Author, Stand-up comedian, voice-over actor, actress and Gotham Award nominee. Jenny Slate is a woman of many talents. This past Summer she starred in Obvious Child, a film which won her rave reviews for her performance of Donna, a young woman who gets pregnant after a one -night stand and decides to have an abortion.
Awards Daily sat down with the wonderfully funny actress to discuss the abortion issue, fart jokes, and her reaction to being nominated for a Gotham Award.
Jazz Tangcay: Can I just say it’s good to see a romantic comedy again, and you were fantastic in it.
Jenny Slate: Thank you.
JT: You’re based in LA now, did you feel the need to move here for the best roles/opportunities?
JS: I moved to New York when I was 18 and lived there for a while, but yes, this is where all the auditions are, and it was time for me to make the move. It’s kinda funny to me that the role that ended up being my dream role was back in New York.
JT: Obvious Child is set in NYC, what was it like being back?
JS: It was nice, because when I moved out here, I felt excited, but also a lot like a stranger, but if i had to make it out here, i’d have to focus and be kind to myself, but also focus on developing myself as a performer and i felt that in many ways, I put that work in, and it was exciting that the first time I got to use it and see if I could make the grade, was by returning to New York and work on this really exciting story.
JT: Donna comes across as funny, struggling with life, vulnerable and relatable, what did you relate to most as Donna?
JS: There are some things that felt technical, Donna is a stand up comedian and I started my career doing stand up. The real touchstone, emotionally was the creation of this woman who is strong enough to reveal imperfect parts of herself to large groups of people, but actually and functionally is very vulnerable and aware that she is imperfect, and is still trying to know all of that, and metaphorically walk without a limp. She knows there is a lot that is different about her when it comes to the stereotypical adult, she’s like, “I don’t really know that I’m there yet.” I felt that way a lot, in the world of adults, that I can’t really tell if I am.
JT: Were you surprised by the success of the film?
JS: I think yes and no. I think I was surprised and not surprised, I stand by the work and by how focused we were and how original I feel that our comedic voice was.
I really was so excited by the combination of yes, we are dealing with a subject that is complex and that people are prickly about, but also saying that you know humans are prickly and complex and funny and sad themselves too, so let’s just make this a thing and talk about it. I stood by that, but when you make a movie in 18 days with mostly unknown actors, you never know if anybody will see it. That’s just the nature of the business, so, for it to hit home and find a place in people’s heart and that find a nice place in the theaters in this country, I was shocked and thrilled, and felt that was great.
JT : I find fart jokes hilarious, how easy was it for you to deliver those fart jokes in the movie?
JS: It’s really easy to mess up, and it’s very hard to get right. It really has to be timed perfectly, it has to be good. There is an art to it. A good fart joke is great, a bad fart joke is cheap and annoying. I think we got the good ones in there. We were pretty careful about making sure the fart jokes were on point.
JT: I have to say, the issue of abortion was really well handled in the film.
JS: I’m glad you think so, we were very thoughtful about how to portray this issue of a woman getting pregnant and then deciding to have this procedure. We didn’t want to be didactic.We didn’t want this to be an agenda film. We did want to say, look the modern human experience, not even just the modern female experience, the experience is complex, it’s not one thing. There are so many different things that are interesting, why would we ever focus on an issue, when we could actually focus on a person.
JT: How did you and Gillian Robespierre meet?
JS : Gillian and her friend had written the short film of Obvious Child, but the character was new to me and it was at the starting stages. We had a friend in common – at the time I was doing my stand up show, they came and saw me performing, and Gillian thought I’d be a good fit for the part. Gillian got my contact details and sent me an email saying, “I’m doing a short film. It’s about this. Is this something you’d be interested in?” I was like, “I’m really interested in doing something honest and funny, but if this is going to be shocking, just to be shocking or saccharine about it, I’m not interested.” She sent me the script and I said, “Oh, this is something I’ve never seen before. I’m definitely in.”
JT : You won rave reviews for the role, do you ever read your reviews?
JS: No, not really. I learned very quickly, when I was on Saturday Night Live, it would not benefit me as a person to read the reviews, because if they’re good, then I feel like, I don’t want that to define me, and then if they’re bad, I know they’ll hurt my feelings. So, what usually happens. When there’s one that’s good, my husband will usually scan for me and he’ll be like, “This one is well written and I think you should read this.” That’s how they come to me, I have a very nice group of friends who will skim for me. Sometimes, they just tell me which is even better. If it’s coming through the voice of someone you know, it means a lot. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate that there’s been a positive reaction because I really do. As a person and performer, I am at my best when I am encouraged. I do so much better when I get a positive reinforcement. Which is why stand up comedy has been good for me. I understood the joy of developing my voice.
Social media is great too. It’s people saying, “I’m glad you told this story. I love you.” I really appreciate that too.
JT : Marcel the Shell was extremely popular, the video went viral, and now there are books. How surprised were you by its popularity?
JS: I was 100% shocked just because we truly made it for ourselves to show at a small arts show in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. You know, Dean (my husband) was like, “I showed it, and people were asking if we could put it online because people want to see it again. Can we put it online?” I didn’t have a problem with it, because I know so little about how the internet works and even today, I tweet out into the darkness. I type with two fingers and can’t even use Dropbox. I was so surprised. I’m the last person I would expect to have a viral hit.
It feels really good to have something that is really a unique expression of what it’s like to be an individual and have that be something that people wanna see. It’s nice to have contributed to something that people like and often say makes their day go better, if that’s my contribution and something that’s happening to my work, I couldn’t ask for more.
We will see more, it’s definitely out there in the future.
JT: You’re not afraid of calling yourself a feminist, why do you think other actresses are afraid of admitting it?
JS: It’s really weird to me to see these phrases that say, “So and so comes out.” or “So and so admits that she’s a feminist.” I think it’s a bummer, I’m loud and proud. I don’t know why you wouldn’t be, but I do understand there’s a stigma on the word and that people have stereotyped feminism and the movement and that it’s about aggression or like some strange fierce reciprocity, when it’s really about equality. Equality between the sexes and it’s an honorary and worthwhile pursuit, I think everybody should be a feminist, I think it’s an awesome word if you define it correctly.
JT : Do you keep in touch with the SNL gang?
JS: For sure. I was really lucky to be in with a great group of cast members, I see them every now and again and I love them.
JT: What was your reaction when you found out you were nominated for a Gotham award?
JS: I’m so excited. I was in the bathroom about to brush my teeth and I was checking my phone. I saw the Gotham Awards had been announced, I started to get nervous. I told my husband, we did a little dance and it was really nice.
JT: What’s next for you?
JS: I finished filming Season 3 of Kroll Show on Comedy Central and House of Lies. I’m doing some Parks and Recs, and recording Bob’s Burgers. The new book is out. I’m not sure what my next film project is going to be. I want to something I really enjoy, that’s the requirement.
Obvious Child is out now on DVD