Chicago suburbs stand in for Kansas on HBO’s ‘Somebody Somewhere’
The team behind the series, starring comedian Bridget Everett, picked the location to draw from Chicago’s ‘insane’ pool of talent.
The specifics of “Somebody Somewhere,” a dramedy series premiering next week on HBO, are entirely Midwestern. It takes place amid the sprawling cornfields, limestone houses and abandoned strip malls that made up comedian Bridget Everett’s Kansas-based childhood.
The show, though, was shot in suburban Chicago, mostly Lockport and Warrenville, and that’s no secret. Hannah Bos, the Evanston-born co-writer of the script, says the choice was pretty clear: Shoot near Chicago and you get to work with Chicago-based talent.
“The crew and the actors were so good,” Bos says. “We cast a lot of roles out of Chicago, and the talent pool was insane. It was exciting to have so many choices for so many roles. I’m biased because I love the Chicago style of acting — which I feel is very grounded, very real, very nuanced — and we had many wonderful actors to draw on to fill our world in.”
“Somebody Somewhere,” debuting Jan. 16, stars the exuberant and fearless comedian Bridget Everett as Sam, and is based on her life. Set in the Manhattan, Kansas area, where Everett grew up, it follows Sam as she deals with a midlife crisis of sorts: Her sister unexpectedly passes away, which leads her to move back home to spend time with her parents and sister. In the process, she reconnects with some folks from her high school who never left and discovers within herself the kind of person she wants to be.
Savvy local comedy and theater fans will note a collection of Chicago’s heavy hitters on “Somebody Somewhere.” Chief among them is Mike Hagerty as Everett’s father, Ed Miller. Hagerty kicked off his career at Second City in the 1980s before gracing “Cheers,” “The Wonder Years,” “Martin,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and even “Star Trek: The Next Generation” with his good cheer, great Chicago twang and even better Ditka-esque mustache.
Danny McCarthy, an alum of Steppenwolf Theatre and A Red Orchid Theatre, plays Everett’s shifty brother-in-law. Other Chicago-bred performers include Brian King (“Candyman,” “Chicago Fire”) and Jon Hudson Odom (Steppenwolf, Goodman).
You won’t find any details in “Somebody Somewhere” that blatantly betray its true shooting location — no Willis Tower looming large over supposed heartland farmland. Instead, Bos (who created the series with her writing partner Paul Thureen) plays with language and tone to lend a particular Midwesternliness; characters crack wise at family members’ expenses and lean heavily into dark humor.
“I see a lot of stories about the Midwest that are making fun of the Midwest, or there’s a hokey-ness or quirkiness,” Bos says. “We wanted to make it as grounded as possible, not making fun of the characters.”
Much of that boils down to emotional awareness, or lack thereof. “There’s a style of communication that’s different in the Midwest, or at least where I’m from, than it is coastal,” says Everett, 49, currently based in New York. “Half of my friends are in therapy, and everybody’s always communicating [about] how [they] feel. In Kansas, it was not like that — it was, ‘Make fun of each other until someone cries,’ and that was usually me.”
Bos (“Driveways,” “High Maintenance”) received the opportunity to tell Everett’s story by way of producers Carolyn Strauss and the filmmaking brothers Jay and Mark Duplass. Everett had a deal at HBO, and Strauss, having previously worked with Bos and Thureen, pulled them in based on their Midwestern roots.
Bos and Strauss were fans of Everett’s captivating live stage show, a set of both stand-up comedy and cabaret-style anthems. On occasion, Everett becomes so absorbed in her physical performance that she inadvertently flashes audience members.
“Her show is sometimes bawdy, sometimes heartbreaking,” Bos says. “She has the ability to do these collisions where you’re suddenly laughing and crying at the same time, and then she’ll sing a Christmas song and then her boobs are out. It’s a high form of performance that we loved, and we were trying to find a story that would really show all of her different sides.”
The pilot script was completed and shooting began in 2018, stretching to the following year. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed production until May 2021, at which point the show’s first season episodes were completed.
Everett, 49, says that the characters are molded from her real-life Kansas kin. She lost her own sister at 36, and the show includes some specific elements of that relationship. Her actual mother resembles Jane Brody’s character, though a bit tamped down. “[My actual mom] is so larger-than-life,” Everett says. “Her favorite cuss word is mother- - - - - - sh- - -er a- -er. She doesn’t seem real, she seemed like a clown.”
Everett says she never had a close relationship with her actual father, but on “Somebody Somewhere,” the two are close.
As Sam is having a mixed homecoming, Bos says that her own experience was unambiguously positive. “I was so happy to come back as a medium grown-up and get to work in my hometown,” she says. “It was an hour from my mom, and I hadn’t seen her during the pandemic. got to hug her for the first time as soon as I drove out. … This show is a really big deal for me, and to do it in my home state — we knew that the crew was great and the locations would be beautiful. We couldn’t be happier with shooting in Chicago.”