The third season of Shrill—one of our favorite shows on television—is officially out today (time to clear your calendar!), but it’s a bittersweet moment, as this season also marks the Hulu comedy’s last. It’s time to bid adieu to the critically praised half-hour series that brought us smart, provocative, and wholly relatable storytelling; proved a plus-size female lead can and should exist; and delivered a bevy of exceptional fashion moments. And we have the inimitable Aidy Bryant to thank for just about all of it. Serving as the show’s writer, producer, and star, Bryant has shown us why she’s one of the industry’s most exciting talents, both behind and in front of the camera.
A week before the premiere, I ask the actress and beloved Saturday Night Live cast member how she is feeling. “Good!” she responds, admitting a wave of emotions could strike at any moment. And rightfully so. Shrill has been a labor of love for Bryant, who filmed the show in Portland in between seasons of SNL. For the last three years, her character, Annie, has been the unapologetic leading lady we’ve been looking for—one who, like many of us, is trying to excel in her career, stumbling through relationships and cringey first dates, and striving to be a great friend and daughter, all the while wearing Instagram-worthy outfits. The latter, I was excited to learn, was a critical piece of the show from the very beginning. According to Bryant, she and costume designer Amanda Needham set out to give Annie “the same incredible, cool wardrobe you would see any other leading lady on a television show wearing.” It worked. There has been an overwhelmingly positive response to the looks on the show, effectively sending a wake-up call to the fashion industry: Here’s what it can be!
I could talk to Bryant about fashion—the Annie looks she loves, how SNL and Shrill really changed the game for her, and the brands she’s hot on right now—for hours, and we did spend the majority of our Zoom call doing just that, but I would be remiss if I didn’t also bring up the brilliance of season three, bringing Annie’s story to an end, and what’s next. It was indeed a fantastic conversation.
Photo:Emily Soto/Trunk Archive
We’re here talking about the third and final season of Shrill, which premieres May 7. How are you feeling at this moment?
I am feeling good. I’m feeling kind of nostalgic. Our Shrill text chains are popping because we’re all sending each other old pictures and videos. I’m just so excited for it to get out there and for people to be able to watch it. I only feel good. Not too sad, thankfully, which I was worried about. Maybe it will still hit me, but so far so good.
Let’s talk about this next chapter. We are seeing Annie fresh off of a breakup and embracing single life. What was important to showcase in Annie’s journey at this stage?
In a lot of ways, I think we were just following the story that we had been telling. For the first two seasons, she really was trapped under this feeling of I got to keep this one guy who said he’s into me, which I think is a hauntingly relatable feeling. And I was always really proud that we took the time that it actually takes to force yourself to break free of that. So this was her finally free and her putting that confidence and the nerves into action of, Okay, I’m going to try and assert myself and be in control of some of the things that I want. This is her truly putting it all into action, and I think she does it in a very juicy way and in a way that is very that character, which is she goes hard and sometimes too hard.
You wrapped production of season three in December, and then in January, it was announced that this season would be the show’s last. Are you happy with ending Annie’s story here?
It’s interesting because different people who have seen the ending have taken away different things from it, and I think what I’m really happy about is we’re pretty happy with it, the people who made it. I was worried that there would be some pressure to have it be this really, almost cartoonishly triumphant, she is 100% confident, A+, yay all the problems are over, which is just not reality. Self-image is such an ever-evolving thing, and you might have a good month, and then you might have one bad day. That’s the reality, and that’s where the end of the show leaves her, which is she is so much better off than where we first meet her or where we see her in college. But it’s still a struggle, and there is still more work to be done. I like that that is the note they leave it on. I think for most women, that is how it is. It just feels like a genuine and honest place to leave it rather than some unattainable thing that isn’t achievable.
What do you think the future holds for Annie?
Man, I don’t know. That’s what I kind of like about the end is that it’s like, oh, does she stay with this guy? Does she not? All of these things. I think there is an excitement in her work that might take over her life in a really cool way that allows her to pull other people up and make changes there. I also think what’s cool about the final relationship that we see her in is that the initial connection is an emotional one in a weird way. They start their relationship on a really raw conversation, and there’s something really sexy and cool about that. So I at least hope she heads more in that direction.
One of my favorite parts of the show has always been Annie and Fran’s friendship. What drew you to Lolly Adefope during the casting process, and what do you love about working with her?
We are super, super close. You know, Lolly was someone I knew of and thought was great from the comedy world. I think at the time, we had the same agent or something, and I was always like, “What’s her deal? Would she be up for this?” She made a tape, and it was just, at least for me, I was like, I think this is it. She flew to Los Angeles, and we did a chemistry read, and just instantaneously, it was like, we’re friends. And then working together was a whole other level because so much of the time I had so much on my plate as far as managing or making sure the script was ready or all those things, and I always felt like when Lolly was there, I could just take a deep breath and be like, she’s got it. And I do think that just made it so easy to trust her and vice versa. We really work together; her voice is a part of the show as well. Outside of the show, [she is] one of the best friends I’ll ever have. She is just so funny, so incredibly smart, one of the smartest people I’ve ever known, and a true mischievous, goofy ding-dong. Also, her partner and my partner really hit it off and text each other all the time, so it’s a double-date heaven, honestly.
You worked as a producer, writer, and actor on this show. Was it difficult to bounce between those three worlds? And which role was often the most challenging?
You know, it’s weird. I think each one of them has their own challenge. What I found most challenging was when all three had a challenge at the same time. So if we’re filming a scene, and I felt like it wasn’t working and maybe the part of that was the writing or the part of that was the performing or a little bit of both, and I knew that we only had this location until this time, as a producer, it was like, okay, where do I give my attention to the problem right now? And there were times where it was like, okay, for five minutes, I’m an actor right now, and then for these 10 minutes, I’m going to be a writer, and then now, I’m going to spend a minute on my phone texting as a producer. You just do it all. But also, I got much better at being like, that’s a problem for this person. That’s for her. Send it that way!
As someone who is constantly juggling so much, how do you manage your time effectively?
Well, I wish I was like, oh, I do it really well. I don’t think I do. If anything, I feel like I would have a month where I work every single day of that entire month—Saturdays, Sundays, all of it—and then I’ll have a break. So it’s not healthy or good, but I definitely think just cutting myself some slack as far as being like, I have to give an hour to this thing and just focus on that rather than just put my brain four hours ahead. I’ve gotten much better at truly taking it hour by hour. It’s funny because I feel like people have questions about what’s next or what’s your deal with SNL or whatever, and I’m truly going hour by hour, and if I have a new feeling, I’ll go with it. It’s just so hard to be like, oh, actually, I’m this person right now.
I’m curious to know, were there any particular scenes across the show’s three seasons that were personally difficult to write or shoot?
Oh yeah, definitely. I mean, there were a couple that were hard for me in the first season, especially because I had not done much dramatic acting. So when I would do [these scenes], I was actually feeling it, which I think is what a good actor does, but I, in many ways, wasn’t in control. There is this scene in the first episode where she’s talking about her abortion and her ideas of Maybe I should try to make it work with this person because maybe that’s my one chance, and I don’t exactly have those feelings, but I can empathize with them and feel for them, and so there were moments were I was like, oh, now I’m crying. That was hard. Same with the pool-party scene. Processing that afterward was hard. But then in the second and third seasons, I got a better handle on still feeling it but making decisions as a writer and a performer within them that weren’t so raw.
I want to talk about the fashion on the show because the response to the wardrobe continues to be so positive. What were some of the early vision boards and conversations you had with costume designer Amanda Needham?
Amanda and I work super closely, and we’re also just really good friends. That was a huge piece of the show for us because even when we were pitching it, there were questions from the network or studio being like, “Should it be this exterior transformation as she gains confidence where you see her shed her dumpy cardigan and start wearing cooler stuff?” And it felt important to us that there wasn’t this huge external transformation but instead that she’s a person with style who works at this indie, cool paper in Portland. She has a point of view. I certainly felt that way even when I lived in Chicago, where I thrifted and did anything I could to make clothes that seemed cool, even if I couldn’t find or buy them. I always had a big-ass pair of scissors right next to my closet because I would take a mumu and cut the bottom off and put a belt around it, and all of a sudden, I was feeling kind of cool. I think we just wanted to keep that external transformation away.
The other huge question that we had about the clothes, which was an early conversation, was do we give this character the kinds of things she could actually buy and the kinds of the things she could actually find? Or do we give this fat lead character the same incredible, cool wardrobe that you would see any other leading lady on a television show wearing? And we finally decided let’s do it. Let’s just pull the trigger and make it as if she lived in a world where it was possible. Obviously, there is so much more now than there was when I was younger, but it’s still not the breadth of choice. It’s the difference between having 100 options and hundreds of thousands of options. We’re still not there yet.
So in order to achieve that, a lot of the clothes were custom, right?
It was a mix. A lot of the bigger, fashiony moments were made. Usually each season, I would pull images from Instagram or people who I thought had cool style, put it together in a mood board, and then send it to Amanda. And then she would take the sleeve off of this thing and this off of that and choose a bunch of fabrics, and we would text back and forth. She would do this amazing process where she would make a dress in three different colors, and we would try it out like, oh, this one feels right for this scene because she feels like this. It was very emotional.
Annie has some amazing evening looks in season three. I loved the green minidress she wore on the blind date. What were some of the inspirations going into this season?
Well, this is where maybe there is a tiny character transformation exterior-wise where we were like, okay, maybe she is a little more comfortable showing her body. The first two seasons, she is wearing a lot of high-neck, long-sleeve, cute tailored dresses but less body showing. I think for these, we were like, she’s dating, she’s trying on this confidence, let’s try to have her show it without feeling cartoon. So these were cool, understated-but-fun looks for a date. I think it’s fun to see a character try hard and really put it out there. Especially for the one for the first date where it goes kind of wonky. It’s like, oh, you feel even dumber for trying, you know?
Looking back on all three seasons, what look of Annie’s stands out to you the most?
Oh gosh. I have a ton of favorites. One that I love and feel is an underdog is in this most recent season in the sixth episode. There is a green dress with puffy sleeves with a green belt. I really loved that one. I thought it was a cool mix of textures and sexy while still being cool.
Shifting to SNL, can you walk me through the process of getting a look created for a skit?
It depends. If I wrote the sketch, then I will really be involved in the conversation. If someone else wrote the sketch and I play “woman number four,” I am kind of just wearing whatever dress they hand me that week. But typically, if you get your sketch picked, you then, on Wednesday night, go and meet with the incredible costume designers, Tom Broeker and Eric Justian. They have been doing it for over 25 years. They are incredible. Sometimes it’s a matter of them sketching it with you while you talk about it or referencing Liza Minnelli or whatever. They are always so good and get it.
It’s also really where I learned how to dress a character. I remember once not knowing, like, “Oh, I don’t know what this character should wear,” and they were like, “Well, when you close your eyes, what color do you see?” And I was like, “Oh, pink!” Then you’ll go for a fitting on Thursday or Friday, and you will check in, and they might show you some swatches or say, “Here are three dresses we are thinking about. Which is the right vibe?” Often, they are building something from scratch. I played Ursula once, and they built the tentacles. They made it all from scratch, and they were connected by wires to my body so when I moved, the tentacles moved. I mean, incredible. Mrs. Claus, they had all this vintage lace. And they do it in like two days. Once I played a chicken, and I rehearsed in the costume as far as it was ready, and it basically looked like a potato with a sling for my arm, and literally 24 hours later, it was covered in singular little feathers. I mean, it’s unbelievable what they do.
What are the brands you keep going back to? And what are some of your favorite places to shop?
It changes a lot for sure. I shop a lot at Girlfriend Collective. I really love their bike shorts, and I like that they’re sustainable. Same with Wray. That’s a new one for me that has changed the game because it feels like the kind of cool-art-girl clothes that I’ve always been hunting for in plus-size clothes but could never get my hands on. I am also in a lucky position as far as I can sometimes get away with wearing the biggest size of Rachel Comey or Simone Rocha if it’s something fancy. Rhode is another one that I can kind of fit into the biggest size. I wear a lot of Wray for sure. I mean, these days, I’m wearing a lot of Entireworld sweatsuits.
You are still working on SNL, but what other projects do you have your sights on?
I am writing stuff. I have been doing Shrill for like four years while doing SNL, so I have not had a week or a minute to be like, oh, what else would I like to do? But I’ve had ideas in that time that I have been like, I’ll set that to the side and hopefully find some time, and now that we’ve finished editing, I've been working on them, and it feels really exciting, but they are all too tiny. I’ve got stuff on the horizon, for sure.
Season three of Shrill is now streaming on Hulu.