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Married - Interview with Jenny Slate

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During a August 4th, 2014 conference call, I had the pleasure to talk with Jenny Slate about her new FX comedy. In Married, she plays Russ and Lina's friend Jess who is married to a much older man who can't keep up with her. Over the episodes her character has been very well developed. Her character is funny and endearing. It's a formula that seems to work for the actress who was already funny, endearing and vulnerable in her latest role in Obvious Child, a must-see.

Here are some highlights from the interview.

On how she got involved in the show.
Jenny : "I heard the premise; I got the script. I read it, and thought, yes, this seems different for me. This seems like the kind of story, and the kind of character, that could actually go a bit deeper than some of my television work so far. I really loved all the jobs I’ve done, but I think it’s good to always do something different, and I love the cast."

On her character.
Jenny : "I think she has spent most of her life being fun, being a party girl, being like some weird combination of insecure and completely aggressive in terms of how she lived her life, you know, just really go in, and get it. I think that drive comes from feeling insecure and not having a place. I see her as someone who has probably made some sort of silly mistake in high school where she hooked up with some guy and he ended up calling her a slut or something, and she got labeled, and she has a chip on her shoulder when she kind of feels like, hey, we’re all trying to go for it, why was it me? Then she’s also wondering well, was it me because I’m really sexy, or am I sexy? Is that the currency that I’m working with here?
I think she’s just trying to figure that out, and she has come to a point where she’s married a much older man. I think he does turn her on. I think she likes it. I think she thinks it’s kind of dangerous and taboo, and I think she saw him as somebody powerful and as a father figure to her, but now,you know, he’s lost his job. They have a baby. She’s not 22 anymore, and she just isn’t really sure where she fits, and if she’s going to fit. I think when she gets the chance to stick her head into “Russ” and “Lina’s” life, she acts a bit free radical, in a way.
She just wants to be the driving force. She wants to be someone making assertions; whether or not she’s making it better or worse, she just wants to be someone who has the power to change stuff and to make stuff happen, because I think in her own life, she’s just not sure if she has any power at all.
[...] She is a flawed character, and she’s sensitive, and she is not that wise. She is just truly not very wise. Any bit of wisdom she has comes from the fact that at least she does not deny the darkness, and she’s not necessarily comfortable with it, but she’s with it.

On playing Paul Reiser's wife.
Jenny : "At first—I’m 32 years old. I believe Paul is 57 or 58. When I signed onto this project, I knew my character had an older husband, a husband that was older than her, but I didn’t know if we would see him. He wasn’t in the pilot, and I honestly never—I didn’t think about that that much.
Then when Andrew started to text me about like, “Okay, like, yes, the show’s going to go. We’re going to get you a husband.” The first one that came in, he was like, I’m really—we’re talking to Paul Reiser about being your husband. I was like so excited, I texted all of my friends and was like, “Guess who might play my husband? Paul Reiser.”
I was freaking out. I was really nervous, because then it’s just like, it’s Paul Reiser. That’s like saying like—I don’t know—like it’s Paul Reiser from Mad about You. That’s the way that I think about it. I watched him on TV when I was a teenager. To me, he’s like a good looking, successful like nice Jewish man that I would see on TV before I was a woman, and the whole thing just made me feel like really green, just really young.
I was like, I’m a standup comedian; what if he thinks the kind of standup I do is kind of fake? You know, what if he doesn’t like me? What if he thinks I’m a joke? What if he sees I am a first-timer at a lot of stuff? You know, this is the first time I’ve been a regular on a show. I have worked a lot since my career started, but, I mean, it’s nothing compared to what he’s done.
I was very nervous, but Andrew had us get together, just me and Paul, for lunch, and we ordered the exact same thing. We sat there, and we talked, and I realized that we were truly just two people, and that he is a performer by nature, and it’s really fun to be around him. He’s very supportive and complementary.
You just could’ve never told me that I would have a natural scene partner in him, because I never would’ve known. I think of myself as coming from a totally different movement of comedy, but I think, for me, our scene work is the most satisfying to me on the show. I really like it.
I can really see us, as the scenes unfold, and I’m not afraid to yell at him and to tell his character how much he’s ruining my life sometimes. Yes, I love it. I really, really like working with him, and I like him a lot as a person.

On playing with Nat Faxon and Judy Greer.
Jenny : "Well, working with Nat and Judy is a real dream. I think they’re both very easy to be around, and it’s nice to play Nat’s best friend. He and I are actually both from Massachusetts, and we both come from an improv background.
[...] Judy is very openhearted and very honest, and I like asking her opinion on everything.
[...] It’s a nice little home, the home that we have. It’s truly lovely. Judy and I, both of our husbands are named—we are both married to men named Dean, and we like to talk about our Deans.

On the state of comedy.
Jenny : "I think there is an interesting thing going on in comedy now where in order for the show to be good, you can’t just like—I mean, certainly, I guess those sort of typical three-cam shows are very successful, but that’s a real different kind of comedy. There’s some trend going on now, and I don’t really know how to describe it, but there’s a very specific voice coming from the creator and a need for collaboration. All of the projects that I am involved in, and I would even include House of Lies in this, have taken me on not just because of how I will perform what I was written, but I think because I am playful in nature, and they’re looking for that added touch from their performers. You know, like Ben Schwartz and I improvise a lot on Parks and Rec, but usually what ends up on the show is what is written, but I think allowing us to play around helps us to say the written lines better.
On Kroll, there is a script, but Nick and I tend to improvise a lot, and it’s what he wants. If there’s something that needs to be said and just be said, then he’ll tell me, and we won’t improvise; but normally, it’s weird because we go in and there’s a script, and for the most part, we completely improvise even after seeing that script. We follow the storyline, of course, we don’t like make up a new plot, but we improvise.
On Married, Andrew [Gurland]’s writing is very exciting, and I want to stick to the script, because all of the lines are things that I would never say. The character is somebody who is very hard for me to be. She truly upsets me sometimes, and I like that.
Sometimes I will read the script and just feel so bad, so bad, about what my character is doing. A woman who leans on her sexuality the way that “Jess” does, but doesn’t really feel that it’s hers, you know, that breaks my heart a little bit. She’s kind of a landmine; she could just really blow people apart by mistake just because of her nature. I try to stick to the script with Andrew, but he’s very flexible.
He always says, “I can tell if you don’t want to say a line,” and that’s really embarrassing to have someone say that to you, but also really helpful. When he can tell that I don’t want to say the line, he asks me to make up a new one, and we work on it together.
I don’t do well in shows where I have to stand in one place and say one line. I’m not sure that that’s a skill that I want to develop. I had a little bit of that on SNL, and I have worked on a three-cam before, and you know, it just makes me nervous. I’m just too much of like a squiggle to have to stand in a straight line.

On her TV tastes.
Jenny : "I like it when questions are about normal life. I do like to watch TV. I grew up in a household where we were not really allowed to watch TV or have soda, so now I like love soda. If there’s a television on, it’s like, my friends know that you could like hit me in the face and I wouldn’t eve flinch. I will watch anything on the television.
[...] In general, I will watch almost anything. I’m in a seven-year-long battle with my husband about whether or not we can have cable. We don’t have cable, and instead we have a stray dog, which I found, which is a fair compromise, but I do watch TV. I just watch it on Hulu, Amazon, and Netflix like a modern person.
I do watch comedy, but sometimes it’s a little too much for me. I’m not sure why. I guess I just get overwhelmed or maybe because I work in comedy, I like watch American contemporary TV comedies, and I just feel like I can see everything or something and that is not as magical to me, but there are some shows that delight me a lot.
I watch Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and my best friend, Gabe, writes on the show. I love that show. I watch New Girl, Parks and Rec, and Mindy. I really like those.
Then I watch what everyone else watches, I think; I watch Mad Men. I watch a lot of BBC stuff. In general, my preference, my go-to is always like a period drama. That is mostly what I watch, so I watch like The Paradise, Call the Midwife, and anything where people are like wearing bloomers and corsets.

On her career.
Jenny : "I think I keep my eyes pretty wide open when it comes to my career, because I’ve always wanted to be an actress, and I’m thrilled that I am working. I think it would be wrong to say, “Oh, no.” I don’t notice anything different, because that’s [would be a lie]. I don’t think of it in terms of like, “Wow, this is my year,” because that kind of insinuates that like there’s some sort of like peak to me and that scares me. You know, it’s like the people who were like, “I loved high school,” and you’re like, “Oh, no. That’s such a bummer.”
You know, I just started working. I’ve only been working for like four or five years, and I will say that I feel that the door is much more opened for me now, and I feel more grounded and confident, and I feel very agile in my work. I think that comes from being given the proper opportunities in which I can really like flourish and taking jobs that allow me to think deeply about what I’m doing, and that does feel different. I feel very excited, and I feel very fortunate and really pumped. I’m just really excited to see what my next piece of work looks like. That’s how I feel. I feel that I’m in a good zone to do some good work. You know, actresses that I admire, and that I’ve always admired, are like Ruth Gordon, Lily Tomlin, Madeline Kahn, and people that have a lifetime of work, and that’s what I’m going for.
[...] I am a bit competitive and, you know, I audition. There is something that feels like you won the role when you get the part. I don’t think that’s the best way for me to see it like when I’m going in there. You know, usually I try to focus up and do my own ****. You know, if they kick me, they kick me, but casting is so incredibly subjective. It’s not like taking a test or running a race in anyway, but, yes, I get really, really excited because, you know, it’s the next step. It’s something new, and that’s what I want.

On her next projects.
Jenny : "My husband, Dean Fleischer-Camp, and I are just—we’ve just finished our second Marcel the Shell with Shoes On picture book; and that will be out in October. You know, I’ve also continued to record more of Bob’s Burgers, and I just finished Season 3 of The Kroll Show, and soon I’ll be going back to House of Lies and Parks and Rec and I do, I fill my time. Yes. I’m reading scripts and deciding and auditioning and deciding what my next feature will, so I think I just try to keep it all going. The one thing I try to keep in mind is just to not spaz out. I guess.
[...] I just want to work so badly. I just always wanted it. I enjoy it so much. It’s very romantic. I fill my time with work, and then I’ve taken a couple of vacations with my husband this summer and my family. We went to Martha’s Vineyard, and now as we speak, I’m on the Outer Banks of North Carolina with my husband’s family and his 94-year-old grandmother, who saw me on Fallon and commented that my dress was very revealing and that she could see all of my breast, but not my nipple.
[...] I do have plans to do more features [...] I kind of include Married in that type of work. It feels like we’re making a little “Indie” just in pieces, and it feels really nice.
You know, when I first started to work as an actress, I just looked for jobs. I just wanted jobs. I didn’t want to be on unemployment. I didn’t want to be a nanny or a waitress anymore. My standup is, I do it all the time, but it’s “alternative standup,” which means that usually I do it for free. I just wanted to get paid at first, which is why—you know my IMDb page is like a strange collage, but that’s how it goes. Sometimes you just kind of like have to suck it, but now I feel that I have the luxury of choosing, and I don’t take that lightly.
I think what I look for really is to just play a role that is not a stereotype of a woman, and even if it’s a sort of character structure that we’ve seen before, I look for one that I can add my own voice to. You know, I think that might be a boring answer, but I just don’t want to play anybody’s shrill wife; I don’t want to play anybody’s girlfriend, who is like, “That was weird.” You know, like when her husband is doing something weird. I just want play a person who has their own decisions and opinions. I don’t really care what the genre is. I’m truly interested in doing everything.
I just want to make sure that I continue to put interesting female characters out into the world, and I don’t want to be bored, and I don’t want to work with, you know, ***holes. Those are sort of my criteria.

On acting.
Jenny : "I think the most important thing that I’ve learned is that if you’re going to ask to be in front of people, and that’s going to be a pleasurable and useful experience for you, is that, at least for me, I have to know that it is pleasurable and useful for the people watching. It’s helped me to focus on what feels like a performance, and what feels like masturbation, because there’s a fine line. You know, I am a middle child, and I’ve said this before, but there’s a part of me that can be a little bit ashamed of how much I’m like, “Look at me. I want you to see me. I’m here. I’m here. Do you know that I’m here? I’m me. I have something to say.” I need love, and those are my needs. I think performing live and performing very personal standup has just put me on, I think, the right path, which is that it’s okay to want people to look at you, but just make sure you give them something useful to look at. Don’t just like jerk off in their faces, because they’re going to feel like weirdly excited and like really upset."

Married airs Thursdays at 10/9c on FX.

About the Author - FrenchAmerican9
This is Michael (aka FrenchAmerican9), he lives in Lyon, France. He is a sophomore in college, majoring in Political Science and minoring in English. He is an avid TV watcher, watching shows from US, UK, Australia, Canada, France and Denmark.
This season, on SpoilerTV, he will review American Crime, Black-ish, Cristela, Dallas 2012, Empire, Fresh Off The Boat, Married, Playing House, Red Band Society, The Fosters, The Mindy Project and You're the Worst. His favorite TV shows are Fargo, The Ice Cream Girls, Black Mirror, Breaking Bad, Happy Endings, Friends, Buffy, LOST, Everwood, The Good Wife, Revenge, Hannibal, The Americans, American Horror Story, Grey's Anatomy, Masters of Sex and The Mindy Project.
Some of his other interests include politics, reading, music and writing.
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