Ana Gasteyer is glowing! The actress’ NBC series, American Auto, has just been picked up for a second season and she can’t wait to talk about it.
The Peacock network’s latest workplace comedy is spearheaded by Justin Spitzer, ready to fill the Superstore-sized hole in our hearts by tackling the inner workings of a Detroit-based automotive company. Gasteyer stars as newly-named CEO Katherine Hastings—she’s a tough business woman who happens to know very little about the cars she’s in charge of manufacturing.
American Auto is a whip-smart look at the modern American work environment and the conglomerates that run seemingly every aspect of our lives. And it’s also very, very funny.
Here, Gasteyer discusses how her ensemble experience prepared her to lead American Auto and how the show balances “of the moment’ storylines with comedy and character. And yes, she kinda, sorta teases season two.
Shadan Larki: American Auto just got renewed for a second season!
Ana Gasteyer: Oh, I’m so happy to get it. I know [NBC] wanted to figure out their lineup, so I hoped we would. I think it’s a show that’s off to a fantastic start. It’s so rare that you have a first season that feels cohesive. I think Justin Spitzer, our creator, knows these characters and I think he’s uniquely talented and can write an episode specific to a situation while also linking an arc season-wide, and I can’t wait to see what happens in season two.
SL: Do you have any insight on what we can expect?
AG: I have no idea. I have lots of hopes for lots of ensemble scenes, and I hope that Katherine doesn’t have to drive too much because she’s not good at it.
SL: I love Justin’s work, Superstore, in particular, is an all-time favorite. What was your relationship to his work before joining American Auto and how familiar were you with his style?
AG: I only knew that he had spent many years in the writers’ room of The Office. So, I knew that he understood workplace dynamics well. I mean, both in terms of writing for The Office, but more the sort of DNA and bones of what I consider the great NBC strength: half-hour comedies, single-camera and very smartly written. So, I knew that, and I also just knew that he was probably pretty fun to work with if he was in a writer’s room for ten years in a row…
SL: You don’t stay around that long if you’re not good at your job.
AG: Right, I was a fan of Superstore. I like ensemble comedies, working on them, and watching them.
SL: You have a rich history of ensemble work. How was American Auto different and how did you apply that earlier experience to this show?
AG: Fitting into an ensemble is natural for me, Saturday Night Live and a lot of the shows that I’ve done are ensemble shows. The most recent one, People of Earth, which was on TBS, was about a group therapy setting. I like working with other people, and I think Justin is uniquely gifted at almost symphonic writing; he’s good at writing multiple voices concurrently and identifying the selfishness of each person. He’s not just giving lines to people. He’s very careful about each character’s motivation in a big group scene like that, which makes it fun to play because you can stay self-involved and serve the scene at the same time.
What’s different for me with American Auto that she is the CEO, and the character is a commanding human who has to drive so much of the content. As an actor, I’m more used to coming in and delivering a couple of armpit farts and leaving as opposed to coming in and having to drive the content, so I felt a great responsibility as a human and an actor to sort of project the preparation and confidence necessary to lead the scene.
SL: That was one of my big questions for you because you’ve done comedy for so long, so how do you find new ways to explore your craft, deepen it, and find new ways to get a laugh without feeling like you’re repeating yourself?
AG: Wow, it’s funny that I don’t know how I do that, except to lean into the writing. When I’m not creating something, I’m opting into something that I think is well written. I feel very lucky that I’ve gotten to do that. That’s what made me want to be a part of this show. The script was funny, the pilot was funny, it was sharp, had a point of view, and it has done incredibly well. I hope that people see episode 106 in particular, which is about making a commercial. I think it’s very relevant and topical, and it feels modern. It feels like 2022, you know, it has a diverse cast, and there’s a female in charge. Very much like offices are trying to bring in more female leadership. I think only 8% of fortune 500 CEOs are female. Katherine knows there’s a lot on the line.
That episode  felt really of the moment, to have this kind of comedy around virtue signaling. I think what American Auto is fantastic at, as my friend Jill characterizes it, is showing Americans being bad at being good. They’re trying so hard to be good, but they are interested in their own, you know, ass-covering mechanics at the end of the day. So, I thought episode 106 strikes the heart of people trying to represent but, at the same time, not giving that much of a shit at the end of the day.
SL: Did knowing that Katherine, as you said, drives so much of the show change your preparation and approach to the character?
AG: 100%. I mean, I did shows like Suburgatory for ABC, Lady Dynamite for Netflix. These are both targeted hits; you show up for a day or two, know your stuff and leave. American Auto has a measured and consistent delivery; it’s 5 AM Monday until, you know, midnight on Friday, every episodic week. An enormous amount of preparation goes into being able to do that and keeping everybody on schedule and all that stuff. So, I spend more time with the scripts than I ever have in the past.
SL: How much did you know about corporate culture, particularly cars, because I’m not a car person at all. I don’t know anything! I love that Katherine also doesn’t like driving. I was like, ‘Finally, I feel seen!’
AG: [Laughs]. In a not very coincidental twist I also don’t know anything about cars. Katherine’s not supposed to know anything about cars, either, because she comes from big pharma. She’s an experienced CEO, and she’s good at being an executive but terrible with cars. She comes from the school of, ‘You don’t need to know a product; you just need to sell it.’ We can all have our opinions on that. I do find it very funny because, in fact, my husband and I always joke that I would be the worst witness to an automotive accident or something. We both lease a Kia, and I don’t even know the model. All I know is, I was mad that Charlie, my husband, got a black one because so many people think it’s an Uber! We live in New York City, so I take the subway everywhere. We have a car just for the occasional weekend soccer game or whatever.
SL: [Laughs] In terms of finding your rhythm as an ensemble, is there a particular scene, episode, or moment that stands out to you in season one where you felt like you really nailed it, where everything came together just right?
AG: I do think episode 106, that commercial episode I mentioned, is my favorite. I think it cracks along every line because it’s just carefully measured.
There were also these scenes where we were trying to decide whether or not to do a recall and that, to me, is the essence of corporate life. It’s getting into the wee hours of the morning, and this thing that happens when you are under a deadline, and you’re late at work with people, and there’s like a little bit of a reveal on what kind of people you’re working with. People start taking their shoes off and unbuttoning their ties, and those scenes really made me laugh because it was just exhausted ensemble work, you know, and they were fun to play. The idea that the team is doing something together always makes me laugh.
SL: You have such phenomenal comedic instincts. When you’re on set can you tell that you’ve gotten a laugh just right?
AG: It’s great when you make your cast mates laugh because this is a qualified and fun ensemble. You want to make Justin laugh, and it makes me happy because he’s the writer.
No, you don’t know, and I will say on a show like a half-hour comedy of this quality, you don’t know until you see the final cut because the editing is a big piece of it and how it looks. I think they’ve done a really good job of capturing the intimacy of the mechanics of the C Suite. The way it’s shot feels very inside the room. Justin’s really good at like making it feel artsy. So in the scene, it’s more about driving the material, telling the story, and setting up the joke as cleanly as possible. Half-hours are so economical. I wish they could go longer, but they can’t. It was a great pleasure because we shot all summer and early fall, and then they edited, and then we got to watch them in a row. It’s fun to go back and watch them finished on Peacock.
SL: It‘s interesting that you mentioned the dynamics of a half-hour because I think many people don’t know how a show like American Auto really comes together. Is there anything I haven’t asked you about that you think is important to mention?
AG: Oh, gosh, probably! Who knows what I don’t know, though. I’m a lot like my character; I have a lot of blind spots. I think American Auto feels very relevant. It’s fun to make fun of the people making these huge decisions that influence us. We live in a culture that corporate America completely controls. I mean, who’s kidding? It’s amazing to realize that they aren’t just like these AI creatures up in the sky, but they’re just these flawed humans who have jobs and are covering their asses.
Season one of American Auto is currently available via NBC and Peacock. Ana Gasteyer is Emmy eligible for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. This interview has been edited for clarity.
Photo: Jordin Althaus/NBC