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« Everybody Freeze! Oscar Nomination Ballots Are Due | Main | 27th USC Scripter Nominees Turn the Page »
Thursday
Jan082015

A Quick Chat with Jenny Slate Who Will Love Her Future No Matter What!

Jenny Slate, one of last year's biggest breakthroughs, started 2014 on a career high and still hasn't come down. Obvious Child was so buzzy at the 2014 festival that you can be reasonably sure that comedies from the forthcoming 2015 festival will see themselves held up in comparison 'what's this year's Obvious Child?'  After a successful limited release, Jenny Slate found herself on red carpets and snow she's up for a Critics Choice Award a week from today.

Best Actress in a Comedy, Critics Choice Movie Awards
Rose Byrne – Neighbors
Rosario Dawson – Top Five
Melissa McCarthy – St. Vincent
Jenny Slate – Obvious Child
Kristen Wiig – The Skeleton Twins

Whether or not she wins it, it seems likely that she'll enjoy herself. Perhaps it was her character Donna Stern's abrasive caustic humor that led me to picture someone either darkly funny or like the stereotype of the sad clown but instead the new star is relentlessly cheerful and super positive, and determined to stay that way. She even makes lemonade from lemons when I mention This Means War.

Here's our conversation...

NATHANIEL: This has been such a huge year for you? How would you rate it on a scale of 1 to 10? 

JENNY SLATE: Oh man. I guess i’d give it an 8 but I feel like most years I usually rate them pretty highly because I like life!  But this has been the most satisfying year of my career so far: Obvious Child really changed things for me.  [more...]

NATHANIEL: I'll admit that when I saw the movie a year ago at Sundance and didn't know anything about it I assumed it was all you, like an indie comedy vanity project or something because the voice is so you. You embody it so fully.

JENNY: Well... I guess that’s good. Gillian and Liz and I really share a sense of humor but, yeah, the movie is a scripted movie and I didn’t write it. I helped with the standup for sure. We improvised here and there but the language of the movie I think is a language that I really identify with. I think the reason why a lot people like it is because they identify with that language as well. 

Your co-star Gaby Hoffman  - she's ubiquitous at the moment and just been killing it.

She’s the best. 

Had you worked with her before?

No. Gabe and I met her because she had come to our standup show in Brooklyn so I knew her socially. Gillian wrote the movie for me and wrote the part of Joey for Gabe and was hoping to get Gaby to play Nelly. 'Do you think they’d be into this?' I sent them an email with the subject title “Will you be in a movie with me?”. 

That’s so cute!

That was literally the casting process. Jake and Polly and Richard they had more of a traditional process. But Gabe and Gabby and me were there from the start.

All of the relationships feel very lived in.

Honestly, they did a great job with casting. They didn’t just cast good actors. They cast people who were willing to open up in a certain way under pretty interesting conditions. Polly Draper — I only had a day and a half with her. Those scenes run deep and we had to do them quick.

She's such a good actor. I grew up watching her on thirtysomething so it's been exciting to have her in movies lately.  

Totally, yes. Gillian and Liz were straight up freaking out when we got her for the part.

Loved Jake Lacey as your boyfriend, too. The chemistry is awkward but believable. Most romantic comedies are either not romantic or not funny but you two managed both.

[Laughter] I’m really glad it hits the sweet spot, then. I think they cast Jake perfectly. He is that guy that ‘is he too good to be true?’ He’s kind of a typical American hunk but he’s very soulful and he’s an excellent performer and it was a real pleasure to get to know him.

Did anyone ever have any trouble with the film's very off-color humor?

We were all pretty delighted by it to be honest. It’s a relief to tell jokes that are about something real and that have a little bit of a punch to them but are not unkind. It’s a relief to expect more from a comedy and from yourself as a comedienne and to be able to deliver that. 

Obvious Child is your third film but before you were in Alvin and the Chipmunks and This Means War so when those were over did you think 'The only way is up!' [Laughter]

Umm…. I dunno, for me like this is the fifth year that I’ve been able to be a professional actress. I’m just super excited to be working. You need to learn. You need to learn how to make movies. Both of those jobs -- they still served a wonderful function for me! I would have arrived on the set of Obvious Child not knowing what the hell I was doing if I hadn’t made those movies. 

And honestly, This Means War. Just meeting Reese Witherspoon was pretty much a giant thrill. She’s a true American movie star but she’s also just a totally real woman. I think it’s important to have experiences like that. You look at sometone who is really successful and you think ‘I have so far to go’’ and on the other hand you’re like ‘but we’re both just people.' There’s lots of cool stuff to appreciate in those experiences.

Awards season is new for you so what's the most glamorous thing you've experienced so far? 

I think going to the Governors Awards was the most glamourous so far. I got to wear a beautiful Alberta Ferretti gown and saw lots of movie stars and realized that I was there because I was an actress that was in a movie that people liked and it was pretty crazy!  But the next day I did the Actors on Actors film and photoshoot for Vareity and that was pretty intense company to be in. I kept kind of blinking these big blinks. ‘I’m here but also Marion Cotillard is here and Tilda Swinton and Christoph Waltz. I just need to try to act normal and not let everyone know that my tongue is invisibly hanging out of my mouth right now.'

One thing I have to ask you about it because I love it so much. Bob Burger’s. You play Tammy, one of Tina's school friends and you're so hilarious.

Thank you. 

I like to picture the whole cast around the microphone acting those insane scenes out  -- I'm sure that's not the way it works. You're probably in the booth alone so you're about to shatter my illusion.

We often do! Sometimes you go back in and patch up but usually it’s not just you. Eugene and Bobby are in New York but usually in LA it’s me, Dan MintzJohn Roberts and Kristen Schaal around the mic together. It was the most fun. It’s such an incredibly smart and funny show. 

You’ve had a great batting average with sitcoms because also: Parks & Recreation. Total classic.

 

JENNY SLATE: I loved being on Parks. It's the craziest most fun thing to pop in, there be completely ridiculous and just pop out. It’s amazing to do scene work and have such good performers around you to work with -- people who are so specifically good at comedy. Their voices are so developed and they’re so funny. That’s something I’ll always be proud of, having a part on that show. 

After Obvious Child I assume there are more scripts now. The future. Let's talk about it!

Um. Hmmm. The environment seems really fertile. It seems like the future is bright but um, you know, I probably should wait until i’m in the future to say that. It’s a luxury to have choices and that’s not a luxury that I’ve had very much before. So I'm really enjoying the freedom of saying No. And I also enjoy the delight of saying yes. Sometimes you just have to say yes and you don’t get to make choices because you just want to be in the community and work. That’s wonderful, too.  

So basically it sounds like you're going to be insanely positive no matter what? 

I think so! I made this tiny movie with my friends. We loved it. We believed in it. We never knew if anyone would see it because that’s how it goes. And then the reaction we got was so specific and so positive that — I don’t know why I wouldn’t continue on with that line of thought. If you work hard it can often pay off really well. That’s also a pretty digestible good objective for me to have as I  move forward. It keeps my feet on the ground, keeps my heart light, and my head pretty dreamy.

previous interviews | more on Obvious Child

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Reader Comments (7)

I have this dream mash-up in my mind where Donna Stern meets Frances Ha and they dance to Modern Love and hide in big cardboard boxes and maybe even go to Paris for a spontaneous weekend.

January 8, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

San Fran -- i love it but I fear Donna would eat Frances alive.

January 8, 2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

"Don't have a crap attack!"

January 8, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterpar

I adore Jenny Slate. Looking forward to seeing her in more things.

January 8, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth

Nathaniel -- you're probably right, but I picture Frances laughing too loud at Donna's comedy routine and not quite getting that her timing is off

January 8, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

People, just stop doing whatever you're doing and watch her webseries 'Catherine' on YouTube. It's super weird and unsettling in the best possible way.

January 8, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterLucky

I know…Catherine is like David Lynch directing The Office.
I think Slate is a unique talent. She has had at least 3 great creations already, my favorite being Mona Lisa in Parks and Rec. She shows such comedic skill in that role it's really astounding and amusing to see.

January 9, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMr. Goodbar

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