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Interview with Jenny Slate

HBO

Does playing an actress hit close to home?

Jenny Slate

Totally. The things that Amelia and Jessica say to elevate themselves really end up slamming them down. That kind of speak is something that a lot of actors can fall into. They're lines that in one way or another I've probably said at certain points in my life and my career. It made me take a step back and genuinely think about how I'd like to behave on set. A lot of those lines felt like a terrible joke on me for the times when I've been a total sh*thead.

HBO

Does the show do an accurate job portraying the industry?

Jenny Slate

Do you ever have the feeling like, "Well, I thought I acted this way at this party, but in fact, what if I was a lot worse than I was? I thought I was being charming, but maybe I was just taking the attention." In a way, that's how the show functions.

There's some hyperbole there and I think that they do a great job clarifying those terrible, sour moments you can have as a person living in LA. There's a lot of good stuff too, but I think the show is focused on the playfulness of how terrible it is.

HBO

You have an improv background; do you and Christine Woods ever improvise in your scenes together?

Jenny Slate

We improvised quite a bit in the scene where we're one-upping each other at the dinner party. The scene was written in a certain way that was already really funny, but when we started to do it together a rhythm developed that was specific to us as performers. Although we tried to keep to the script that Stephen [Merchant], Lee [Eisenberg] and Gene [Stupnitsky] wrote, there were some little fruits of our labor that popped up.

HBO

Many of the characters you play -- Tally on 'Girls', Mona Lisa on 'Parks & Recreation' and Amelia on 'Hello Ladies' -- are immature, to put it nicely. Do you naturally gravitate towards playing the foil?

Jenny Slate

It's happened out of coincidence. Those are parts that are available to me and I take them. I do think that character types trend. As a female comedian, the parts that come my way are often terrible women. I often end up playing "the bitch," but I also like to hope that there's something about me that's the opposite of that, and that maybe the people casting me or writing for me like that switch. Finding a way to make them not so bad is often my way of digesting and metabolizing these terrible characters. Hopefully there's still some sort of a heart that shows through.

Amelia for example, I would never want to be her or be like her, but to me at least, she is very insecure, and I can sympathize with that. I don't think she should be pardoned, but at least there's a way to understand that.

HBO

How did you try to showcase that insecurity?

Jenny Slate

She's a lot tighter in her face and her body than I am as a person. I'm a lot more of a squiggle in real life. So formally, I tried to instill Amelia with a stillness that was based in fear. She's very afraid that people aren't going to think she's good enough. She's on the alert, and that's why she's very sensitive -- and not in a beautiful way -- but in a way where she is porous and things that will hurt her get in and reduce her immediately.

HBO

Did you come up with any backstory for her?

Jenny Slate

I thought about it a lot. Did Amelia go to Carnegie Melon? Did she go to theater school? I think she was a drama girl all the way but somehow thought of herself as kind of indie and stylish. By the time she got to college, she figured out how to be cool. She probably hit the ground right out of college with acting, and since then she's known that she needs to be part of these dinner party situations to come off as the belle of the ball. She's calculated it pretty well.

HBO

Speaking of the dinner party episode, do you have any singing background?

Jenny Slate

No, I don't! I'm not trained; I'm just a shower singer. I tried to use that. Maybe Amelia doesn't sing very well at the party and that's going to make Jessica incredibly upset because people somehow still congratulate Amelia.

HBO

What advice would you give to Amelia and Jessica?

Jenny Slate

I would tell Amelia to check herself -- to calm down and take a look around her and take a kinder view of herself and of other people.

For Jessica, I'd tell her to get a new agent.

HBO

What advice would you give to someone trying to pick up a single lady?

Jenny Slate

Don't wear a shirt that might be a blouse. Those man shirts are a bummer. Don't use a pick-up line. And be nice. The nice ones always win.

Interviews