For W’s second annual TV Portfolio, we asked 26 of the most sought-after names in television to pay homage to their favorite small-screen characters by stepping into their shoes.
Aidy Bryant, the Emmy-nominated star and cocreator of Shrill and longtime Saturday Night Live cast member, is fresh off completing the show’s strangest season yet. It’s no surprise, then, that she’s taking a break—sort of. “I have some writing stuff that I’ve been having to do, but thankfully, no filming,” the actor-slash-comedian says from New York, where she returned after celebrating her Emmy nominations for both series, doubling her previous total of two, for SNL. Most often, though, she and her husband, fellow comedy writer and actor Conner O’Malley, can be found revisiting what Bryant insists is “the greatest TV show ever made”: The Sopranos. The most recent clip they looked up together starred one of her favorite characters, Adriana La Cerva, whom she channeled for W’s annual TV Portfolio (after again mourning the character’s tragically deceased pup).
When prepping for this shoot, did you realize you had anything so surprisingly similar to Adriana?
The one thing I had was this leather skirt. Just about everything else was by way of, like, Fashion Nova.
How did you decide on this look in particular?
I looked at a ton of pictures of her, and I feel like this one is kind of like an amalgamation of a couple of her looks. She has some signatures—her hair, nails, and jewelry are kind of always the same. I feel like it was more about getting fake nails. I’ve worn them for SNL sketches, which is always insane because sometimes they have literally a minute and 30 seconds to stick a bunch on your hand. They really do make you feel in character, because it’s just so different—I don’t even wear nail polish really. It’s just such a full experience.
Have you ever had any statement-ish hairdos, whether or not to Adriana’s level?
I meeeean, nothing like what she had. And I’ve never dyed my hair, so I feel like I haven’t truly lived, you know? I kind of tell myself, when I go gray, maybe I’ll start to dye it in a more fun way. But until then, I don’t think I could keep up with it. I’m too lazy. So the most statement-y thing I ever had was those blunt, straight-across bangs in college. But, you know, who didn’t dabble [in those] in, like, the early 2000s?
When you were poring over Adriana’s looks, what else stood out?
There’s a lot of leather and animal print. And a lot of bra showing in some capacity, either through the shirt, peeking out of the shirt, or the straps showing. I don’t know, it’s just like the bra is present. It’s all very out of my wheelhouse, which is part of why I thought this would be really fun.
How would you describe her to someone who hasn’t seen the show?
Well, first, if you haven’t seen the show, you’re insane. Like, you have to—to me, it’s the greatest TV show ever made. Otherwise, I would say that in a show that has a lot of darkness and pain, Adriana is this sweetly hopeful character. She has a lot of love to give, and that’s a shocking thing to find in a mob show. [Laughs]
Bryant at the Emmys, September 2020. Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc/Getty Images
When did you first see The Sopranos?
Oh gosh. I didn’t watch it when it first came out. I was maybe a little young—definitely old enough where I maybe could have known what it was. I mean, honestly, we didn’t have HBO. It was like, that was something other people had. [Laughs] I just assumed I would never have any access to it. I don’t think I ever had it until I got on Saturday Night Live—I didn’t have the money. Now that I’m on TV, I have, like, a million streaming services—I’m like, good lord. But it’s also my business, and it’s kind of a good way of keeping track of what’s in the news. I remember when Regé-Jean Page was coming to host; I was like, Oh, I gotta watch Bridgerton. And then I loved it.
So I watched The Sopranos more, maybe in the last 10 years. And I’ve watched it multiple times since, all the way through. My husband and I watch clips too, or turn on a random episode because it’s just so well written, and I really love that the characters have really massive hard exteriors and soft internal lives that kind of conflict. I feel like Adriana is one of the few characters who lets both be shown to the public, whereas everyone else has their tough edge and then their private, more intimate feelings. She kind of lets it all out in both spaces, but without losing her own power. She has her own toughness to her too.
What was the last scene you and your husband looked up?
This is a spoiler, technically. But there’s a scene where her boyfriend sits on her dog. We watched that scene recently, and it’s so horrible. It’s really hell. It’s the most insane—you’re like, noooo!
Are there any other shows you tend to return to?
This is a weird answer for this, because it’s not exactly the same thing. I recently started rewatching some of the shows that I loved as a kid, because I don’t remember the day-to-day episodes, or what actually happened. I just rewatched a bunch of episodes of the old Sabrina the Teenage Witch. It’s corny as hell, but it’s guest star–packed, which is kind of fun, and it’s fun to watch on a nostalgic level. But I wouldn’t say it’s, like, blowing me away performance-wise. [Laughs]
Anything more recent?
[Laughs] I watched all of Mare of Easttown; that was really great. And, I mean, I’m always watching dog-shit TV too, like The Real Housewives—just dumb, dumb, bad, bad. I feel like at this point, I’m a lot more likely to watch something if there’s a friend in it, just because I really want to see what they’ve been working on. I love Bo Burnham, and I just watched his special, which was great. It was very Bo—how I know him as a friend in a lot of ways. It was nice to see that kind of same energy come out in his comedy. It adds a different layer to it. I’m friends with Tavi [Gevinson], so I’m really excited to watch the new Gossip Girl. And maybe it’s because I live in New York, but I enjoy watching things in New York so much more now. I’m like, Oh, I’ve been there.
Do you stop when you see one of those filming signs on a telephone pole? I remember when I first moved here, it was like, Oh, that’s not cool.
Oh, sure. I’m always curious. Actually, the day I went to get my Covid vaccine, I walked past Succession filming. I didn’t see any of them, but I saw their catering, which looked pretty good. I definitely read the menu on my way, and then I got my shot.
Do you watch any other late-night programs?
I watch Seth Meyers a lot, but I’m also biased because he used to be my boss, and my husband used to work there. And I just started watching the new season of I Think You Should Leave, Tim Robinson’s sketch show on Netflix, which is so, so funny. He’s an old friend I did Second City with.
Your next show, Human Resources, is animated. Have you been able to record with the rest of the cast IRL?
Well, we mostly recorded it in, like, no-vaccine world. It was weird—I would wear a mask, and the engineer would set me up in a booth, and then they would shut the door and I could take it off and record. It was kind of crazy.
That sounds like the opposite of SNL.
I always wonder what you do after SNL—your adrenaline must be pretty high.
It’s weird. I think it was probably higher in the beginning, and now I’m kind of like, Oh, that was a good show. [Laughs] Or, That was fine. Usually, we have an afterparty, which is a nice way to check in with everybody and be like, Your piece was great. Or, Don’t worry about your piece getting cut. It’s a nice way to kind of process for a couple hours, and have a couple drinks, eat some weird french fries, and then go home and go to bed. Some people then go to an after-afterparty and then go to breakfast, and then you’re home at, like, 9:30 in the morning. I used to, but not so much anymore—now I usually get home around 4.
Did you get to witness the moment Lil Nas X ripped his pants?
Yes! It’s crazy because normally, in non-Covid times, there are tons of people standing on the floor to watch the musical guest. But it was really just his people—his friends, stylists, managers, or whatever—and the cast. And in the dress rehearsal, he did this really cool, like, genuinely amazing pole dancing. So we all knew something was up, because he wasn’t doing the pole dancing.
It was a great recovery.
I mean, in some ways, it’s almost more iconic.
Lastly, I wanted to ask you about Shrill, now that it’s had its final season. Do you think you’ll ever develop a series so personal again?
I don’t know. I’m currently working on other shows that I’m developing, and I guess one is kind of personal. But I feel like anything I write is going to be personal in some way, you know? Now that I’ve had that experience of writing something really close to my experience, or to Lindy [West]’s experience too, and kind of intertwining those to create something new…. I feel really proud of what we did, and kind of want to leave that there and head on to something a little bit different.
Sometimes, when I’m so sad a series has ended, I have to remind myself that in the end, maybe it’s for the best.
Yeah. I always like when a series leaves you to think about it, and then you see the person who made that series evolve and make something different that still has the threads of what you liked about that person as a performer, a writer. I think that’s a nice way to keep growing, to keep pushing myself as an artist.
I know that—spoiler alert—Adriana is gone, but where do you think she’d be right now?
I like to think she’s at a weird cocaine rock club in the sky, you know? With her dead dog.
Well, hopefully, we’ll join her.
Absolutely. We’re all gonna die someday. [Laughs]