Remember the first time you laid eyes on poor, misunderstood Margaret McPoyle? A recurring character on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia since 2006, McPoyle is distinguished by her compulsive lip-licking, her propensity for pigtails, and her wholly unfortunate unibrow. In case you’ve blocked her most famous scene from your mind, we’ll jog your memory: In the 2007 episode « The Gang Gets Held Hostage, » sleaze merchant Dennis Reynolds (portrayed by Glenn Howerton) successfully seduces McPoyle with the world’s nastiest neg: « You know, your eyebrow drives me crazy… It’s so thick, so dark, and so very connected. »
To this day, we don’t know a whole lot about McPoyle. As Uproxx notes, she’s a member of an « inbred, incestuous family » and happens to be « deaf-mute. » Other than that, there’s one morsel we can share with confidence: The actress who plays McPoyle is absolutely gorgeous in real life. (Even the professional oglers at Maxim agree, for what it’s worth.)
Meet Thesy Surface, the Chicago-born actress behind the unibrow, the pigtails, the increasingly iconic « Lip Lick. » In 2010, she told TheTVJunkieDotNet she « grew up in rainy old London, » but her ambition eventually led her to Los Angeles to pursue acting. She once described her time on the long-running FX comedy thus: « Working on Sunny is like taking a hike in Cracktown, but a fun Cracktown » (per Spotlight Media Company). Let’s take a look at the beauty beneath this perpetually sweaty, occasionally gun-toting beast.
How she landed the gig
Actors, beware: Following your Hollywood dreams could lure you into a seedy, unibrowed underworld where nothing is as it seems. In a 2012 interview with the Mr. Media podcast, Surface revealed that she was « literally fresh off the bus » to Los Angeles when she landed the plum role of Margaret McPoyle. She first learned of the acting gig through word of mouth, tipped off by « a friend from university » who was interning for director Daniel Attias. (Since 2005, Attias has directed well over a dozen Always Sunny episodes.)
As she told TheTVJunkieDotNet in 2010, Surface’s friend shared a few important details over the phone: « They’re looking for this really tiny role, » he said, « and it’s like this really sleazy character. » Once she caught wind of that fact, Surface thought: « Oh, okay, I’m never going to get this because, you know, I’m too attractive. » Her reason for pursuing the part? A fresh-faced newbie to the Hollywood scene, she told the Mr. Media podcast that she « just wanted to be on TV. »
She evidently didn’t realize what she’d signed up for. She certainly « didn’t know [Margaret] was going to be that ugly, » she told TheTVJunkieDotNet. Nevertheless, « two days » after auditioning and landing the role, Surface was sitting on the Always Sunny set « getting all her ugly makeup on. » She had officially arrived… or had she?
She says the unibrow went ‘HD’
When Thesy Surface steps into the role of Margaret McPoyle, she makes it seem so effortlessly wretched — but looking that greasy doesn’t come easy. According to LAist, Surface « endures a 1 ½ to 2 hour ‘uglification’ process in order to be transformed » into the slurp-happy, deeply upsetting character. Although her first appearance was meant to be her last, Surface soon received « a call from the casting office » asking about her « availability » the following season. McPoyle became a recurring character, and the makeup process became even more involved. In 2010, Surface enticed TheTVJunkieDotNet with an exclusive scoop: « This year, the unibrow becomes HD… because they couldn’t just stick a hairy mustache on my forehead. »
Instead, makeup artists reportedly went the extra mile, taking great pains to apply tiny individual hairs to her face, creating a unibrow that far surpassed previous efforts. In many regards, Surface felt McPoyle’s newly modernized monobrow didn’t « look as bad still as the other one… especially all greased up… I’m like, Margaret McPoyle looks better this season. »
Always Sunny actor, writer, and series co-creator Rob McElhenney may have been displeased with this development, as he once reportedly told Surface: « You know, we’re not a pretty show. We’re an ugly show. »
She allegedly had a stalker
Back in 2011, even TMZ had its eye trained on Thesy Surface: One night, the tabloid chronicled her attempt to slip into Los Angeles nightclub Voyeur without any ID. As she smoked outside the club waiting to get a word in with the doorman, a cameraman goaded her with a loaded question: « What’s this character you play with the unibrow? Are you like the Ugly Betty? » Surface responded: « She makes Ugly Betty look like a Victoria’s Secret model. »
Later that year, the tab had a far less cheering update: Surface had reportedly « turned to police for help » after being harassed by an online stalker, who reportedly « email[ed] her pics of an animated finger spelling the c-word in blood. » Documents indicated that police had already unearthed the weirdo’s « IP address » and email particulars, tracing the taunting messages « back to a Tumblr account by the name of ‘dirtythesy.' » This anonymous creepo sent Surface obscene images and several vicious emails, including a message accusing the actress of being « ugly and untalented. »
Surface was truly « spooked » and suspected her « stalker » somehow knew « all her personal information. » TMZ reported that she was « fully cooperating with the LAPD » in the hopes of finding the culprit. No word on how any of this turned out, but the story acts as a general reminder that the Internet is awful and please never look at it.
She didn’t fear being typecast
In 2012, Thesy Surface sounded certain that portraying Margaret McPoyle would « make a great ‘Before They Were Famous’ story. » In an interview with the Mr. Media podcast, Surface was asked whether McPoyle had opened any doors for her, career-wise: « You know what it’s led to? » she mused. « Hype. … It’s, like, buzz. It’s better to be talked about than not. » Though the role of McPoyle doesn’t provide Surface with a single line of dialogue, she still didn’t find the character « limiting in any way. » Really, she thought she was at an advantage: She claimed viewers became curious, presumably did a bit of Internet sleuthing, and ultimately found themselves surprised that she « look[ed] totally different » in real life.
Interviewer Bob Andelman was curious whether Surface had any concerns about being typecast. « You’re a lovely young woman, » he noted, « but you’re pretty well covered up. » She evidently « wasn’t worried » in the slightest: « It’s weird, everyone asks me that. It’s not that I’m not vain, I am vain. » But she found herself drawn to left-of-center characters « whether they’re evil, whether they’re ugly. … I’m someone who likes extremes in general, » she said.
For Surface, the important thing was that McPoyle stuck with viewers at the end of the day: « Someone once said… it doesn’t matter how big a role you are, just be memorable. » And you gotta admit: When Margaret McPoyle stares into space and compulsively licks her upper lip, it definitely stays with you.
How she was directed to play Margaret
What’s the best way to tackle a role as perverse and perverted as Margaret McPoyle? Sounds like Thesy Surface was generally left to unlock the character on her own. On the first day of shooting, she says the Always Sunny crew « didn’t say much » as far as McPoyle was concerned, so she was basically left to fend for herself. Talking to the Mr. Media podcast in 2012, Surface claimed the only actorly advice she received was, quite simply: « Don’t do too much. » She suspected people were « worried that someone so new might have over-acted [the part], because there’s definitely that kind of risk. »
At first, Surface was unsure how to approach the role. After all, McPoyle « doesn’t talk, » while Surface describes herself as « very vocally expressive. » Ultimately, she decided to act like McPoyle « [saw] the world as, ‘Everything’s new.’ You know, like those babies where they just stare at you because they’re just totally fascinated with you? »
Of course, that imagery works a lot better if you picture the baby with pigtails and a pronounced unibrow.
About that lip lick…
There is one bit of physical comedy that directors have some very strong opinions about: Margaret McPoyle’s iconic « Lip Lick. » This traumatizing tic first manifested in Always Sunny‘s Season Three episode « The Gang Gets Held Hostage, » which featured Dennis Reynolds (Glenn Howerton) memorably seducing McPoyle in a dingy bathroom. « I remember being a little like, ‘What kind of lick do you want?' » Thesy Surface told Mr. Media in 2012. She eventually tried out « a few versions of the lick » for Fred Savage, the director of the episode. Eventually she struck gold by trotting out what she calls « The Lizard Lick. »
Surface implied Savage was a touch obsessive when it came to getting The Lick just right. He allegedly kept advising her: « Keep on just doing that lick! » and « Okay, just do the lick again! » In 2008, Surface was briefly featured in the music video for « Going Back to Philly, » a « promo » for the then-upcoming Season Four, which Savage also directed. Surface also told Mr. Media that Savage’s direction boiled down to something like this: « Do that lip lick! It’s the branding part of it! » and « You ready to make out, Thesy? Ready to make out…? » Hmm.
Looking back, Surface says the Lip Lick was « one of those things where, it’s in the script, but you don’t think it’s gonna become the famous, you know, The Lip Lick of Margaret McPoyle. »
Inside THAT kiss with Glenn Howerton
What did Thesy Surface make of her Always Sunny castmates? Talking to TheTVJunkieDotNet in 2010, she revealed that Danny DeVito wasn’t around on her first day of shooting. Oddly enough, DeVito reportedly « sent an ice cream truck of Ben & Jerry’s to set, » presumably in his stead. Surface just « sat there » for the better part of the day, eating a bunch of ice cream in her « ugly makeup. » Hey, it’s nice work if you can get it.
On the somewhat juicier side of things: In 2012, Surface told Mr. Media that she ran into actor Glenn Howerton at a Hollywood party shortly after filming her first episode and before McPoyle « turn[ed] into a recurring character. » She reportedly introduced herself, using her finger as a makeshift unibrow in case he didn’t recognize her. Howerton allegedly told her she « did a great job, » and that was that. When she was subsequently asked to return to the show for the 2007 episode « The Gang Gets Held Hostage, » Surface read the script and realized a key scene involved kissing Howerton. Her first thought was: « Poor Glenn has to kiss [Margaret McPoyle]. » Upon further inspection, she realized Howerton had co-written the episode in question: « I was like, ‘That’s interesting. … He must have not hated the idea so much. »
Surface wondered whether running into Howerton when she « actually looked like a decent human being » influenced the decision to have McPoyle come back. Perhaps.
Advice for all the aspiring McPoyles out there
It might not look like much on paper, but actors can wait their whole lives for a role like Margaret McPoyle to come along. Talking to Mr. Media in 2012, Surface offered some words of advice that could prove helpful to all those struggling entertainers looking to get a foot in the door: « You just never know what’s going to happen, » she said, adding: « You might as well show up to everything. » Go to « every audition. » Keep every appointment. « Just always show up and be open, » Surface says.
Surface knows plenty of actors who landed their first big breakout role in a seemingly random way, scoring projects « they thought they’d never in a million years get, » all because they happened to be in the right place at the right time.
She also knows actors who just « didn’t feel like meeting with that one person, » but decided to attend the powwow anyway. « Suddenly the story of their life changed, » she says. The takeaway? With a bit of moxie, determination, and blind luck, you too might be cast as a monobrowed creeper furtively skulking around dive-bar lavatories. You just have to want it enough.
She’s more interested in writing these days
Thesy Surface’s priorities have changed. As she told the Daily Actor in 2013, screenwriting has become her primary focus in recent years, and she hopes to hone her craft until it’s « good enough to be a calling card in itself (however long it takes). » These days, she’d much rather have « the acting … happen as an offset. » Ultimately, she wants her writing to « take [her] to better places » so she’s not « standing in line with 50 girls trying to book two lines on an episodic. That’s just not fun for me anymore. »
But she certainly hasn’t given up on acting altogether. In October 2018, Surface was featured in the live comedy show Mortified, which features a ragtag, ever-changing group of « adults sharing their most embarrassing childhood artifacts, » according to the official website. Meanwhile, we have every reason to believe that her alter ego Margaret McPoyle will make her grand return to It’s Always Sunny when we least expect it.
This isn’t over.