“Getting to throw tantrums at work every day is the greatest gift”: Alison Pill on her new retro-futuristic TV series Hello Tomorrow

“Getting to throw tantrums at work every day is the greatest gift”: Alison Pill on her new retro-futuristic TV series Hello Tomorrow

We spoke to the actor about capitalism, the allure of the American dream and working with Billy Crudup

Alison Pill as Myrtle in Hello Tomorrow on Apple TV Plus

Canadian actor Alison Pill knows the power of a woman’s rage. It’s what drew her to the role of Myrtle on the new retro-futuristic Apple TV Plus series Hello Tomorrow, also starring Billy Crudup, Haneefah Wood, Nicholas Podany, Hank Azaria and Jacki Weaver. The series follows charismatic salesman Jack Billings (Crudup), whose team attempts to revitalize their customers’ lives by hawking timeshares on the moon. Myrtle leaves her broken marriage for the promise of a new lunar life, but when that promise is broken, she becomes vengeful and destructive. 

We sat down for a virtual interview with the actor from her home in Toronto to talk about the show’s themes of capitalism and the American dream, the inner workings of her character and whether she would ever trade life on earth for the moon. 

Related: A Q&A with Shamier Anderson on exploring Black fatherhood in his latest film

I found your character very entertaining. She’s slapstick-funny at times, but she can also be very serious. What intrigued you about Myrtle?
I think Myrtle represents what every consumer feels when they buy something that doesn’t live up to its promise. But she lets that out and says, ‘No—you said this thing was going to happen. I bought this thing because you made these promises to me. If you break these promises, I’m going to lose my mind.’ When she learns that the fine print has misled her, she does what I think many of us have felt like doing in moments of rage: she burns everything down.

It’s funny to hear you say that. The last time we spoke, for All my Puny Sorrows, we talked about female rage and how it makes people feel uncomfortable.
Yes. Myrtle has a speech at one point where she talks about how she played by all the rules, but it’s still not enough. I think that’s a common feeling among women, and it’s especially galling because these rules are supposed to keep us safe. She’s saying, “I was promised safety and happiness. I followed the rules, and I’m still miserable.” And the anger that comes from that, from recognizing, I did the things you said I had to do, and the system is still against me, bubbles over for Myrtle in an extreme way.

You might say her rage is justified because bad customer service can drive people crazy. Were you drawing from personal experience?
I try not to buy things that will disappoint me. If you buy into the promises of capitalism too much, you will be disappointed. I did have a moment when I got a new stove, which is a pretty big purchase. There had been a few delays in delivery, and when I finally got it and tried to turn it on, it would shut off after 30 seconds and give me an error message. I was like, ‘You had one job, and you have broken this pact between us.’ But I got someone to come over and fix it, and now it works.

The episode when Myrtle loses control at the supermarket with the casserole is iconic. It seemed like you were having fun in that scene.
Oh, it was so much fun. I mean, getting to throw tantrums at work every day is the greatest gift of all. Also, throwing a tantrum as an adult and knowing that you don’t have to do the cleanup is fantastic. It’s probably why we’ve seen a rise in those smash rooms—people breaking plates for no reason other than that sometimes you just need to be destructive.

What’s the biggest difference between your first impression of Myrtle when you signed on for the role and who she turned out to be?
I was really curious about her relationship with Lester Costopoulos, played by the wonderful Matthew Maher. I was trying to understand the ways in which Myrtle is and isn’t sincere and what she’s really looking for. I figured out pretty early on that what she wants is to be seen and heard and listened to, which is what so many of us want. I’ll also say that we were having a discussion about this while we were all doing press in LA, and Haneefah, who plays Cheryl—and who is wonderful—had an issue with my take on this. I said, ‘Myrtle is the one person who’s not keeping secrets,’ and Haneefah said, ‘She’s lying to herself.’ The big lie she’s telling herself is that the moon will fix all of the problems in her life. But, other than that, I think she’s pretty straightforward in her desires. She’s very earnest, like, These are the facts, and I want everybody to understand the facts as I see them. Because that means that the world sees her.

I want to ask you about Billy Crudup. Everyone who saw his performance on set has said it was very emotional for them. Were you there to witness any of his scenes?
No. When I saw Billy, it was as himself and as an executive producer. We were never in the same room on camera, but he is such a wonderful leader of the cast. People are talking about his performance, elevating the whole show and inviting everyone else to be elevated to his level, but his influence was felt not just in his performance but in who he is as a person and in his generosity as a leader. To have a leader who encourages everybody to bring their A-game professionally and personally, to show up every day as their best selves, made for such a wonderful working environment.

One of the larger themes of the show is the myth of the American dream and how, the more we try to use technology to better our lives, the more it tends to do the opposite. Were you afflicted by the American dream when you first started out in the industry as a Canadian?
I don’t remember much about the ideas I had at 17. I make a living as an actor, which I don’t think would be possible in a lot of other places, so I’m living that part of my dream. If I looked a certain way, if I had a different accent or spoke a different language, these opportunities might not have been available to me, which I’m very aware of. This dream was available to me in a way that it hasn’t been for many of my friends, which I think is starting to change.

The idea of meritocracy is really enticing, where you think, I deserve everything I’ve gotten. With age, I’ve become more realistic about the facts of luck, privilege and all the other ways that my success has had very little to do with me and what I was bringing to the table. There’s something kind of freeing about that.

Lastly, would you trade it all in for life on the moon?
No—I don’t need life on the moon. I think we have a lot of work to do down here first. We have this persistent fantasy of terraforming another planet, but I think science could be better used to fix the climate here on earth. That would probably be a better use of our time.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.