What actress Ellie Kemper did right (and wrong) in her 20s

Betsy Wagner
Senior Producer

Actress Ellie Kemper has made a career out of being likable (okay, lovable), funny (okay, hilarious), and sweet (so, so sweet). But don’t let that sunny disposition fool you: Ellie Kemper is as competitive, hard-working and determined as any Fortune 500 CEO.

“I've always been competitive,” she told Yahoo Finance’s Jen Rogers during an interview for the series My Three Cents. “My parents are both very hard workers ... I feel like they have a drive and a strong work ethic and they're very disciplined. I feel like I must've picked that up from them.”

Kemper reflected on the path to her success in her book, “My Squirrel Days,” a collection of amusing and charming essays, which was just released in paperback. But we wanted to know more, namely this: Looking back, what does the now 39-year-old Kemper think she did right at the start of her career — and what did she do wrong?

“I think what I did right in my 20s is I took all of the classes on improv and auditioning and commercial auditioning that I could,” she said. “This was really before the digital era, I think. So there was a lot of actual putting on your one- person show and creating that. And I feel like I did a good job getting those out there.”

Before her big breaks on “The Office” and in “Bridesmaids” — and long before her starring role in “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” — Kemper wrote and performed her own one-woman shows in “improv basements.” She says that while they didn’t pay the rent, they were instrumental in honing her skills and making a name for herself.

But what does this graduate of Princeton and Oxford wish she had done differently as a 20-something?

“What I would do differently is, I probably would present myself maybe not as timidly,” she admitted to Rogers. “It was easier to almost say, ‘Oh, I'm nervous’ and ‘Oh, I don't know what I'm doing.’ I think if you take ownership of your confidence a little earlier ... you don't have to be apologetic, you don't have to keep talking about how you're nervous. You either need to pretend that you're not nervous, or you need to just not be nervous. Because in your 20’s, you're not a teenager, you're like learning how to get by in a big city and pursuing a new career. And okay, let's get to it.”

Kemper is currently expecting her second baby with husband Michael Koman, and working on her latest work baby: an interactive ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ special for Netflix.


Read more from My Three Cents:

My Three Cents is a weekly interview series that explores celebrities’ history with — and relationship to — money and career. Find it exclusively on Yahoo Finance.

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