Actress Chloe Fineman has found fame in New York City as one of Saturday Night Livethe actors of the repertoire. Hollywood has knocked on her door, we will see her in the epic Tinseltown of director Damien Chazelle Babylon later this year, as well as other promising projects. But when Fineman, 33, recently called Diablo of Manhattan’s famous 30 Rock Building, she was very excited to talk about her background in East Bay, including her landmark experience singing birds at Piedmont High School.
Let’s start with your past in East Bay: where did you grow up?
I grew up in Berkeley. I was born there and I went to college. Then we moved to the Piedmont region when I was in high school. But I was still hanging out with all of my friends from high school in Berkeley all the time.
It is remarkable how many creative comedians and filmmakers have come out of Berkeley. What is it about this part of the East Bay that fosters such creativity?
It’s such a weird community – people seem like old people [at Berkeley High]. My funny friends met in Berkeley, and we were constantly dressing in my dad’s costumes, playing little old folks, and getting into trouble.
I have to say that the area is not just for comedy fans; it’s about creative opportunities. In high school, I saw a play every week. Even during the summers, I was an instructor at a day camp called Camp Kee Tov, which was really amazing for kids who wanted to perform, whether it was improv or acting. There were resources for kids to be creative that didn’t exist in all communities.
Years ago I interviewed Berkeley native Andy Samberg right after his casting Saturday Night Live. He’s talked about finding the show as a kid and then connecting with Adam Sandler as a performer. What was your first exposure to Saturday Night Live, and which cast members made a first impression on you?
Certainly [Sandler and Samberg]. I have also always loved Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig.
I fell in love with the show while sleeping at a friend’s house in college. We would praise all The best of SNL tapes from the video store, and we watched the Saturday Night Live Sunday morning. We were obsessed. We were looking at [Samberg and SNL alum Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer’s] The Lonely Island skits before they were on Saturday Night Live, too much. [SNL] has always been in my blood!
At what age did you see acting as a possible career?
When I was little, my dad went to improvise comedy at Fort Mason in San Francisco. It was an amazing program with all these stars, and my dad would take me improvising with him before I knew what Saturday Night Live has been. The program is still going strong. My parents will always play. [Fineman’s mother, Ellen Gunn, is a painter and her father, David Fineman, is a biotechnology executive.]
In high school, we took a trip to Los Angeles in my freshman year to visit college, and I begged my parents to let me go to LA and do the Groundlings. [an improvisational and sketch acting program that has introduced dozens of actors, including Will Ferrell, Will Forte, Laraine Newman, and Wiig to Saturday Night Live and other programs]. My parents shot him down and I went to New York University to study acting, and thought I would do all serious acting from then on.
I just watched a YouTube clip of you singing birds on the Late Show with David Letterman when you were in high school. How did you go from being a student at Piedmont High to being on stage with a legend of the night? What memories do you keep of the experience?
Piedmont High hosted this annual bird calling contest and the winners were able to fly to New York with our teacher and perform on Letterman. I remember being extremely competitive about it; I was intensely focused on the cut. Once I got to go it was amazing. I was with my funny friends and it was so much fun. I remember the [Ed Sullivan Theater] being extremely cold. It was crazy how fast Letterman was with his comments to make us students sound funny.
You finally played with the Groundlings, that’s how you got the attention of Saturday Night Live.
Yes, I had had enough of New York after NYU, so I went back to California. Growing up in the Bay Area I always thought, Los Angeles is worried, if I move there, they’ll give me a job. When I moved there, I joined the Groundlings to make friends – it wasn’t a calculated career change.
How did you audition for Saturday Night Live?
You send a tape first. I missed a deadline and they said, “You have a week. I did most of it in the Bay Area – I did a Maisie Williams Game of thrones thing in the woods of Oakland with the sun going down.
Then I presented live. The audition process was intense – they took me out twice by plane. I was so shocked when I got the job, but so excited. At this point I was really missing New York so it was so surreal to go back there to play on Saturday Night Live.
A recent segment on Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight show you have exploded your remarkable range of impressions. How do you go about creating an impression of an iconic star like Meryl Streep?
I’ve always been good with characters. I like to find something about each character that feels very familiar to me.
Meryl Streep has the energy of Marin County. Even more local, it’s Alice Waters mixed with my mother. My mother wears a shawl. So I take this idea, Meryl Streep in a shawl, just like my mom, and then I have something very familiar to work with.
Introduce us to a week at Saturday Night Live, from late-night writing sessions to introductory meetings to the performance night.
When I first got here I would walk in on Tuesdays at 2 p.m. to write and leave at 4 a.m. but I cut that down because a sleep deprived table was reading [on Wednesdays] just isn’t good for me. So I have to work for the week ahead by creating some solid ideas with at least three more backup ideas just in case.
On Wednesdays, we do the table readings in front of everyone, so you really have to sell your ideas. It’s a great feeling when [the ideas] work, but you’re definitely not locked into the show yet. It’s fascinating because so many of the cast write for themselves.
If anything I do comes up, I have to polish it until the dress rehearsal on Saturday night. The dress rehearsal is the one that will make or break a skit. You have to kill and make people laugh – if that doesn’t make them laugh, you will be cut off.
Lorne Michaels sort of goes through everything, and after getting dressed, they pull out this board to say what does or what doesn’t. If I have something happening on the board then I eat candy – something gummy – until we go live [at 11:30 p.m.]
Sunday, I try to really close, but it’s not enough time. Then you think about next week, the next host, and it all ends again.
What has been your favorite sketch this season?
I loved playing this character named Ooli [an Icelandic social media star]. I tried so hard to get her involved, and it took hosting Elon Musk for this character to air. After the show, I told Elon Musk that I was from the Bay Area, and he said he had lived there too. I thought he said he lived in Healdsburg, and I said, “Oh, that’s interesting, all the antique shops. ” He accepted. I later realized he had said he lived in Hillsborough, but totally agreed with Healdsburg.
You recently posted an Instagram photo from the Met Gala with you and Steph and Ayesha Curry. What are the craziest celebrity dates you’ve had?
The Curries were pretty crazy. I saw them across the room and Steph came over and asked me, “Can we take a picture with you?” They recognized me because I had made an impression of Timothée Chalamet, and I let them know that I was from the Bay Area. We had this great conversation on so many details of the Bay Area. They go to [chef Michael Mina’s restaurant], and my sister’s boyfriend works there. In fact, I may have made it up that the Curries asked me to take my picture, everything is so blurry.
In the character: Fineman’s Finest
Chloe Fineman has built an impressive resume of celebrity impressions on Saturday Night Live. Her Britney Spears as a talk show host was a repeated choice during the show’s cold opening. She also nails an impression of Drew Barrymore, as well as those of Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, and Timothée Chalamet. On the less glamorous side, his point of view King tigerCarole Baskin and former first family member Tiffany Trump laughed a lot.
Fineman fans should also check out his work onResearch group, a comedy mystery series airing on HBO Max. Fineman appears in seasons three and four as Charlie Reeny, a far-right talk show host apparently inspired by Tomi Lahren.
In December, Fineman will appear in Babylon, the highly anticipated film about the golden age of Hollywood by writer-director Damien Chazelle (La La Land). Fineman is part of a premier ensemble with Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie.
Another upcoming project is a Latin comedy remakeThe father of the bride. “They chose me as their wedding planner,” says Fineman. “My best friend, [actor] Casey Brown worked with me all summer so it was a fantastic job.