Comedian Jenny Slate has been everywhere lately, from a role on The Kroll Show to a recurring character on Parks and Recreation to her turn as the leading lady in the reproductive rights-tinged rom-com Obvious Child, which won her a nomination for a Gotham award. But despite all those gigs, Slate and her filmmaker husband Dean Fleischer-Camp returned recently to one of their biggest recent successes, the adorable comic creation Marcel the Shell, writing a second children’s book based on the nervous critter called The Most Surprised I’ve Ever Been. Slate and Fleischer-Camp spoke to The L from their hotel room about the evolution of Marcel, reproductive rights, and leaving Brooklyn for Los Angeles.
How has the way you think about the character of Marcel evolved since the first video?
Flesicher-Camp: I think his soul has deepened. The first video was a test drive of the character and it was mostly one-liners. Like, “Guess what I use for a hat? A lentil,” that sort of thing. The newest video only has one or two one-liners. And the dynamic between the narrator and Marcel has become a lot more defined. I think Marcel’s matured; he’s become more invested, it’s not just about how much he can entertain. He’s become more of a performer. He used to be a little camera shy.
Slate: We know the roles better now. A lot of our work together is based on us joking around and feeling like we’re playing a game together.
Marcel was born through a voice that Jenny did that Dean then created an object for. Were there other ideas before you settling on the shell?
Fleischer-Camp: There were, but they were just based on what I had around. One was a cotton ball. One was a spring or something. But when I stumbled on Marcel, he matched the voice. And he’s so handsome.
Does he come along with you on your book tour?
Slate: Oh, no. He’s so fragile we’re afraid he would break. He stays home, in a cleaned out hummus container in our linen cabinet.
The last time The L interviewed you, Jenny, it was all about your every day routine living in Brooklyn. Now that you live in LA, what do you and don’t you miss about living here?
Slate: We criticize ourselves for moving a little. The truth of it is that after a while it became impossible to find enough TV auditions in New York. It takes a long, long time to build a career with any momentum. I came to live in New York for college because it was a life goal to be on Saturday Night Live. When I was offered SNL, it was great, but afterwards, it wasn’t easy to find a job based on that. It’s sketch performance, not acting. So I started at zero, basically. The only other shows that I wanted to be on in New York were Bored to Death, which got cancelled, and Girls, which I did. There wasn’t really a reason workwise to stay. But we’ll come back one day for sure, live in some brownstone that needs a little love. What I miss is the community and the cross-pollination, because you feel like you’re all in this together. I miss that sense of being a New Yorker with someone else. I miss connecting with strangers in that way. I walked around a lot more, and when you’re actually on your feet moving, there are so many tiny ways to enjoy yourself.
Fleischer-Camp: I don’t miss the trash smells in summer. I don’t miss being stuck on the subway. I don’t miss the snow slush puddles that look like pavement. But I like that when we lived here, being in entertainment felt a little more special. At a party, when you said “I’m a director” people would be like “woah!” In LA, some model will just be like, “Oh, I’m also a director.”
Jenny, your last movie, Obvious Child had a lot to do with Brooklyn. I thought your character seemed like a really accurate representation of people I know here.
Slate: We tried really hard to make Donna look like people we would see. [Director and writer] Gillian Robespierre and I had a long frank conversation where I was like, “When Donna’s in her house, I don’t think she should be wearing bras.” I mean, I’m in a hotel room now and I’m not wearing a bra. We wanted that throwaway confidence to be there. It’s not a story about a perfect woman who’s having her first dilemma. It’s a person from our world dealing with our world.
You talked about that character being a platform for you to be an “accidental activist” for reproductive rights, too.
Slate: I try to step away from some of the feelings of shame I had, why didn’t I do this before. It’s easy to feel like your voice isn’t supposed to be a voice in the conversation. I’m not comfortable with confrontation or conflict. But it’s brought me so much joy to express my point of view, which isn’t fueled by aggression, but by optimism and hope and intelligence when it comes to our plan for how to co-exist and what it means to be a feminist. It seems like people who are non-experts are going out there and saying “Yeah, I’m the person who’s supposed to be asking for this, because I have a body,” that’s what we need. The more unique voices speaking, the more it will become normal to have a conversation.
So what’s next?
Slate: More Marcel for sure. What, we don’t exactly know yet. But hopefully we’ll be making Marcel things on our sixtieth anniversary.
Fleischer-Camp: Definitely, we’re going to keep expanding Marcel’s world. But I hope we have better plans for our sixtieth anniversary.