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Michaela Conlin Dishes On Bad Trip, For All Mankind, Yellowstone, And Bones - Exclusive Interview

When fans think of Michaela Conlin, the first thing that comes to mind is usually her incredible role as Angela Montenegro throughout the long-running series Bones. But while her 12 seasons of the FOX drama are undoubtedly significant, Conlin has a varied catalog of ever-expanding credits to her name. 

Before she identified corpses with facial reconstruction on Bones, Conlin got her Hollywood start on an episode of Law & Order before landing a 10-episode stint on MDs. From there, she appeared in Enchanted prior to heading to the Jeffersonian on Bones. After Conlin said goodbye to Angela and the Bones cast, she guest-starred on Here and Now and Yellowstone. More recently, she can be seen as Maria in Eric Andre's Bad Trip as well as the Apple TV series For All Mankind, trading in her lab coat for an astronaut suit. 

Looper spoke to Conlin during an exclusive interview in which she dished on everything from Bad Trip and For All Mankind to her stint on Yellowstone — and just what it was like to be a part of Bones for 12 years.  

Fabulous fanfare

Looper talked to Eric André about Bad Trip, and he told us that he mostly avoids people recognizing him by doing pranks on the 40-plus crowd. But with your roles on Bones and Yellowstone, you have a lot of fans in that demographic. Did you need to halt or restart any of the pranks because someone noticed you?

It happened, I think, one time... Well, no, no, no. It happened sometimes when we weren't shooting, so it wasn't problematic. But yeah. We definitely have very different fanbases for sure, but I was actually surprised that more people didn't recognize the whole cast. I think it's just because of the way they weaved in the hidden cameras, and it really felt like you were just walking down the street. It was sort of this seamless setup. So I think, really, people were just completely not in that brain space. I think they weren't expecting to see people shooting a movie in the middle of the day.

Actors vs. civilians

What was the ratio between actors and civilians in Bad Trip?

I mean, there were only four. It was Eric André, Rel Howery, Tiffany Haddish, and me. And then there were a few people like the blind guy who lived in the park, obviously the priest.

The security guy?

You know what? I don't know about the security guy. I wasn't there when they shot that, so I really don't know. But everyone else in every scene that I was in were real people. And there were several groups of them — we wouldn't just do it once. We'd do it a few times. It would change dramatically from one group to another, so you really had to be prepared. Sometimes they would change some lines or some of the dialogue before we'd shoot, and then they'd adjust. And then, a lot of times, we had earwigs in, so we could hear Kitao Sakurai, the director, and he would be like, "All right. Try to engage with this person." It's just like those guys... You have to just throw yourself in and do it.

Wading the waters of improv

Did you have a favorite prank or moment from that film? And what was it like getting into more of a comedic improv role?

Yeah. I mean, the movie itself was so great, but I think my first impression and memory of them was the screen test, which was not a traditional screen test. After several auditions, I was told to meet Eric and Kitao at the Glendale Galleria in Los Angeles. We met at a Cinnabon on the lower level, and they said "Okay. Here's what we want you to do. We need you to do a prank on these employees at this express store and pretend that you're the girlfriend of the director and that you found him cheating on you and make a scene." I had no idea what they were going to tell me to do. And that was sort of the whole conceit of the movie really was — "You have three seconds, here's the rundown. Go."

I'd done scripted television for such a long time, and it was just such a great experience getting to have people hire you and then trust you to just do it with them. I think once that screen test happened, it was really sort of like an initiation. It was like being initiated into a crazy fraternity — and they're just lovely. But it was great. It was so nice to do something scary and different.

Right. I was really worried about your vocal cords after that screaming session in the last take. Did you have to go on vocal rest or anything after that? That was really intense.

No, no, no. We just had to do that a bunch of different times, so I'm not even sure which one that was. I can't recall. It's all sort of a blur at this point.

Back to the '80s

You grew up in the '80s. What was it like basically getting to revisit your childhood, in a way, with For All Mankind?

Oh yeah. I mean, I guess I did — although I wasn't really that interested in the space race when I was growing up, to be quite honest. I was more interested in dancing around my living room. But it's really cool to see. The production value on that show is so high. They do such a good job with the hair and makeup, and the production is able to see what they did with everybody. I'm mostly in a spacesuit, so I didn't really get to experience too much '80s glamor, but the spacesuits were a whole adventure unto themselves. It's funny going from an Eric André movie and into a spacesuit.

It seems like Helena is amping up for some really exciting things in For All Mankind, having just been launched into space. What's that like? And what's on the horizon for her?

Well, I don't think I can tell you what happens to her, but yes, there is some stuff that goes down towards the end of the season with her and the... I want to say the Marines... She was an ex-Marine, but the guys, the fellow astronauts on the moon. Yeah. I can't really get into too many specifics, but I'm sure if you've been watching it, you can sort of see the way they're headed.

Producing space

Definitely. The production value for the show is incredible. Do you have a favorite set so far?

Jeez. They're really all very beautiful, those sets. Jeez. The GM sound set is pretty incredible. The space station is really... I mean, it feels like you're clearly at the Sony lot in Los Angeles, but the way that they've built it out is really... Everything seems to work, and it's just... Yeah. There are all these different rooms, and you definitely feel like you're in space.

Are most of those actually built spaces, or are some of them green screens when you get out to actually go into the space scenes?

No. We actually are in space. No, I'm just kidding. They flew me to space. It was amazing. No. Obviously, the background and the hard stuff, everything we're touching in the rooms are sets that we're in, but then everything outside is all green screen. Their guys are incredible. I've watched the show, and I'm like, "Oh my God." It's really well done.

It's really amazing. Did you ever dream of being an astronaut when you were a kid? That's usually a dream someone has, at least at some point. Was this sort of wish fulfillment in that area?

I mean, I was really into that '80s movie SpaceCamp, which probably no one remembers, with Joaquin Phoenix when he was a little kid. I feel like I wanted to go to camp and do a zero gravity day. But beyond that, not really. No. But it's really fun to do it as an adult. I can tell you that. Yeah. It's really fun. Yeah.

The wild, wild West

You had a really great guest spot as Sarah on the show Yellowstone. What was it like taking part in a modern Western? And what were the cast and location like?

When Bones ended, I really wanted to do as many different things as I could. I still feel that way because it was such a great show and such a great run. But I definitely felt like when I got off it, I just wanted to try new stuff. I think that was the first thing I did afterward.

We shot in Montana and Park City. Most of my stuff was out outside in Montana, which is just breathtakingly beautiful. You can't even believe it. And they are quite a well-oiled machine too over there. I mean, for being in such an unusual location, they've got a really great crew. I don't think it ended up in the show, but they trained me to fly fish for a few days before we started shooting, which was completely out of my comfort zone and so fun. And just being outside shooting was so incredible. Yeah. And Taylor Sheridan's obviously so talented — it was a great experience, that show.

Don't mess with the Duttons

Where would you have liked to see Sarah's character arc go if she lasted longer? I could have seen her storyline dragged out a little bit more.

I know. I know. Yeah. I mean, it's funny because I feel like as soon as I knew that she was an antagonist for the Duttons, I was like, "Oh s***."

She's gone. [Laughs]

"My time is limited. I don't think this is going to go well." I really would've liked to have seen her kind of really just get in there more with Jamie. It was such an interesting thing about her being a journalist and being able to sort of use that power over the family. So I probably would've liked to have seen that for sure. But they were lovely.

Spoilers for season 2: What was it like working with Wes Bentley on Yellowstone?

He was great. I mean, I was going to bring him up. Both him and Cole Hauser are just... They've been doing it for such a long time, and they're so funny and gracious, and they've just been around. They were wonderful. I mean, to be strangled by somebody in the woods, I would choose Wes Bentley again. We were laughing before I was dying. So it was great.

A feminist icon

That's so funny. You've played so many amazing feminist characters, from Angela to Sarah. And one of her lines from Yellowstone really stuck with me: "I'm just asking for the truth, which is an elusive thing out West I'm learning." It's so fierce. And not many people stand up to the Duttons, but Sarah pulls no punches. Is this something that you look for in a character? And what are you most proud of accomplishing with that character?

It's funny. I always feel like kind of when you get these auditions and stuff, when you get to meetings and to read for these things, you have a sense sometimes of what you'll get close to or end up getting. I mean, sometimes you're completely wrong. Your instincts are wrong.

But with a lot of the things I've gotten, I felt that way. And I did feel that way with Yellowstone, and I remember feeling that way with Bones, for sure, and For All Mankind. I mean, I liked that Sarah just, she's such an outsider. And I think at that point in the series, which was really the middle of season 1, we had only really been introduced to the Duttons at that point.

So I liked that she was this New York reporter who was coming in to see this world in a different way. And I like that even though it's alleging that the West is this true to form honest place, she finds quite the opposite. I do find myself, I guess, being drawn to those people, and I learned so much from them. I mean, you play those sorts of people for that many hours a day, and it's very inspiring to try to do that in your own life if you're not.

Saying goodbye to Bones

I really love the Bones series finale because it left on a note of change, but not finality. A lot of shows break the gang up at the end to justify the show ending, but Bones said its goodbye to the iteration of the show that we'd been watching for 12 years without the characters saying goodbye to each other — which I thought was really nice. What were those final days on set like after being somewhat of a family for over a decade? And how do you feel about everyone's sendoff?

Let me take a sip of water and think about this for a second. I think that was one of the longest-running dramas on that network, so we were all very tired at the end, I know that. But also, it was so emotional. I mean, those last few weeks, I think none of us really expected... Because we were so tired, I don't think any of us expected to be as emotional about it.

And really, I just think when you spend that much time doing anything — those people are really lovely human beings, and we totally grew up together. I mean, people got married and had kids, and it was just bananas how much life passed by all of us. But I feel really good about the way that they ended it. I feel like it's very Bones in the way that things are spurred open, and you could kind of go a million different ways with what happens next. Yeah. I felt like they did a good job with the ending.

You can't ZZ Top that

If they decided to do some kind of reboot, would you be game for that?

I mean, it's funny. A lot of people have asked that. I haven't heard anything about it, but yeah. I mean, it would be so fun to get everybody back together. I feel like it would be a lot of wrangling to get everybody back there, but it would be very interesting to see where everybody ended up, I'm sure.

Definitely. What was it like playing Billy Gibbons' daughter on Bones? And were there any scenes or outtakes from those moments that we didn't get to see?

I would always joke with Eric and everybody on Bad Trip that we needed to have Billy Gibbons as a cameo on Bad Trip.

Oh, that would have been so cool.

I mean, my dad was obviously a big fan of his. He's the loveliest man. He had a concert in my hometown area, and he shouted out my dad on stage and brought him backstage and took pictures with him and stuff. He's just a lovely, lovely man. But I mean, it was really crazy. We had so many fun... Cyndi Lauper was on the show, and Betty White. We had a lot of really kind of fun guest stars, so it was great. She did a lot in those 11 years.

Plot twists and redemption arcs

Definitely. How did you react to that Zack plot twist in season 3 of Bones? This is going back a little bit. And how did you feel about his redemption arc in the final season?

Oh my God. You're throwing some Bones at me here!

I started watching the show when I was 12 during season 1.

You did? Oh my God!

Yeah, I've been a fan for almost as long as I've been alive. [Laughs]

Oh my God! I know, that makes me feel both old and young. But that's so funny. I was wondering, I was like, "Huh. That's usually asked by someone who's watched the show." Okay. I'm dialing my brain back to that period. That was a crazy period. Finding out that he was... Right. Right. I remember getting that script in my trailer and making an audible like, "What?"


We had no clue that was coming. So I do remember just being genuinely very surprised. I was glad that they sort of waited to tell all of us at the same time because I think that's probably the way you should do it on a series like that. But of course, it was really sad. Eric Millegan was... I mean, we all were in the pilot together. So that was really sad.

The weatherman

Did you like his redemption arc?

Oh my God. How do I answer this? Let me think about it. I did. I felt satisfied with it. Yeah. I think on a show like that, you're trying to do a lot of things. The fans at that point have a lot of opinions about what they want to see and who they're loyal to. And so I feel like you can't try to please everybody because you'll never win. So yes. I thought they did a good job with it. Yeah.

 What was it like working with David Boreanaz?

Oh my gosh, David. He's from Philly, and I'm from Allentown. So his father actually was my weatherman growing up. He was the weatherman on my local news station. So I was equally as excited to meet him. I nerded out when I met him because I was a kid. I was like, "You are the weatherman." It's one of those things. I mean, he's great. He reminds me of guys from home. He was very protective of me and very sweet through the show. Yeah. I mean, everyone on that show — Emily Deschanel is a lovely, lovely person. It was a varied group of people, so I was glad that we all got along.

Right. It's so funny because whenever I see David, I always talk hockey with him, and he gets so animated about it. It's really great.

I think that was his idea. So yeah. That doesn't surprise me.

Can you tell me about working with some of those Bones guest stars you mentioned, like Cyndi Lauper?

Yeah. Oh my gosh. She's so cool. I mean, how talented is she? She's just done so many different kinds of things. Even like Kinky Boots, scoring musicals and writing. She's such an amazing songwriter. I mean, just to be around for as long and make music. She's so interesting. She and Betty White, I felt like I just didn't want to shoot. I just wanted to talk to them all day long.

Women in STEM

What have you been most proud of in your career? Either character-wise or a specific scene or something that brought attention to a problem in the world or something like that?

Jeez. Let me think about that. I'm very proud to have worked consistently and made a living for as long as I have in this business. It's really crazy. And I've been allowed to do a lot of different things at different points in my life. So that's really cool. Jeez. I will say, there are so many young women that come up to both Emily and me, Emily from Bones, and say that they are really inspired by the women on the show. And it encouraged them to go into STEM.

Oh, I love that.

To become scientists and stuff. We get that a lot. I still get that so much. So that's really cool. I mean, I was never interested in math or science ever. But the fact that a show could influence young girls like that — it blows my mind. And just the reach of things, even Bad Trip, so many different kinds of people have contacted me and said how hard it made them laugh and how much they needed it at this point.

Definitely right now, for sure.

Yeah. Just so many different kinds of people. That's so inspiring to me. It makes me so happy to be in this business because I forget sometimes that's the effect that it can have.

Derby girls

Is there something that you wanted to do on Bones that you never got the chance to do or something that was planned and never happened? ...

Oh gosh. Yeah. I mean, it would have been fun to do a vacation episode like Modern Family where they all go to Hawaii or something. That would've been really fun. But we did a lot. I mean, we got to be in costume. There were a lot of serial killers that we hunted. We were quite busy.

Do you have a favorite of one of those really quirky undercover episodes? My favorite was when they went to Vegas.

Oh yes. Oh my gosh. You're such a fan. You really watched the show. Yes. I liked that one. Yeah. I mean, I liked the one where Angela goes as a roller derby player. She has to go undercover to the roller derby.

Oh, I forgot about that one!

Yeah. Because productions are so great, they really make you learn how to do stuff before you do it. So I got to spend a week with the Derby Dolls in L.A. at this banked track, which was terrifying. I mean, obviously, I had a stunt double for a lot of that, but that was really, really fun. That was a great episode. I enjoyed that a lot.

I'm going to have to go rewatch that one now.

The ever-evolving resume

You've done so many different projects with characters who are vastly different from one another. What has been your biggest challenge so far? And is there a genre or a franchise that you'd like to break into?

Jeez. I mean, I think they're all challenging in a different... It was interesting to be on a show for so long that it sort of starts to write for your voice. When I did Bones, you start to get to know each other and the character, and you sort of fuse. And that's why it was so nice to go to these other shows where that's definitely not the case. It's their world. It's not yours — you're walking in. I really liked that. I really liked doing it because it's just so different.

You never kind of know what you're going to get. And especially with something like Bad Trip, where it's just completely different than anything I've ever done. So I would say they're all challenging in their own ways. A genre show requires very different things than a broad comedy. I don't know. It's nice to just try different things. I'd love to do teens. I mean, something in the Marvel universe would be really, really fun.

Future Marvel villain?

I want to see you play a Marvel villain.

Oh, that sounds so fun.

Or a Star Wars villain. I think you could pull that off.

I was going to say, villain. It's really funny that you brought that up. Yeah. I would really, really love to do that. Especially after having been... Angela's quite a nice person. So yeah. That's definitely something I'm interested in doing.

We've got to hit up Marvel. Put those feelers out.

I know, right? Let's talk about Marvel right now. [Laughs]

Are there any other projects that you have in the works that you can talk about?

Not that I can talk about yet. No. Not that I can talk about it yet, but hopefully soon. Hopefully soon.

Oh, that's exciting. Is there anyone you'd like to work with in the future?

Oh my gosh. Yes. I mean, David Lynch and... Jeez. Oh, Nicole Holofcener, who's an amazing filmmaker. Chloé Zhao. God. Catherine Keener, who's an incredible actor. I mean, there are so many. Yes. Yes. A lot of people. That's just a small sampling, but yes — there are so many people telling such great stories right now. It's really inspiring. ... Oh, Lulu Wang. Lulu Wang, for sure. Yes. Who did The Farewell. She's probably number one.

A big chunk of Conlin's catalog of work is streaming now on digital platforms. Fans can watch Bad Trip on Netflix and tune into the season 2 finale of For All Mankind starting April 16 on Apple TV+. Meanwhile, anyone looking to binge Bones can find the series on Hulu, while Yellowstone fans can catch up on the show via Peacock.