Jenny Slate on hummus, the pottery scene in Ghost, and trying not to hate horses
In the charming, ’90s-set indie comedy Landline, Jenny Slate plays a woman named Dana. Dana is someone who finds herself in a dramatic/comedic/ironic situation, as she suspects that her dad (John Turturro) is stepping out on her mom (Edie Falco), while she herself is betraying her fiancé (Jay Duplass). Let’s see how the 35-year-old comedian/actress/scene-stealer — whose credits range from Obvious Child (helmed by Landline director Gillian Robespierre) to Parks and Recreation (as the onscreen sibling of Ben Schwartz, a.k.a “the twin sister from another mister”) to this spring’s Gifted (in which she costarred with ex-boyfriend Chris Evans) — handles the call of Stupid Questions.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Dana jokes that her sister (Abby Quinn) wants to go to a college where people make their own hummus and eat it in Frisbees. What’s the strangest place you’ve eaten hummus in?
JENNY SLATE: I’ve eaten a lot of hummus — let’s get real. So much of it. You know what’s the weirdest place? Fenway Park. You don’t go to a game to eat hummus. You go to have a hot dog and s—ty beer. I remember being like, “I’m only eating this because I’m going for the healthy option.” In general, my life is in honor of healthy options.
Was it served in a batting helmet?
No, but they have the soft serve in the helmet. That would be so heinous. Also because that’s way too much hummus. It was in a little snack pack. Which is also disgusting for an adult. Sometimes you want to feel like Sandra Bullock in Two Weeks Notice and eat out of the carton and be a real cutie — that feels empowering and adorable — but I hate when, on reality shows, you see people that are very well-off eating out of plastic. It’s like, “Take a moment for yourself. Eat out of a bowl. I know you’re busy, but those things matter.”
Dana talks about the woman inside her, Bedelia, who’s a little wicked and wild. What is your imaginary friend telling you to do right now?
She’s two people: an 11-year-old witch and her grandmother, who is also a witch. I choose as an imaginary companion somebody who has a firm belief in the cosmic universe and the magic of life. She’s usually telling me to go for it — in a nice way. There’s no point in having an imaginary friend that is cruel or reiterative. That’s what the superego is for.
Your character in Obvious Child is told by her mother that she wrote a book about a girl detective named Winks when she was 11. What’s the greatest case that you’ve ever cracked in real life?
I’m not a very nosy person. I don’t tend to be a lot like my characters. I don’t think I’ve ever solved a case. I’ve, like, discovered where a bad smell is coming from. You know, in a house. Not on my body. I know where everything comes from — and I try to handle it.
You starred in Gifted. What’s the thing that you’re most ashamed about being the least gifted at?
My handwriting. It’s legitimately illegible.
Your dad is a poet and your mom is a ceramicist—
She’s a potter. She doesn’t need to say ceramicist because she thinks that that sounds more like you make bowls and plates and stuff, but she makes art vessels. They sort of look like vases but they’re not. She’s a Raku potter.
Will your next indie film be about them? Pitch us the log line.
It won’t be about them because I have already talked about my parents so much in my stand-up, but also because I’m not able to formulate a succinct thought. But if there were to be a movie about my parents, it would be about two best friends who have spent their lives taking care of everyone else, and probably about the exhilaration that they feel upon retiring and living in a beach house together, and it would be a happy, simple movie about two best friends at 67 years old falling in love like teenagers again. Because that’s what they’re doing now. It’s really beautiful. It would be like a Mike Mills movie.
Have you asked your mom if the pottery scene in Ghost is legit?
I don’t think she knows who Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore are. We grew up with very little current pop culture in our house. But I do think that scene is legit. It’s a pillar of my sexuality. I love how they connect in that scene, and I think that Demi Moore should have gotten an Oscar for that…. That’s one of the sexiest things I’ve seen on screen. That and Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman. Whoa. Why aren’t people still talking about that?
You do lots of animated voice-over work (Zootopia, The Secret Life of Pets, Bob’s Burgers). How would you describe your voice, using only words beginning with v and o?
“Vivacious.” “Volcanic.” “Verdant.”… “O” is a hard one…. “Open.” “Odd.” “Ooh la la” is a major one. I feel a big sense of “Ooh la la! Look at me!” when I do voice-over because it’s a major honor. I’ve felt that way ever since I saw footage of Robin Williams doing the Genie [in Aladdin]. I was like, “This is something you get to do when your community accepts you as something special—special enough that they don’t even have to see you.”
You’ve voiced a sheep, a dog, a snake, and a shell. Which animal did you shadow the most to get into character?
The shell. I am the most like the shell. The shell with an eye. Seeing out from within, something small. And Marcel the Shell is the most like me. That’s why it is very precious to me. Because it’s the truest expression of what I’m like.
Did your research involve lots of strolls along the shoreline?
I’ve done a lot of beach time. I’m an East Coaster. I am obsessed with collecting shells, I always have been. But to make Marcel an actual shell was my ex-husband’s idea. So I really can’t take credit for it. But I did visit bunch of sheep. I love farm animals, so it was really nice. And also to play Bellwether [in Zootopia], who really ends up being the villain, if you want to do it and make it interesting, you do have to have sympathy for her.
Did you find a sheep that seemed suspicious, where you were like, “I’m onto you, I’ve got your number”?
Not a sheep. But definitely horses. Can’t stand them. I think horses are psycho. I have 15 minutes of stand-up about how much they make me feel really deeply upset.
Marcel the Shell with Shoes On featured a one-eyed seashell that talks about hang-gliding on a Dorito for adventure. What’s the closest that you yourself have come to hang-gliding on a Dorito?
Parasailing at age 14 and getting the biggest wedgie of my life.
What shouldn’t any potential boyfriend know about you?
They should know everything, don’t you think? I hope that if I have a boyfriend again — which hopefully I will, Jesus Christ! — that there’s nothing about me that someone shouldn’t know. Like, I haven’t killed anyone. I don’t need them to know what my face looks like when I go to the bathroom, that’s just for me. [Laughs.] Or they don’t need to know every sexual fantasy. Some of those are just for me with me.
You played the unhinged Mona-Lisa on Parks and Recreation, and her brother, Jean-Raphio [Ben Schwartz] described her as “total klepto, nympho, and pyro.” Which o’s or -maniacs describe you?
Um, weirdo. I am an animaniac. I do feel that way. I guess when I really love someone I can be a little bit of a nympho with them. Why wouldn’t you be?… I’m not a psycho. And I’m not a klepto. Or a pyro. I’m not a necrophiliac. I’m not a hemophiliac because I’m not of royal U.K. blood. I’m not of the Hapsburg dynasty.
What is the weirdest place you did stand-up?
I got paid to do a stand-up at a rich girl’s 16th birthday when I was just starting out. I was on SNL so she must have been like “I want that girl,” and then they paid me to do it. But my material was very sexual, and I needed the money because I wanted to buy a new mattress, so I did it, and I had nothing to say. I just got up there and talked about Beauty and the Beast for, like, 15 minutes. That was it. And now actually I do have some material about Beauty and the Beast that’s really good. It actually sparked something so, you know, not worth nothing.
You said the f-word in your first SNL appearance and were fired after the season. When was the first time you said the f-word in a place you shouldn’t have?
I remember the first time I gave my finger, in earnest, and I got in huge trouble. I was at Camp Tapawingo, I was probably 14 or 15 years old, and we were at a social with a camp called Wildwood, which by the way, Nick Kroll went to, and one of the boys called my friend Danielle “Strawberry Shortcake” because she had a sunburn and freckles. And then this other girl Debbie was like, “Jenny, when I give you the sign, you give the finger to all these boys and I’m going to say something, in defense of Danielle.” I gave the finger and she said, “Sit and rotate!’ to the boys and it was like, Whoaaaaa. Everyone freaked out. We got kicked out of the dance and then we were put on the bus, and we were like, “Oh my god, we’re in huge trouble.” And then when we were on the bus, the counselors weren’t really mad. And we all started chanting and clapping for ourselves and we sang our Tapawingo song as we rolled out there with all the windows down.
If Jenny Slate interviewed Jenny Slate about Jenny Slate, what would you challenge her on?
I guess the horse thing, to be honest.
Like, you’re not being fair about horses?
You’re not being fair about how you really feel about horses. Because I go on stage and I say that I hate them [laughs], and I say that they’re gross and that their butts are too shiny and their feet are hammers and their dicks are from hell and their faces are scary because they’re like the size of half a door. And I’m like, “If you like horses, you’re crazy.” But I had a moment with a horse last summer where I touched his face and I was like, “Okay. I could love you. But I just can’t get there right now.” My friends think that if a horse is on the TV, they have to turn it off. That’s how bad the horse thing is. But the fact is that the door’s open. If I had a farm, I would want to have a horse. That’s crazy! Horses are a Top Five fear, but I also love them a little bit.
The animated series from Loren Bouchard follows the world of the Belcher family and their burger joint.