How a Spotify Storyteller Spends Her Sundays
Mimi O’Donnell is the head of scripted fiction at the streaming company Spotify, where she has directed audio series like “Case 63” with Julianne Moore and Oscar Isaac, and “Quiet Part Loud,” starring Tracy Letts and co-produced with Jordan Peele’s Monkeypaw Productions.
“Podcasts used to be mostly investigative reporting or talk show, the fiction space is new,” she said. “The scripts have to be solid, you can’t fake anything or fill in a shot later like you can with film or television. Even a breath says a lot in audio, where that can get lost in other mediums.”
Ms. O’Donnell was also the longtime partner of the lauded film actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died from a heroin overdose nine years ago this month.
Her work in audio has been informed by her grieving process. “I talk to Phil and he talks to me in my head all the time, which makes me feel closer to him,” she said. “Audio is very inclusive and intimate. You can’t touch it, but somehow it exists.”
Ms. O’Donnell, 55, lives with her three children: Willa, 14; Tallulah, 16; and Cooper, 19, who recently starred in the movie “Licorice Pizza”; and their French bulldog, Puddles, in Manhattan’s West Village.
GO-TO MUG Whatever standard sound the iPhone came with for an alarm is what I use. That gets me up at 7. My initial thought is coffee. I go through phases regarding how to make it. Right now I’m into pour-over. I grind beans from Joshua Tree Coffee, called The First Roast, which come in a beautiful pink bag and are fantastic, and drink it with some oat milk out of a vintage mug I bought from Le Fanion, an antiques and pottery place on West 4th.
MORNING PAGES During Covid, I was having a lot of anxiety, and I remembered something from “The Artist’s Way,” a book I read eons ago, about writing three pages as soon as you wake up. I sit in a rocking chair Phil bought me for my 35th birthday, when I was pregnant with Cooper. It was an unsexy gift, but I cherish the chair and I sit by the window and rock a little and write. I’ll use random pieces of paper or one of the kids’ notebooks they no longer use. Sometimes the words pour out; sometimes it’s just drips. Then I shred them. I don’t want to read it. It’s not for looking back. It’s a cathartic purge.
WALK, THEN RUN I put on my running clothes and take Puddles out for a quick walk around Jane Street. After I feed her, I go for a 30- to 40-minute run along the West Side Highway by the river. I enter on 12th Street and run downtown to City Vineyard, circle Pier 26, and then come back.
SWEET STUFF By the time I’m home, Willa and her friends from the neighborhood who usually sleep over are up. I typically go to Aux Merveilleux de Fred, the French bakery, to pick up chocolate or burnt sugar brioches. Or we order in. Murray’s Bagels is on Seamless now, which is a game changer. The girls also ask me to make my famous pancakes, which are Bisquick. I’ll serve the pancakes with powdered sugar and Reddi-wip.
SCATTERED CHILDREN By noon, Tallulah is up and folds into whomever is here. She’s the quieter one. Willa and her friends usually leave to go to another friend’s house; she travels in a pack. Cooper, who’s been living at a friend’s apartment in the East Village, shows up looking for a possible meal.
SHOP LOCAL I’ll do some shopping in the neighborhood because I love buying gifts. I’ll go to Le Fanion and Eva Joan, which opened during Covid. They sell vintage clothing, which my daughter loves, and they embroider on anything, which is great. And Casa Magazines, one of the last classic magazine shops.
SHOW TIME I try to see a matinee because I love big Broadway musicals. I always feel like I’m watching something bigger than me. That’s humbling, and it’s relaxing and I just give over. I’ll take whichever kid I can get. We all saw “Into the Woods” and “Some Like It Hot.” Both were wonderful.
NOSTALGIA My parents did an early dinner. My mother would make a roast, and I remember smelling it during the day. It’s nostalgic for me. If I’m cooking, it’s a roast chicken with mashed potatoes and salad or broccoli with roasted garlic. If we go out it’s to Balaboosta, an Israeli place around the corner. They have great fried olives, chicken and couscous, and cauliflower with peanut sauce. This is our best chance for a family meal. My kids joke with each other in a way that feels like siblings. Whatever armor we put on out in the world goes away. We are a little kinder. It fills me emotionally. I see Phil in all three of them. I miss him more on a Sunday because it’s a slower day, so I’m more aware he’s not here.
LISTENING Around 7 or 7:30 I catch up on work. If we’re in production, I’ll listen to a first pass of one of the shows we’re producing. If there’s another fiction podcast out there, I’ll listen to that. I love this audio space because there’s this weird, quiet intensity of being read to. There’s a lot of sparking of imagination. My grandmother listened to sports on the radio, and I have fond memories of sitting next to her during the summer. We’d listen together, so this connects me to her as well.
SHAPE OF THE WEEK There’s a window on Sunday where I prepare for the week. There’s a parent-teacher conference; a kid needs $30 for school stuff; this friend is having a party, do we need a gift? Puddles might have a vet appointment. It’s a reminder of the shape of the week to come.
BATH, BED, BEYOND The kids are night owls and are probably up all night and I don’t know it. Around 10 I tell them I love them and say good night. I might take a bath as a way to relax. I’m in bed by 11. I always have a book half-open; it helps me fall asleep. I just finished Rob Delaney’s “A Heart That Works.” I’ll only get through a few pages because I’m spent.