Traveling to New Orleans, Schmicago and the Planet of the Apes with Karin Konoval
Karin Konoval spent 25 years working in professional musical theater, playing leading roles in West Side Story, Sweeney Todd and more in her home in Vancouver. Despite those credentials, she’s somehow had more opportunities to play a male orangutan on screen-having done so in three Planet of the Apes films than to sing and dance. She then landed the role of “the Barfly” in Season Two of the Apple TV+ series Schmigadoon!, and audiences have been raising a glass and toasting her performance ever since.
“I was just grinning like a Cheshire Cat to get to be a part of this.”
“I was just grinning like a Cheshire Cat to get to be a part of this,” Konoval says. While she is recognizable to many for her recurring roles on Snowpiercer and The Good Doctor, perhaps the most beloved signature role of her career is her motion capture performance as Maurice in the Planet of the Apes prequel trilogy. The opportunity to do Schmigadoon! season two was a chance for Konoval to finally get back to her musical theater roots.
The first season of the acclaimed series follows a couple, Melissa and Josh (Cecily Strong and Keegan-Michael Key), who get lost on a backpacking trip. They are bewildered to find themselves stuck in a magical town called Schmigadoon, which exists inside a 1940s style–musical. In season two, Melissa and Josh are transported to the big city of “Schmicago,” which is rooted in the edgier, sexy musicals of the 1960s and ’70s. “The Barfly” shows up at least once per episode, always with a glass in hand, ready to speak her one and only line: “I’ll drink to that!”
“Even though it’s this one line, the character winds up with a gorgeous arc.”
Off-screen, Konoval is still in musical mode, singing praises for series creator Cinco Paul for coming up with such a memorable character. “Even though it’s this one line, the character winds up with a gorgeous arc,” Konoval says. The Barfly is first introduced as a seemingly apathetic drunk oblivious to the corruption and suffering festering in the city. Gradually, we see that she’s a book who can’t be judged by her cover, and her final, prominent appearance playfully and properly punctuates how Josh and Melissa prevail over the story’s villain. “It’s a very efficient arc, but it’s still a full arc of a character, which is amazing,” Konoval says. The character has become a fan favorite, with GIFs and memes featuring her catchphrase popping up all over social media.
Konoval has also been drinking up success this year as the author of the book On Constance, which won the Gold Medal in the Independent Book Publishers Association’s Benjamin Franklin Awards in the audiobook: non-fiction category and the Bronze Medal in the non-fiction book category. Currently short-listed for the Whistler Independent Book Awards, On Constance is a memoir of Konoval’s experiences traveling to New Orleans in 2013. While the purpose for the trip was to shoot the second film in the Apes trilogy, this is not a book about the making of the film. Konoval learned from her experience on the first movie that Maurice, the wise old orangutan, was unlike other roles and called for a higher degree of focus, Orangutan being solitary and the least social of the great apes, it was important to creating and maintaining the character to shut out distractions and connect with Maurice, which meant a certain degree of self-reliance and social solitude for Konoval as well.
In order to mitigate any feelings of loneliness, Konoval took a notebook and pen with her as she boarded her train and began chronicling both her physical and internal journey through the Big Easy and her time living on Constance Street. Whether finding herself in the middle of an impromptu dance line in the French Quarter or bonding with a gorilla named Casey at the Audubon Zoo, the time that Konoval spent in New Orleans was a unique and profound experience.
“I thought, ‘This is an interesting story, but I don’t really see what would be the value in sharing it with anyone beyond myself.’”
She began her first attempt to turn her notes into a book in 2015, though she put it aside for a time. “I thought, ‘This is an interesting story, but I don’t really see what would be the value in sharing it with anyone beyond myself,’” Konoval says. It wasn’t until the forced isolation of the pandemic that she started reading through it again and found a new connection to the material. “I suddenly understood a great deal about that story that I’ve never seen in it before. I think it took moving through those three years of somewhat enforced isolation and realizing on a deeper level what is the value of stillness.”
Karin Konoval’s extraordinary career continues to take her to exciting places and allow her to bring a wide variety of characters to life, whether on screen, audio, page or stage. As she continues her journey, it is with a song in her heart, if not always on her lips, and rather than a monkey on her back, she proudly carries an orangutan in her soul. Whatever her next artistic endeavor may be, admiring fans everywhere will no doubt be saying “I’ll drink to that!”
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