If there's any show on television that's of the moment, it's Saturday Night Live. While Hollywood and other industries are reckoning with allegations of sexual misconduct, SNL is tackling the issues through sketches and opening monologues. But it's not just during the show — Cecily Strong tells me that on the SNL set, the show's women are focused on coming together and checking in with colleagues to make sure everyone's doing OK during this chaotic time.
Being a woman in the #MeToo era, Strong says, is about experiencing possible daily instances of discomfort. "There's a lot of 'Oh, this happened today.' You're dealing with your own weird traumas that are brought up and asking, 'Oh, am I OK?’ Let’s check in with me, let’s check in with each other," she explains when we speak before the release of her new movie, The Female Brain, out now. As such, seeing how each woman is doing, Strong says, is a weekly occurrence on the SNL set.
"Aidy (Bryant) and Kate (McKinnon) and I are very close. We all talk. I’ve talked with Leslie (Jones) about certain things," the actor says. "We’re all so exhausted during the show, but we have a lot of office hangouts, especially on Wednesday nights. We usually got to Aidy and Kate’s office and we’ll hang out in there."
Those evenings usually include taking inventory of each SNL cast member's emotional states, but also some hilarious distraction. "My friend, James, who’s a writer, will come in wearing a wig or something," Strong reveals, laughing. "He’ll do a little drag performance for us."
The distraction is certainly necessary, considering how upsetting it can be to hear about — and have to discuss — all the sexual misconduct allegations in Hollywood. Thankfully, Strong says the SNL environment is a great place to be a woman. "What’s nice is the female cast is really strong. We have really great female writers right now; we have great male writers that like writing for women. I don’t feel shut down at all. I feel very confident and comfortable getting my voice heard over there," she says.
Strong is also finding female-friendly sets on her other projects. Currently, she stars in Whitney Cummings' relationship comedy The Female Brain, playing a business woman married to a wealthy basketball player and is thus wrongfully viewed as a "gold digger."
"It’s really important for her that she has this independent side. She wants to be able to be independent but it’s OK that he’s helping her too, because they are still a partnership," Strong says of her character, Zoe. And asking for help "doesn’t mean you’re a gold digger," she adds. "That doesn’t mean you aren’t a real businesswoman. You can get a loan to start a business."
The Female Brain, based on the non-fiction book of the same name by Louann Brizendine, tackles the science behind why men and woman may react to situations in opposing ways and handle pressure differently. But while the book and movie deal with female stereotypes, "It never felt offensive to me as a woman," Strong says. "It wasn’t too preachy or teachy. There was no shame with [women being the way we are]. It’s more of like a celebration."
Strong says she and Cummings, who both wrote and directed, hit it off right away. They first met for drinks and ended up hanging out for three hours. "Whitney’s such a great director and friend and it really felt like a thoughtful friend was directing," Strong explains. "Everything was sort of open for discussion and I felt like I got to play a grounded character and it was a bit more real. It was just very much a thoughtful process with Whitney, and if anything felt fake or forced, then we wouldn’t do it."
Strong appreciates the importance of having a woman director on a movie all about the female perspective. "Whitney was never gonna ask something of us that maybe a male director would," Strong says. "When we first met and talked, what really stood out to me in the conversation we had was that she said she would have these meetings and she’d be in the room hearing the way that casting people at studios would talk about women. Pardon my French, but it was like, 'Who’s f**kable, who’s not f**kable, she’s too old to be f**kable.'" Cummings, Strong says, didn't want to make her movie with executives or studios who would make such degrading choices, and instead went the indie route.
While working with Cummings was inspiring for Strong, the actor says that she hasn't considered taking on her own projects, at least not yet. "I’ve never wanted to direct, I don’t think I have the eye for it. That may change in 10 years," she says. For now, Strong has ambitions of producing, writing, and dipping into more dramatic roles. Of course, fans would love to see her branch out, but the comedy world and SNL are lucky to have her and the other female voices of the show. If we want anyone commenting on the zeitgeist of today's sexual misconduct issues, it's some of the funniest women in America.