The five years they shared on the late-night NBC variety show helped them create a comedy bond they are banking on for their latest collaboration. In the new Amazon Prime series “Forever,” they play married couple June (Rudolph) and Oscar (Armisen) who have been living a life of comfortable repetition for 12 years.
That changes, and the married couple face some unusual and monumental challenges. That’s all that can be said because series creators Alan Yang (“Master of None”) and Matt Hubbard (“30 Rock”) have made a desperate plea to tell no more about the story.
What Armisen and Rudolph can talk about is the ease they found in playing a long-married couple. As soon as they appeared on screen together years ago, both knew they didn’t want this to be a one-time arrangement.
“I remember talking to her those first days and saying ‘We have to do more stuff together.’ It was an instant thing,” Armisen says. “We knew immediately that we WANTED to work together and that we WOULD work together.”
He adds that if finding a great comedy partner is like falling in love, then the first time they worked together felt so right and so familiar it was as if they had known each other for 10 years.
“It is that feeling where you feel like you know someone so well already because you speak the same language,” Rudolph adds. “We are both being musical people that are comedy people. That is a very specific thing. We grew up listening to a lot of the same music.”
From 2002 until 2007, when Rudolph left “SNL,” they often performed together, creating character performances that would be repeated such as Armisen playing Prince and Rudolph as Beyonce or the pretentious art dealers Nuni and Nuni.
After their time on “SNL,” both Armisen and Rudolph became busy with their own projects. Along with a host of TV and film appearances, Armisen created and starred in the Peabody award-winning comedy series “Portlandia.” Rudolph was busy working on everything from the “Maya & Marty” variety show she did with Martin Short to a long list of film roles, including the recent “The Happytime Murders.”
The closest they have come to working together is playing husband and wife on the Netflix animated show “Big Mouth,” created by Nick Kroll. But as often is the case with animated programs, Armisen and Rudolph never recorded their lines at the same time.
About a year and a half ago, the pair decided they actually would like to work together again and met with Yang to discuss possible scenarios. Yang knew he wanted to come up with the right idea for a series because he found Armisen and Rudolph to be so interesting together. The idea was to highlight the interplay between them and having them play husband and wife fit that need. Once the idea was in place and the challenge established, the onus fell on Armisen and Rudoph to find the right notes to play so the audience would believe them as a long-wed couple.
Armisen says, “One thing — as pretentious as it sounds — was physical space. We were in this cabin, for example, and had to decide how a couple would act in a place like that. What do couples really do when they are comfortable with each other?
“So, as opposed to sketch comedy where it is very formal and we are teeing it up to the camera, in a case like this there is more distance. Sometimes you argue from far away. There were a lot of spaces like that that helped this look real. That kind of thing helped it.”
Both actors could concentrate on those kinds of elements because they found the scripts to be so well written. The two comic actors have shown their skills at improvising in the past, but with “Forever” there were only a scant few moments when they would move away from the script.
Rudolph calls working on “Forever” as one of those rare instances of being involved with the show from inception, helping bring it to life and then nurturing it along to get as many laughs and serious reactions as possible.
During the interview to discuss the show, Armisen and Rudolph showed the familiarity they have developed over the years. Rudolph is explaining she agreed to be a judge on the new “Gong Show” because as a kid, she wanted to be on the original hosted by Chuck Barris. Armisen points out that Rudolph’s father looks a little like Barris.
She smiles and says, “I see that. It is as if my dad and James Caan had a child it would be Chuck Barris.”
Now streaming on Amazon Prime
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.