Heléne Yorke talks ‘The Other Two,’ Emmys and being snubbed by Walter Matthau

Evan Ross Katz is In The Know’s pop culture contributor. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram for more.

Heléne just got back from her honeymoon… like, last night. I’m eager to hear all about it, but she wants to first discuss salad. In particular, salad dressing. “Have you heard of Sweetgreen?” she earnestly asks. I reflexively (and rudely) gesture “of course,” before she launches into an abbreviated diatribe about her recent discovery that more dressing can make a salad better. She’s been living in a world of light, blithely unaware that dressing might be a salad’s most fundamental ingredient. 

Other matters on Yorke’s mind: the headline of this article. A veteran of the interview-to-article pipeline, Yorke is attuned to how the smallest, most inconsequential part of our conversation could birth a headline at any moment. As such, she’s on her toes. “It’s always one tiny thing from a long conversation and your brain kind of goes like, ‘Did I say that? Like I know I did, but in such big font?’ Like, ‘Heléne Yorke Takes Her Bag of S*** With Her Everywhere.’ And that’s the headline. I did talk about a bag of s***, but really? Really?”

I’m tempted to ask about this prolific bag of s*** she carries everywhere, but there are more important matters to attend to. For instance, the recent Emmy Awards and Met Gala, both of which I know Yorke has thoughts on. Plus, her recent nuptials. And then, oh yeah, her hit HBO Max series The Other Two, which made the leap from Comedy Central after a 2½-year hiatus between seasons. On the show, Yorke plays Brooke Dubek, one of the titular “other two,” a struggling 30-something in search of direction, clinging with dug-in nails to her famous brother and mother to give her some semblance of a path.

Series co-creator Chris Kelly describes Yorke as f****** bold. “Every day on set she makes choices with a capital C,” he says. “She’ll often turn to us before a take and say she’s gonna ‘do something’ and to just tell her if it’s bad. She’s just so confident and goes for broke in every scene. She’s also incredible at both comedy and drama. You can really watch her be a full bull in a china shop, storming through scenes, breaking everything or racing into a party to steal apps while she’s supposed to be outside on a conference call. And then, moments (seconds?) later, watch her turn on a dime and be really emotional and honest and vulnerable.”

Her co-star Drew Tarver emphatically agrees. “I’m constantly delighted at everything she is doing when I’m in a scene with her,” he says. “Sometimes I’m just watching as a fan and then I’m like ‘Oh wait, it’s my line now.’ She consistently melts my face off with line deliveries that are so funny, I want a rewind button for real life to watch them again.”

Below, a chat with Ms. Choices with a capital C.

Credit: Emilio Madrid

We are chatting the afternoon following the 2021 Emmys. I know you and I shared a love for Paul Downs in Celine. I mean! I’m curious what your top-level thoughts were on the ceremony. 

First of all, I didn’t watch the entire broadcast because I do sometimes think it’s a little boring. They were doing dinner, but were people drinking?

I’m not sure.

I hope, for my sake, if I ever go to one. [Laughs] What’s interesting to me is the bits that people try to make happen. As somebody who tries bits in life a lot, and sometimes with egg on my face, I think it’s really hard to do a bit on national television and find what, as a bit, works without any way to test it out. There’s no rehearsal or way to gauge if these things work, so you just have to commit fully. And then the other thing — and I experience this on a regular basis — is that people forget how to be around people. And I thought, in a really nice way, it felt like all these very fancy, very well-dressed people had also forgotten, a little bit, how to be around people, and that made it relatable. I’m going to say hashtag relatable on that.

Speaking of relatable events, I want to ask you about the Met Gala. You had sent me a DM after the Met Gala thanking me for calling out the lack of adherence to the “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion” theme. So that bothered you too?

So, I was in Spain on my honeymoon during [it] and saw the pictures not knowing the theme, ’cause I was not up on my usual pop culture in the moment. Usually, you can see the theme, like with “Manus x Machina,” there was an overwhelming throughline from the looks we were seeing. And then some people were on-theme, but it was… tricky. For example, did I think Debbie Harry looked great? Did I like that look? No, but b**** was on theme. I think somebody that I thought did really, really well on the theme was Jeremy O. Harris in Tommy Hilfiger. And I understand it’s all the politics of the fact that you have to invite Dior, so Dior is there and Dior dresses people. I get that there are limitations. But like, Hunter Schafer had a spider on her face. I loved the look, but what is that? Like, there are spiders in America… I guess. You posted the indigenous gal who went…

Quannah Chasinghorse, yeah.

And I was like, why did we not see more of this? Why didn’t we see more of an effort to uplift Native American cultures and artists and designers that maybe you haven’t seen in a while that you bring back to come to this because that’s what this is about?

Agreed. I want to pivot a bit to talk about the honeymoon that you casually mentioned, which took place following your wedding. You were a beautiful bride, by the way. Tell me, what’s love like?

When I was growing up, I read almost exclusively sexy romance novels. And nothing got me going more than Mr. Darcy talking to Elizabeth on the bridge, the whole idea of a happy ending, romance, romance, romance. In adulthood, the most frustrating thing to realize is that life is not movies or books. I think a lot of people have this expectation that love can be or feel a certain way. And I mean this in the most loving, explosive way possible: Nothing is more boring than when you find the person you’re supposed to be with. When I was single, I was just saying yes to stuff, like yes to anything. And I just remember sitting on my couch and being like, “I better enjoy this moment where I am alone and nobody’s here and I’m like picking my butt watching the seventh season of Great British Bake-Off and nobody wants to put on an episode of Billions. And then you’re with somebody and that’s all he wants to effing watch.” But yeah, love, with the right one, is an amazing, boring event because it’s so obvious that they’re your person and every piece of them balances the pieces of you that suck. Is that a weird thing to say? Love is dull and the right person is boring? Well, that’s how I feel.

It’s honest and refreshing. I want to rewind to March 2019. You wrap the first season of The Other Two. It airs. People like it, but it makes mostly a whimper and not quite a bang. How were you feeling about the prospects of a season two at the time?

So in March, we went to upfronts and that’s when Ken [Alterman], who was the head of Comedy Central at the time, announced that we were doing a season two. So we knew that we knew that we were going to be doing a season two, and we were excited. And then obviously we had massive delays as a result of the pandemic. We shot half the season and then COVID hit and we sat on our asses for a year knowing that we were making something great. Brooke turns 31 on the show. I am not 31 [Laughs]. And I think the perspective that I’ve gained over the course of my career and life is that, like, the death of anything you do is your expectation for how much it’s going to pay off for you. So before season two came out, friends of mine were like “HBO Max, aren’t you so excited? You’re gonna get so many more people watching this.” And I was like, “I don’t want to have that expectation.” I still don’t have an expectation that, like, I explode in some huge way. After season one, I was like, “I really liked what I did in that.” And it’s easy to recommend to people because I like it. But I just think that so many times in my life, and in my career, more specifically, I’ve died on the stake of my own expectation of what it was going to be. 

Credit: HBO Max

Can you give me an example? Because I think you’re getting at something that a lot of people have felt but few have articulated.

I did Bullets over Broadway on Broadway and I was like, “This is going to be the biggest thing ever.” I was telling people I was going to win a Tony Award for it. I was 28 and was like, “This is it. This is my moment.” I’m going to basically Andrew Rannells in this. You know what I mean? I was ready to Rannells. And I had such hubris that I went to the opening night party, was at The Met thinking I’m this huge thing. And I read the New York Times review in the cab on my way downtown from The Carlyle, and they ripped me apart. And it was like the craziest comedown of all time. So anything is better than that! And I think what was so gratifying about the first season was not even that it became this thing that everybody was watching. But it was the fact that the people that were watching it and loving it were people that I respect. 

I get that. It’s this desire to want deeper versus wider. And I think this show, and the audience it cultivated, allows for that. Do you recall a moment during the filming of season one where you thought, “This show is keyed into something special”?

Yeah, the jokes are so acutely funny that sometimes I’ll be watching the episodes with my husband, he’ll be dying laughing at Drew doing something and miss one of my jokes and I’ll be like, “Well, now I have to rewind it!” And what I love, too, is seeing which parts people catch. Like, you made that hilarious meme about Rebar and The Eagle and I was like, “Oh, I’m so glad that people are catching it.” But of course they are. What I like about it as an actress is that it feels like I’m on this very loopy ride doing the work. Like in every piece of it there’s a hopefulness and then a disappointment. As a performer, you’re taken up and then down and then up and then down. And one of the reasons I love working with Chris and Sarah is that they’re so good at centering and trying to give as many options as possible of what could be funny about this. There’s just so much happening in every moment that it’s, like, fun to play with it. And it makes the work dynamic and interesting to watch.

I hear this term a lot on NPR, “joke density,” and I would say with The Other Two, it’s more like moment density and from those moments you get all of these varying beats and shades of comedy. Now, you’re in a particularly unique position with season two. You’ve had over two years away from the role and the cast and crew, you’re resuming filming during a global pandemic and dealing with a network change, which, as any Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan can attest, can greatly impact the final product. How were you feeling?

I think what happened to me, personally, in such a long break — and I think this happened to a lot of people — is questioning your own purpose. Like, what are you doing if you’re not doing this? Does it define you? Does its existence mean that you’re something? And trying to find… and this is so cheesy, but trying to find what in life does define you beyond your work. We get asked, “Is it amazing that people are responding to the show?” And I’m like, “Yes!” But it’s just as amazing that I got married and connected to this person who I’m going to be with forever. Unless he realizes he made a horrible mistake. I have tricked him so far, though! I don’t mean to say that the show is not important. I’m very proud of the work that I do. And it is f****** awesome to have people be like, “I love the work that you’re doing.” But my perspective on the bigger picture has changed.

Do you find that people expect you to be like Brooke in real life?

I’m not Brooke, obviously, but I think I do bring a lot of myself to my work. It’s how I like to work. Drew [Tarver] talks a lot about how when somebody recognizes him and feeling the expectation that you then be something for somebody. I had this experience when I was 13 and we had moved back to L.A. from Minnesota. I saw Walter Matthau out at a restaurant and I went up to him and asked for his autograph. He was so mean to me. And God rest his soul, but I just remember being so devastated by that experience that now I’m kind of like, if somebody wants to tell me that they think I’m good in something, by all means. But do I think that people expect me to be Brooke? People quote her back at me a lot. I only hope they’re not disappointed that I’m not her.

Favorite thing about working with the great Molly Shannon?

The best way I have to describe her is that she’s the kind of person that when you leave an interaction with her, you take on personality traits of hers. Like, you start to talk like her, you have inflections. Like, I’ll start to move my hands like her because she’s so infectious and you can’t help but like want to be inside of her brain, to have the magic that she has because her love of life and what she does is so full. I leave work feeling optimistic about life and excited about the idea that if you have that kind of positivity, everything about your life kind of follows suit. Nothing about her is jaded. I think that she has infected me in such a positive way. I guess working with her changed my life, maybe, a little bit.

Broadway is back. You’re a Broadway veteran. What show are you most looking forward to seeing?
It’s like a full-body orgasm to see it come back again. And that’s going to be the title of this article! But that’s the best way I can describe it. I’ve been out of town for the last two weeks and watching things like the curtain come up on Wicked and those monkeys came out. And I cried watching the girls from The Six get to open their show finally. They were shut down the day they were supposed to have their opening night. And an opening night is such a big deal on Broadway. So watching them finally get their due was incredible. But the thing that’s most striking to me is the audience is so excited to have it back. To see them be so embracing and fill these theaters to the gills to come to see shows is unbelievable. What I think a lot of people don’t appreciate about the arts is that it breathes life into this city. It’s a reflection of who we are as New Yorkers and it’s injecting the city with life again.

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