Sleazy, creepy, horny and gross are just some of the adjectives that can be used to describe Oleg, the cook at the Brooklyn diner at the center of the hysterically funny CBS sitcom 2 Broke Girls. Often found spewing witty and usually sexually offensive one-liners (check out the “Best of Oleg” montage on YouTube), the Ukrainian character really has a big heart deep inside and has become a reliable friend to the other leads on the series.
Oleg’s portrayer, Jonathan Kite, isn’t anything like the man he plays on TV. The thespian from Chicago honed his craft at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theater Acting) and with the famous improvisational comedy group Second City. In 2003, he headed west to Los Angeles. His career has been on the up and up ever since.
2 Broke Girls became a huge hit for Kite right out of the gate, averaging more than 11 million viewers per week during its freshman season and even won the Favorite New TV Comedy trophy at the 2012 People’s Choice Awards.
Aspire recently spoke to Kite—who also does voiceover work for the Cartoon Network/Adult Swim animated series Black Dynamite and performs as part of an improv comedy troupe—all about his gig on 2 Broke Girls, using accents and what his co-stars are really like…
Congrats on entering your second season! Do you know what’s in store for viewers?
JONATHAN KITE: Honestly, we don’t know until we get to the set, which is kind of fun. Every week, you find out what’s happening. I’ve got the limo service that we touched on a little bit in the season finale, which could be an exciting storyline. There are so many open ends that the writers did such a brilliant job of setting up. It should be fun!
When you started filming the show last year, did you have any idea that it would be as successful as it turned out to be?
JK: When you’re a part of something, yeah, you hope it’s going to be the biggest thing in the world. I think you always hope that everything you do is something that you can believe in and be excited about, which I absolutely was from the moment I read the script. I was laughing out loud alone in my room and I would say that’s a pretty good sign. We just hoped the people would enjoy watching it as much as we enjoyed performing it.
The show is so funny. Does the cast do any ad-libbing or do you guys strictly follow the script?
JK: The script is so damn good and it’s written with such incredible rhythm that we just stick to it. Also, the show is only 22 or 23 minutes and there are very specific beats that the writers have written in to make sure stuff happens before a commercial break. None of us have a problem with it whatsoever because the writing is pretty amazing.
When you auditioned for the role of Oleg, what exactly were the show’s creators looking for?
JK: I knew the casting director and said, “What are you working on?” and she brought up this project. I had been a fan of Whitney Cummings and Michael Patrick King, who are the executive producers, for a long time. She said, “There’s not really a part in it for you because the only Caucasian male in the series regular category is a 45-year-old, bald Russian.” But she heard me do a ton of accents and character voices and said, “Just come in and read for them just so you can, maybe, get a part later in the season or something.” I went in the way that I dress on the show and I had really, really short hair and no beard. The audition is such a long process because you meet up with the producers and then the studio and the network. It’s cool, but it takes a while because they’re making a really important decision and there’s a lot of weight to that. So my hair grows incredibly fast and I had a long beard and long hair when I finally tested for the network. It was one of those things where I got really lucky and they liked it. I was significantly younger that everybody else that I was auditioning with. So that was a cool thing that they picked me.
How did you perfect the accent?
JK: My best friend growing up, his family was born in Russia and Russian was the main language they spoke at home. There was an incredible melting pot of ethnicities where I grew up and went to high school. Just being around them and doing impressions of their parents….
What other accents are you good at?
JK: Um, gosh. I can do a ton of them.
Is speaking with an accent something that comes natural to you?
JK: Yeah, I have an ear for it. I do a lot of impressions [too]. I think it’s just about listening. But that’s what acting is. When you’re learning [an accent], you really focus and just try to pick out the specific sounds and work them enough with the muscles in your mind and in your mouth to let them become second nature.
Do you stand in front of a mirror practicing accents and impressions?
JK: You know, it’s funny—I don’t do the mirror. I don’t particularly care one way or another about what I look like. I have to feel it. I also think the moment you focus on [what you look like], then you can’t focus fully on the thing that you need to be doing. My favorite [way to practice]—and to work on lines too—is by going into the country and getting out of town and really working on it aloud. Or pacing in my room—I just love that. I love the movement and not staying in one place.
By the way, it’s good to hear your normal speaking voice.
JK: I call it my “reality accent.” That’s my “television accent,” this is my “reality accent.” [Laughs]
On 2 Broke Girls, Max and Caroline run a cupcake business. Are the desserts we see on TV real and, if so, do you get to eat them after a shoot?
JK: So, they are real. This one woman who does the cupcakes has been freakin’ awesome for the girls—she’s shown them piping techniques and kind of gone through everything with them. And I have a sweet tooth, so I try to never eat them because once it starts it wont stop. We give them away to audience members when they answer trivia questions.
Let’s talk about each of your amazing co-stars. What is Kat Dennings, who plays feisty Max, like?
JK: Kat is everything I had hoped she’d be and more, honestly. I had been a fan of hers for a long time and have seen most of the movies she’s been in. She really is the rock that we all look to like, “Damn! She has all her stuff together and is so consistent!”
What about Beth Behrs, who plays the optimistic Caroline?
JK: Beth is like my little sister. I love Beth so much! She’s my goofy partner on set—we do the goofiest stuff together and make each other laugh all day.
And Garrett Morris, who plays wise Earl and was part of the original cast of Saturday Night Live when the show premiered in 1975?
JK: Garrett is the best and I have such a respect for him! When I met him at the auditions, I said, “I have your old seasons of Saturday Night Live on my DVD shelf!” He is 75 years old and brings such wisdom to the show and such life experience. There are very few people who have worked as consistently as him. I’m trying to convince him to let me help write a movie about him because there’s so much that people don’t know about him and he is deeper than anyone ever imagined.
You just know that every scene that Garrett’s in is going to be hilarious!
JK: That’s why he’s paid the big bucks! He comes in and nails that line. Every time. And you know if you get the line after Garrett, you’re going to have to wait cause there’s a lot of laughter and applause.
What about your boss on the show, the eager-to-please Han Lee, played by Matthew Moy?
JK: Matt’s my little dude; my man. He’s the guy that I probably hang out with the most. We’re like each other’s sidekick. We went through the audition process together and became good buddies within the first week.
Lastly, tell us about the incomparable Jennifer Coolidge who plays your off-and-on lover Sophie.
JK: Not only do I like her as a person, but also we have so much fun together on set. We have a really special relationship because we play love interests. She’s been an inspiration to so many people, including me. I’ve heard that a lot of female comics say they look to her as the beacon that lit the way for them. Somebody as beautiful as who she is inside and out…. She can make ugly beautiful or beautiful ugly and she’s so unapologetically kooky and charming.
2 Broke Girls premieres Monday, Sept. 24, at 9PM.