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Kate McKinnon shares new details on ‘SNL’ exit, how breaking character made her feel ‘ashamed’

The 38-year-old Emmy winner opened up about her time on NBC's legendary sketch comedy show in a tearful new interview.
/ Source: TODAY

Kate McKinnon may be famous for making people laugh, but the 38-year-old Emmy winner got downright tearful during a new interview about her time on "Saturday Night Live."

McKinnon, who left NBC's legendary sketch comedy show in May after 11 seasons, opened up on Vulture’s “Good One” podcast about what the show and her colleagues — whom she called "an absolute family of people" — meant to her.

Kate McKinnon
Kate McKinnon opened up about her time on "Saturday Night Live" in a new podcast interview, explaining that simply working alongside her fellow cast members "are the moments that meant the most."Charles Sykes / AP

For McKinnon, who dreamed of being on "SNL" ever since she was a child, simply working alongside her fellow cast members filled her with joy.

"The most meaningful moments were moments when, like on a Friday night at rehearsal, I decided to stop and look around at the people who I loved so much and just make a memory of it," she said, stifling tears.

During the interview, the “Tiger King” star talked at length about one of her most beloved “SNL” characters, Colleen Rafferty, the potty-mouthed woman who is, for whatever reason, repeatedly abducted by aliens.

"This is just a person who I knew would talk exactly like me, so it was just the addition of a pretzel stick as a cigarette — that was the only, like, character-building element. That’s me, baby. That’s how I am. That’s how I talk. I’m Rafferty, all right. I’m made of junk," she joked.

She added, "Nothing about it was a stretch at all, so it was really nice."

The first time McKinnon appeared as Colleen in a sketch, her outlandish antics caused fellow cast members Cecily Strong and Aidy Bryant and guest host Ryan Gosling to erupt in laughter.

"Looking back on my decade at 'SNL,' it was the greatest thing ever," recalled McKinnon. "Every time we rehearsed it, there was laughter, and it just felt like soaring, just performing it. That’s because the writing was so good, and I was so excited for people to hear the turns of phrase that the guys had written, and they responded in a way that I hoped they would."

"It was certainly one of the top three moments I’ve had doing sketch comedy," she added.

Saturday Night Live - Season 47
McKinnon revived her alien abductee character, Colleen Rafferty, in her final episode of "Saturday Night Live."NBC

Though McKinnon relished making her co-stars break character, she cringed whenever she herself laughed during a sketch.

"I felt ashamed, because we’re not supposed to (break character), and there’s something unprofessional about it. And yet sometimes it was just too fun," she said.

"There was a hint, I guess, of wanting the audience to know like, Oh, man, I love this. You have no idea how much I love Aidy Bryant and how much I love this job and how much I love these jokes. So sometimes I would allow myself to just go there," she added.

The "Office Christmas Party" star revived the character of Colleen one last time to say goodbye to fans during her final "SNL" episode in May.

"I felt like I really did just want to say, 'Thank you. And thank you for watching.' But then I had an unexpected moment when I was walking out of the studio, an hour or so later, and there was still a bunch of people waiting. I got to, like, give a bunch of hugs and I felt like, Wow, this is why I was doing this the whole time," she recalled.

Leaving "SNL" was not an easy decision for McKinnon. The actor explained last month on "Live with Kelly and Ryan" that her "body was tired" after more than a decade of the show's famously tough schedule.

"I definitely was not sure when the right time to go was. Leaving was in the back of my mind for a while, because it’s just a grueling schedule," McKinnon reiterated during the podcast interview.

"I mean, I could do it for the rest of my life, happily, if the schedule were not so grueling and if I was not naturally a person who liked to wake up at 8 a.m. and go to bed at midnight," she added.

However, when it came time to tell Lorne Michaels, the show's creator and producer, that she was planning to leave, McKinnon was overwhelmed with emotion.

"Telling Lorne was really hard," McKinnon said, fighting back tears again. "He knew it was coming. He was very sweet. But he has been a father figure to me, and so much more."

"It was just really hard — simple human emotions, not wanting to say good-bye to something you love."