Kate McKinnon on the Challenge and Thrill of Doing Political Impressions on SNL

Kate McKinnon, who has impersonated Hillary Clinton and Kellyanne Conway on Saturday Night Live, tells Vanity Fair she loves "to imagine the private lives of these people"

By Zach Johnson Sep 28, 2017 1:55 PMTags
Kate McKinnon, Vanity FairAnnie Leibovitz/Vanity Fair

Live from New York, it's...Kate McKinnon!

Undeniably, the comedienne has become a star in her own right. Over the years, she steadily made a name for herself on NBC's Saturday Night Live, impersonating a variety of political figures like Hillary Clinton, Kellyanne Conway, Betsy DeVos, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Angela Merkel, Kathleen Sebelius, Jeff Sessions, Elizabeth Warren and Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

McKinnon, who won her second Primetime Emmy Award in September, graces the cover of Vanity Fair's November issue (on national newsstands Oct. 10). And in her interview with Lili Anolik, she opens up about the joys of satirizing public officials. "I love doing impressions of politicians because the task is always to imagine the private lives of these people whose job it is to project an image of staunch, unflinching leadership and grace, and that's just not how human beings, in their heart of hearts, work," McKinnon explains. "In doing that for Hillary Clinton, who I admire so much, I started to feel very close to her, just trying to imagine her inner life."

How It Feels to Be Impersonated on SNL
Annie Leibovitz/Vanity Fair

Lorne Michaels, creator and executive producer of SNL, says McKinnon's nuanced takes on famous people are what makes her one of the show's standout performers. "Kate can embody a character and bring it to life and make it funny. But there's also always something empathetic about her characters. And although the writing might not be kind, she is. That's her genius," the respected leader says. "You can't make the audience fall in love with a character you don't like."

But McKinnon is quick to share the credit with her colleagues, saying, "My most frequent collaborators at SNL are the incredibly gifted [head] writers, Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider!"

McKinnon found the perfect foil in Season 42 in Alec Baldwin, a recurring guest star who won an Emmy this year for his impression of President Donald Trump. The characterization came easily, the actor says, because the former business magnate and current commander-in-chief "makes this face like he's snarling and about to leap at you, like he's in a production of Cats."

Trump, of course, detests Baldwin's impression and oftne criticizes SNL. "My thought was that if I did a good impression of Trump it would be dull. So I ran towards this idea that I'm going to do a horrific caricature. When you're doing an impression, you can suggest the voice, or the way the guy looks, but you've really got to think of who he is, and get that right, and I think I did," Baldwin muses. "In terms of the media, I'm Trump now. He's not even Trump anymore—I am."

(E! and NBC are both members of the NBCUniversal family.)

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