When Jenny Slate appears in a little Zoom box, she admits, “Not to be too expected, but I just got back from the gynecologist. It’s almost a stupid thing to say because it’s a caricature of myself.” And for many people who know Slate as the star of Obvious Child, the tender dramedy about a comedian who decides to have an abortion after a one-night stand… yeah, it’s pretty on the nose.
But Slate, 39, is also a stand-up, a best-selling author, a co-creator of the viral and beloved short film Marcel the Shell, a scene-stealer (just watch her play horned-up money-hungry Mona-Lisa Saperstein in Parks & Recreation), and a self-described “hyper-romantic.” Which is why her next turn as rom-com star just makes sense.
In Amazon’s charming I Want You Back, out Feb. 11, Slate plays Emma, a thirty-something who gets dumped by her nice guy-trainer boyfriend (Scott Eastwood). After meeting the also-recently-ditched Peter (Charlie Day) in a stairwell at work, the two hatch a plan to get their exes back by ruining their new relationships. Hijinx and unexpected romance ensues.
Ahead, Slate explains why she wanted to get into the iconic rom-com game, and how her recent marriage to writer and artist Ben Shattuck and her entrée into motherhood (she welcomed her first child last February) have expanded her view of herself and her work.
You just got married on New Year’s Eve—congratulations! I also recently got married and everybody always wants to know if anything feels different. I’m curious if anything does for you?
I’ll eat any morsel from the romantic realm that I can get. In the week leading up to getting married, which was also the week that Omicron hit, I felt a real, increasing, glowy happiness. It turned out to only be small, but even though we had been planning a much larger wedding, we still had the amount of flowers we would have had at a 200-person wedding. We got married in our living room, which has high ceilings and beams, and I asked the florist to make it look like Greta Gerwig’s Little Women. I love the entire film, but the scene with the flowers…it made me horny. We went really Christmas-y with oranges and pomegranates and garlands of cranberry colored beads.
I Want You Back marks your first time leading a straight-up classic rom-com. How did you approach preparing for this role?
Ten weeks before I played this 32-year-old, I was actually exploding my vagina and having a baby at 38 years old. Then I turned 39 and started making the movie. I was deep in a different situation. But the reason why I wanted to make the movie was because I do stand up, which means I can kind of play myself if I am able to synthesize the chaos in my mind into some sort of outward transmission that makes sense as entertainment.
After nine months of literally getting larger and larger and heavier and heavier, and everything having the biggest consequence, I was just like, man, I want to have fun. The rest of it was just like, how do I take my breast pump in the van? Honestly, the movie’s kind of a memorial to those big, huge milky boobs.
People have been drawn to rom-coms over the course of the pandemic because they’re just such feel-good films. Plus, there are actually good ones coming out now after such a drought. How do you feel about leading one now?
I’d like to do many more. We just don’t have movies like this anymore. Part of that stems from women being held back for so long and being told to be neat and pretty and cross our legs and never get drunk or whatever, that there’s now an overcorrection. In a lot of genres, it’s like, here’s a woman and she’s fucked up. Yeah, of course she is. Of course we all are, and we need to see that. But while there is an immense amount of work that needs to be done in our culture in terms of what characters we’re putting out there, it’s a really nutritious relief to see people in a more traditional storyline. Maybe it wasn’t cool or something for a while, but I’ve always gone back to the rom-com to make me feel better.
I always feel good when I watch While You Were Sleeping. Sandra Bullock is delectable. I always feel good when I watch Sleepless in Seattle. You’ve Got Mail is harder because now you guys are just having an emotional affair.
There’s a line at the end of I Want You Back where Emma is talking to the man who dumped her and she says something along the lines of, “I just wanted the search to be over.” That is such a relatable admission that you don’t really hear in rom-coms.
I certainly felt that way before I met Ben. The way we are told to search for love is fairly inhumane and unworkable. The whole culture of looking for people on apps is very difficult for most people to tolerate in their hearts. Unfortunately you don’t get to choose when it’s over, unless you truly are shutting down.
How did you start falling in love with Ben?
I met him through friends in Norway, but we didn’t keep in touch. Then we met again many months later and we emailed each other for a while. He came to visit me while I was writing my first book, Little Weirds. After he left, I was like, huh, seems like he should come back, or I should go where he lives. So I did.
At the time I was not going to try anymore. I was thinking, maybe I tried everything I could and it just didn’t work, so I guess I’m done. But I noticed that when I wrote to him, I wrote things that I was actually interested in and not things that I thought made me seem smart. I remember thinking, this person is incredibly smart. He’s a brilliant writer and painter. He brings the best out of me. That best isn’t my most sexually viable or whatever, but more like, wow, I am interested in the thing that was created between us and I wouldn’t say it to anyone but him, and I never have before.
Even though you’re open to sharing your relationship, you’ve talked about how you’re more careful about what you want and don’t want to share. How did you come to that decision?
When I say I’m pulling back, maybe I’m just landing in a normal zone. But the pandemic and being pregnant really changed what I need. I don’t feel like I’m hollering out anymore to be understood. But, again, I’m not as private as some people. I’m doing an interview right now about how my husband and I wrote letters to each other. But my needs changed. When you expose something, it can be used in any way. Before, that didn’t really bother me. But now there’s too much that is so singularly defined in my life as precious. I am reluctant to spend that.
What has your life been revolving around?
I write every day. I shyly think about doing standup and get really scared and then stare into the mirror for 20 minutes for no apparent reason. A lot of my life has been getting back to a place where I felt like myself again after having a baby.
What has that process been like?
The first work was really accepting that I am embodied change because of a decision that I made so I could be a more expansive and loving person. Then it’s like, okay, how do I do my work and have a child? How do I let my child’s sweetness and courage and curiosity be the torch bearer for how I want to be? A little baby has no need to be defensive or brag or to flatter. There’s a lot to learn from the tiny sage that is a baby.
I love performing. I love it so much and I love being in love. I always thought that having a baby would take away from those things. But instead it has only amplified those things for me in a way that I did not think was possible.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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