Shiri Appleby On The Surprise Fourth And Final Season Of 'UnREAL'The show's star spoke to HuffPost about reality TV, the Me Too movement and saying goodbye to the show.
Just months after “UnREAL’s” third season wrapped, the show’s fourth and final season has dropped and is now streaming on Hulu. (The first episode of Season 4 is available on HuffPost for two weeks.)
For three years, the show about a show has tapped into audiences’ curiosities about how the sausage of reality television gets made ― particularly for “Bachelor” fans.
Ahead of the final season’s surprise premiere, Claire Fallon and Emma Gray of HuffPost’s “Here to Make Friends” podcast spoke to “UnREAL” star Shiri Appleby about what fans can expect, how the fourth season’s “Everlasting” format resembles “Bachelor Pad” and “Bachelor in Paradise,” and whether she thinks Rachel and Quinn can ever truly evolve.
Why a big surprise premiere? What was the thinking behind that, especially so soon after the last season?
I think that Hulu just wanted to give the fans what they wanted, which was the next season of the show, and give the show a proper send-off.
So what can we expect, generally, from this season of “UnREAL”?
We’re definitely tying up a lot of the emotional story between Rachel and Quinn. Rachel is really on a quest to find love and find a life outside of “Everlasting,” to the point that she’s dyed her hair blond to make herself look like a contestant on the show ― kind of tricking her mind into thinking that if she looks like one of those women that she’s gonna find herself a husband and a happy ending.
When we last saw Rachel, she was sprawled out in the sun on a porch at a cabin ― and then she’s back and blond. What is it about “Everlasting” that keeps pulling her back? Or was it Jeremy’s proclamation at the end of last season that she’s going to die alone ― did that really rattle her?
I think that rattled her. And I think she is under the impression that maybe if she casts this all-star cast, she can bring back all these contestants she had some romantic history with herself, and she can use it as a way to figure out who this husband of hers is going to be. And she really doesn’t have much of a life outside of “Everlasting.” Quinn is really the main relationship in her life. So I think really walking away was going to be next to impossible for her.
This season features “Everlasting All Stars,” which is kind of similar in concept to “Bachelor Pad.” What is the appeal of that new format for you guys? What new dynamics does that bring up?
Well, I think it gave an opportunity to bring back some storylines that had worked well in Season 3 ― like the August storyline and the Alexi storyline. So I think from a writing standpoint, it gave the writers a lot to work with.
And then it also provided Rachel these other male suitors for herself that we didn’t have to create from the beginning ― she could pick up and explore. And I think it’s pretty fun to see men and women in the house together, those dynamics. I mean, we’ve done suitors, we’ve done suitresses, so I think this was just providing another way to comment on the “Bachelor” franchise.
Rachel and Quinn have always had such a compelling story. From season to season, we keep coming back to that. What are we going to see between them this season?
Well, this is really them at odds. Rachel has been kind of disappointed because Quinn had nothing to do with prepping the season out, and she feels like she’s getting more and more selfish as her relationship with Chet is blooming. And so Rachel really feels like she doesn’t need Quinn, and she’s going to prove to her, once and for all, that she can be independent. So they’re constantly at odds until the very end of this season.
These characters, season after season, just seem to stay in their self-destructive ruts ― as hard as they try to get out of them. Do characters like Rachel have the ability to evolve in a meaningful way or are we just going to see them spinning their wheels at “Everlasting” forever?
Hopefully you feel, by the end of the season and really the end of the series, that she’s trying to make things right, and she’s trying to say, “I’m better than these choices.” I mean, her plans may or may not backfire but I really do feel like ― at least, in portraying her, I was trying to create this sense of, “I can be better than this. I can make better choices.”
This show seems to do a great job of really speaking directly to contemporary issues. Was there any big issue or topic that you feel like this season really tried to dive into?
Well, we’re really dealing with the rape still. Last season really was ― we shot this before the Me Too movement even occurred, but it was really Rachel’s journey of confronting her rapist. In this season, Rachel brings back a contestant from the first season who was raped. So she brings back the person who raped her and the girl who was raped, and she helps set up a situation in which this young woman can stop him from raping someone else.
Yeah, that’s exactly right. I was definitely shocked and surprised that this is a story we’re taking on, but this is the story, the big headline, of what happens in this season.
What are the challenges in dealing with material that’s so bound up in what’s going on in the real world?
You’re just taking on such heavy material that obviously you never want to offend or make light of things that feel very poignant and personal. As an actor, you don’t really have a say or a voice in what the conversation of the show is going to be. So as an actor, I’m just trying to make sense of why the character is making these choices, and somehow, in that way, you can sympathize or root, at least not detest, what this person is doing. That’s at least my job in telling that story.
Are you doing any directing on this season?
I directed two episodes this season ― I directed Episode 3, and I also directed the season/series finale. So I really had my hands full. And every episode that I’m directing, obviously it’s more experience, and I feel more and more confident and also capable of being more creative and having more fun with it.
The series finale ― that’s a huge deal. What did it feel like to have on your shoulders?
I was really honored. They originally gave me Episode 3 and Episode 6, and then when we started shooting they called and said, “We’d actually like to give you the finale.” I just took it as a huge compliment that they would obviously trust me and want me to direct such a big episode of the show.
At least for me, being number one on the call sheet, the star of the show, you’re always having a tremendous amount of responsibility to make sure the episode turns out great. In some ways, I just felt like I got to bring a passion and excitement to the last seven days of shooting and really give it everything I had. It was a way for me to say goodbye, in some ways, to this whole journey.
What was it like running the set in the midst of the Me Too movement and a lot of revelations coming out about the entertainment industry, and also making a show that depicts all of these abuses going on on a set? It must have just felt so meta for you.
It for sure felt meta, and it’s so interesting because when we made the third season ― when Rachel goes on that journey ― it hadn’t happened yet.
And then we came to shoot the fourth season, and it happened. All of a sudden, for the first time in my career, you’re having someone from the studio coming up to give sexual harassment classes. Our show was provocative ― women are in bathing suits all the time, so are the men, people are constantly making out ― so everyone is so much more aware of not saying anything that could be offensive in a way that I’ve never experienced. You feel the effects on set now.
You’ve been in this industry for a long time; you’ve been working regularly since you were very young. Have you had any interesting conversations with male peers or colleagues of yours recently that you hadn’t had in your earlier years?
Oh for sure, it’s just totally changed. Men are even afraid to say “you look nice” or “you look pretty” when you come out of hair and makeup to walk on set. And before men would constantly ― producers would constantly say things, but that’s kind of a way that they would butter the actresses up and make them feel secure. Now you can’t even really tell a woman in that environment that she looks pretty.
And when you’re doing sex scenes, it’s always a little bit by-the-numbers, but there’s a heightened [level] of it, and they make you sign paperwork now for kissing scenes. Things have changed.
Do you see things getting more comfortable on set, or do you think that we’re in a period where things are just going to be awkward as there’s an adjustment?
No ― like, when I was younger and you’d wear a tight skirt on set, you’d have crew members taking pictures behind your back. There’s no way things like that would happen [now]. I’m talking about 20 years ago. I didn’t have any really bad cases, so I’m grateful. But I’m just saying, for sure the environment has changed. I think it’s going to make it feel definitely much more professional. There’s no way for it not to, now. There’s so much more at stake.
This is the show’s final season. You’re saying goodbye to Rachel, as you mentioned. What are you gonna miss most about playing her?
Her wardrobe. Great wardrobe. Always knew what I was wearing. It was very easy. I understood why Steve Jobs wore the same thing every day.
And when you find your thing with a character, you’re creating another being, and so when it’s over, you’re just like, “It’s kind of sad that I’m not going to have that creative outlet with that person again.”
But I thought we had a great camaraderie. It was great working with Constance [Zimmer]; it was great working with Jeffrey [Bowyer-Chapman] and Craig [Bierko] and Josh [Kelly] and everyone affiliated with the show. Also, they gave me so much opportunity. I got to direct four episodes of TV. I had an overall deal producing. So it was just a really great experience.
What do you hope that audiences who’ve followed this journey for four seasons take away from this show as a whole?
Reality TV is not real.
Is there anything else that you want to add, or leave fans with, as we say goodbye to “UnREAL”?
I hope everyone enjoyed the ride! It was definitely wild.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
To hear more of HuffPost’s conversation with Appleby, listen to this “Here to Make Friends” bonus episode.
Do people love “The Bachelor,” “The Bachelorette” and “Bachelor in Paradise,” or do they love to hate these shows? It’s unclear. But at “Here to Make Friends,” we both love and love to hate them — and we love to snarkily dissect each episode in vivid detail. Podcast edited by Nick Offenberg.