In most versions of the classic 1831 Victor Hugo tale, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, the female protagonist is Esmeralda, a French Romani girl who is so beautiful that every major male character in the story either wants to marry her or seduce her. (She’s also only 16 in the novel—a book from over 200 years ago). For all her kindness and compassion, Esmeralda is basically treated terribly throughout the story and finally ends up hanged for a crime she didn’t commit, just as she reunites with her long-lost birth mother.
Quasi, a satirical new take on the story from the Broken Lizard crew (Super Troopers), has a decidedly different view of its female lead. Directed by Broken Lizard’s Kevin Heffernan and written by him and the rest of the team—Steve Lemme, Jay Chandrasekhar, Paul Soter, and Erik Stolhanske—the film dispenses with the tragic Esmeralda in favor of Catherine (Adrianne Palicki). Katherine is the (still beautiful) new Queen of 13th century France and she is both amused by and way ahead of everyone else around her, including her husband King Guy (Chandrasekhar) and the Pope Cornelius (Soter). Both leaders hire the same man, the deformed torturer Quasi (Lemme), to assassinate each other, while Catherine and Quasi developing an affection for each other.
“She’s definitely the smartest person in the room,” Palicki tells us. “A lot of times, queens are made to be the evil character, especially in movies like this. What drew me to it, outside of working with the guys and that it’s hilarious, was the fact that it was just different than anything I’ve ever done.”
As one might discern from the description above, this is a very loose (to put it kindly) adaptation of the classic story, with the characters speaking modern English, using contemporary vulgarities, and acting as anachronistically as possible amidst the period costumes, period settings, and period torture devices. While there are still moments of gross-out humor that were a trademark of earlier Broken Lizard efforts like Super Troopers and Club Dread, the template here is more Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
“It was super fun,” says Palicki about the shoot, which largely recreated medieval France in Santa Clarita, California. “It had that Monty Python feel that we haven’t seen for a very long time. And to have the woman be like the smartest person—no offense, but a lot of guys cannot write really well for women, but they can really write really well for women. On top of that fact, there was a lot of fun improv that went along with it.”
Palicki is perhaps best known for her roles on Friday Night Lights, Agents of SHIELD and The Orville, but as Queen Catherine, she gets to homage an earlier, arguably more glamorous era of Hollywood. In her introduction, she emerges from bed with a flip of her long red tresses that’s a deliberate nod to Rita Hayworth’s iconic introduction in Gilda.
“That was [Heff’s idea] for sure,” says Palicki with a laugh. “I had to do it so many times just to get it perfectly for camera. It’s like every guy’s dream, right?” But will the Broken Lizard audience catch the reference? “I’m sure there’s a couple of jokes that will be over certain people’s heads,” agrees Palicki. “But you know, that’s the fun part. You get to go back and rewatch it.”
Improv remains a basic ingredient of the Broken Lizard troupe’s comedic stylings, which began way back in 1989 when the guys got together as a live sketch ensemble at Colgate University. While there is a storyline that serves as the spine (no pun intended) of Quasi, there’s also a casual, “hang-out” feel to the proceedings that Palicki says she responded to right away.
“I love doing improv,” she says. “Friday Night Lights was a lot of improv, but that was dramatic. So I haven’t really done a lot of comedic improv. There have been a couple of times on The Orville, but not really. [Quasi] was scary at first, but they are so warm and welcoming. The minute I felt comfortable, which was pretty much from the start, they allowed me to just kind of relax into it… First day, I was a little nervous. Second day, I was one of the guys. It was super fun and a good challenge, trying to keep up.”
In recent years, Palicki has been more associated with action, sci-fi, and superhero properties through her work in films and TV shows like John Wick, AoS, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, The Orville, and a famously unsold 2011 pilot for a Wonder Woman series. But she says she relished the chance to do more comedy and was surprised to get the call from the Broken Lizard fellows.
“I got the phone call that they wanted to offer me the part and I was like, ‘What? Really? Me? I’m such a big fan. That’s awesome,’” she recalls. “I was flattered. It was during COVID, so I got on Zoom—because I live in Austin—with Lemme and Heffernan, and Steve immediately insulted my last name, but I then gave it right back to him. So I think from moment one, it was like, ‘This is gonna be fun. We’re gonna have some fun here.’”
While Palicki mentions offhand that she is currently up for another unnamed action movie, she enjoyed doing Quasi so much that she is adamant about getting back into the comedy game—including with the Broken Lizard crew—the first chance that she gets.
“Absolutely,” she says. “I love it. I have such a blast doing it. I feel comfortable in it. It’s fun to change it up. I ultimately love anything that feels like a challenge, and this felt like a challenge and I’d love another one… I did not want this movie Quasi to end. Even after a long day, I’d be like, ‘Can we continue? I’m fine. I don’t need go home.’ It was just that much fun.”
Quasi is now streaming on Hulu.