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In her new show, Bridget Everett imagines someone like her returning to her hometown

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Once you see Bridget Everett perform live on stage, you will never forget her. She uses the size of her voice, personality and body to connect with an audience emotionally and physically.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BRIDGET EVERETT: Let me just clear up two quick things. Am I wearing a bra? No, don't need one. Next question.

SHAPIRO: That's a clip from her performance at the legendary New York cabaret venue Joe's Pub. She seems like the kind of performer who could only exist in the big city. Well, the new show on HBO imagines what would happen if someone like her, a character named Sam, went back to live in small-town Kansas, where the real Bridget grew up. It's called "Somebody Somewhere," and Bridget Everett told me it taps into some of the real, conflicted feelings she has about her hometown.

EVERETT: While I appreciate Kansas and there's a lot of love about it, I never - I always felt like a square peg in a round hole there.

SHAPIRO: This character, much like you, is a swimmer, sang in show choir, was raised in Kansas. Did playing the role allow you to understand aspects of yourself that maybe you were only able to see once you sort of stepped outside of your daily reality and inhabited Sam?

EVERETT: Yeah, I think - that's a really good question, and I think so. I think - you know, I'm Midwestern born and raised and never have seen a mental health care professional in my life.

(LAUGHTER)

SHAPIRO: I love that, like, that's an important point to note.

EVERETT: Well, my friends bring it up from time to time. Believe me; it comes up. I got a number for you, Bridget. I'm like, no, I'm fine. But it helped me understand my relationship to singing and to my sister who's passed away and to just - it was a way to kind of discover myself in a new way through Sam.

SHAPIRO: When you say it helps you discover something about your relationship to singing, like, get specific. What did you learn?

EVERETT: I know it in my core that, like, it's the thing that - it's, like, my emotional connective tissue, but I haven't ever really stopped to sort of dissect it. You know, I can barely even talk about singing without crying because it's just - everything's locked up in it. You know, my joy, my - the me that I want to be, the wildest version of me, the person that was always, like, full of joy and, you know, like, sort of that toddler energy, just running around naked around the room, you know?

(LAUGHTER)

SHAPIRO: That's such a perfect description.

EVERETT: And now, as I've gotten older, you know, my personal life, I've edited myself. I've tamped everything down. And I think just re-engaging with that part of me has been a real emotional ride.

SHAPIRO: There's a moment at the end of the first episode that really captures this where your character Sam shows up to choir practice, which is the term for this kind of informal get-together where people play music and sing songs. And she sings a song that she had sung in high school. And you can feel this moment of - I don't know whether to call it release or discovery, but the emotion is so powerful.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SOMEBODY SOMEWHERE")

EVERETT: (As Sam, singing) Got to walk out of here. I can't take anymore. I'm going to stand on that bridge, keep my eyes down low.

It is release and discovery. If you love something deeply and it's been missing from your life, whether that's a person, an animal or, in this case, singing, and finally getting to re-engage with something that was kind of right there all along, it just - I just had so much gratitude for what singing has brought to me. I remember thinking, like, oh, my God - one of the only moments I thought, I'm filming a show for HBO. I'm No. 1 on the call sheet, and I am living my dream and just thinking about what got me there. And what got me there was singing. And imagine somebody like Sam who has something that can transport her, and she's just been living without it because she doesn't think she's worth it. It's a trip.

SHAPIRO: There's a conversation that your character has in the second episode about dreams, where your character is talking to this guy she went to high school with.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SOMEBODY SOMEWHERE")

EVERETT: (As Sam) Dream all you want all, Joel, but this is the future. We're in our 40s, and it hasn't happened yet, has it? It hasn't happened for you. It hasn't happened for me. And that's because it's not going to happen. And it's definitely not going to happen here.

SHAPIRO: Bridget, did you ever have a version of that conversation before you became successful?

EVERETT: Yeah. I think in my 30s, I was - and late 20s, I was probably kind of not a good friend. A lot of my friends were succeeding. And even if they weren't succeeding, they had the sort of bright eyes and bushy tail outlook on life. And I kind of resented it. I was like, life should have kicked in by now, and it hasn't. So I guess you like waiting tables, Bridget, 'cause that's where you are, you know? And I just - and I would project my unhappiness on other people. And so Sam doing that certainly feels like a - like, it hits home for me.

SHAPIRO: And so how do you juxtapose that against now starring in an HBO show that's gotten rave reviews in your late 40s and having that breakout at this moment?

EVERETT: I mean, it never seems real. You know, I feel really fortunate, but I also feel like I'm floating around in a glass of milk. It's like, I don't really take it in. I can't really register it. I feel - you know, I don't know how I ended up here. And so to have a show where we're getting a lot of positive critical feedback - and I'm getting lots of notes from friends and people that have meant a great deal to me as, like, mentors. I don't think they're just blowing smoke. I think they're genuine. I just got a message from Patti LuPone. And, like, I have to stop myself sometimes and be like, Patti LuPone just called me on my cell phone - she has my number - to tell me how proud of me she was. I mean, I can't - I can barely take it.

SHAPIRO: But what's so beautiful is that you've also brought a lot of other people from your downtown New York performing arts scene along for the ride.

EVERETT: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: Like, you could have filled the cast with Patti LuPones. But instead, you're filling it with people who, like you, are having this moment now in their career and haven't had it before.

EVERETT: Yeah, that feels - that has made it feel very special. Our showrunners, when they pitched the idea, they pitched Murray Hill as Fred Rococo.

SHAPIRO: Genius drag king performer who's been a New York fixture.

EVERETT: Yeah, New York fixture and gave me one of my first, you know, breaks, one of my first shows. And Mary Catherine who plays my sister - we lived together, were roommates for eight years while she was on Broadway, and then she kind of slipped - you know, she's...

SHAPIRO: You were roommates for eight years? I didn't realize that. So the sister dynamic is real.

EVERETT: Yeah. Mary Catherine, who plays Tricia, auditioned for the part. There's something that we kind of stumbled upon when we were casting people. There's, like, an accessibility and a, like - you can kind of feel somebody's heart right on their chest. And I lived with Mary Catherine for eight years, and we had a great time. And she took good care of me. And she would also, you know, get after me if I - like, one time, I was coming out of the shower, and we were living in one of those classic New York apartments with no natural light. And I come out of the shower, and the kitchen sink's right there. And she's standing with her back to me. She's like, I've done your dishes, and I'm not - and I'm upset about it.

(LAUGHTER)

EVERETT: So we have kind of a built-in sister dynamic. But then later that night, she's making me turkey meatballs and pouring me glasses of chardonnay. So I didn't really want anybody famous. We just kind of wanted people that are all living the same experience at the same time 'cause I think that makes the show special.

SHAPIRO: Bridget Everett is the star of the new HBO show "Somebody Somewhere." Thank you so much. It's been great talking with you.

EVERETT: Thank you. We did it.

SHAPIRO: We did it.

(LAUGHTER) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
Matt Ozug
Sarah Handel