When the extinction-level event takes out (almost) everyone with a Y chromosome in “Y: The Last Man,” Kimberly Campbell Cunningham is the hardest one hit, according to Amber Tamblyn, who plays the character in the new FX on Hulu series.
Kimberly is a “very deeply conservative boy mom, whose entire identity is through the patriarchy and through the men that were in her lives,” Tamblyn tells Variety’s Awards Circuit Podcast. She is the daughter of the President of the United States, who perishes in the pandemic, and her life revolves around her husband and sons, who also die, almost exactly at the same time. This leaves her with deep grief and a loss of her identity, Tamblyn notes.
“I don’t think [she] has the tools or the emotional capacity to know how to deal with such trauma. It breeds in her an empathetic monster that you will come to see over the course of the season, which is going to be really conflicting, I think, for viewers,” she explains. Listen below!
Based on a 60-issue science fiction comic book series and developed for television by Eliza Clark, “Y: The Last Man” is set after that mysterious event, throwing the world into chaos. On the show, which premieres Sept. 13, Congresswoman Jennifer Brown (Diane Lane) rises to become the president — but it turns out her son survived the event. Widespread conspiracy theories abound, and Jennifer’s political rivals circle, led by Tamblyn’s character. Kimberly senses that Jennifer is hiding something and tries to uncover the truth in order to bring her down.
At times Tamblyn felt internally conflicted in portraying the character. “I do not identify with, I would say, 99.9% of what conservative women and their values are,” she admits.
Add to that the fact that the show’s production was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic and as Tamblyn waited to get to work, she struggled with “everything that was going on with the Trump administration and the extreme disinformation of last year and the amount of deaths that were, in my opinion, on his watch and are in his name because of COVID-19.”
Initially what helped her find her performance was studying videos of Ivanka Trump and mothers of school shooting victims.
Tamblyn says she focused on footage of Trump speaking to world leaders, including analyzing the footage from the G20 summit. “There is this very sad way in which she is trying to be heard and to be taken seriously by these leaders, and you can see their faces — you can see that they don’t really take her seriously. And I used that as a frame for Kimberly’s entrance into this world,” she explains.
When it came to interviews of mothers of victims, she wanted to witness stoicism. Although they undoubtedly were in great pain, they had to hold it in for the cameras, and Tamblyn wanted to better understand “how it affects every mannerism, every move of your body.”
As time went on and Tamblyn sat with her character longer in pre-production than originally planned because of the pandemic, she admits “it was the first time I struggled to find out how I was going to love this person enough to bring her alive.” In that instance she turned to her good friend Ben Foster, who reminded her about the importance of being “as deeply involved with the truth of [the] work, regardless of how we might feel on a personal level, in order to convey [it].
“He said that to do to honor the truth of the darkness of what Kimberly represents, I have to not only do it, but I have to be as truthful as I possibly can in the creation of her so that it is honestly represented and so that I’m leaving a door open for a conversation to continue,” she explains.
The truth of Kimberly, Tamblyn says, is that she has been “one of those women painted into the background” and now she has the opportunity to push forward and step into power.
“You are decentralizing a certain point of view and perspective. And in this case, in this show, it’s cisgender men … because that is the predominant species that is taken out of the equation in this show,” she says. “What happens when you strip that away? And when women who built their entire lives and careers and identities on the on the point of view of men no longer have that? How do they exist? How do they struggle? How do they harm others?”
While Kimberly has the ability to be “absolutely terrifying” and is someone Tamblyn calls a “villain,” for much of the first season she is also suffering.
“Kimberly has kind of lost her mind. She’s waddling around the Pentagon in high heels with a full face of makeup and bartering and trading for hair dye and her hair color. She’s just sort of stuck in the old world, and that’s part of her trauma,” Tamblyn says. “I’m hoping that this portrayal is a bit of a Trojan horse, in which I can get different kinds of women to see each other better and to understand each other better — and to understand that our shared connection and our shared oppression and struggle will always be through the patriarchy.”
Also on this episode of the Awards Circuit Podcast, we pay tribute to late actor Michael K. Williams, with a podcast interview he gave in 2017. And on the Variety Awards Circuit podcast roundtable, we look ahead at this weekend’s Creative Arts Emmys, including the guest performer and TV movie categories.
Variety’s Emmy edition of the “Awards Circuit” podcast is hosted by Michael Schneider, Jazz Tangcay and Danielle Turchiano and is your one-stop listen for lively conversations about the best in television. Each week during Emmy season, “Awards Circuit” features interviews with top TV talent and creatives; discussions and debates about awards races and industry headlines; and much, much more. Subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or anywhere you download podcasts. New episodes post every Thursday.