Molly Shannon is probably best known from her six years on Saturday Night Live playing such iconic and hilarious characters as Mary Katherine Gallagher. Since that time, the actress, now 56, moved to Los Angeles with her two, now teenage, children and her husband, the artist Fritz Chesnut. If this summer and fall feels funnier, it’s because of Shannon’s roles in two comedy series: the hit HBO series, The White Lotus, and the second season of the charming comedy series, The Other Two (about the family of a tween music sensation), premiering on HBO Max August 26. We talked with the 56-year-old actress, while she was in New York City for the show’s premiere, about motherhood, talk shows and connecting with her fans.
You are so great and so relatable as Kitty Patton (the perfect overbearing and meddling mother-in-law/mother) in The White Lotus. You’re a frequent collaborator of the show’s creator Mike White. Were you surprised at the response to the show? What are his sets like?
I was really surprised. Mike is such a prolific writer. He’s so laid back and fun and easygoing. His sets are very funny and laid back like he is. Because I’m such a fan of his, I really wanted to get it right on this. You’re just in the best hands. He wanted a really natural performance. He makes working like a fun party. But, at the same time, I wanted to do a good job for Mike. Kitty really talks at people and doesn’t let people answer so they were long, hard speeches to memorize. I wanted to have it down. I had to bring my A game.
The cast and crew took over the Four Seasons Resort Maui in Hawaii to shoot the series last year. What was it like being stuck all together at a luxury resort in Hawaii?
I was there for a month with my husband and my kids. Connie Britton had her son there too. It was really easy. It was such a special silver lining in the midst of such a terrible time. To be able to shoot and work in a Covid-safe bubble, to be able to live in Hawaii where everything was so organized, I really appreciated it. It was like a vacation more than just work but also like The Shining. We had dinner together every night with other cast members, we took sunset swims, it was really idyllic.
What has that experience been starring in The Other Two? How has the trajectory of the show changed from launching on Comedy Central in 2019 and then moving to HBO Max for its second season?
I hope more people are able to see it now that it’s streaming. It’s been so great to be on HBO Max. I think it’s so funny and has so much heart. We shot before and during Covid. We got shut down during filming in March and then we came back together in the spring of 2021 to finish the second season.
On the show, you play a mother of two grown kids and one younger son who becomes a young pop sensation. Who is your favorite young pop star like ChaseDreams?
I love Taylor Swift and Billie Eilish. I loved the [AppleTV] documentary Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry. There’s a great moment with her and Justin Bieber.
What would your talk show be like if you had one?
I just did The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon last night. It’s such a cool experience. We’re old friends and I was asking him all the questions about his schedule. I was really nervous. I wanted to do a good job. I was a guest host on The Talk and that was really fun. I got to study how that works. I don’t think I was so great at that. I guest hosted The View too when Barbara Walters was there. I co-hosted Live! with Regis Philbin. He’s such a pro—I am not.
In these two series, you play two very different types of mothers. Did you tap into your own experience as a mother?
I did a little bit. For Kitty. I didn’t want to make her a one-note villain. I really did try to think of this type of woman. She really just wants her son to be happy. She’s old-fashioned in her thinking so I tapped into that. She’s very protective of him and, of course, she meddles and overprotects. With Pat, she’s so into her family and wants everyone to be close.
Who do you relate to more? Pat or Kitty?
I relate more to Pat but Kitty really does love her son too. She just lives in her own world and her own bubble. Pat and I share the same values and the kids always come first. She struggles with juggling work and family.
Season two, episode two of The Other Two is called “Pat Connects With Her Fans.” How do you feel about fans and meet and greets?
I am really open to it but if you do one, you have to do them all and it can go on for so long. When I was on Broadway doing the play Promises, Promises in 2010, I really wanted to connect with fans who’d come to see the show and I’d sign autographs and take photos in between the matinee and evening performances. Sometimes, you’re doing it for so long you miss eating dinner in between shows! You have to preserve your energy. You want to be nice to everybody but you have to take care of yourself. I relate to that with Pat in that she wants to give to her fans but not burn herself out. It’s something I struggle with too.
How do you feel about Pat’s signature hairstyle?
It’s very Kate Gosselin. It’s really refreshing to have short hair.
Do you still watch Saturday Night Live?
I do sometimes but not all the time. I’m still really close to Lorne [Michaels, the show’s creator]. I love watching the goodnight sign-off at the end. When I was on, it was always so fun. We’d be done with the show on our way to the party. It’s a rollercoaster. But coming together at the end is so fun. I’m still friends with so many people from the show from writers to performers.
What’s next for you?
I have a memoir coming out next April [Hello, Molly!: A Memoir] that I’m writing with Sean Wilsey. It’s being published by HarperCollins. It’s been very exciting but it’s a lot of work. I am working on it right now and finishing it up in the next few weeks. I’m about to start filming a Showtime series, I Love This for You, with [Saturday Night Live alum] Vanessa Bayer and then a movie that shoots on the East Coast.