The Detour began as a sort of modern day National Lampoon’s Vacation with the Parker family. After introducing a mystery about Robin Parker (Natalie Zea), season two was about uncovering her past, ending in an explosive finale in Cuba.
I spoke with Zea at the Television Critics Association press tour on Turner’s day of presentations. Zea directed an episode this season and spoke about female energy behind the scenes. The Detour returns January 23 on TBS.
WLE: Season three doesn’t pick up right at the Alaskan motel, does it?
Natalie Zea: No. We’ve been on the lam for a little while. I want to say anywhere from three to six months depending on who you ask. Don’t ask me. Clearly I don’t know. I didn’t do my homework.
WLE: Where have they been in that time?
Natalie Zea: Everywhere. They started off in the lower 48 and continued to have to pick up and leave within a few days or weeks. This is kind of the last stop on the international crime spree, Alaska. Before Russia, of course. This is kind of their last hope if they want to stay in North America.
WLE: So they left Alaska after the season 2 finale and now they’re back?
Natalie Zea: I guess what you see at the very end of season two, you see kind of a flash forward of us having gone through all these other states trying to make it work and then ending up having to go as far north as possible.
WLE: I see, so we’re catching up to that final scene.
Natalie Zea: Exactly, yeah.
Natalie Zea: Everything on this show is location based. We don’t even have a studio. So the characters are in Alaska throughout the entire season except for a flashback where we go to the Dominican. So I was in Calgary, I was in Bamf, which is very pretty even to jaded people like me who don’t care about that kind of stuff. It was really breathtaking. We were also in the Dominican but this is what’s frustrating about season three. You see these incredible landscapes and these beautiful mountainous backdrops and it’s so beautiful that it looks like CGI. It’s like there’s no way that can be real. It’s all real. There is some CGI, you’ll see why later, but all the mountains and all the landscapes, it was 100% true.
WLE: What was it like riding the mechanical shark?
Natalie Zea: It was anticlimactic. I thought it was going to be a lot more of an amusement park ride than it was. They ended up making it go pretty slow. I think honestly the hardest part of that was living in this hahaha postfeminist society hahaha, being in a half shirt and short shorts in front of a sea of male extras. My job was to be on display and theit job was to hoot and hollar. It felt really fucking gross.
WLE: Is that the joke though?
Natalie Zea: Kind of. What’s actually great about it is the two women who wrote that episode are staunch feminists. I think the joke is that Robin feels very confident in herself and who she is and her body and her sexuality. So this is just an extension of that. It’s her job. She makes money and then Nate comes in and sees it and he’s the one who’s feeling the shame that maybe she would be feeling if she didn’t have that inner confidence.
WLE: What was the quicksand actually made out of?
Natalie Zea: Water and a lot of mud. There was no special magical formula. I think it was mostly just really muddy water. It was fucking freezing. Liam’s right hand, he was only in there for a matter of minutes, his right hand went completely numb. It was cold. He was a real trooper with that.
WLE: How long were you shooting that scene?
Natalie Zea: Not long. It was a morning because we had to get in and get out. Once you’re in, you’re in. So he had to play the scene no matter what happened. Jason kept trying to force my head down under the water and I was like, “Bitch, uh uh.” In the scene you can see he’s trying to make it so that I get submurged and I’m fighting it.
Natalie Zea: Absolutely. He was doing that in season one two, but I was pregnant season one so he had this sort of protective kind of papa bar thing with me. It’s actually been really hard for him to let go of because that’s how we met. We met with me being pregnant and his instinct as a dad and as a human being was to make sure that I was okay. He still will occasionally bring me plates of food and I’ll be like, “Dude, I got it. Thanks, man.”
WLE: What was the bird poop they dumped on you?
Natalie Zea: I think it was lotion, or conditioner. It smelled good. That’s all I know.
WLE: What other crazy stuff happens this season?
Natalie Zea: There’s a lot of stuff that’s not in the trailer. And I understand, because the show is so serialized that the more you see the more that gets revealed. There’s a great fight scene that I have that I can tell you know more about. There’s a great episode where we are on an airplane. That gets really hairy and some more substances are ingested later on in the season.
WLE: Have you ever trained for fight choreography before?
Natalie Zea: I went to theater school so you have to do stage combat class. I can wield a broad sword with the best of them too, because I’m going to use that all the time.
Natalie Zea: No. I mean, we have that. That’s what’s so great about the show. Yeah, it’s very bigger and very physical and there’s a lot of stunts and a lot of action, but sprinkled in there is always the family dynamic. There are some great scenes with me and Jason where it’s six pages of dialogue. We’re just talking. It’s almost like doing a one act play. That’s all anybody wants as an actor is to be able to do both of those things.
WLE: Was the beginning of season two frustrating because you were just in the apartment?
Natalie Zea: We were barely in there. Season two is the only season that we’ve had any kind of stage work. Season one we had no stages. Season three we had no stages so it’s kind of nice to be able to have a controlled environment to go to and know that I’ve been here before, we were here last week. Stage work is great for the show but we just never have it.
WLE: When you started the show about this road trip, was there any idea it would become this criminals on the run show?
Natalie Zea: No, not for me. This is kind of the dream that you read a pilot script and it ends up being so much more than you bargained for. 99% of the time the opposite happens where you see all this great potential, it can even be spoken about and then it ends up going backwards and all the potentiality gets thrown in the trash and you just go down this predictable boring road. With this, the ideas that Jason has keeps getting bigger and bigger and more outrageous. The fact that he’s entrusted me to take this character to the place that he’s allowed me to take her is something I couldn’t have foreseen and I couldn’t be more thrilled to finally get the chance to just be big and bold and ridiculous.
Natalie Zea: Thank you for not asking, unless you’re about to, “You’re best known as a drama actress. What’s going on?”
WLE: No, I know they like to put you in a box.
Natalie Zea: They do. It’s really puzzling. I think people are pleasantly surprised. That’s the feedback I’ve gotten which is incredible and wonderful and feels really good, because I’ve always known I had the ability to play comedy, especially if the writing is good. It’s really hard to get the chance to even get in a room to show people. I’m still drama girl who’s doing this comedy that I’ve been doing for three seasons. Hopefully, if we can get a few more seasons, maybe I’ll finally be a comedic actress.
WLE: You have such great reactions in the scenes, do you ever try multiple ones that don’t make the cut?
Natalie Zea: It’s really rare that I’m given direction. First of all we don’t have time to do more than one or two takes. I tend to try and vary it up a little bit if I can. If I feel like it’s working, I can hear giggles behind the monitor, so if I hear that, I know it’s right. I’m open to it. On the rare occasion where I do get a direction, it’s usually from Jason and it’s usually a really good direction and it’s usually better than something I’ve come up with.
WLE: Have you directed before?
Natalie Zea: I hadn’t directed TV. This is my first TV experience and I hope to do it again. I’m taking meetings on other shows because I think it’s important that we get behind the camera as ladies.
WLE: Which episode is yours?
Natalie Zea: Number four. It’s the one that I’m in the least, by design. They were nice enough to take me out of the majority of the episode.
WLE: Have you been involved with Time’s Up?
Natalie Zea: Insomuch that I tweeted about it. I have been a fairly vocal proponent for equal pay. Not necessarily equal pay, although it is a hugely important issue. My beef has always been the lack of rich, multifaceted, flawed female characters that are finally getting written and those shows are getting made, shows about women who are not used as a prop to support the male lead. We still fall into those cliches and those archetypes pretty easily but I think we’re slowly finding our way out of it. When I say we, this is not man bashing, I love men, LOVE men, but I think the women getting involved behind the camera is what’s going to help make that happen because these are our stories. It’s hard to tell a story when it’s not your story. So I’ve always been very vocal about it.
WLE: I don’t take it as man bashing. In fact, I realized recently that I had a revelation as a teenager. When Thelma & Louise and even Terminator 2 came out, I was worried women were taking over action movies. It was only a year later I saw Rene Russo in Lethal Weapon 3 and loved her. I realized it’s just more. Arnold and Sly would still make movies, and I’d have more actors I like making movies I like.
Natalie Zea: That’s a pretty macro concept too, especially when it comes to this business. When women or men are jealous or petty or concerned about other people making it to the top before they do, there’s lots of room up there. There’s looooots of room at the top and there’s plenty of space. If you get there, it means that you’re adding to it. So I think the same is true for gender and racial inclusivity.
WLE: This was a new concept to me in 1992. It’s a new concept to a lot of people now.
Natalie Zea: Right. It’s taking a little bit longer.
WLE: But maybe people can have that moment I had now.
Natalie Zea: That it’s going to be okay.
WLE: Has it been significant having Samantha Bee in the duo of show runners?
Natalie Zea: To be honest, Samantha is very busy doing other things so Jason is the primary. He’s there even if he doesn’t have to be there. He puts more energy and effort into the show than anyone I’ve ever seen in any show I’ve ever been on. He is arguably a bigger feminist than I am, which is saying a lot. We feel her energy through him, or maybe it’s just his own. I don’t know. It feels like there are so many women on the crew, it feels like such a safe space. It feels very inclusive.
WLE: In what positions on the set?
Natalie Zea: Director of episode four. [Laughs] Script supervisors are almost exclusively female but they’re such a huge part of being behind the monitor. Every script supervisor we have is such a huge part of the feel of the show. Jason and Brennan, our resident director, have two incredible assistants who are both staunch feminists. They both wrote episode two as well. All the hair, makeup and wardrobe are generally for the most part female so we’ve got this great sisterhood. Then I tend to sit behind the monitor as much as possible because I want to ingratiate myself into that process.