We all know that voice. Alex Borstein's signature nasal voice (exaggerated for TV) is either recognized as Ms. Swan from "MADtv" or as the sarcastic Lois from "Family Guy," but in her latest role, she's almost unidentifiable. Gone are the costumes of sketch comedy; Borstein is playing a real-life, non-animated woman, Dawn, who works at an extended-care wing of a hospital.
Yes, in HBO's "Getting On," Borstein is tackling a new challenge, where she's dealing in drama rather than solely comedy, and it's not just a bit part. She co-stars with two other well-known leading comedy ladies, Laurie Metcalf ("Roseanne," "Big Bang Theory") and Niecy Nash ("The Soul Man," "Reno 911!"). As odd a trio as ever, somehow the chemistry really, really works.
HuffPost TV chatted with Borstein about "Getting On," working with these amazing women, and the highs and lows of sharing the screen with elderly actors.
HuffPost TV: "Getting On" isn't wholly a comedy, nor is it a drama. I wouldn't know quite what to call it.
Alex Borstein: That's one of the reasons I love it so much! It's really difficult to define and it's such an interesting tone. It's not what you see every day. It's either going to really hit home with people, and people will love it, or they'll say 'What the hell is this?' I think audiences are starting to desire more of that. I should say that at least I am. I know, watching "Breaking Bad," I was just as much enamoured with the comedic moments as the really dark turns.
These "niche" shows -- I'll use "Orange Is The New Black" as an example -- are huge right now. On TV, we're really entering these worlds we never even thought of before.
Yeah, and as an actor, to get to play a character like this, it doesn't come along every day. Especially at my age, it's like, 'You play the mom! Here's how to define your character -- she's a mom! You're the put-upon wife!' There's not a lot of room to be a person, and I feel so lucky to be playing a real, live human being. She's a beautiful mess. She's stuck at a junior-high level of maturity, but in this position where peoples' lives depend on her.
Do you like being able to work your dramatic chops rather than solely comedy?
Yeah, for sure. I guess I wouldn't say, "Oh, I really like doing the drama for the sake of doing the drama," but I do like playing a complete person. Most of the roles I've had have been smaller, too, where I work for a couple days, or if it's a movie I go in for a couple weeks. This is such a different animal, and I'm there for the long haul.
Going into palliative care wards, hospices, or long-term care facilities isn't easy. Had you ever, before this, had experience in your life with these sorts of environments?
I did. I lost my grandmother a few years ago and went through this experience. There were many times on set for this show when I'd get all choked up. One of the first scenes in the episode is when I'm holding this patient's hand, and just holding her hand made me very emotional. It's a part of life that no one really wants to talk about, even though we're all going to go out that way. Specifically, this is a women's ward. We're all going to lose our moms, and we're going to be orphans, whether we're 20, 40, 50 or 60. I don't think it ever gets easier to lose your mother. Women become so invisible after a certain age, and I just love that "Getting On" gives them visibility.
What is it like working with so many elderly actors?
A lot of the women we're working with, they're facing [death and dying]. They're looking down the barrel; some of them are in their 80s and 90s. One of the women cast in the pilot had to be recast at the last minute because she fell in real life and broke her shoulder. It's a really fragile place that these people are in, and it's really touching to get to know them.
How do you deal with that? Is it sad on set?
Every woman who's working on the show is so brilliant and so good. It's such an untapped market. They're all so happy to be working and playing real people, so that would always bring me back between takes. We had a lot of fun with these seasoned, amazing women. Jane Squibb plays a part in one of our episodes [Ed. Note: She steals the entire episode], and I think she's going to become a household name. She's so funny. But yeah, their humour sort of balances out any feelings of melancholy I may have. It's like the show itself - laughing and crying all at once.
The casting is great, and kind of unusual. The trio at the top - you, Laurie Metcalf and Niecy Nash - is not one I would expect to see, but somehow it works.
No! [Laughs] I know! It's so nice. It's lovely that we're not babies in this industry anymore. We're grown-up, we're settled, we have families. It's such a pleasure. There's no bullshit, there's no drama. We all got along famously. And we all love to eat! [Laughs] We'll watch other people's scenes, and just be in awe of each other. We're constantly in love with each other's scenes. Sometimes we get lost, as well, like when I work with Laurie, sometimes I forget to speak I'm so engrossed in what she's saying.
How does your character, Dawn, grow over the six episodes of "Getting On"?
I think she's an adorable mess. She's a complete slob on the inside, but she thinks she has it all together with her handband and pins. Niecy and Laurie, their characters, see right through Dawn. She can be manipulative, but she desperately wants to please everyone. She wants to feel in control -- she sees Laurie's character as her mom, and really wants to make sure she's happy. Dawn is like a 13-year-old in a grown woman's body, relationship-wise and maturity-wise.
Does she ever find love or any sort of reciprocation from anybody?
Well, I don't think she knows the difference between sex and love. She gets close to people, and has ... [Laughs] interesting things happen with people. I don't know if it can be described as love. But every time someone even looks at Dawn, to her it's love. One of the reasons she works in the extended-care wing is because she knows that she's probably going to end up alone like many of them. She wants to know that someone will be there to take care of her when her time comes.
"Getting On" premieres on HBO and HBO Canada on November 24 at 10 p.m. EST/MST.
"21 Jump Street"
It all begins here, as baby-faced rookie Officer Tom Hanson (Johnny Depp) is assigned to an elite squad of young undercover cops -- Judy Hoffs (Holly Robinson Peete), Doug Penhall (Peter DeLuise) and Harry Truman Ioki (Dustin Nguyen) -- to infiltrate high schools and fight crime. <a href="http://www.hulu.com/21-jump-street" target="_blank">All 103 episodes are available on Hulu and Hulu Plus</a>.
If you're only used to seeing Rowan Atkinson as Mr. Bean and Hugh Laurie as Dr. House, prepare to look at them in a whole new light in this critically-acclaimed British comedy. Set in significant time periods from the Dark Ages through World War I, "Blackadder" recounts the adventures of Edmund Blackadder, the most despicable and brilliant rogue ever to pursue a coin or a pretty woman. <a href="http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/Blackadder/70140363" target="_blank">All four self-contained seasons are available on Netflix</a>.
"Braquo" follows a squad of Paris cops who exist in the blurred boundaries at the very edge of the law, often using violence and intimidation to get the job done. The lives of these officers change radically when their squad leader, falsely accused of corruption, commits suicide. <a href="http://www.hulu.com/braquo" target="_blank">The first two seasons are available to Hulu and Hulu Plus viewers</a>.
You still have time to catch up before the end! A high school chemistry teacher dying of cancer teams with a former student to manufacture and sell crystal meth to secure his family's future. <a href="http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/Breaking_Bad/70143836" target="_blank">Seasons 1-4 and the first half of currently-airing Season 5 are available on Netflix. </a>
"Buffy the Vampire Slayer"
Before "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." and "The Crazy Ones" debut in September, see where it all began for Joss Whedon and Sarah Michelle Gellar with the beloved cult hit about a teenage girl who fulfills her mystical calling as a Slayer by protecting humankind from vampires, demons and other malevolent supernatural creatures. <a href="http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/Buffy_the_Vampire_Slayer/70140365" target="_blank">All seven seasons are available on Netflix</a>.
Disbarred lawyer Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) enrolls in a local community college. While there, he forms a study group who eventually learn more about themselves than their course work. <a href="http://www.hulu.com/community" target="_blank">Hulu Plus subscribers can watch all 84 episodes</a> of Dan Harmon's quirky, critically-acclaimed comedy, while regular Hulu users can watch the last five episodes of Season 4.
When the Belfast police are stalled in their investigation of a spate of murders, Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) is drafted to investigate. Under her lead, the team uncovers an intricate web of lives entangled by the killings. <a href="http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/The_Fall/70272726" target="_blank">Season 1 is available on Netflix</a>.
This highly successful comedy series follows the unique Keaton family as their views on politics and life clash to give us humorous family moments. One of the most popular sitcoms of the '80s, the show launched Michael J. Fox into superstardom. <a href="http://www.hulu.com/family-ties" target="_blank">All seven seasons are available on Hulu and Hulu Plus</a>.
"The Good Wife"
Julianna Margulies ignites the screen as Alicia Florrick, the political wife whose world is shattered when her husband (Chris Noth) is caught in a sex and corruption scandal. Forced to support her family, Alicia returns to work at a Chicago law firm headed by Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) and Will Gardner (Josh Charles), a driven attorney with a passion for justice. <a href="http://www.hulu.com/the-good-wife" target="_blank">Seasons 1 through 4 are now available on Hulu Plus</a>, just in time for you to catch up for fall.
Ellen Pompeo stars in this Emmy-winning medical drama as Dr. Meredith Grey, a young surgical intern (and eventual resident) who's caught up in a swirl of personal and professional passions with fellow doctors at Seattle Grace Hospital. <a href="http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/Grey_s_Anatomy/70140391" target="_blank">Seasons 1-9 are streaming on Netflix</a>.
"I Love Lucy"
Lucy Ricardo is a scatterbrained housewife whose husband, Ricky, is a bandleader at a nightclub. Lucy and Ricky's best friends are landlords Fred and Ethel Mertz who often become unwitting participants in Lucy's get-rich-quick and other wild schemes. <a href="http://www.hulu.com/i-love-lucy" target="_blank">102 episodes of the legendary comedy are available on Hulu and Hulu Plus</a>.
"The Inbetweeners" is a painfully funny British comedy about four teenagers growing up in suburbia. Both seasons are available on <a href="http://www.hulu.com/the-inbetweeners" target="_blank">Hulu</a> and <a href="http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/The_Inbetweeners/70157196" target="_blank">Netflix</a>, and <a href="http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/The_Inbetweeners_Movie/70241078" target="_blank">the sequel movie is also available on Netflix</a>.
"The Mary Tyler Moore Show"
Mary Tyler Moore stars in "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," one of the most realistic, well written and enduring situation comedies of all time. The show spawned more successful spinoffs ("Lou Grant," "Rhoda" and "Phyllis") than any other sitcom in history, and its creative alumni have created such shows as "The Simpsons," "The Cosby Show" and "Cheers". <a href="http://www.hulu.com/the-mary-tyler-moore-show" target="_blank">The first three seasons are available for Hulu and Hulu Plus viewers</a>.
A quirky comedy about 12-year-old Martin Moone and his bearded, sarcastic, imaginary friend Sean (Chris O’Dowd). Martin’s imaginary pal plays the banjo, writes bad love poetry, and helps Martin navigate the challenges of his eccentric childhood. <a href="http://www.hulu.com/moone-boy" target="_blank">Hulu and Hulu Plus subscribers can watch the first season</a> (a charming and all-too-brief six episodes) now.
"Once Upon a Time"
Jennifer Morrison, Ginnifer Goodwin, Josh Dallas and Robert Carlyle star in this fantastical series that follows the travails of a young woman who is drawn to a small Maine town and discovers that it's filled with the mystical elements of the fairy tale world. <a href="http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/Once_Upon_a_Time/70197049" target="_blank">Both seasons are available on Netflix</a>, while <a href="http://www.hulu.com/once-upon-a-time" target="_blank">Season 2 is available to Hulu Plus subscribers</a>.
"Orange is the New Black"
Jump on the bandwagon and find out what everyone's buzzing about. From the creator of “Weeds” comes a heartbreaking and hilarious new series set in a women’s prison. Piper Chapman’s wild past comes back to haunt her, resulting in her arrest and detention in a federal penitentiary. To pay her debt to society, Piper trades her comfortable New York life for an orange prison jumpsuit and finds unexpected conflict and camaraderie amidst an eccentric group of inmates. <a href="http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/Orange_Is_the_New_Black/70242311" target="_blank">Season 1 is available exclusively on Netflix</a>, as are other Netflix original series "<a href="http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/Arrested_Development/70140358" target="_blank">Arrested Development</a>," "<a href="http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/House_of_Cards/70178217" target="_blank">House of Cards</a>" and "<a href="http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/Hemlock_Grove/70242310" target="_blank">Hemlock Grove</a>."
"Parks and Recreation"
In this droll comedy, an employee with a rural Parks and Recreation department is full of energy and good ideas but bogged down by bureaucracy. <a href="http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/Parks_and_Recreation/70143842" target="_blank">Seasons 1-4 are available on Netflix</a>, <a href="http://www.nbc.com/parks-and-recreation/video/categories/season-5-ep-1-9/784804/?view=thumbnail" target="_blank">Season 5 is available in full on NBC.com</a> and <a href="http://www.hulu.com/parks-and-recreation" target="_blank">Hulu</a>.
The Emmy-winning series about a scientist caught in a time warp, catapulting from the past to the future within the bodies of different people. <a href="http://www.hulu.com/quantum-leap" target="_blank">Hulu Plus viewers can watch all 97 episodes, while Hulu users can check out 56</a>.
Fifteen years after electricity stopped working and the world was sent back into the dark ages -- with small agrarian communities of families working together -- three companions go on a quest to uncover the truth about the mysterious blackout. <a href="http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/Revolution/70241953" target="_blank">The first season is now available on Netflix</a>.
Olivia Pope leads a team of Washington, D.C., lawyers who specialize in making scandals disappear. As they secretly handle crises at the highest levels of government, the dysfunctional team must also cope with problems closer to home. <a href="http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/Scandal/70197057" target="_blank">Both seasons of the hit ABC drama are available on Netflix</a>, while <a href="http://www.hulu.com/scandal" target="_blank">Season 2 is available to Hulu Plus subscribers</a>.
This gritty drama focuses on the tension between a group of corrupt but effective cops led by Detective Vic Mackey; a captain with the burden of bringing them down as well as reducing crime in her district; and a City Councilman out for his own political gain. <a href="http://www.hulu.com/the-shield" target="_blank">Hulu Plus subscribers can watch all 7 seasons, while Hulu viewers can currently watch Seasons 3 and 4</a>.
Before "Shaun of the Dead," "Hot Fuzz" and "The World's End" there was "Spaced," written by Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson, and directed by Edgar Wright. Slacker twentysomething artist Tim (Pegg) and his brooding writer flatmate, Daisy (Stevenson), do everything possible to avoid adulthood in this surreal sitcom. <a href="http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/Spaced/70220281" target="_blank">Both seasons are available on Netflix</a>.
"The Thick Of It"
The new Doctor, Peter Capaldi, first charmed British audiences in this biting political comedy from "Veep" creator Armando Iannucci about the inner workings of the British government. Tide yourself over with all four seasons until "Doctor Who" and "Veep" return. <a href="http://www.hulu.com/the-thick-of-it" target="_blank">The entire series is available on Hulu and Hulu Plus</a>.
"Top of the Lake"
When pregnant, 12-year-old Tui tries to kill herself in a freezing New Zealand lake, Detective Robin Griffin (Elisabeth Moss) has plenty of questions for the girl. But when Tui suddenly disappears, Griffin finds herself knee-deep in small-town secrets. <a href="http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/Top_of_the_Lake/70267274" target="_blank">The tense miniseries is available in its entirety on Netflix</a>.
"The Twilight Zone"
Rod Serling's seminal anthology series is focused on ordinary folks who suddenly find themselves in extraordinary, usually supernatural, situations. <a href="http://www.hulu.com/twilight-zone" target="_blank">All five original seasons of this enduring classic are available on Hulu and Hulu Plus</a>.
The sensational murder of the high school homecoming queen strips the veneer of respectable gentility from the picturesque rural community of Twin Peaks to expose the seething undercurrents of illicit passion, greed, jealously and intrigue. FBI agent Dale Cooper and Sheriff Harry S Truman join forces to investigate the crime and discover a town full of secrets. Both seasons are available on <a href="http://www.hulu.com/twin-peaks" target="_blank">Hulu</a> and <a href="http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/Twin_Peaks/70153408" target="_blank">Netflix</a>.
"The West Wing"
Aaron Sorkin's powerful political epic chronicles the triumphs and travails of White House senior staff under the administration of President Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen). The acclaimed ensemble cast features Stockard Channing, Allison Janney, Rob Lowe, Richard Schiff, John Spencer and Bradley Whitford as members of the president's inner circle. <a href="http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/The_West_Wing/70157152" target="_blank">All seven seasons are available on Netflix</a>.