With scene-stealing roles in A.P. Bio, Documentary Now!, and Wine Country, Paula Pell is having one hell of a year. The comedian worked on SNL for nearly two decades before moving in front of the camera, and now she’s trading barbs on screen with some of her 30 Rock colleagues in Netflix’s new wine-soaked comedy. As Val, an antique store owner with a penchant for high-tech vibrators, Pell gets many of the funniest lines, and the scenes where she’s trying to court a young artist played by Maya Erskine (of Pen15 fame) are some of the most oddly moving moments in the film. After watching her breakout performance in the new Amy Poehler-directed comedy, Eater thought Pell would be the perfect fit for The Famous Original Eater Questionnaire, an interview series where we ask the most exciting people in Hollywood about their dining habits.
Welcome to The Famous Original Eater Questionnaire. What was the last thing that you ate?
Last night I had a delicious meal of halibut, broccolini, and this really good shrimp that was in a sea of chile oil. I’m a pescatarian, so that was heaven for me.
What was the last thing you drank?
Coffee this morning. I usually drink only iced coffee, but they didn’t have it [at the hotel] so I have been drinking hot coffee, which always seems to jack me up a little more, I don’t know why.
When and where was the last time you had a hot dog?
I eat hot dogs all the time — vegetarian dogs. There’s such a good one… I don’t think I can remember the name, but they have it at Gelson’s. It’s such a good, fancy veggie hot dog, and I cut it up and eat it in a bowl with sauerkraut and Dijon mustard. That’s my lunch jam.
What is your favorite, but admittedly strange food combination?
I love ketchup on eggs, but I don’t know if that’s too strange. I used to eat regular Cheerios in milk with Hershey’s syrup. I also just love salt. I’m a very salty person and I have low blood pressure. The doctor said that’s probably why I love salt, because it raises your blood pressure. But I love salty things like olives, pickles, and crackers. I’m also a creature of habit, and I love a good homemade pasta with an incredible red sauce. I’ve found a couple of places in LA that serve my favorite kind of red sauce and I’ll just crave that.
What are some of your favorite red sauce places in LA?
Well, my favorite favorite place is Madeo, which I used to live a block from. They moved because they were renovating that building, so now they’re in Beverly Hills and I haven’t been to that new one. But when I was single and in between relationships, I rented a house in West Hollywood and would walk there easily three to four times a week and go sit at the bar and have a meal, either fish or pasta, with a good glass of wine, and be in my absolute heaven.
Is there any food that you love that you didn’t try until later in life?
You know, I didn’t try sushi until I was in my late 20s, and now I absolutely love sushi. But one thing that I never liked, weirdly, even though I ate fish so much, was smoked salmon. And then when I lived on the Lower East Side for a while in New York, years after I had lived there for SNL, I used to go to... I can’t think of the name of any place, but one of the very iconic…
Russ & Daughters?
Yes, Russ & Daughters, thank you. I would eat lox there and I became so obsessed with smoked salmon. So now I’ll order that, which I never used to, and I always think about how your palate does change. You think you’re not going to like something, and then you try it. I had this weird aversion when I was young to cooked celery, like if anything had cooked celery in it, I would take it all out and leave a little pile, and I love celery in things now. It’s just weird how you have that one thing in your head where you’re like, “That’s what I don’t like.”
I read that Wine Country is based on a vacation or two that the cast took in real life. Did any of your favorite moments make it on screen?
Well, yes, quite a few things happened that happen in that movie. We had a lot of fun dancing, and I may have been topless at some point. I definitely did “Dildo Claus” in real life where I gave everyone vibrators that were very expensive — high end ones, very high tech. They’re all Bluetooth! I don’t know what that means, I just made that up. You can download the weather and news on them? Anyway, I have a lot of photos and videos from the real trip and when I look at them, it’s amazing how much they captured the fun parts of us there.
You have the funniest lines in the movie. Was that you riffing? Or was it in the script?
A lot of it was in the script, and then because they trusted us and Amy knew all of our moves, she would leave a little breathing room. But it wasn’t like “let’s all go and improvise,” it was a very well-written script, so we could just play. Toward the end when you do a couple takes, you knew that you could blow it out a little bit and add a different ending, or say something on the way out. I’m not usually the one that’s being just the actor, so it’s just really fun to be handed a “beautiful meal” in eating terms.
My favorite scenes are when you’re at the wineries and you’re all oblivious to the tasting notes. Does that reflect your approach to wine?
It’s so funny. Because I started going to Madeo and other Italian restaurants, I got more of a palate for good wine, and learned that you feel so much better the next day when you drink good wine as opposed to what I call “event wine.” It just always still makes me laugh when people go on and on about a wine, and you’re just trying not to roll your eyes, because you’re just like, “I don’t think that’s true, I know if you can taste the diamonds that’s in it.” But then there’s some stuff that’s absolutely so legit, so I enjoy any kind of documentary about wine and wineries and how they’ll always be a person in it that’s calling out the bullshit but also talking about the magic of it, because it is a pretty magical thing.
If you’re going to buy wine for the house, what do you gravitate toward?
I love Brunellos and Montepulcianos. I’m half Italian, and I just like those kind of earthy, big wines. And then I like French wines. I love Gamay, but I just don’t like sweet wine, and I’m not a huge jammy wine lover — I don’t love Pinot Noir. I’ll drink it absolutely, but I like Chianti, just something that tastes like a real, earthy, good wine.
Do you have a universal dinner party soundtrack?
Sometimes I’ll just put on my mix of stuff, but a lot of times, because everyone’s so chatty and you have people over, I’ll worry about what I’ve put on and in 10 minutes turn it down to nothing, because you’re like, “It’s too confusing to have music on with people talking.” Sometimes, you just do something really quiet and mellow. My fiancé is actually a wonderful cook, so I like to make a salad and make everything look and smell pretty, but I’m not the one that’s creating the real meal experience. My girlfriend is doing that, because she’s Cuban and can make some really delicious things.
I love how the movie introduces the idea of “DUI songs.” Were the songs in the film your actual secret drunk favorites?
They weren’t, but they were all songs that I know that we’ve all probably danced to as a group in the office of SNL. They’re all really fun songs, and it was easy to dance to those songs and goof around with them because they were things that bring us joy. A lot of times at SNL, you had stress or complete delirious exhaustion, and someone would put on a song, and like in the movie Fame, we’d be dancing on the hoods of the cars.
Do you have a favorite chain restaurant?
I really like Houston’s, and I love the salad at Olive Garden. On Amazon, I order the dressing from Olive Garden and the croutons, and I get black olives and I make an Olive Garden salad. I know it’s like the whitest lettuce, but it is so freaking delicious. I also love a Filet-o-Fish with pickles on it. I like to call the Filet-o-Fish the “hook in my sadness.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.