Rest assured, Internet: in person, Jenny Slate is just as charming, funny and effusive as her Twitter persona and late-night interviews would lead you to believe. On a Monday morning, fresh off a red eye of Los Angeles, the actress was in high spirits, spouting off different thoughts and anecdotes ranging from a her marvel over a Youtube video that popped up in a group chat the day prior (Tom Holland’s “Lipsync Battle,” for the record) to her recent vacation to Cabo with her parents. “I’m really chatty,” Slate will say several times.
There’s an instant like-ability to the 35-year-old, who started doing stand-up comedy upon graduating from Columbia University in 2004. “I always wanted to be an actress, but I did comedy because it was the easiest way to be seen and to develop as any sort of performer,” Slate explains. “I wanted to be a film actress, but I just had to start somehow.”
It was through stand-up that Slate met Gillian Robespierre, then an up-and-coming director, who came to Slate after a show in 2008 with the idea for a short film about abortion called Obvious Child. The duo filmed the short over five days; from there, Slate went on to score a re-occurring role on the gone-too-soon HBO series Bored To Death, launch a very popular web series, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On; and appear on the 2009-2010 season of Saturday Night Live.
But a year-and-a-half after that initial short, Robespierre re-approached Slate, this time with the proposal to extend Obvious Child into a feature length-film, with the lead character as a comedienne; Slate said yes. “I like [Robespierre’s] sense of style,” said the actress. I like how she wants to see women, and I like how she wants to observe them.” The film was released in 2014 to rave reviews. Slate won a Critics’ Choice Movie Award for Best Actress in a Comedy, as well.
Now, three years later, Slate and Robespierre, along with Obvious Child producer Elisabeth Holm, are teaming up once again with Landline, an emotional comedy about divorce which hits theaters on Friday. “There was no script [when I signed on]” says Slate. “I said yes because I love them.”
In the film, Slate plays Dana Jacobs, a nerdy, uptight twenty-something feeling the weight of her recent engagement, or, as Slate describes it, someone who “when she gets drunk it is probably on one and a half glasses of sangria and she probably needs to lie down.”
“She is going through a really human experience of feeling the stress of the parameters of her long-term relationship,” she adds. “Because she wants to be a quote unquote good person, she thinks she’s not allowed to ask a lot of necessary questions, and because of that she makes some really wild mistakes.”
Over the course of the film, Dana and her younger sister Aly discover that their father, played by John Turturro, has been cheating on their mother, played by Edie Falco. “The feeling there is just, follow their lead,” Slate said of acting with the acting veterans. “They are masters at what they do. But they didn’t behave that way at all. In the scene, everybody has the same level of being there. You don’t think, this person has won five Emmys.”
The emotional heart of the film comes via Slate’s scenes with Abby Quinn, the up-and-coming actress who plays Aly and bears a striking resemblance to Slate. (“Her boobs are way bigger than mine,” Slate notes.) With two sisters of her own, the relationship felt very personal to Slate. “We are hyper-caring with each other,” she says. “To play this role was very different, and, honestly, exhilarating. They are about ten years apart, and they don’t get along. They don’t relate to each other. And they don’t change for each other; they accept each other.”
Landline is set in the 1990s—hence the title—and does not skimp on the era’s fashion (trenchcoats and Hillary Clinton’s pink suit both play minor, but scene-stealing roles), which made Slate nostalgic. “It’s a powerful look,” she says of the ’90s aesthetic. “I remember going to college, and at the time, really low-riding Diesel jeans were in. Like, so low. People would bare that part of your stomach that is below your belly button. I remember thinking, ‘I want to be grown up.’ I was a virgin wearing those pants, and was like, ‘I don’t think this is the most attractive I could look. This is what people wear if they want to have sex?’ I was really bummed out about it. I really remember having a feeling like, ‘I wish we could go back to the times when women wore things that celebrated their bodies and having a figure was cool.’
“In order to wear those pants, you had to have no abdomen at all. That was really confusing for me. Whereas these pants from the ’90s, they sit high on your waist, your butt gets into the pants. And its not about putting yourself on the market in that way. There was much more of a casual equality in the way people dressed. Look at Meg Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle, all the way to You’ve Got Mail. There’s such a graceful way of costuming oneself.”
Off-screen, Slate works with stylist Ilaria Urbinati, who for the most part is known for her work with high-profile men, including Tom Hiddleston, Bradley Cooper, and Riz Ahmed.
“I like her vibe. I’m never going in there and seeing something that makes me feel angry,” Slate says. “And that happens, when you go in there and its just a rack of bandage dresses. I want to express a state of mind, not just flaunt a body. Not that I don’t like to show my figure, because I do, and I want to celebrate things about my physical form that I like, I just want it to be on my terms.”
It’s a mentality that Slate has also maintained when it comes to selecting acting roles. “The reason why I primarily work in film, and haven’t worked in episodic TV and don’t work in network TV, is that I don’t love to repeat myself,” she says. “I think about not being reiterative or not pressing one button over and over again. Like women who are funny often have to play the best friend. That’s something that I’m not interested in. That said, if there were a great part opposite a wonderful actress or actor, I would do it. Am I interested in playing the girl from Obvious Child over and over again? Not at all. I feel a personal pain in being oversimplified. I think that is such a lazy way to be in the world. I try my hardest to not participate in that.”
As for projects that Slate has admired, last year’s Annette Bening film 20th Century Women, Broad City, and Girls come quick to mind. “Those are things that are popular for a reason, and they are all very different. Those are original voices.”
And then, of course, there is Wonder Woman. “I legit loved Wonder Woman,” she says. “It’s really good. It’s beautiful and mythical. I remember watching it and thinking, ‘Is this how men feel when they see heightened versions of their masculinity?’ Wonder Woman is a really fun, heightened version of womanhood that does not try to bow down to a masculine counterpart. It’s just flying free. It’s awesome.”
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