Sundance: Jenny Slate Talks Her Most Surreal Festival Moment

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Jenny Slate

The actress-comedian is in Park City to launch 'The Sunlit Night,' which she produced and stars in opposite Zach Galifianakis.

Nearly five years ago, Jenny Slate and author-screenwriter Rebecca Dinerstein enjoyed an Ephron-esque meet-cute that spawned the Sundance film The Sunlit Night. Slate was on the phone with her mother while walking through a Brooklyn park. Dinerstein had recently seen the Slate star vehicle Obvious Child and gave the actress a silent round of applause. Slate, reluctant to interrupt her mother, blew Dinerstein a kiss. "Later, she tweeted at me, 'You blew me a kiss in the park. Would you ever read a galley copy of my novel?' And I was like, 'Yeah, sure,'" Slate recalls. The Parks and Recreation alum read it, fell in love with the story of an American painter and a Russian emigre who find an unlikely bond when they cross paths in the Arctic circle and offered a pull quote for the book jacket. Years later, when Beachside Films (The Miseducation of Cameron Post) optioned the book, Dinerstein pitched her new friend Slate for the lead. Now, the film is making its world premiere tonight at the Eccles Theatre, marking Slate's first foray into producing (Zach Galifianakis also stars). The comedian is a regular at Sundance, having launched such films at the indie festival as Obvious Child, Landline and The Polka King. She caught up with THR before heading to Park City to discuss escaping her native Boston without an accent, supporting Kamala Harris in 2020 and her surreal Sundance 2017 ("Why am I here trying to sell a movie when a racist misogynist just got elected?").

What was the hardest thing about producing?

Separating myself as the performer and really doing what's best for the project. For me, it's very, very hard for me to watch my own performances. If I'm not in the film, I can watch the film as many times as you need me to watch it and give really constructive, creative notes. But it's a real block to watch myself. It's just torture. We're watching a cut, and all I can see is like, "Wow, why am I making that face?" That may be just my own self-criticism, but it will always be the biggest thing for me to get past.

This is your sixth Sundance. What has been your most surreal Sundance moment?

The year I was there for Landline, because it was the inauguration of Donald Trump. I remember being in the Women's March and just feeling a sense of fear for what was to come and really needing a community and that I was trying really hard to harmonize my fear with my joy for having this [indie film] community rather than experiencing dissonance that's like, "Why am I here trying to sell a movie when a racist misogynist just got elected?"

Who would you most like to meet?

Diane Keaton. My whole life has been about Diane Keaton. Amy Sedaris. She's at the top of my list. But really, I think I would be frightened because what would happen? Like would I burst into tears? It wouldn't be cool. But I guess, everybody's just a person, of course. I love David Byrne so much that I don't know that I would want to meet him. And [Booker Prize-winning writer] George Saunders.

What profession would you do if not this?

I was at the Boston Aquarium last week, and there were these women in the penguin environment feeding the penguins and taking notes on which penguins were eating fish, and the baby penguins were swimming all around them. I think I would probably be some sort of scientist. That seems right to me.

What was your first job?

I was a soccer referee for 6-year-olds in Milton, Massachusetts. They paid me $4 a game.

How did you escape Boston without an accent?

I think because I went to private school. My parents both have a bit of an accent, and my grandparents definitely do. But going to a preppy private school, I didn't develop it. And then I didn't have a lot of friends in the town because I kind of just hung out with my parents. But I'm told that when I'm drunk, it comes out a little bit more.

Do you have a candidate for 2020?

I'm a big Kamala Harris gal. I definitely have high hopes for Kamala.

Who is your dream director?

A tossup between Miranda July, Spike Jonze and Mike Mills. But yeah, I think it might be Miranda July.

As a self-described animaniac, what are your thoughts on John Lasseter's return?

What? I didn't know he had returned. I am incredibly jetlagged right now. I just got back from Iceland and spent my holidays and New Year's in another country. I don't think it's responsible to totally check out from the news, especially when it comes to like the Time's Up movement, the MeToo Movement. That is very, very important to me. But I also do need sometimes to just not look at what is going on in Hollywood. Sometimes I really need to take a step back from the news in general so that I can reboot. But it never lasts very long.