The cast of the hit Hulu show on their real-life friendship, behind-the-scenes banter, and how to find your inner Pussycat Doll.
More than two years after debuting on Hulu, Dollface has returned for its long-awaited second season, bringing four best friends into a post-pandemic world where they try to discover who they are—and what they really want out of life—as they reach the end of their 20s.
After successfully rekindling her friendships with Madison (Brenda Song), Stella (Shay Mitchell), and Izzy (Esther Povitsky), Jules (Kat Dennings) must now find a way to keep the close-knit group together as the women navigate work, love, heartbreak and an ever deepening relationship with each of themselves.
In a joint Zoom interview with BAZAAR.com, the four leading ladies of Dollface discuss memories of their first meeting, the evolution of their characters in the show’s sophomore season, and the process of filming the show’s most memorable sequences, including an “anxiety tornado” and a dance number set to “Attitude” by Chamie.
Esther, in an interview with The A.V. Club, you said that Kat and Brenda were like Grace and Frankie—these crazy old ladies who would run around the set—while you and Shay were like the dead bodies who would sit around and talk about food. What do you all remember from your first meeting, and how would you say those dynamics have evolved into what we see in the show?
ESTHER POVITSKY: I want to correct that Shay gave them that name—Grace and Frankie—and I think I called me and Shay the dead bodies, ’cause [during] Season 1, we just literally laid with our feet up.
SHAY MITCHELL: We do.
EP: That’s our style.
BRENDA SONG: The funny thing is, since the first time we met, I don’t think our dynamics have changed. This is who we are right off the bat. It was just a safe space, and the funny thing I always tell people is that we are our characters in our friend group. If we were to have dinner—and this did happen when we tried to plan a dinner, I was very Madison. I was like, “We’re going to dinner. We’re setting it up. What are we doing?” And Shay’s like, “We’re going here.”
SM: Shay was late!
KAT DENNINGS: Just a little bit.
BS: And Kat was like, “How far is it from my house?” And Esther is like, “Um, is there gonna be food for me? What is there? I need to see a menu.”
KD: You had already made reservations like two weeks prior. You were like, “Okay, it’s at this time, it’s at this place.”
BS: I forced everyone to do it. I was like, “It’s happening.”
EP: I think, especially when we first met too, we were all so authentically ourselves. And the best days on set were the days when it was all four of us, because we were always on the same page, but also at the same time still so true to who we were that it just always felt like a fun sleepover and just like chaos and also lots of laughing.
BS: I’m surprised that we ever got any work done!
EP: Truly! But also, that’s not true, ’cause we’re such nerds. I’ve never been on a show where we would all gather around, like, “Okay, time to rehearse!” And we’d run through our lines.
BS: Well, I’m old and can’t remember anything anymore. So I have to do that, otherwise we’d be on set forever.
Kat, how would you describe Jules’ evolution this season from a woman who doesn’t know what she wants out of life to someone who doesn’t need the “emotional Secret Service” and who really comes into her own, both personally and professionally?
KD: I think Jules benefited from a little down time from her job to kind of come into her own during the “off” period. But the interesting thing of where we start in Season 2 is that Jules thinks she’s getting fired, she thinks she’s being laid off. And to her immense surprise, she’s promoted instead, so she’s sort of confronted with whether or not she actually wants to work where she works and if she actually wants this life. And of course, she says, “Yes.” And she becomes Izzy’s boss at work, so that kind of throws a wrench into her friend group, and she meets a cute boy … and there’s another cute boy, and she kinda has to figure that out. The roles are kind of reversed for her this season.
Brenda, Madison has always been an organized, straight-laced high-achiever, but her world is really thrown into disarray when she is fired from her P.R. company. What does she ultimately discover about herself when she is forced to establish herself on her own?
BS: I think Madison has never been at such a low, having this huge break up, so therefore she’s gonna put her focus on work—and then that [is] disappearing. This season was really important because it was all about her rediscovering herself—what she really wanted to do, finding her own self-worth that wasn’t in her job or the guy she was dating. And also just being confident in herself without having anything, being able to step out and try new things, breaking out and starting her own firm, having clients that she would normally feel uncomfortable having. I think this season is all about Madison trying new things and trying to step out of her comfort zone, which is obviously a very important lesson for her—and for everyone.
So this journey for her this year is really, really personal. And because she’s still a control freak, she has to focus on something, so she focuses on turning 30, and that is like her gripe this whole year. I remember when I was turning 30—which feels so long ago now—I was stressing out about it! Because it feels like such a milestone, like, “When you turn 30, your life should be here, you have all these places that you should be at.” And for Madison, she just wasn’t anywhere near that, and that could just cause so much self-doubt.
Shay, Stella goes on an intriguing journey when she agrees to start both a personal and professional relationship with Liv (Lilly Singh). Her storyline leads to an interesting exploration of queer families and allows us to see another side of her, because she has to start thinking about people other than herself. How does that relationship ultimately change Stella as a person, and what did you personally make of their heartbreaking final scene?
SM: It’s crazy ’cause I feel like Stella almost comes into her comfort zone in this season [with her] relationship personally with Liv, but also just working in a bar, which I feel is like her second home. She gets to work on her entrepreneurial side, so it’s less of that corporate world that she just didn’t fit into, so in one way, she comes into this comfort zone. But then at the same time, like you said, the responsibilities of now being almost a pseudo stepmom to Liv’s son is kind of a lot, and I think that, in the end, she realizes she’s not there yet and has to make that decision. It was a really heartbreaking scene to shoot, and I felt bad doing it because I think that Stella was finally in this zone of like, “Okay, I have the job that I want, I have this great relationship, I’m playing house with this whole family dynamic.” But, ultimately, it wasn’t really what she was ready for.
Esther, Izzy has this endearing relationship with Liam (Jayson Blair) that you can’t help but root for. But over the course of the season, she has to learn how to love herself—and it’s one of the reasons she chooses to initially break things off with him. For you, how do those really dramatic scenes compare to the comedic ones that you’re most comfortable with? Is there a different approach, or are you simply pulling from different life experiences?
EP: I would say it’s all the same, ’cause even comedy is like, you’re still playing it real and honest. But it was interesting playing Izzy this season because I feel like she made all the mistakes that I made in my 20s. She just ruined her life basically, and it’s like she just blows every opportunity. She gets the hot guy, she blows it. Her friend gets promoted at work, she makes that weird. And so I feel like I’ve done all these things when I was young and stupid, and it was kind of therapeutic to play them and be like, “Oh, I was like this.” And then it’s nice that she comes through it all in the end and grows, which is something I’m not that familiar with personally…
In the third episode, there is a funny practice session that tees up an incredible dance number. Kat, did you use your power as an executive producer to get out of that sequence like Jules did with a doctor’s note on a business card—
KD: Yes! Yes! God bless you! You got it right. I was supposed to dance in the script. In my defense, you guys got a lot of choreography practice, and I was filming other scenes, so I didn’t get to practice.
I also previously broke my ankle and it never really came back quite right, so I have a pre-existing injury and I missed all the choreography practice that these girls got to do. I saw the video—you guys were like the Pussycat Dolls! I didn’t know what was going on, and I tried to practice and I immediately threw my neck out. I was like, “I have the power, I’m gonna try to use it.” And Michelle Nader, our showrunner, found the way to make that funny instead of completely pathetic.
SM: But also, I feel like that’s what your character genuinely would have done…
KD: Same! Yes! Thank you! I had been through an hour of texting and re-writing with Michelle, and I was like, “Guess what? You’re on your own. Bye!” I think it’s perfect and, like Shay said, Jules would never do that dance—never. So the doctor’s note to get out of a dance is incredible, and I don’t regret anything.
BS: I do regret not being able to see you do that dance though, Kat.
KD: Well, you were never gonna see me because I couldn’t do that dance. You would see me in the hospital.
For the three ladies who did dance, what was the creative process like and how long did it really take for everything to come together? I know a few of you might have a little bit of a background in dance, and Shay, I’ve seen your TikTok dances as well.
BS: Oh yeah, that bitch is Beyoncé! [Mitchell shakes her head.] I made her go right in front of me so I could watch her every single move.
SM: We had a lot of fun doing it. It was a great workout. We were bruised head-to-toe, but it was worth it.
BS: And I’ve never done anything like that before. It was terrifying. I was, like, 12 weeks postpartum going, “I don’t know if my body can do this!” But it was so much fun. And actually, the thing was we only rehearsed for, what, an hour and a half, two hours maybe? And then, we had an amazing choreographer. They broke it down where it was so simple because I am so uncoordinated. I was so terrified ’cause I’m like, “I’m gonna make a fool out of myself, but if I do, we’ll make it funny.” But then it was really fun. I was really proud of us.
KD: Esther, you’re a professional dancer!
EP: Look, I just want to say, as a person who was a major in dance for one semester in college, Brenda and Shay are incredible dancers. Brenda thinks she can’t, and Brenda just must be good at everything by accident.
In the landscape of shows centering on female friendships, this show has managed to carve out a niche with its use of magical realism. Do any of you have a favorite memory that really sticks out from filming some of those outlandish sequences? How much of it requires you to really use your own imaginations to buy into the final product?
SM: Honestly, I watched the whole season three times over with different girlfriends of mine—sorry, I couldn’t wait. But the anxiety tornado, I think, everybody has gone through and is so relatable. I think that is what separates our show from any other. It is so relatable, you don’t get anxiety watching it, you feel good after finishing an episode, but everybody can relate to that anxiety tornado because we’ve all gone through and continue to do so. So that specifically for me, I didn’t really have to imagine a lot, I was just like, “Alright, bring it back to yesterday,” and then I think we were all in it.
BS: Also, that was insane to shoot—that was hilarious to shoot. It was towards the end of our shoot, we were all a mess. We were shooting in some random place in L.A. that I don’t even remember, that I just wiped out of my mind. And the thing that I love about the show in general—and even with the surrealism stuff—is that our characters are all so different, so you get to see four different perspectives and how they each individually deal with a single situation. And I think that kind of represents a bunch of different personalities, so someone can find one of these characters to sort of relate to, which I really, really love and [is] one of the things that initially drew me in.
KD: I have the luck of working with Beth Grant a lot in those sequences—and I don’t want to take credit for it, but I will take credit for Beth Grant, because as soon as I knew about the “Cat Lady” concept, I was like, “You guys, let’s try to get Beth Grant.” So I did that, okay? But first of all, she’s one of the great actors of our time, she’s been in absolutely everything, she’s a complete genius, so we were so lucky to have her. But this woman, her voice, her presence, like the way she really gets into character, which I’m gonna say is probably my favorite part of the magical realism behind the scenes. She will make cat noises and say things to me to get herself revved up for the scene, which is an incredible experience, but you really don’t have to imagine that much with Beth. Because even though she’s Beth Grant and she just has C.G.I. dots on her face, there’s no real imagination required, ‘cause she’s so in that character.
Shay and Brenda, in the third episode, Stella asks Madison, “Can’t we, as Asian women, own our sexuality too?” And even though that line was said in passing, it made me think of the way Asian women have been portrayed in Western media. Both of you have become cultural touchstones for multiple generations, and Shay, you’re now executive producing your first series, The Cleaning Lady, on FOX. What do you both make of the evolution of Asian representation, and how would you like to continue changing the narrative for Asian women in Hollywood?
SM: Yeah, absolutely. The Cleaning Lady, for me, it was very important to be able to put more of a minority group into these predominant roles. Our lead for that show [Élodie Yung] is incredible, but it is super important for us. And I think that’s why, even though it’s sort of a tossed line, it is important, and I think that that was something that my character even said in the beginning: “Why can’t she own her sexuality? Even if it is a stereotype, who cares? That’s her owning it.” And I think that it was really important that they put it in the show.
BS: I think it’s really important, especially in today’s day and age, that what the world really looks like is represented in media and TV, and I think we’re moving in a wonderful direction because it hasn’t always been that way. I think we’re so fortunate to have these opportunities now, and to be able to pay that forward is all we can really ask for and all we can really do. I think it’s really important, especially for this next generation and for these younger kids, to grow up seeing themselves represented in TV and media, because that’s something that, personally, I didn’t get much of.
And that’s really hard because that’s not what the world looks like—and especially in a show like this where it’s just about four girls. Yes, we’re all different races, we come from different places, and we touch on it. But at the end of the day, we focus on the fact that we’re just girls living life, and we’re not putting the focus on: “Well, I’m playing the Asian girl.” It’s like, yes, that is our background, that’s where we come from. But at the same time, we’re just living life and that’s not [what] we’re defined by, and I think that’s an interesting twist on our show. It’s the first time we really touch on something [about Asian women] and I think it’s something important that we should talk about and continue to talk about, and that was a really fun episode. Poppy [who plays Lotus Dragon Bebe] is incredible. She’s amazing. She was so funny, so sweet, so talented. I absolutely love her, and yes, I wish I could own my sexuality like her.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Written by Max Gao for Harper’s Bazaar, article published on February 11