Lauren Ash spoke with Solzy at the Movies by phone about playing Dina on Superstore and what she’s been doing during the quarantine.
We briefly discussed She-Ra and the Princesses of Power coming to an end in May and if there’s a chance we could still see Mark Hamill pop up on a future season of Superstore. I had to ask how Dina would react to somebody coming into the store without a mask on.
Superstore got renewed in February for a sixth season. Is there a time table for when the new season goes into production?
Lauren Ash: They’ve been intact. Obviously, the priority is trying to get us to go back to work. NBC announced their fall lineup and we are obviously on it with season six. But the exact dates—I think—are still a little bit into work. On the production end, they want to get going and we obviously are excited to get going but we just want to make sure that it’s as safe as possible. So fingers crossed that it’s sooner than later.
You get to play Dina for a sixth season, which is a lot longer than most series gets. What did you bring to the character that wasn’t initially in the script?
Lauren Ash: I actually based the performance on a character that I created when I was at The Second City Toronto. It just kind of came out of improv. It was this kind of very butch woman who was really—she kind of walked a certain way. And when I read the Superstore pilot script, I was like, Oh my gosh, I know this character—I’ve been playing her for years. I speak a little bit lower in my register and I kind of hold my body differently than I do in real life. It went from there. And then, we’ve been so lucky that they’ve been open to us improvising over the past five seasons on the show that there’s been lots of stuff that I’ve improvised that’s kind of gotten in and has become canon and has become part of the Dina story and who she is. And so it’s lots of things. The line is always blurring in a lot of ways. The other big example is definitely the storyline with Dina’s dad. That all came out of an improv from season one where I mentioned that my dad had abandoned me when I was a kid. And then season five, we finally got to meet him when Dean Norris came in as a guest star, which was amazing. He was so fabulous to work with. It’s cool to kind of have input in those ways and have it become a part of this three-dimensional character that—yeah, now we’re going into the sixth season, which is a huge gift.
Is there still a chance that Mark Hamill can make an appearance?
Lauren Ash: Listen—your words to his ears. I mean, I would be so thrilled. I love him. I think he’s amazing so if he wanted to come, I’m sure we could find something for him to do.
Superstore is one of the few shows I thought about early on in quarantine when it comes to Covid with the social distancing. How would Dina handle someone walking into Cloud 9 without a mask?
Lauren Ash: First of all, I think she would handle it swiftly and efficiently (laughs). I’ve been toying with it. In the pilot, we obviously saw her shoot a shotgun off to get the pandemonium in the store to cease at that moment. Do I have visions of Dina potentially standing at the door with a shotgun just being ready to bully people into putting a mask on? I do have visions of that. (Laughs) Listen, I’ve thought about it a lot during this time, too, obviously because our characters in the show would be essential workers and whatnot. I’m excited to see what happens—what the writers have been cooking up because I feel like there’s a lot of opportunity for stuff just like that going into season six, which is great.
The final season of She-Ra was released in May. What are you going to miss about the series?
Lauren Ash: That was such a fun experience. It was such a warm working environment. So many of the people we were working with were women in terms of like the showrunner, our director, the writers—there’s a lot of female characters on that show. I just always loved going in for recording because it just felt like a really lovely family. I’m really going to just miss seeing all those people all the time. Obviously playing Scopia—she was just a joy to get to play. I got to improvise a lot for her, too, which is amazing. They would use my improvs on there, too, which is always a really cool thing. I remember one of my last days crying as I was recording one of the scenes because it was it was like an emotional scene. I think I’ve come to love her a lot more than I even realized if that makes sense. It’s sad to kind see that go but it was such an amazing important show to be a part of. I’m really proud of the work that we’ve done with that show.
Are you going out much or mostly staying home?
Lauren Ash: Oh, no. I am locked down. (Laughs). Yeah, I am obviously very lucky. I live in a beautiful home in California and so I have no complaints. There hasn’t been really—if it’s not a grocery store trip or the odd Starbucks drive-thru trip, my boyfriend and I just kind of stay at home. I have no real complaints. I’ve got my dogs and my cat here—we have a nice time. It’s been kind of cool. I’ve filming a bunch of promo stuff for NBC with Stephanie Beatriz from Brooklyn Nine-Nine and it’s really kind of fun to get to work in a different way. She and I kind of improvise the different bits that we come up with and shoot them over Zoom, Skype or whatever. It’s been fun. Obviously, everyone’s life has been impacted but I feel very lucky that I’m still able to have fun and be creative and all at the same time staying safe, which is the most important thing right now.
Is there a series or a movie that you’ve been turning to the most for comfort?
Lauren Ash: Always the BBC Office. I mean, that one I’ve watched topped to bottom just so many times. We’ve watched it all the way through and then repeated a few as well. That’s definitely my number one. We’ve also been going back into older comedy movies like Dumb and Dumber, Ace Ventura, the Jim Carrey collection. Yeah, just anything—it’s funny because I do feel like there’s been a certain amount of comfort viewing that I feel like a lot of people are doing. I definitely feel that—something that feels familiar feels nice. And there’s definitely new stuff that I’ve been watching, too, but there’s just been a real kind of-I’ve had that want. I just started Arrested Development from the beginning and I was like, Oh, I remember these old friends. I feel like there’s something about this time that does make you kind of want something that feels familiar, something you’ve seen before.
It’s been tough watching some of these newer things.
Lauren Ash: Yeah, it’s weird, right? If we watched it before, it’s like, Oh, I remember that place and time. But if something is newer now, I almost have a jealousy because I see them out in the world doing new things and I’m like, that’s not our reality anymore! What is this? This isn’t realistic! Or just seeing people shake hands in content, I’m like, Wow, this is just so wild—what our current living situation. It’s just a feeling that I feel like to most of us is a wild time.
From work perspective, what’s been the toughest part about all of this?
Lauren Ash: Honestly, we have such amazing time on Superstore and my colleagues on Superstore are truly some of my closest friends in the world. This is usually the time of year that I’m just itching to go back because we usually wrap in February/March and then we’re set to come back late July/early August. It’s always now—right after Fourth of July, I start to get that itch. I’m ready to go back to work. I want to see my friends again every day. I want to get back into the routine and the grind and all the above. I think really selfishly for me right now and it’s a very lucky problem to have is I just really want my friends. We have so much fun making that show. I just really miss the process and I miss the crew, too. We’ve had a lot of our crew right from the beginning of season one and they’re still with us now. And so it’s odd. It’s odd already to have—we take this break from March to August essentially every season. It’s weird now because we probably going to be a little bit longer at least and it’s gonna look a lot different when we come back, I’m sure, because of all the protocols that are gonna have to be put in place, which is great and for the best, but it’s an odd time. It’s odd to think about how different it may be going into this next season in this new world.
Did you have any initial plans during the hiatus before COVID happened?
Lauren Ash: I was supposed to go on a vacation. I’m somebody who’s very bad at taking vacations (Laughs). In 2019, I was like, I’ve done it, I blocked out 10 days. I’m going on a 10 day vacation because prior to that, I’ve been away maybe three or four days twice in about seven or eight years. And so I was like, I’m doing it. I’m taking a real vacation and then I got called and I had to go to Upfronts and all these things so my 10 day trip turned into a four day trip, which was still wonderful and amazing but I didn’t reach the level of relaxation I would have liked. I had once again planned that for this break. Now the joke is that I’ve been on staycation for what is it, four month now (Laughs), 125 days at this point? Maybe the universe has over-corrected my situation with this many days of downtime. But yeah, just travel—I’ve never been anywhere. I’ve never been to Europe. I’ve never been anywhere. My goal anytime I have downtime is to try and travel and inevitably, it falls apart so okay—that’s all I really had planned.
Even January feels like a gazillion years ago.
Lauren Ash: I know. I know. It’s so funny, too, because my boyfriend and I were talking about—we can like mark the stages of the quarantine by what series we were bingeing. I was like, Hey, remember Tiger King? Oh my gosh—that was so long ago and then we did all of Ozark. I’m remembering the different months by what we were watching, which is that I realize Tiger King honestly feels like its ten years ago. It’s so nuts.
I feel like I’ve been doing the same but with books.
Lauren Ash: Oh, good for you. That’s a better habit to have. I need to do that.
Yeah, I just started quarantine book 15
Lauren Ash: Oh, good for you. I think the only one that I’ve read is the Jessica Simpson autobiography. And let me tell you something, it was everything I wanted it to be. (Laughs)
What was the most valuable lesson you learned in improv classes?
Lauren Ash: Oh, great question. There’s so many things but I think probably the most valuable is just being present and in the moment and really listening. I think that’s probably the biggest gift that you can learn from improv both just as a life tool but certainly not only as an improviser but as an actor. I think it makes you a better actor because it really is the focus of listening and really taking in what the other person is saying and really just being in the moment. That unlocked a lot from in terms of acting.
Prior to taking improv, I would have a hard time. I was briefly in theater school. I dropped out after four months. I had a hard time trying to access emotions. And then when I started taking improv, it was suddenly very easy for me to access emotions. And for me, it’s just because being real in the moment and really kind of just taking in and being in the scene with the other person—that’s really what made the difference for me. I think that again, that’s something that serves me every day that I work now, just really listening and knowing to be in the moment with your scene partner.
What’s something right now that you miss about either Chicago or Toronto.
Lauren Ash: Oh, I miss everything about both cities. I mean, Chicago—I love so much. I miss the Art Institute. That used to be my happy place where I’d go by myself and just wander around silently for hours. I miss the walkability of both of those cities, actually. And the food from Chicago, obviously. I mean, come on—there’s nothing better. There’s good food in LA, too. That’s just a bad rap. There’s a lot of variety if you want to go exploring, certainly. And the people. I mean, again, I’m Canadian and I feel like Chicago even more than Toronto—people are just so friendly. I remember if I was bored on Sunday afternoon, you could walk to Corcoran’s, sit at the bar, and talk to eight different people. I feel like it’s rare. I’ve never experienced that in Toronto and certainly haven’t experienced that in LA. I do miss that kind of friendliness. I feel like that’s a cultural thing in Chicago, that that’s normal and I think that’s really nice. Not that anybody here is talking in bars right now and nor should they be. Yeah, that’s definitely something that I miss about that place.