That didn’t just happen. Yep, she ate all of those pot-laced gummy bears and left her husband naked at the Swift Stays Suite pool. That’s the loopy, making-the-best-of-this-road-trip-gone-bad Robin Parker, whose questionable parenting — combined with such sincere explanations — make her one of the funniest moms on TV today. Natalie Zea is comic gold as Robin in the TBS breakout comedy The Detour (Mondays 9pm ET). The series comes from comedy’s new powerhouse couple Jason Jones and Samantha Bee and is achingly hilarious.
The former Justified star (she played Raylan Givens’ love interest Winona) and The Following (she was Joe Carroll’s ex-wife Claire) does a complete about-face for this role and is having one hell of a good time doing it. We had the most delightful chat with the stunning Zea who was beyond chill in answering our eclectic mix of questions.
Channel Guide: I imagine after some of your more dramatic roles in Justified and The Following, then getting to showcase your comic chops in The Other Guys (Christinath was hilarious), you’ve got to find this series absolutely refreshing.
Natalie Zea: Oh, my God, it’s such a nice change. It really is. It’s impossible not to let the subject matter affect the mood, even if the people you’re working with are generally really lighthearted and easygoing and cool cucumbers. If the subject matter is dark and heavy, it can’t help but seep into the work — and, more importantly, the day and the mood. So, conversely, when it’s light and fun and stupid — and so stupid — you get to just go with it. Who doesn’t want to get paid to do that? That’s why it feels like such a no-brainer. When people are like, “Oh, really? Interesting. You want to do comedy.”, I’m like “Is that rocket science?” It feels like a really easy choice.
The Detour is loosely inspired by Jason’s and Samantha’s real family getaways, so at your table reads — or even when you get a script in your hands — are you like, “Really, Jason? Conquistadors? Dr. Rob?”
Yeah, for the most part. I thought that 50 percent of these scripts would have to go in the trash. I thought that there’s no way that the network would allow it. Again, historically, the shows I’ve worked on have gone through so many changes from first read until action, and ironically, the one show where I was like, “There’s no way we’re getting away with any of this” is the one show where there have been the fewest changes. I can probably count on one, or maybe two, hands the amount of significant changes that were made throughout all 10 episodes. That sort of blew my mind. … A lot of the anecdotal stuff and situational things are exact renderings of something that’s happened to somebody that [Jason] knows.
I know you welcomed your first child, Reygan, last fall, so congratulations. When you’re playing a parent like Robin, who is pretty liberal — you know, an open mom — do you think she’s got sex education all figured out just by being so unapologetic?
Who knew honesty could be so fun?! My parents were really open with me. They were young parents, so they were the cool parents on the block. It’s not really a new concept for me, but I just know how I am, and I feel that I’ll gravitate towards a slightly more conservative way of parenting. But it’s funny. I haven’t really thought about how Robin relates to me as a mom, despite the fact that — take out the parental equation, because that can be a little dicey — I think that we do have a lot of similar qualities. I don’t know that we’re going to be similar parents, but we may be. I’ve already made tons of mistakes, and I’m surprisingly OK with a lot of them, because it’s too early to start beating yourself up, I think, at this point. In terms of her being sort of unapologetic, I would hope that I would go in that direction. I would like to go in that direction, but it’s so early to know, still. It will be interesting to see if being a parent colors my performance in any way, because Season 1 I don’t really count myself as having been a mom yet, so I don’t know if it’s going to have any bearing on how I do this.
Are Ashley Gerasimovich’s and Liam Carroll’s — your onscreen children— parents on-set, and how does that work [with all that questionable content]. They just seem like little adults?
Yeah, they’re wonderful. They’re so good. I mean, they are and they’re not. They’re little adults in the sense that they’re so professional and so good at what they do, but aside from that, they’re kids. Their moms are both on set every day. Great, great women, and they keep them so grounded. They somehow find a balance between keeping them a part of the conversation on set and very integrated into what we’re doing, and yet also separate in the sense that they’re still kids, and they go to school and they do kid stuff. And when it gets a little too “grown-upy,” they sort off back out slowly and go where the bicycles and stuff are. They have a really hard job and they do it with great grace.
Now we’ve got a few offbeat questions, part of a column we do for our sister publication, TV Weekly that I’m going to throw at you. If your TV carried just three shows or networks, what would they be?
I’m not saying this because I used to work for them, but I think FX has some of the best content on television today, to speak of. So I’d keep my FX. That’s kind of all I would need, as far as shows go.
You probably don’t get time to watch TV with the baby and everything.
We’re more selective now. After she goes down, we don’t mess around anymore. Before it was like, “We’ll watch this; we’ll watch that,” now we’re like, “We have to use our time wisely.” We watch Catastrophe, which is not on a television network — it’s a Hulu show — so that’s one. Everything on FX we watch with baited breath: The Americans, The People Vs. OJ …
Who knew that would be so interesting?
Oh, my god! I couldn’t have cared less when it was happening. I was 19, I was drunk all the time, I’m sure, or high or whatever. I think that’s what makes it so interesting, that our generation had our heads up our asses. We weren’t paying attention, and now we’re like, “Wow, that was happening? That was going on while we were smoking weed? OK.”
I know! And you were like, “God, did they eff that up?”
Yeah, exactly. Every time. We would pause it and be like, “Are you fucking kidding me?!”
So what are three things you have to have in your fridge or pantry?
Breast milk right now.
Plenty of breast milk. Actually, mine’s very sweet. There’s that. Wine. I’ve gotta have wine. Sorry. Sorry, guys. I know those are contraindicated, but I don’t care. And what else do we always have? We always have pickles.
What has been your most memorable fan encounter?
I’ve been so lucky. People are so chill with me. I’ve not had anybody get weird or crazy. I think that I give off some sort of energy that says, “You gotta be chill. You really have to be chill,” so people really respect that. I haven’t had anything crazy to speak of.
Tell us about a time when you were starstruck.
Debbie Reynolds. I was eating at a restaurant and at one table was 50 Cent and at the other table was Debbie Reynolds. And I was like, “This is Sophie’s Choice, because I can’t say “hi” to both. What am I going to do? Naturally, you gotta go to Mrs. Reynolds. I was shaking. That’s never happened to me. I walked up and I was shaking and I said hello — and she could not have been nicer, of course. I told her that I knew every single line of dialogue from Singin’ in the Rain, and she kind of hummed a little ditty, and I almost wet my pants. I actually ended up having to walk away. I was like, “I gotta go, bye.” I couldn’t handle it. I was sweating. It was awful.
I bet I know the answer to this, but what’s a movie you can watch over and over again?
It’s between Singin’ in the Rain and Training Day. Those two might be on two completely opposite ends of the spectrum. When Training Day’s on, it’s like, “OK, we’re done for the day. Guess we’re in.”
Your unreliable minivan in The Detour is called Blue Thunder. Did you ever name any of your cars growing up, or even today?
No, I have a weird thing with cars. It’s got to be some sort of syndrome. I cannot identify anyone’s car at all. I couldn’t tell you … I barely know what my husband drives. I would rather just not have one. To name one would be giving me way too much credit.
The Detour airs Monday nights at 9/8CT on TBS.