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Kaitlin Olson Chats Likable Co-Stars And Laughs In Champions And It's Always Sunny - Exclusive Interview

Sports comedy "Champions," a remake of the Spanish film "Campeones," is the newest cinematic entry from seasoned director Bobby Farrelly ("Dumb and Dumber," "There's Something About Mary," both with brother Peter). Marcus (Woody Harrelson) is a minor-league basketball coach with an attitude problem. His night of bad behavior gets Marcus sentenced to community service coaching the Friends, a team of disabled players whose high spirits and determination teach Marcus to care more about people than his own ego. 

En route to his own improvement, Marcus meets Alex (Kaitlin Olson), a traveling Shakespearian actor and the sister of Friends player Johnny (Kevin Iannucci). As a single woman dedicated to her family and her brother's welfare, Alex is a strong, charming, and complex character whose determination sets strong boundaries for Marcus. In an exclusive Looper interview, Olson discusses working with Harrelson and Iannucci in this charming film, along with her experiences on two of today's best comedy series, "Hacks" and "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia."

Maintaining her real friendship with Kevin Iannucci

I'm a big fan of your work in "It's Always Sunny," "Hacks," and here. I found out that we both went to the University of Oregon!

No. Go, Ducks!

Go, Ducks! Does this make us kind of twins?

We're Pacific Northwest twins. This interview's going to be A+.

You're great playing broken or narcissistic characters — hilarious — but Alex is such a different type of character than all that: emotionally authentic, nuanced. What stands out for you about playing the character?

I loved her. I was very excited that this character was different from anything I've done on camera in the last decade. I loved how strong but also vulnerable she was, and I love how deeply she cares for her brother. That was a big selling point for me.

Because she spends so much time with her brother, you worked so much with Kevin Iannucci in the film, and he was wonderful in it. What was it like working together? 

It was great. When I met Kevin and we got to know each other, we legitimately started feeling a very big sister-little brother relationship. He's so fantastic and so loving, and he's got such a big heart. I love his work ethic. He would memorize so much dialogue, and then he would be able to change it when we would make changes to the script.

There was a scene in our mother's house. We were running up toward the end of the day, and we had to start moving quickly. It was late at night, and I remember Bobby kept changing things and throwing 'em at us, throwing 'em at us. It was a lot, and it was happening so fast that Kevin was like, "Wait, we just did it. I was supposed to stand here."

I was like, "Yeah, I know. You did a great job, but now you're going to stand over here." He rolled with it and pivoted and made so many quick changes. His work ethic was astounding, and he's such a love. We FaceTime at Christmas; I think we'll always be friends.

Trying to make Woody Harrelson laugh

You and Woody also have a lot of on-screen chemistry. Your characters work so well off each other and evolve together, so what was it like collaborating together?

It was amazing; he's a perfect scene partner. He's such a tremendous actor; I have so much respect for his acting. I had never met him before, so I didn't know what to expect. He was so kind and lovely and silly. I loved making him laugh. He's one of those people you could tell was ready for you to make him laugh. Making him laugh in scenes was really funny. Trying to make him break on camera was super fun.

He's such a very giving actor. I keep saying this in interviews, but when it wasn't his coverage, he was still there giving me 100%. For emotional scenes, that's really important. It's hard to have an emotional scene acting to a brick wall. He was right there, which he really didn't need to be — could have phoned it in. 

We really like each other in real life, which is very helpful. [It] kind of feels like cheating, but we actually really like each other.

All the world's a stage for Kaitlin Olson

You have a background in actual theater, and Alex performs Shakespeare. What's your Shakespeare connection, and did you have a role in shaping that aspect of the film?

As you know, I went to the University of Oregon, and I primarily went to that school because I wanted to go to college before I moved to LA. I didn't care what college it was. My parents went there; my brother went there; it was two hours from my house, so I just went there. I was a theater major. Their focus is Shakespeare, so the head of my department really only liked you if you were interested in Shakespeare. 

I personally was not interested in Shakespeare but had to pretend that I was so that he would like me. So I did a lot of Shakespeare in college, and I remember thinking in Winnipeg, when we were shooting that scene, that I was really glad that I had done so much Shakespeare in college because, in the script, there were only two or three lines of dialogue. Then Bobby came up and was like, "Can you just keep going for a few more minutes?"

I was like, "You don't 'just keep going' in Shakespeare like I can 'keep going' in a regular conversation. I don't know how to do that." So I had [about] an hour to memorize four or five more lines. That's hard. If you look at it, those words don't make sense. You're putting random words together. So that's my memory of that particular Shakespeare scene. I was very grateful to Randall Barton at the University of Oregon for my Shakespeare training.

Making comedy for themselves in It's Always Sunny

"It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" was renewed for more seasons, which make it the longest-running live-action TV sitcom in history. Why do you think it has connected with audiences for so long?

We talk a lot about this film being an underdog story, and "Sunny" was definitely an underdog story. I auditioned for it, but they were a group of friends who got together and wrote this thing and then shot it themselves because you can't explain tone to a studio. Rob [McElhenney]'s idea was, "Let's just shoot it so we can show them what we're talking about." 

John Landgraf liked it and picked it up, and [for] the 1st season, nobody watched it! The people who did loved it, but nobody [else] watched it, and because John believed in it, we got to stay on the air. That kept happening year after year. We had this tiny, underground audience who prides themselves so much on being there from the beginning, and I love them so much. They're fiercely loyal.

I think the reason that we've been able to be on for so long, besides John Landgraf's belief in us, is that we're really, truly, honestly doing it for ourselves. It's amazing to have your co-stars also be the people who write it and create it, because when we're in a scene together, I'm trying to make them laugh, and they're trying to make me laugh, and once we feel like we got it, we move on. 

There's a good lesson in there about [how] you can't please everybody. Middle America probably hates our show; there's nothing we can do about that. We are proud of it. We're making each other laugh. If you're authentic and true to yourself, people can pick up on that.

I see what you're saying about fans because ... I know a lot of people who love it, [but] nobody just likes it.

Yeah. They either hate it or love it. And if you ask Rob, he wouldn't have it any other way. He loves when people hate it, and he loves when people love it. It's very polarizing.

DJ has big news in Hacks Season 3

It was also so exciting seeing you in "Hacks." You were great in your interactions with Jean Smart; she's also brilliant. What is it like to work with her, and can you tell me anything about Season 3?

Jean is an absolute dream to work with. There's something about working with an actor who has a theater background. You get into that scene, and you can recognize it in each other. She is giving you 100% at all times. She's so strong, so confident, so funny, and so capable. It feels safe and fun. She's wonderful. 

Hannah [Einbinder] is also wonderful. When we did the 1st season and I found out that was her first on-camera job, I couldn't believe it. She's so natural and so wonderful. It's such a great show; I love it. The creators are amazing. I feel really fortunate to be a part of it. And DJ is in Season 3. I can't tell you [more], but DJ's in Season 3 and has big news.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

"Champions" premieres in theaters on March 10.