Cecily Strong starts a new conversation
RHINEBECK, NY – It’s hard to think of Cecily Strong and not remember the effusive TV characters she plays. If you’re a “Saturday Night Live” fan, you immediately hear about her exuberant performance as underwater Jeanine Pirro singing “My Way” as she soaks herself in a tank of wine. Or if you watched her in the musical “Schmigadoon!” Apple TV +, you think of its modern show tunes praising the pleasures of corn pudding or smooching with a suitor.
The actors, of course, are not their characters, and Strong has tried to explain that while she is impressed with the self-confident types, can I talk to the manager in real life, she is not. t one of them. As she said a few weeks ago, “Anytime there’s someone doing a show in public it’s the best thing I’ve ever seen. But when I say I’m shy or introverted, people tell me, I don’t mean it. I’m like, okay – but I am, you know. “
It is therefore surprising that Strong, who does not consider himself a confessional person, writes a personal memoir, and even more that his book is not really an account of his showbiz career but rather a candid unfolding of his life prompted by his thoughts. at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
The memoir, “This Will All Be Over Soon”, will be published by Simon & Schuster on August 10th. He occasionally explores his time at “SNL”, where she has been a member of the cast since 2012. But it starts with her apprenticeship. , in January 2020, that his 30-year-old cousin Owen was given hours to live before dying from glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer.
Weeks later, Strong discovers that a man she recently started dating has fallen with a fever which turns out to be a symptom of the coronavirus. Soon after, she collects items from her Manhattan apartment – a salad spinner, a garlic press, a yoga mat – as she and two friends prepare to flee to an Airbnb rental in the Valley. ‘Hudson for what she mistakenly assumes to be just a few weeks.
For Strong, 37, the book is an opportunity to make these episodes his own and reveal them to his audience without fear of judgment.
Thinking back to the circumstances that gave birth to the book, she said, “It’s like, who has time to be ashamed of right now?” She thought for a moment then added, “I mean, I guess we have all the time in the world, but why waste the time we’re stuck with?”
During a lunch at a Mexican restaurant here in late June, Strong displayed nails decorated with rainbow patterns and a crazier sense of humor than she’s known for on “SNL.”
As she prepared to discuss deeply personal experiences, she took an order of crisps and salsa and said, “Now I’m going to cry and I can blame the spice.”
She didn’t shed tears, but shared painful stories. She grew up in affluent Oak Park, Illinois, where her parents divorced while she was in elementary school, her brother had ADHD and spent time in a psychiatric ward for children, and she was kicked out of high school after finding pot in her. backpack. Strong struggled much of her life with anxiety and depression, she writes in her book, and spent years in an intermittent relationship with a physically abusive boyfriend.
Some of Strong’s most touching anecdotes in “Everything Will Be Over Soon” are steeped in the frustration and injustice of loss. After playing Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer in an “SNL” skit, Strong remembers a friend of Kalamazoo who died after his car was hit by a train. Or she remembers a time in 2018 when she helped her cousin Owen get VIP tickets to an “SNL” show – a show hosted by Chadwick Boseman, the “Black Panther” star who died of colon cancer. last August.
Strong told me that her intention in writing the book was not to cultivate sympathy but to deal with events that she may never have fully dealt with, “things that have defined my life and which I do not know.” ‘hadn’t realized at the time, or things that I maybe was ashamed of but didn’t want to be, ”she said.
Her “SNL” career, filled with memorable impressions and cheeky “Weekend Update” characters, is flourishing, and last month she earned her second Emmy nomination as a supporting actress in a comedy series. Strong said that in recent years she has also wanted to find ways to express herself outside of the show.
Without singling out a particular role or performance, she said, “I wanted to do different things from this sketch, the one someone else wrote, and people maybe think it’s my voice but not my voice. “
Even some of the praise she received for “Schmigadoon!” aroused feelings of ambivalence. “People were like, nobody knows you can do that, they’ve never seen that side of you,” she said. “And I was like, wait a minute – what do you really think of me?”
Lorne Michaels, the longtime creator and executive producer of “SNL,” said he had always viewed Strong as “a very private person” but one who projected an inner tenacity.
Michaels said Strong embodied the values he saw in the actors he recruited in Chicago “because Chicago is looking both coasts and is not very impressed.” He said she was reliable in her instincts and firm in her choices: “You can’t really make her do something that she doesn’t want to do.”
Strong said she was hesitant to write a book but felt compelled to keep track of her experiences when she began self-quarantining in March 2020. Logistical challenges and panic attacks got in the way, and one day she finally chopped up a few. hours to start, she spilled a bag of shells and shredded lettuce on the floor of her apartment. “So I had to delay my writing a bit longer,” she said with some relief.
Once Strong got out of Manhattan, she was able to work more productively, writing often during the day, then listening to a roommate read the passages aloud at dinner time.
Kevin Aeh, a longtime friend who lived with her during the pandemic, said he didn’t mind being a character in her memories. “It’s also my time capsule from that year,” he said.
Aeh said Strong was already in touch with her own feelings about loneliness and grief when the pandemic began, and the stories she shares in the book could help her connect with readers who have had experiences. similar.
“So many people lost people last year,” he said. “We all spent time being confused and scared. Even though she was confused and scared like the rest of us, it was a space she had been in, which I think made it easier for her to write about it.
Leda Strong, the author’s cousin and sister of Owen Strong, said that while she had some initial misgivings about the memoirs, she felt they served a broader purpose.
“The story of my brother, Owen, is being told and people are getting to know him as a person,” she said. “At some point, it trumps any other anxiety. It’s really not about me – it’s Cecily telling her story, and as part of that my brother has to be immortalized.
Eventually, Cecily Strong’s television career began to encroach upon her pastoral literary retreat. She was distressed by her commitment to “Schmigadoon!” Which was filmed in Vancouver last fall amid severe pandemic protocols.
“It was my dream job, and I said no several times, because I was so scared,” she said. “I was afraid of being in quarantine again, afraid of this isolation. What if something happened to my family and I was behind a closed border? “
When she returned to “SNL” with her season already underway, Strong was confused. “I felt like I messed up all the social interactions I had,” she said.
She recalled a farewell moment in the closing credits of a show when she pointed out to Lauren Holt, an actor who just completed his first season, that they were dressed alike. .
Strong’s voice was flooded with grief as she continued. “She was like, I can change, and I was like, oh my God, what did I do to you?” said loudly. “What did you think I meant?” Please no.”
She writes in her memoir about wrestling with “SNL” this year, dividing her time between Manhattan and upstate New York while grappling with restrictions on coronaviruses and her fears of not being funny. When she needed time off for herself or to spend time with her family to commemorate what would have been Owen’s birthday, Michaels said it was easy to provide it for her.
“She earned it,” Michaels said. “This season has probably been the most difficult for her.”
Now that Strong has completed her ninth season on the show, some of her collaborators are assuming that she gave her last performance as a member of the cast.
Bryan Tucker, “SNL” editor-in-chief who worked with Strong on his Jeanine Pirro segments for “Weekend Update,” said the “My Way” wine sketch was deliberately put together to give Strong a ride. Victoire.
“She’s such a special part of the show, and I wanted to write something for her that gave her a big start,” Tucker said. “I thought I might never get another chance to do something like this.”
But Strong said his own plans for the next “SNL” season remain on the table. “I’m still thinking,” she said. “Throughout the year, there were times when I felt like a fifth year senior and I was just hanging around dead weight. Then there would be times that felt so good.
She added, “There are things I want to do and I want to be open to those things. If I’m there, so much the better – if I’m not there, so much the better. I just want it to feel like the right thing.
Michaels said he and Strong “had spoken”.
“I hope she will come back,” he said. “What I told her, and what I believe is, I don’t think she’s finished yet.”
Whether or not the “My Way” number turns out to be her swan song, Strong said the skit was unforgettable for her. She also pointed out that the tank she dipped into at the end was actually filled with “diluted grape juice, but it was very hot – I enjoyed it”.
“The security guy was like, don’t open your eyes in there because the juice is going to burn, and I was like, okay, thank you, I didn’t plan that,” she recalls. . “And then he said, I splashed it in my eyes to test it, and I thought you didn’t have to do that.”