Jenny Slate on ‘Married,’ Comedy, and Having Paul Reiser Play Her Husband

Jenny Slate Married Interview
Jenny Slate as Jess in ‘Married’ (Photo by Matthias Clamer/Copyright 2014, FX Networks. All rights reserved.)

Jenny Slate’s scene-stealing ways continue on FX’s Married, a half-hour relationship comedy airing on Thursday nights at 10:00pm ET/PT. As season one continues, viewers are learning more about Slate’s character, Jess, wingmanwoman to her married BFF Russ (Nat Faxon), sort of friend to Russ’ spouse, Lina (Judy Greer), and wife of a much older man who she jokes she married so she’d have a sugar daddy but who she actually loves. Jess is a complicated character who’s outrageous at times and who always speaks her mind.

In support of the show’s first season, Slate took part in a conference call to discuss the series and what else we can expect to learn about Jess.

Jenny Slate Married Interview

How did you originally get involved in Married?

Jenny Slate: “I got involved in the traditional way. My agent called me and said, ‘There’s this project coming up at FX and it seems like the kind of thing you would be interested in.’ Really, I heard the premise; I got the script. I read it, and thought, ‘Yes, this seems different for me.’ This seems like the kind of story, and the kind of character, that could actually go a bit deeper than some of my television work so far. I really loved all the jobs I’ve done, but I think it’s good to always do something different, and I love the cast. I think Judy [Greer] and Nat [Faxon] had already been cast and I was huge fans of both of them, so I just went in and auditioned. Very traditional.”

What do you think it is that drives Jess?

Jenny Slate: “You know, I think Jess operates off of a central need, which is she’s just trying to find out what her worth is and where her worth stems from. I think she knows that there’s nothing she could do that would make Russ abandon their friendship and I think she feels, in a way, that Lina is stuck with her because Lina and Russ are unified. For Jess, things are almost exactly what she thought they would be and like completely disappointing.

I think she has spent most of her life being fun, being a party girl, being some weird combination of insecure and completely aggressive in terms of how she lived her life, you know, just really go in and get it. I think that drive comes from feeling insecure and not having a place. I see her as someone who has probably made some sort of silly mistake in high school where she hooked up with some guy and he ended up calling her a slut or something, and she got labeled, and she has a chip on her shoulder when she kind of feels like, ‘Hey, we’re all trying to go for it. Why was it me?’ Then she’s also wondering, ‘Well, was it me because I’m really sexy or am I sexy? Is that the currency that I’m working with here?’

I think she’s just trying to figure that out, and she has come to a point where she’s married a much older man. I think he does turn her on. I think she likes it. I think she thinks it’s kind of dangerous and taboo, and I think she saw him as somebody powerful and as a father figure to her, but now he’s lost his job. They have a baby. She’s not 22 anymore and she just isn’t really sure where she fits, and if she’s going to fit. I think when she gets the chance to stick her head into Russ and Lina’s life, she acts a bit free radical in a way.

She just wants to be the driving force. She wants to be someone making assertions; whether or not she’s making it better or worse, she just wants to be someone who has the power to change stuff and to make stuff happen because I think in her own life, she’s just not sure if she has any power at all.”

Can you talk about the differences in working on Married versus your work on Parks and Rec and the Kroll Show?

Jenny Slate: “You know, I think there is an interesting thing going on in comedy now where in order for the show to be good, you can’t just…I mean, certainly, I guess those sort of typical three-cam shows are very successful, but that’s a real different kind of comedy. There’s some trend going on now and I don’t really know how to describe it, but there’s a very specific voice coming from the creator and a need for collaboration. All of the projects that I am involved in, and I would even include House of Lies in this, have taken me on not just because of how I will perform what I was written, but I think because I am playful in nature, and they’re looking for that added touch from their performers. You know, like Ben Schwartz and I improvise a lot on Parks and Rec, but usually what ends up on the show is what is written, but I think allowing us to play around helps us to say the written lines better.

On Kroll, there is a script, but Nick and I tend to improvise a lot and it’s what he wants. If there’s something that needs to be said and just be said, then he’ll tell me, and we won’t improvise. But normally, it’s weird because we go in and there’s a script and, for the most part, we completely improvise even after seeing that script. We follow the storyline, of course, we don’t make up a new plot, but we improvise.

On Married, Andrew [Gurland]’s writing is very exciting and I want to stick to the script, because all of the lines are things that I would never say. The character is somebody who is very hard for me to be. She truly upsets me sometimes, and I like that. Sometimes I will read the script and just feel so bad, so bad, about what my character is doing. A woman who leans on her sexuality the way that Jess does, but doesn’t really feel that it’s hers, you know, that breaks my heart a little bit. She’s kind of a landmine; she could just really blow people apart by mistake just because of her nature. I try to stick to the script with Andrew, but he’s very flexible.

He always says, ‘I can tell if you don’t want to say a line,’ and that’s really embarrassing to have someone say that to you, but also really helpful. When he can tell that I don’t want to say the line, he asks me to make up a new one, and we work on it together.

I don’t do well in shows where I have to stand in one place and say one line. I’m not sure that that’s a skill that I want to develop. I had a little bit of that on SNL and I have worked on a three-cam before, and you know, it just makes me nervous. I’m just too much of like a squiggle to have to stand in a straight line.”

What’s it like working with Paul Reiser and will we be seeing him more later this season?

Jenny Slate: “You’ll definitely see him again later this season. I think our characters are going through a pretty complex time in their marriage.

I’m 32 years old. I believe Paul is 57 or 58. When I signed onto this project, I knew my character had an older husband, a husband that was older than her, but I didn’t know if we would see him. He wasn’t in the pilot and I didn’t think about that that much. Then when Andrew started to text me about like, ‘Okay, the show’s going to go. We’re going to get you a husband.’ The first one that came in, he was like, ‘We’re talking to Paul Reiser about being your husband.’ I was so excited; I texted all of my friends and was like, ‘Guess who might play my husband? Paul Reiser!’

I was freaking out. I was really nervous because then it’s just like, ‘It’s Paul Reiser.’ It’s Paul Reiser from Mad About You. That’s the way that I think about it. I watched him on TV when I was a teenager. To me, he’s like a good-looking, successful, nice Jewish man that I would see on TV before I was a woman, and the whole thing just made me feel like really green, just really young. I’m a standup comedian ad what if he thinks the kind of standup I do is kind of fake? You know, what if he doesn’t like me? What if he thinks I’m a joke? What if he sees I am a first-timer at a lot of stuff? You know, this is the first time I’ve been a regular on a show. I have worked a lot since my career started, but it’s nothing compared to what he’s done.

I was very nervous but Andrew had us get together, just me and Paul, for lunch and we ordered the exact same thing. We sat there, and we talked, and I realized that we were truly just two people, and that he is a performer by nature, and it’s really fun to be around him. He’s very supportive and complementary.

You just could’ve never told me that I would have a natural scene partner in him, because I never would’ve known. I think of myself as coming from a totally different movement of comedy, but I think, for me, our scene work is the most satisfying to me on the show. I really like it. I can really see us, as the scenes unfold, and I’m not afraid to yell at him and to tell his character how much he’s ruining my life sometimes. Yes, I love it. I really, really like working with him, and I like him a lot as a person.”

And working with Nat Faxon and Judy Greer?

Jenny Slate: “Working with Nat and Judy is a real dream. I think they’re both very easy to be around and it’s nice to play Nat’s best friend. He and I are actually both from Massachusetts, and we both come from an improv background. He’s from The Groundlings. My background is part standup, but I started in improv in college.

I don’t know; they’re easy to joke with. Judy is very openhearted and very honest, and I like asking her opinion on everything. I really do, whether it’s like my performance or whether or not I should buy a pair of clogs. It’s a nice little home, the home that we have. It’s truly lovely. Judy and I, we are both married to men named Dean and we like to talk about our Deans.”

You’ve been on a bunch of different TV shows. Do you like to watch TV? If so, what shows?

Jenny Slate: “I do like to watch TV. I grew up in a household where we were not really allowed to watch TV or have soda, so now I love soda. If there’s a television on, it’s like my friends know that you could like hit me in the face and I wouldn’t eve flinch. I will watch anything on the television.

[…] In general, I will watch almost anything. I’m in a seven-year-long battle with my husband about whether or not we can have cable. We don’t have cable and instead we have a stray dog, which I found, which is a fair compromise, but I do watch TV. I just watch it on Hulu, Amazon, and Netflix like a modern person. I do watch comedy, but sometimes it’s a little too much for me. I’m not sure why. I guess I just get overwhelmed or maybe because I work in comedy, I like watch American contemporary TV comedies, and I just feel like I can see everything or something and that is not as magical to me, but there are some shows that delight me a lot.

I watch Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and my best friend, Gabe, writes on the show. I love that show. I watch New Girl, Parks and Rec, and Mindy. I really like those.

Then I watch what everyone else watches, I think. I watch Mad Men. I watch a lot of BBC stuff. In general, my go-to is always like a period drama. That is mostly what I watch, so I watch like The Paradise, Call the Midwife, and anything where people are like wearing bloomers and corsets. I love that so much. I just cannot get enough. Anything World War I, World War II, I like the historical fiction, and I still love Broadchurch.

-By Rebecca Murray

Follow Us On: