Interview: Jennifer Robertson, No. 1 with a (Nutri)Bullet

Jennifer Robertson is quick to admit she was a bundle of nerves on her first day on Schitt’s Creek. It wasn’t the content. Robertson has made a living out of writing and performing comic material in projects like Comedy Inc. and Little Mosque on the Prairie. It was co-stars Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara who reduced her to a bundle of nerves.

But get through it she did, and Season 1 of CBC’s Tuesday night sitcom has been a breeze since. The Vancouver native plays Jocelyn Schitt, schoolteacher wife to town mayor Roland Schitt (Chris Elliott), who is forming a bond with Moira Rose (O’Hara). We spoke to Robertson about working with two comic legends, what she looks for in a role and why O’Hara wanted to buy her NutriBullet. Oh, and an odd nickname for her hometown.

Where am I speaking to you today from?
Jennifer Robertson: I’m in Vancouver. I’m visiting family, so I’m in ‘the ‘couv.’

Wait, what? Is that the short form for Vancouver?
I don’t know. [To her family in the background:] Hey, do you guys call it ‘the couv’ or is it just me? Vancouverites call it Vancouver, apparently. But assholes like me that live in L.A. call it ‘the couv.’ The kids call it Van. [Laughs.]

You have a lot of experience in the comic world, whether it be writing or performing, but what’s it like to work with Eugene, Catherine and Chris on something like this?
Obviously, it’s amazing. I wasn’t eased into it. My first day on set was a scene with Catherine and Eugene and I was losing it. I was befuddled and confused. I finally had to say, ‘I’m just so sorry, it’s because of you guys and I will pull it together.’ And we laughed and moved on from there. You know when you start working with them why they’ve achieved the level of success that they have. They’re so good at what they do and they put so much care into what they do.

Dan’s always put together and he’s meticulous and you’re like, ‘Ug, can you be messy just once?’

I feel like Catherine is very unassuming and isn’t sure what the fuss about her is about.
Yes. I think she views herself as a very ordinary person. I had bought a NutriBullet to use while I was there and on our last day together she wanted to buy it from me. She said, ‘Can I buy it from you? What do you want, $50?’ And I said, ‘You can just have it.’ She said, ‘Oh I couldn’t. I have to give you cash for that.’ She’s very, very sweet.

You bought a NutriBullet for while you were working on the show?
Yes, for smoothies and juicing and stuff. It’s funny, because when I arrived in Toronto and went to Walmart to get it I looked around and realized, yup, this is what Jocelyn wears. She is a very polyester kind of gal. Everything is tight and ill-fitting, and as you get older you realize it’s all about fabric and fit.

Schitt’s Creek is very much about the subtle humour. Is that something you had to learn or did it come naturally?
It was a great lesson on how to reel it in. Like on Comedy Inc., it was all about bigger, bigger, bigger. So to go from that to this was definitely a shift, but it’s enjoyable because it feels more grounded. It’s like a burger and a steak. This is more like a steak laugh because you’ve invested more into it. Eugene stressed very early on that that was where we were going with it and we embraced it.

A generation of viewers only know Dan Levy from MTV, but both he and Annie Murphy are fantastic comic actors.
Yes! I only knew Dan from MTV and it’s his show and his vision so that’s part of it but yeah, his timing is incredible. The episode where he’s selling his clothes … he was so incredible because you can feel his pain. He isn’t that character but there are elements of him that are. He’s always put together and he’s meticulous and you’re like, ‘Ug, can you be messy just once?’

Annie is amazing and the chemistry between the two of them is exactly the same. They are always teasing each other and making fun of each other.

I was like, ‘You actually have a skill! You just made a functioning well in two hours! That’s way more impressive than what I do for a living!’

We got a bit of back story with regard to Jocelyn. We found out she’s a teacher. Will there be more classroom scenes?

Not really, but what I think is great is that you see a relationship building between Moira and Jocelyn. It’s really fun and Catherine and I agreed that in a lot of shows female characters are combative and our choice was not to make it that way. We may not understand each other in this scene but maybe we don’t need to fight. That’s a Season 1 thing for sure.

How did you get the role of Jocelyn? Did you audition?
I did audition, yeah. The good old fashioned way!

Is that the norm for you?
Yeah. I’m not at that level where I don’t have to. If it’s Canadian and I know the person really well and there is a guest star part … I have been offered guest star parts, but in terms of series leads I’ve always had to audition.

What do you look for in a gig?
It depends on what it is. A lot of times I’m just looking for a job. If it’s something that I’m writing or creating than it’s a whole other thing. There have been things along the way that I’ve been so lucky to have been able to create and have a voice in and those things you cling a little bit tighter to than if it’s somebody else’s show.

You hosted Canada’s Handyman Challenge. What was that like?
That was so much fun. Those guys are great and I was amazed at the contestants. I was like, ‘You actually have a skill! You just made a functioning well in two hours! That’s way more impressive than what I do for a living!’ It was a great experience.

Schitt’s Creek airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on CBC.