Friday, July 28, 2017

TwoOhSix Interviews: Jenny Slate, Abby Quinn, and Gillian Robespierre for "Landline"

On a sunny Saturday afternoon in Seattle, Gillian Robespierre, Jenny Slate, and Abby Quinn were in town to promote Landline., their new film which was featured as part of the 2017 Seattle International Film Festival's "Centerpiece Gala" event. Right before the screening, I was given a few minutes to speak with each of them and you could really tell how passionate and excited they were about this new film.

Gillian Robespierre
Landline really tore apart what my expectations were for this type of story and I mean that in the best possible way. Is that something you set out to achieve or was it an added bonus of the process?

Liz and I definitely wanted to do that. Liz is my co writer, she produced the film and we both shared a similar experience growing up where divorce reshaped our families in almost a cordial way. It was a narrative we felt was sort of missing. I'm not saying my parents became best friends the day they signed the papers but they had me and my brother so they had a job to continue being our parents and what happened was we were sort of on auto pilot for many years. We all had these roles in our family and we sort of stayed in our lane and never swerved which kind of became a very safe area for us to not communicate, to tell a lot of lies, and to hold back what we were really feeling or thinking.

When our family was forced to align differently and not live under one roof, my brother and I became friends, my mom and I kind of changed roles, and it was the first time I had seen my family break down a little bit. We came back together so much stronger and I think that it's sad but it's also hopeful and inspiring. To know that if you're thinking about getting divorced, I think there is some sort of hope even if you think it's not the norm or what you think is going to be normal for the rest of your life. We wanted to flip that narrative on its ass a little bit.

As I was watching the movie, everything just felt so real and honest, especially when it came to Jenny Slate's performance as Dana. You have worked with Jenny a couple times now so what is it that makes her such a good fit to help tell your stories?

First of all, she's such a brilliant stand up performer which is how I first met her, when she was doing stand up comedy in Brooklyn many many years ago, but she's also really in touch with her dramatic, darker side. I think a lot of comedians are very keyed into that darker thing that lives within all of us, but she's able to translate that into a performance within the character and I don't think all comedians can do that. I don't think it's a good idea to put every single comedian into a dramatic role because it can turn into stunt casting which isn't always the right type of casting.

When I saw her perform way, way back, she was just telling stories. She brought me into her world and was able to make me feel both sad and happy at the same time while telling a story about going to sleep away camp or humping furniture. It was then that I knew this woman was an actress and she can tap into that side so magically, it's pretty amazing. I haven't met many actors who could do that as well as she can.

Tell me about Abby Quinn, who plays Jenny's sister in the movie, and why you thought she would be such a good fit for the role.

We worked with a really great casting director out of New York, Doug Aible and Stephanie Holbrook, and we knew that the actress we were looking for either needed to be a teenager or at least believable as a teenager. She needed to be somebody who could be both wise and a child at the same time and, just like Jenny, she had to be able to walk this tightrope of comedy and drama. She had to be tough and vulnerable and she had to be able to handle being in a room with actors like John Turturro and Edie Falco and Jenny Slate.

When we saw Abby's tape, there was something very wise about her and, since it's 2017 and not 1995 like in the movie, we googled her and found performances of her playing guitar on stage. She was singing an acoustic version of a Brittney Spears song and it was amazing so we knew that this girl had depth, she had drive, she had multiple talents, and she wasn't just an actress so it was really a no brainer. When I noticed that she has curly hair and Jenny has curly hair, I just knew their locks would be like this puddle of curls on screen so it was perfect. It really helps you to believe they are sisters and I just hate movies where you don't believe the people are a family.

Abby Quinn
First of all, tell me about how you got cast in the the film as Ali, who is the sister of Jenny Slate's character, and also tell me about your experience of working on this film.

It was a pretty standard audition. I had to fly from L.A., where I live now, to New York for the first audition and then again six weeks later for the callback which is when I met with Gillian and with Liz (Story and screenplay writer Elisabeth Holm). I had seen Obvious Child a few weeks before auditioning and I just loved everyone involved and was really inspired by them so getting the audition felt kind of crazy to me. The thought of playing Jenny's sister, it just felt like too good to be true.

I can imagine it was pretty exciting to get to work with people who inspire you and who you look up to so what does it take to find that comfort level where you can put yourself in that character and just act?

I don't know, it kind of sounds weird, but it's almost more comfortable having the character to fall back on. I have the lines and I have my character and I did a lot of work beforehand to try and understand who I am and why I'm saying these things so when I was actually acting with John (Turturro), and Edie (Falco), and Jenny it felt pretty comfortable. They're all incredible actors so nothing felt forced so it had a lot to do with the writing and it had a lot to do with them as actors.

You mention John Turturro who, to me is a legendary actor. Tell me a little bit about how you are able to maintain professionalism on set while working on set with someone with that type of experience.

Yeah! Well, part of it is that you just don't think about it, they're just a person, and you have to separate their past from who you are seeing them as right now which is a scene partner, a really talented scene partner, and that's it. Of course, it didn't work every time so there were moments where I would be sitting there going "How is this happening right now!" or "Why am I here!" so yeah, that definitely happened a couple times.

Watching the movie, it felt like it had a really strong, collaborative feel to it.

Yeah, right off the bat it was really collaborative. We had a read through the day before we started shooting and that was pretty much it for rehearsal so, the day we started filming, everyone was just talking about the little things we wanted to change, even if it was a single word that might not sound natural for the character.

Most of the movie was filmed on actual locations in New York. I wanted to ask you about the scene where your character goes into a run down building to participate in a drug transaction because it really looked like a place you might not normally want to hang out in.

We actually had to re-shoot that scene because there were a lot of noise problems with music, or phones ringing, but yeah, it was just a random apartment building in the city. Being on locations like that really helps versus being on set or in a studio although I've kind of been lucky, having never really worked in a studio. I would like to one day but, for this movie, the atmosphere totally helped with the relationships and the character. Just being in New York, you already have the foundation of who this person is and it really gives you a lot to work off of.

Jenny Slate
You've worked previously with Gillian on Obvious Child. Tell me about how that relationship started and then how it progressed over the course of making two films together.

I met Gillian in maybe 2008. She had seen me perform and got in touch with me through a mutual friend to see if I would be in the short film version of Obvious Child. When we made the feature, which she had actually written for me, I still didn't know her that well. It was over the course of making that film that we became really close and it was so meaningful to me in so many ways.

It opened me up as an actress, it allowed me to show myself as a performer to my community rather than just like, oh I only do comedy. It allowed me to show how I see myself from the inside which is a big privilege if that can happen to you. When Landline came about and she just had the start of an idea, I said of course, I'll do whatever and that's how I feel about Gillian. I would like to work with her as long as she'll have me.

What would you say are the main differences between your characters in the two movies?

In Obvious Child, Donna is wild and sort of unkempt and sort of emotionally unready for her adulthood. In Landline, Dana is almost too ready. She's too entrenched in the same patterns and, while she's a little bit prissy, that prissiness is filled with electric energy and she's starting to feel like she doesn't want to be prissy any more, she wants to be free.

A lot of the movie's comedy comes from Dana's unique energy. How do you know when to push that comedic envelope and do you ever feel like you are going too far?

We don't have a lot of time to make these movies so, for each scene, I have a general idea of what should be happening and, if something doesn't feel right, I have learned to adjust quickly. I trust Gillian as a director to create boundaries for me to sort of bounce around in. I trust myself and I trust her enough for me to be completely uninhibited in those moments.

Tell me about filming on location in New York versus being on set.

We have a scene in a record store that is so real and that vibe is unmistakable so yeah, I think it helps the more that you can root yourself to something real whether it's an emotional experience or a physical place. It's also really obvious to me when something is fake like how all of our bathrooms in this movie were on set. They weren't real bathrooms which made them feel oddly spacious and that's when you have to use another tool as an actor. I had to keep telling myself "Don't use the toilet!"

Jenny Slate and Abby Quinn in Landline

Images courtesy of the Landline Facebook page and Magnolia Pictures.

Special shout out to Ryan Davis at Smarthouse Creative.

Landline is an official selection of the 2017 Seattle International Film Festival.

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