristocracy from that group includes Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Will Ferrell, Kathy Griffin, Jon Lovitz, Phil Hartman, Paul Reubens and Lisa Kudrow.
It wasn't an easy fit for Olson — but then again, improv, with its fast-reaction and instantaneous decision-making, isn't supposed to be an easy fit.
"It wasn't comfortable! Not at all!" she said, belting out a laugh. "I much prefer sketch comedy and television, where you know exactly what you're doing. Improv was terrifying. And an amazing training ground. You do it because ... well, I suppose you do it because you have to."
The Groundlings led to a guest appearance on "Curb Your Enthusiasm." Which, in turn, led to credited roles on "The Drew Carey Show," "The Jamie Kennedy Experiment," "Out of Practice," "Miss Match," "Family Guy" and "Punk'd." As well as a minor role in the 2000 film "Coyote Ugly."
Hitting it bigger
In 2004, she was cast as Deandra "Sweet Dee" Reynolds in the FX sitcom "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," which focuses on four friends who own a neighborhood bar in Philly: siblings Sweet Dee and Dennis (actor Glenn Howerton), and their longtime friends Charlie (Charlie Day) and Mac (McElhenney). Rounding out the cast is comedy legend Danny DeVito.
A hundred TV shows bloom and die, sometimes within a few episodes, but "Sunny" found the alchemy between cast and the writing room that has led to 12 seasons — a robust run for any situation comedy. During that time, Olson and McElhenney fell in love and got married.
A scripted, 30-minute comedy — the trope has hardly changed a whisker since the days of Danny Thomas and Lucille Ball — requires everyone playing their part. So you might think it unlikely that a comedienne with improv background ("improv" being another word for "making it up as you go along") would prosper.
And you might be right.
"I was doing a little improv from the very day I auditioned," Olson said. "On 'Sunny,' they're OK with that. They let me."
Don't writers get angry when actors stray away from the written word? Olson laughed. "Well, they don't when you're good at it ..."
Olson and McElhenney married in 2008. They have two children, Axel Lee, who's 6, and Leo Grey, who will turn 5 next month.
(Olson might have been just a wee too far into her role as the much-put-upon Dee in "Sunny" — She went into labor with Axel Lee while taking in a Philadelphia Phillies baseball game.)
While not on set for her TV shows, Olson also did voice work for the 2016 Pixar film, "Finding Dory." She provided the voice for the character Destiny.
Last year, FOX came to Olson with a script and asked her if she was interested in taking on a new role. In "The Mick," she plays a free-spirited and irresponsible woman who turns to her rich sister for a handout ... just in time to see the sister flee the country to avoid the FBI. The sister leaves Mickey in charge of a mansion and three children.
Mickey — who is large, in charge and unbelievably inappropriate — is almost the diametrical opposite of Sweet Dee. And Olson jumped at the chance.
But not without reservations.
The FX channel is, after all, the digital cable "little sister" of FOX. As such, the writers and cast have leeway that a network show might not allow.
So Olson agreed to come on board, under one condition. She gets to be executive producer.
For this show, the cast includes two children (and brings to mind W.C. Fields' famous adage, "Never work with animals or children").
Sofia Black-D'Elia plays the eldest child, Sabrina (Black-D'Elia actually is in her 20s and brought a whole host of previous roles with her). Thomas Barbusca, age 13, plays the buttoned-down son Chip, and Jack Stanton, age 8, plays the youngest sibling, Ben.
For now, Olson will bop back and forth between her two roles and her two shows, and her family.
"It's busy, but I do get up to the Portland. We were just there for Christmas," she said.
Then added, "That might be the last break for a while."