Jenny Slate: ‘Men under patriarchy are forced to disregard fundamental human emotions’

The Landline star on sexist celebrity culture and why the world felt like a nicer place in the 90s


LANDLINE directed by Gillian Robespierre, screenplay by Elisabeth Holm & Robespierre from a story by Holm, Robespierre & Tom Bean, with Jenny Slate, Abby Quinn, Jay Duplass, John Turturro and Edie Falco. An Elevation Pictures release. 97 minutes. Opens Friday (August 4). See review.


Jenny Slate broke out three years ago in Gillian Robespierre’s Obvious Child, where she played a stand-up comic thrown by a new relationship and an unexpected pregnancy. The depths of that performance came as a surprise after her broad comic roles in Parks And Recreation and Kroll Show, and now she’s getting more dramatic work in projects like this spring’s Gifted (opposite Chris Evans) and the upcoming Aardvark (with Jon Hamm).

Her latest feature, Landline, reunites Slate with Robespierre and Obvious Child co-writer Elisabeth Holm for the story of a layout artist in 1995 New York who moves back home for some time apart from her fiancé (Jay Duplass) and destabilizes the lives of her sister (Abby Quinn) and parents (Edie Falco, John Turturro).

Over the phone from Los Angeles, she talked about the movie and what it means to her, and some other stuff as well.

The period details in Landline are small but precise. Your character works for Paper Magazine, and there’s an invitation to a 12 Monkeys party that shows up a couple of times. I’ve been doing this job long enough that I was at that party, at Tunnel, which was this weird club in Chelsea that was way too cool for me.

Yes! Tunnel! Well, Gillian Robespierre and Elisabeth Holm, they were both New York City kids. Gil was a teenager in the 90s, she was like a rave kid. She went to Tunnel and the other place – what was it called? Limelight. Was it a church? Yeah. Even I went there, in the 2000s.

Setting a movie in the fall of 1995 feels like an affectation at first, for the bands and the clothes, but then we see a computer and realize it’s not connected to anything. No one has a cell phone yet. Everybody’s alone.

There’s no other world but the world that these people are in. Whereas now, in 2017, there’s me right here sitting on my couch and then there’s also me on the internet. If I don’t want to deal with the world I’m in right now, I can go on the internet and I can say things, or I can take a picture of myself and filter it or doctor it or whatever, just make it all a little more controlled. And put an image of my experience out there rather than having [an experience].

And I think for those of us who were teenagers in the 90s and really becoming young adults, it feels like a time that was the last era of something. It was the last truly natural time, where you really didn’t have simultaneous identities and didn’t feel the strain of that fragmentation. And I think although Gillian and Elisabeth wanted to make a timeless story, they also wanted to set it in this time because that time just straight-up does not exist any more. And there are those of us that really, dearly miss it.

There’s a wistfulness to the film that seems even more melancholy now – so much of it is about women looking to define themselves, and finding inspiration in things like Hillary Clinton’s power suit. And now, well…

Yeah. Yeah! When we made this movie last May, we all really thought that Hillary Clinton was going to end up being the president. We never thought that we would be watching this movie – watching that famous speech that Hillary Clinton gave at the time, in the pink suit, and seeing Edie’s character put that pink suit on and be very inspired by this woman – we never thought we would be watching it feeling so, um, disheartened and abused.

Hollowed out, is how I’ve been describing it.

Yeah. That’s exactly what it feels like. And when we showed this film at Sundance, and there’s this footage of Hillary – because Sundance was happening during the inauguration – it was a very tough environment to be in. It just felt sad, it felt very fraught, and although we participated in the women’s march, and Gillian, Abby and Edie and I went to a Planned Parenthood event and really tried to keep putting ourselves into the world that we wanted to see, it was very hard. There were some audible sighs and noises of despair, of sadness, when the image of Hillary popped onto the screen. It’s just hard to take. And it’s not just that. It’s that the world feels rough now. The behaviours on the internet are rough. They’re rough and cruel, and of course there are some great ones as well, but we are still adjusting to how to be human and have the internet. We haven’t had it for very long, it’s still kinda wild out there.

It’s awful. And when you try to point it out – as in the Vanity Fair profile where you noted that gossip sites and paparazzi play to the worst patriarchal tropes – it just gets worse. As if anyone could look at the treatment of, say, George Clooney and the women he’s dated over the last couple of decades and not notice the difference in attitude and coverage.

Yeah, it’s so funny. And it’s very odd for a gossip site to be like, “That’s not true!” Because to me that just feels like the weirdest thing to say. Of course, tabloid culture and celebrity online media, whatever you’re gonna call it, is deeply entrenched in and really holds true to the tenets of the patriarchy. And I don’t feel any need to play into that at all, and that includes being afraid of it, you know? I read Rebecca Solnit almost religiously. The books that she writes, Men Explain Things To Me and The Mother Of All Questions – they lay it out really, really clearly. I have become obsessed with the ways in which women are made timid and women are silenced, and the ways in which men under patriarchy are forced to disregard some of the most fundamental human emotions. The first one is vulnerability, the idea that men have to be impenetrable. It makes me really sad, but the more I read the more I see ways in which my own voice can kinda turn the ship a little bit.

I’m really glad you’re doing it.

I’m just starting to identify what seems like garbage to me, you know? [laughter] I really am, and I don’t have time for it. Because I have to do things to make the world better.

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