As Dr. Belinda Brown on HBO’s new comedy “Vice Principals,” Kimberly Hébert Gregory has arguably the best character introduction in television history.
After all, who else can say they’ve replaced Bill Murray.
The “Rushmore” and “Lost in Translation” actor appears in Episode one as the retiring high school principal who she eventually succeeds.
“It was like walking in on God in a meeting,” Gregory told TheWrap of her brief brush with Murray on set.
Gregory stars opposite Walton Goggins and Danny McBride, who also co-created the show with his “Eastbound & Down” partner Jody Hill. The two men play disgruntled high school vice principals bent on taking down the new woman in charge.
As the two angry white men spray a constant barrage of politically incorrect behavior behind the back of their newfound arch enemy, the real surprise of the show unfolds as what may seem like a two-dimensional raucous comedy on the surface eventualy reveals three-dimensional characters.
“There’s a brokenness in Lee Russell and Gamby,” Gregory said of Goggins’ and McBride’s characters. “Belinda left her husband and she’s trying to make it with two kids,” she added, describing her character’s background.
“Ultimately, the most shocking part of the show is its heart,” she said. “Their behavior comes from a real place. They’re not just a-holes. They’re really fighting for something.”
When it came to bringing on Murray, McBride worked up the nerve to ask him to make his key cameo when the two were filming 2015’s “Rock the Kasbah.”
Murray accepted, providing a “fantastic, classic Bill Murray” baton pass to the rising comedic actress, which she said was the key to kicking off the show.
“That first episode at the flag pole and then on stage with his wife. Hilarious!” said Gregory of the actor’s early scenes in the series — which airs its Season 1 finale Sunday night.
While Gregory and Murray don’t technically share any scenes, their time on set overlapped momentarily.
“I walked into hair and makeup and he was sitting there,” Gregory recalled. “I completely freaked out — ‘Can I be in here?’ I lost my mind for a second. They said, ‘You’re fine.’ It was just Bill, me and someone doing his hair. I thought I had interrupted.”
Gregory recalled their exchange, in which Murray acknowledged “Oh, you’re the new principal,” adding ” “great role.” The actress, still astounded by her accidental discovery, remembered saying, “Thank you” and then “I just sort of bolted out of there.”
Murray’s easy amiability served as a precursor for the vibe on set, one which Gregory says is fun and relaxed. “They’re so normal,” she said of McBride and Goggins. “We’ll talk about preschool and kids … They treat me just like family.”
The group filmed straight from Season 1 into Season 2, which has already wrapped. When asked what we can expect, Gregory said: “You’re going to go deeper into their personal lives — particularly Gamby’s (McBride’s) life. And that makes the comedy erupt even more. Of course, they’re all a mess.”