Obvious Child, which opens on June 6, stars Jenny Slate as Donna, an aspiring standup who quickly finds herself single, broke and with child. We talked with director Gillian Robespierre, who lives in Greenpoint.
This was originally a short film. What made you decide to make it into a feature, and how did you go about it?
It was kind of seamless. We had an urgent desire to tell this story in this way, so when publications like Bust and Jezebel and Feministing started writing articles about it, and putting the Vimeo link in those articles, it just got bigger and bigger. I would read through the comments and get really excited about the conversations that these men and women—mostly women, but there were dudes there, too—were having, and it was really encouraging. And it inspired me to make it a bigger thing because not too many people really watch shorts.
All of the actors in the film have a really great rapport. Was it mostly improvised, or did you do a lot of rehearsals?
I think it’s really flattering when people ask, because it says a lot about the actors, who are taking words and making them seem natural. There was a script, including Donna’s standup, but the way those scenes were done was a lot looser. I did not make Jenny stay on point—I’m not a standup, I’m just a fan, and I have been since I was little because my parents were. I’m just someone who studies it from the peripheral. Jenny knew the beats she had to hit and the places she had to go, and she really went there on her own. Some of it was taken from the page, and some of it was taken from being in the moment, which is why you feel like you’re really in a comedy club, watching somebody perform rather than an actor saying lines they’ve said 45 times in a row. I would love to give a shout out to Casey Brooks, the editor of Obvious Child, because we had a lot of options for the standup, and for the whole film really, and he helped us make it work.
She’s also good at faltering onstage: when she messes up a joke, it seems painfully real. This is a film about many different women’s real-life experiences. Can you talk about how you approached Donna’s character?
We approached all of the characters and their backstories—and “future stories”—as straightforwardly as possible. There’s no reason for us to explain when or why Gabe Liebeman’s character came out of the closet. It’s just a slice of life in Donna’s world. There’s no fat to the story—we just wanted the audience to be a fly on the wall of this woman’s life and be entertained by it and not worry about all the sort of setups that tend to be kind of boring.
Everything is just a given: even though she’s aimless or struggling in certain ways, she has a great rapport with her parents.
Yeah, I like that—it’s just a given.