While promoting her new comedy series Forever, Maya Rudolph sat down with The New York Times Magazine to discuss her career. In the process, she opened up about growing up as a biracial child–the child of R&B singer Minnie Riperton and songwriter/producer Richard Rudolph–and how her experiences inform the characters she played on Saturday Night Live.
“When I was a kid, and people would come up to me or stare at me because of my mom, I didn’t like it. I really didn’t like it. I used to think, Oh, they’re staring at my hair because it’s so big and ugly,” she said. “Because I didn’t realize people were just staring at my mother, like, ‘Wow, that’s her daughter!’ I didn’t know; I was a kid. And kids always personalize things.”
Much of her distress in the article revolved around the complicated relationship she developed with her hair due to others’ comments.
“‘Your hair is so ethnic. Can I touch it?'”she said to the magazine, imitating what other people have told her. “…I actually have an aversion to that word, way more than people say they hate the word ‘moist.’ I hate the word ‘ethnic’ in that way. It’s like they’re talking about a print.”
Later in the interview, Rudolph said how her screen life before SNL reinforced her disgust for people’s discrimination.
“Every time I’d work, they’d be like, ‘I really don’t–like can I touch?–I really don’t know what to do with your hair.’ They would just say the most awful, disgusting things.”
She said in the interview that she never felt either black or white and identified most with biracial people of any race. It’s that type of relationship with race that seems to have informed the types of characters Rudolph has played on SNL, including impressions of Donatella Versace, Oprah, Charo, Paris Hilton, Lucy Liu and original characters with no racial signifiers.
“I just never felt like that was the first place to go, to define myself by race. Now, the difference is not everybody else believes that you can play those things, but if you’re writing it, who gives a (expletive)?”
But even still, Rudolph gave the impression in the article that she still suffered from the writing room’s limited thinking when it came to race.
“There were times I was frustrated, like ‘Why can’t I (expletive) just play that role?’ But obviously the person next to me that’s white is going to play that white character.”
You can read the full interview at The New York Times Magazine. The first season of Forever, also starring Fred Armisen, is now available on Amazon.