"Jim Carrey is going to do Biden," Michaels tells Vulture of the political role, which has previously been played by Woody Harrelson and Jason Sudeikis. "There was some interest on his part. And then we responded, obviously, positively. But it came down to discussions about what the take was. He and Colin Jost had a bunch of talks. He and I as well. He will give the part energy and strength... Hopefully it’s funny."
Ahead of the 2020 election, SNL's other political players will be out in full force, with Maya Rudolph as Kamala Harris, Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump and Beck Bennett as Mike Pence.
"I honestly don’t think of them as celebrity cameos. I think that’s the sort of New York Times approach to thinking about things," Michaels says of the guest actors. "Alec Baldwin’s probably done the show 25 or 30 times. He’s just part of an extended group... It’s the same way with Maya -- you saw what she brought to it. So, I don’t think of it that way."
"You’re talking about candidates who are in their 70s. When you put someone 28 in that makeup, it's just different," he adds. "Part of it also is whoever does it has to basically relocate to New York because of quarantine. So, there were a lot of factors involved in that. But I’m thrilled Jim’s doing it."
Now that the actors are set for the show, Michaels and those cast are thinking about what the portrayals will look like and what message they want to get across during this consequential election.
"With this election, it’s not an original thought or statement to say that there’s a lot at stake. Going back to Ford/Carter, we’ve had a voice, and we will try as hard as possible to maintain that voice," Michaels says. "If anybody talks about 'truth to power' or any of that, it’s tedious, because everybody says they’re doing it, and power seems to be unaffected by it entirely. So, we’ll give our point of view."
"There are a lot of writers, a lot of differing points of view. And the show’s tried really hard to not just be a partisan voice, but to be clear-headed about it," he continues. "Over the years, I’ve had, obviously, complaints from both parties. People feel things are unfair, and I understand that. But if we’re taking shots, I hope we’re taking clean shots... We try to get to the truth of it... In the nicest possible way, we’re not their friends."
Amid what Michaels says will be "a very, very close race," he knows that it's "really important to get it right."
"Laughs are the clear indicator. That’s why the audience is so important," he says. "Because you just can’t come out and express your political opinions. There has to be something, something that gets close to the truth that you’re doing and that’s honest. And that’s where the laughs come from."
The need for an audience is certainly complicated by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but the show is working closely with Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office to ensure they can have people in-studio during their shows.
"There’s the sheer physical challenge of what we can do within protocols. We’ve been getting support from the governor’s office, which is important because the audience is a huge part of it," Michaels says. "Also, us coming back and accomplishing the show will lead to -- I hate to use the word normalcy -- but it’s a thing that is part of our lives coming back, in whatever form it ends up coming back."
"So the physical problems of doing it -- number of people who can be in the studio, number of people who can be in the control room, how you separate the band so that they’re not in any jeopardy -- all of those are part of the meetings we’ve been having," he adds, noting that the show will be "tighter" as a result of the safety precautions.
Despite the challenges of putting on a live show amid a pandemic, Michaels has opted to air five live shows consecutively beginning Oct. 3
"I made the decision early on, or at least about a month ago, that we would do something we hadn’t done before, which was five shows in a row," he says. "Because there are four debates and then it’s Halloween, and that’s the weekend before the election. And sadly, if the election gets extended, then we’ll be doing six or seven shows in a row."
"Fatigue has been part of it, so we’re trying to make sure that everyone is safe and protected and looked after," he continues. "The show will be compromised on some levels of production, but it will be recognizable as the show you’ve seen all these years."
Though all of the cast members from last season are returning, their time onscreen may be cut due to unexpected work projects after things were pushed due to the pandemic.
"Kate [McKinnon] will be back for all these election shows. So many people had committed to doing projects in the summer, which then got moved," Michaels explains. "Aidy [Bryant] has been doing Shrill, and she’ll be here for some shows and have to go back to that for others. Cecily [Strong] is doing a project in Vancouver, but we’ll green screen her for things. People will stay involved, but they may not physically be in the studio."
"Kenan [Thompson] can come in the day before and he’ll be fine; he just knows the drill so well," he adds. "And certainly that’s the way it is for Cecily as well, and Aidy. Their hearts are here. I have no question about it. This is their first priority. So I’m happy about that."
In addition to the returning cast, SNL has added three new featured actors for its upcoming season: Lauren Holt, Punkie Johnson and Andrew Dismukes.
"All three of [the new cast members] are people with original voices and talent," Michaels says. "They’re bringing something that we now don’t have."
Season 46 of Saturday Night Live will premiere Oct. 3 on NBC.