by Dean Rogers
Five years ago, writer/director Gillian Robespierre and comedienne Jenny Slate first collaborated on a indie short entitled “Obvious Child”. Thanks to a strong debut at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. A24 Films picked up the short turned full-length feature and is now releasing this rom-com this Friday. I recently talked to both Gillian and Jenny about this amazing film!
You made Obvious Child as a short in 2009, what made you decide to transition the short to a feature film?
Gillian Robespierre (Director) I was sitting the editing room really watching the footage from the short and realizing we had an amazing performance out of Jenny but if we had a couple of more thousands or trillions of dollars and a longer script, we could just go out tomorrow and shoot the rest of the movie. The story was good. She was so captivating but we didn’t have any of those. So, we snipped it, cut if off and made it a short. It was great and very well-received. It really encouraged me to go and tell it in a bigger way. So, I sat down and written a feature for Jenny.
Was Jenny always your first choice for Donna Stern?
You know she really wasn’t. *laughs* Yes, Always!
Jenny, this is your first time as a leading lady. I watched you on Saturday Night Live. How did you feel initially knowing that you are playing the leading lady?
This experience is a little different than most of my experiences for many reasons. I knew Gillian was writing this movie for me so it was like “Oh, you got the part.” It did sort of feel that way when it was apparent that we really had the funding for this film and it was going to be made. That’s when it all came into focus for me. I felt very delighted and flattered that Gillian was writing this for me but I felt that I had a lot of work cut out for me. I was grateful for that kind of work.
Tell us of your camaraderie you had with your fellow castmates Jake Lacy & Gaby Hoffman
Well, each performer is different and we have different connections. I’ve known Gaby a few years because she saw Gabe Liebman and I (that’s Joey in the film) do stand-up. I felt she and I have a really sweet sisterhood. That is something that is good to work off of. While our relationship in the film isn’t exactly like our relationship in life in anyway, its something to build off of. Jake and I feel like we made each other laugh from the start. We are both workhorses and very focus performers. So, we’re a good match. I think our work ethic and our love for laughter in our downtime is what ties us together.
This next question is to the both of you. In your humble opinion, what makes a good comedy whether it’s on television or the movies?
Jenny Slate: Thoughtfulness, a clear point of view and a respect for your audience. Comedy is funny when expects its audience to be smart but there are many kinds of comedy. It’s like America’s Funniest Home Videos, it’s for anyone and I like that too.
How about you, Gillian?
I liked what Jenny said, a respect for your audience. That’s nice. I think just seeking authenticity and honesty in your characters and what you find funny.
JS: Originality is important too.
Gillian, which do you prefer writing or directing or both?
I like that question. I like both, you know, writing is more intimate. You don’t have to use your voice that much in the sense of explaining things. You can just sit in your office, my office is my kitchen table, and drink coffee. You know, while is kind of isolating, it’s really nice and I like being alone. Then, after a while, that can drive you crazy and your characters shouldn’t just stay on a page. When you’re finally on set and people are in costumes and amazing actors are saying the lines and we’re workshopping them and talking about it and really collaborating, that’s magical too. So it’s very hard to say which one I like best because I like them both for different reasons. I also am terrified of both for different reasons. It’s like which child do you like better.
What is your favorite comedy film and who were your influences growing up?
Slate: I don’t know if I could pick one favorite comedy but my favorite movie is Crossing Delancey. I really like Home Alone, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Uncle Buck and Meet Me in St. Louis. My influences growing up were Lily Tomlin, Ruth Gordon, Madeline Kahn. Gilda Radner, of course. Maria from Sesame Street.
Thank you Jenny and Gillian for that wonderful interview. Be sure to see Obvious Child as its theatres, This Friday!