Interview: Jenny Slate doesn’t want you to call ‘Obvious Child’ ‘the abortion movie’

Comic and actress Jenny Slate plays a woman who gets a pile of bad news at once in "Obvious Child." Credit:  Getty Images
Comic and actress Jenny Slate plays a woman who gets a pile of bad news at once in “Obvious Child.”
Credit: Getty Images

Jenny Slate — “Saturday Night Live” alum and the woman behind “Marcel the Shell” — takes the lead in “Obvious Child,” an indie comedy in which Slate plays a late-20s New York City native who is dealing with what could be her worst Valentine’s Day yet. The events of the day include an appointment to get an abortion, an aspect of the film that’s been stealing most of the focus. It’s something Slate is both not so cool with and totally cool with.

Did you ever have a night as a stand-up where a show went south as much as it does in this film?

No, I haven’t because I don’t let myself do what Donna did. I’m similar to her in some ways and really dissimilar in a lot of ways. I can be very, very strict with myself, and I am not self-destructive or self-abusive [the way she is]. In other ways I am, but they’re private — and in some ways much more insidious. [Laughs]

You use some of your own stand-up material in this.

Some. Not a lot, just, like, three jokes are in there. I had a lot of input. Gillian [Robespierre, director] wrote the stand-up [scene] first, and it was really funny, but it was really long. I was like, “You just wrote me, like, a 45-minute set.” We went to San Francisco one day to workshop the script, and one of the things I did was that I stood up in front of [some cast members] and did an improvised set based on what I remembered from what Gill wrote. She recorded that, took it home, rewrote and then that was what was in our shooting draft. But then on the day of the shoot, I had purposefully not memorized it and then she and I put together. It was basically a beat sheet. The stand-up was really a collaboration. … But the rest of the movie is fully scripted.

It manages to capture an authentic look at a stage of life that we don’t see closely examined very often in film for some reason.

I know, it’s strange. People seem to think of the late 20s as, like, those are the go-getters and people who are too young to say, like, “Get your life together.” But, in fact, I think the late 20s are really, really tough. They were really tough for me. I would never go back to that.

Really?

Sort of. Nobody told me that my 20s would be a surprise second adolescence, you know? And also, you’re getting to the point where you’re like, “I should have a career formed now, right?” No matter what your job is. And it just takes longer than that. There’s also an incorrect assertion that personal development should be finished by that point, and that’s untrue. That’s 100 percent wrong.

It almost feels weird to think how much people would previously be expected to have figured out by 25.

Yeah, like what the f—? In eight years, starting at 22 to 30 I’m going to have to get all that s— together — and half of it I don’t even want? No! I’m sure if you’re in a field that has more structure, maybe you are more settled by that point. But freak-outs are allowed and normal.

Jenny Slate does a fair amount of stand-up, only some of it her own, in "Obvious Child." Credit: Chris Teague
Jenny Slate does a fair amount of stand-up, some of it her own, in “Obvious Child.”
Credit: Chris Teague

Are you getting tired of people referring to this as “the abortion movie”?

Yeah, because it isn’t a comedy about abortion. It’s a romantic comedy with a modern story in which a woman has a safe and regret-free procedure.

Which is surprisingly rare, considering how abortion is usually dealt with in film and on TV.

It’s important, I think, to examine and express the idea that even though a choice is made and a choice is clear, that it’s really complex even after the choice is made, and those more nuanced situations are where you can find a lot of emotion, and they’re what makes a story relatable and interesting. To have faith in a story where a woman has an abortion and it’s not a trauma or a victory but rather just an aspect of her life and something that adds to her personal development — to trust that your audiences might be satisfied with that if you examine it thoughtfully is a really good feeling. It doesn’t even feel like that much of a risk to take, but it does feel like a necessity right now. If we’re thinking of this story, we should tell it.

But you’re right, it’s not what this movie is “about.”

Yeah. But I get it. And honestly, I would much rather people talk about it than not talk about it, and if people are going to say, “It’s the ‘this,’” the only thing that will happen is that people will show up to the movie and realize that it’s many things and not just one.

Follow Ned Ehrbar on Twitter @nedrick



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