Tig Notaro on Turning Tragedy into ‘One Mississipi’
The day before premiering on Amazon, the first two episodes of the second season of Tig Notaro’s autobiographical Amazon dramedy One Mississippi screened at Film Independent at LACMA. The screening was followed by an in-depth 40-minute Q&A with Notaro, executive producer Kate Robin, the show’s recurring cast and was moderated by Film Independent at LACMA curator Elvis Mitchell.
Inspired by the same chaotic run of personal tragedies that spawned the comedienne’s 2015 Netflix documentary TIG and 2016 memoir I’m Just a Person, One Mississippi Season Two finds Notaro’s eponymous character returning to her Mississippi hometown to confront—with humor and pathos—myriad health, family and romantic problems.
Mitchell opened the Q&A by observing how deeply the show’s “Tig” lives in her head. He shouted out his favorite scene from Season One: Tig’s visit to her recently deceased mother’s gravesite—a scene that inside her mind suddenly descends into a raucous zombie party; an example of how Notaro’s character too frequently deals with things she can’t comprehend.
“The transition from reality to fantasy is an expression of emotional truth,” shared Robin, who came onto the show after the pilot had been shot. “It’s also a way to dramatize disassociation, of standing outside of reality because the reality is too much to process.” Notaro thinks it works because other people can relate. “When there’s a break in reality, there’s a reason [for it]…because it’s over the top, it’s exaggerated, it’s weird and it’s secretive,” she said.
Notaro then shared the heartbreaking real-life moment when she had to leave her mother’s dead body. She didn’t know quite how to physically leave her, and her brain went to many odd places, exhausting every possibility and finally settling back on the reality of just walking away. “It felt very unnatural, and I didn’t know how to physically walk away from her. It didn’t make any sense.”
Notaro’s real-life wife, Stephanie Allyne, writes on the show and plays Tig’s possible love interest and radio show hosting partner, Kate. For Stephanie, working on the show brought back her own struggles with her sexuality in high school. Thinking back, she said there were definitely moments that she now recognizes were clues to her true personality and orientation.
When asked about what drew her to the character Desiree, actress Carly Jibson said she fell in love with the show watching Season One—a cathartic experience for her as someone who had also just lost her mother. “My character moves about the world very unapologetically, to a point where she has no filter. There are people in the world who are well-intended, they’re just not well educated. But that still needs to be fixed, that can’t just be an excuse,” she said.
When the project came to her, Film Independent Spirit Award winner Sheryl Lee Ralph (Best Supporting Female 1991, To Sleep with Anger) was on Broadway, starring as Madame Morrible in the musical Wicked. She was surprised that the producers thought she’d be perfect as the demure and rigid Felicia Hollingsworth, who eventually becomes Tig’s father’s seemingly mismatched love interest. She said she was proud to play “a role who just happens to be black,” adding, “and now I get to do this with Tig, who’s a woman who is gay, but she just happens to be gay. Wow, I see progress. I get to be a part of the progress, and then I get to say some stuff that’s really important for all people. So I’m just thrilled.”
Actor Noah Harpster plays Notaro’s brother Remy. At first, Harpster said, he had a hard time finding a way in to Remy. But during the callback, one comment from Notaro gave him the lightbulb moment he needed: “My brother will do absolutely anything for me.” With that, he finally got the character.
FELICIA AND BILL: TWO PEAS IN A POD
After actor John Rothman saw a brief appearance of Tig’s real-life stepfather in the TIG documentary, he put on his glasses and began imitating the way the he walked. Such physicality helped him inhabit the role of the taciturn Bill, who Notaro agrees is the actor’s polar-opposite: “It’s hilarious how much you’re not Bill. That’s a testament to your acting ability,” she complimented him.
Ralph got a huge laugh out of the crowd when she expressed something peculiar about how romance eventually bloomed between her and Rothman’s characters: “Love was born through a thermostat. They had a complete understanding of how not to waste energy by turning lights on and off.”
The discussion moved into how death prompted a new chapter for Tig’s family. Robin believes that a family ecosystem often involves people playing various roles and supporting specific family mythologies to maintain equilibrium and keep the peace, especially so in a family with serious dysfunction. “I saw the death of Tig’s mom as a release valve in a way, for all those emotions that couldn’t be articulated while she was alive.”
Harpster’s take on the theme from one season to another: “The first season is about grief, the second season is about love.” The show is also very personal for him because his father was diagnosed with cancer and passed away over the course of filming the show. When he died, he was forced to seriously look at the various relationships within his own family. “Now, coming out of that, you start to appreciate what you have,” he said.
Notaro admitted that after her mother’s passing, she, her brother and stepfather were forced to look at each other for the first time, because her mom had been the presence in the room that everybody was focused on.
Season Two of One Mississippi is now streaming on Amazon. Prime Members can click here to watch. To see what’s coming up at Film Independent at LACMA, click here. And learn how to become a Member of Film Independent by clicking here.