An Interview with Jenny Slate: “You Can’t Deny Our Humanity”

Jenny Slate reunites with her Obvious Child director Gillian Robespierre for Landline, another drama-comedy set in New York that is now playing in limited theaters, and opens in Seattle this week. While she was in town for the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) to screen the film, I had the chance to sit down with her (actually, stand in an extremely loud hallway) and ask her a few questions about the movie, her career, and Harley Quinn.

Most notably, don’t be surprised to see the bubbly actress in a dark “psychosexual thriller” at some point, and if you ask her about more opportunities in her career, she may [rightfully] slam Donald Trump in the process.

Important question to kick things off: Do you have any competition with Margot Robbie over who plays the better Harley Quinn?

She definitely has more lines, and has a physical body. So no competition.

You’ve been in three good movies this year (The LEGO Batman Movie, Gifted, and Landline). How do you pick your projects?

You know, with the LEGO Batman Movie, I just loved the first LEGO Movie, so when they asked me to do this one, I just said yes immediately. I didn’t know what my part would be, I just said yes, whatever it is. Those movies are so funny.

In general, I look at movies and determine, os there enough for me to do so I won’t be boring or reiterative. Does it seem like a worthy use of my time?

You and co-star Abby Quinn truly look and feel like sisters in Landline. Do you work on establishing chemistry off set?

Part of the knack of people who are good at casting is they cast people like Abby. She is a very steady, chill, but a very curious young woman. I’m also curious but not super steady. I’m very, very chatty. We just immediately made an interesting pair and we didn’t have a lot of time to get to know each other. On the first day, I went into her trailer and went, “Oh wow, you’re a real person! Let me know if you need anything.” But it was more to establish that I’ve worked with the director before and I can help you answer questions, but I think in general we just had natural chemistry.

You kind of can’t fuck with that.

What’s your favorite childhood movie?

Meet Me in St. Louis. But I also loved Crossing Delancey.

You have six or seven movies coming out this year…

[laughs] There are a few more in the can.

It feels like things are accelerating for you. How have things changed over the last few years?

Maybe. It generally feels steady or even keeled. Nothing huge has changed. I have an appetite for work and it always feels like I’m a little hungry for it. I’ve always felt that way since I was a little girl, I’ve always wanted to be an actress. I’m never satisfied. That’s a steady feeling.

In my observation, people who come from the comedic side tend to be always working, whether it’s late night, standup or whatever. They’re always doing projects.

I started in comedy because that was the easiest way for me to be able to perform at all. That’s what my nature is, to make people laugh or whatever, but I’ve always wanted to be an actress like Madeline Kahn, who was wonderful in Clue and High Anxiety, but also was able to do a lot of different genres. Not just comedy. I do think that one thing that has changed for me in the past years is that I’ve been able to inwardly legitimize myself as an actress, not just as a comedic actress or whatever. Also, you don’t want to shit on your roots.

Is there a particular genre you haven’t been in that you’d like to be?

I’d like to be in a Polansky-type movie, like Rosemary’s Baby or The Tenant, sort of like a psychosexual thriller would be pretty cool. I remember watching Under the Skin a few years ago and thinking, “I want to do that.”

What about a villain role?

Yes. I would like to be a villain. I always think the people with the most energy, and who are most bubbly, are the scariest as a villain. I guess I was a villain in Zootopia but that doesn’t really count.

Are there other filmmakers you want to work with, or follow when new work comes out?

You’re putting me on the spot! Nicole Holofcener, Miranda July, Paul Thomas Anderson, Spike Jonze… Charlie Kaufman—I love his work.

You’ve had several interesting roles in interesting movies. Do you see a groundswell of change in terms of opportunities, roles, or directors who want to work with you?

Yeah, I think the signs point to that. And I think it’s obviously way overdue. Way overdue. There are lot of categorically negative things happening in our world right now, especially in our country, but I think that when you oppress large groups of people, you do things like trying to deny people their healthcare, their voices get really, really loud and their stories really start to be told.

One good thing that has come out of the last few months is that several issues have been pushed into the mainstream.

Yeah. You can’t deny our humanity.

By Erik Samdahl
Related categories: Movies