In 2008, Retta landed a role on NBC’s single-camera comedy “Parks and Recreation” that launched her as a comedy star for television audiences. Since that role came to an end in 2015, though, she has turned her attention to more dramatic fare, such as hour-longs “The Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce” on Bravo” and NBC’s upcoming “Good Girls.” Her character on “Good Girls” is a hard-working mom with a sick daughter who joins her friends in a grocery-store robbery to get money she needs for medical treatments for her daughter.
Did you make a conscious choice to actively pursue only dramas after “Parks and Recreation”?
I always wanted a sitcom — that was my original thing to come to LA for — because I liked sitcoms most. Not that I thought I couldn’t do drama, but I wanted to do what I liked. But then I got to a place — and I don’t know if it was because I was getting older — but I got to a place where I really liked dramas. I really love stories about people. And so I thought I’d like to do [something] that affects people like the way that some movies affect me. Like “Love, Actually” is funny, but it’s also poignant, and Emma Thompson breaks your f—ing heart, and who doesn’t love a good cry? So I want to do it all.
When was the first moment you realized that?
I did a pilot for Dan Fogelman a couple of years ago — I was a guest star on it — and it didn’t go, but it was the kind of thing where the character was really quirky, and I had never been asked to do that. A little bit was me making it quirky, and I realized it was fun to do different things. You always hear actors say, “You want to stretch the muscle,” but to me, I was always “Do what works” until this moment. So I got it in my head that I could do other things, and I like the stretch — the option. I got to a place where I wanted to do dramas, and I was appreciative of people giving me the chance.
Is there any type of character you’d say no to at this point?
I don’t want to play a stripper! Just because I feel like I’m not ready for that, but I feel like I could get ready for it if I felt the part was right and telling a story that I was interested in telling.
Have you noticed your “Good Girls” character of Ruby is starting to more closely resemble you personally as episode go on?
Jenna [Bans, the executive producer] does a lot of things knowing who we are now, but she told me she wrote this part with me in mind. We didn’t know each other, but she followed me on Instagram and would see my stories and the stupid s–t that I did, and she thought I could do this drama. It was because I live-Tweeted “The Family” [which she also executive produced].
Speaking of your live-Tweets, those actions almost endorse delayed viewing and binge-watching. Do you think it’s important that audiences watch “Good Girls” live?
I hope that it’s exciting enough that people aren’t willing to get spoiled so they’re going to want to watch it at least near where it aired. I felt an enthusiasm for it that I haven’t felt since “Parks.”
Ruby’s daughter is sick and her healthcare bills are astronomical. What commentary is the show making on the healthcare system?
Because they commit this crime, she doesn’t get stuck in that. She doesn’t get stuck in fighting for the money — because she’s getting it illegally. It’s not until deeper in the season is there an episode where it gets scary, but I don’t know how bad it’s going to be.
What’s the dynamic between the women, who, on paper, don’t seem likely candidates to commit a crime like a robbery?
They’re very close. It’s that “I got your back.” If your friend says they’re at rock bottom, and the other friend says, “Dude, it’s so easy, don’t worry about it!”
Are they really at rock bottom or will they learn there’s further down to slide?
They thought they were at rock bottom. Between the health issues and losing the house and Annie being like, “My best friend is my kid and someone wants to take that away from me.” So they feel if they can get away with this little robbery — even though I think it’s so crazy because 30-grand isn’t going to change your life! Split three ways? It’s not going to change your life. But to feel like it’s worth it, that’s rock bottom to me.
What are the bright spots in Ruby’s life?
She’s happily married and loves her kids. She’s silly with her kids, and she’s grateful for her husband. And I love Reno [Wilson], who plays my husband. I haven’t been doing it long enough — or at least, I haven’t played a married person — so it’s hard to act like you’ve been with somebody for 20 years and to play that you’ve been intimate and have kids and all that. I’ve never done that. I’m not married and I do not have kids. But Reno just made me feel so comfortable, and we’re so stupid together on set. We have a good time, and what she enjoys in her husband is what I enjoy in Reno.
The titular “Good Girls” seem to be reclaiming their voices. How do you think that timely aspect of the show will help it find an audience?
There is a national vibe for women, and of feeling particularly helpless if you weren’t for Trump. I really feel like he’s the catalyst to a lot of things. People are being more politically active, getting out the vote even, people are being more vocal about LGBTQ rights and women’s rights because they really feel like they got robbed. Because there is this national feeling of, “The f—!?” I think it definitely helps that that’s how this show starts.
Do you feel like you align with the stance on the issues the show is exploring?
I don’t have kids — I don’t have a sick kid. I’m not dealing with someone having leverage over my house. So I really don’t — but I get it. I have brothers who have spouses and kids, and they’re dealing with this. They’re dealing with health care — they’re dealing with equal wages and what have you. I have parents who are retired, and I have to help out. And when the hurricane hit in New Jersey, they were gouging people. I’m familiar with it. I’m not in a bubble. I feel like I’m stress-adjacent.
What causes do you most care about right now, then?
One of the things that has been in my head a lot has been the trans fight. I think it’s because I had a thing happen on Twitter where I commented on Laverne Cox, who I didn’t know was trans, and people came at me. It was when her brother was in the episode [of “Orange is the New Black”]. I thought it was her playing both parts. It made me do research. And then I started watching “I Am Jazz,” and I couldn’t believe this little girl getting harassed by people. And then kind of Caitlyn Jenner. We don’t align politically but they say, “Put yourself in the position. And if you do that when someone’s hurting and they shouldn’t have to — it put me in a place where I was like, “Let me look some s— up.”