Jenny Slate talks ‘I Want You Back’ and her living room wedding
Jenny Slate talks with USA TODAY about her new Amazon Prime romance “I Want You Back” and working with Charlie Day.
Entertain This!, USA TODAY
New year, fresh slate.
That’s the vibe that transcends a Zoom call with Jenny Slate, the effervescent comedian/actress who met 2022 with what can only be described as post-pandemic energy, hosting a “very small” New Year’s Eve living-room wedding with art curator Ben Shattuck, their daughter Ida, now 13 months, and a handful of friends.
Planning their wedding together had been “stress-free,” says Slate, 39, but it was the fourth time the couple had tried to reschedule their ceremony. “I had a beautiful dress and we still had all of the flowers that we were supposed to have. Our house was decked out and I asked the florist to make it look like the Christmas in Greta Gerwig’s ‘Little Women.’ ”
That twinkling winterscape is just the first page of a new chapter Slate is writing. On Friday, her new romantic comedy with Charlie Day, “I Want You Back,” hits Amazon Prime, and her seven-years-in-the-making big-screen adaptation of the sweet, melancholic cult hit “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” (of YouTube short films and best-selling children’s book fame) screens in March at South by Southwest. The film will be released later this year.
Slate arrived on set of “I Want You Back” just 10 weeks after giving birth. “I was scared,” she admits, juggling COVID protocols, breast-pumping challenges and her own insecurities. She laughs: “I was like, I don’t know what it’ll feel like to wear pants.”
In the film she plays Emma, a freshly dumped, aimless thirtysomething receptionist still sharing an apartment with college-age roommates. Emma’s fitness trainer ex (Scott Eastwood) has abruptly moved on with an ambitious pie shop owner (Clark Backo). Unmoored, Emma soon forms a broken-hearts club with a work friend (Day) whose girlfriend (Gina Rodriguez) similarly rejected the dependable everyman for a more exciting actor-type (Manny Jacinto). Soon, the despairing pair devise a scheme to break up their exes’ happy new unions.
Slate, an indie darling who previously starred in films like 2014’s “Obvious Child” and 2017’s “Landline,” has often felt emotionally tethered to her characters (“Now all I can think of is umbilical cord”), but is now in a far more settled place than Emma. “This time I felt in my life like the older friend of the character that I was playing, or like the big sister.”
Frankly, Slate’s M.O. is anything but arrested: She has a new agent, a new publicist and a bullish outlook.
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“I feel like I’m entering my best moment so far,” says Slate, whose 2019 fantastical memoir “Little Weirds” helped her navigate out of a period of loneliness. “You know, having a baby really caught me by surprise in a way. I mean, I wanted to have a baby. It wasn’t a surprise when I got pregnant – or it kind of was, I guess?” she laughs. “But what I thought would happen was I will become absorbed into the caregiver role and I won’t be able to reach back into what I did before.
“But what I find instead is that all of my personal concerns that in a way were a bit brutal, like my little vanities or my little worries, have just burned away. I can really see myself now. And I think that point of view is what has led me to make new relationships in my professional life and to really find people that I think believe in me.”
When filming wrapped last May, Slate retreated back into her baby cocoon, “but it’s time to get back into it,” she says. That includes dipping a toe into stand-up; Slate’s most recent Netflix special, 2019’s “Stage Fright,” addressed topics ranging from crippling anxiety to singledom following her divorce from “Marcel” collaborator Dean Fleischer-Camp. “The last time, I had really put myself out there in the culture. I was like, ‘I’m never going to date anyone again,’ ” she says.
After Slate had Ida, she wondered if the urge to perform onstage would return. “I remember being like, ‘I think I’m done now.’ Like, I didn’t have any thoughts. And all of my friends kept (saying) that’s that postpartum, like weird mom fog.”
But today, while Ida naps and Slate chats from her LA home, her wheels are turning. She’s starting to mull jokes for next month’s “Marcel” debut at SXSW. “It will be my first time doing stand-up since before the pandemic,” she says. “I have no idea what I’ll talk about, but in my own weird, frightened way, I look forward to it.”
The plot of the film, co-created with a team that includes Fleischer-Camp, plants the shy one-eyed mollusk in a modern conundrum: “We meet Marcel when an amateur filmmaker moves into the Airbnb where Marcel lives. He doesn’t know what Airbnb is,” says Slate.
Her sweetest Valentine’s Day memory? Slate, who name-checks Sandra Bullock’s “While You Were Sleeping” as her favorite rom-com, throws back to an early (and rather on-brand) surprise from Shattuck.
“My first Valentine’s Day with Ben, he painted a picture of a rabbit wearing a sash that I think said, ‘Jenny’? And in the painting he had painted, ‘Will you be my Valentine?’ ”
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