I'll just say it: I love Amy Sedaris with all my heart.
And as soon as polygamy is finally legalized, I'm going to marry her. Not only is she the sister of brilliant author David Sedaris, she's responsible for creating one of the most smartly hysterical characters to ever grace basic cable—the grotesquely sexy Jerri Blank, a 46-year-old ex-junkie whore who returns home and goes back to high school. Now, Jerri and the rest of the cast of Strangers with Candy (a sharp-edged parody of the old ABC After-School Specials) are coming to the big screen—opening on Friday, July 7th at Cinema 21. The movie is a prequel to the short-lived series, which, by the way, is now available on DVD and totally worth whatever stores are charging for it. On top of everything else, Amy is one of the nicest people I've ever talked to for 20 minutes on the phone—we chatted about the series, the movie, and African medical facilities. Swoon.
MERCURY: What was the reason behind doing a prequel instead of continuing the story?
AMY SEDARIS: A lot of people wanted to know a little more about Jerri Blank and how she ended up on the doorstep. We thought we'd start in prison, and then discover her dad's in a coma, and then her mom's dead and she's got a stepmom and she has to meet her brother, and she decides to go to school, and meets [Principal Onyx] Blackman for the first time. It's different from the TV show. I like the TV show audience because they had to discover it on their own. Comedy Central never got behind it, so the movie's more in your face.
What are the differences between making a half-hour show and an hour-and-a-half-long movie?
The difference was video versus film. It was more expensive to do the movie, so we didn't have the luxury of extra time. So I got to improvise more on the TV show, with as many takes as I wanted. With the movie, the money issue was always there.
Speaking of improvisation, it seems to me the best improvisers—and maybe just the best entertainers—come from large families. Like the Osmonds, or the Jacksons.
Or the Murrays.
Or the Doobie Brothers.
Did the Doobie Brothers come from a large family?
Oh, yeah. It was a band full of Doobies.
Oh. Okay. You just dated yourself. You know that, right?
Frank Doobie and his siblings. Charles...
And the Bottoms. Timothy Bottoms, right? [Note from the author: I have no idea who she's talking about.]
And the Sedaris Family.
It makes sense, just because you're always fighting for attention.
Was that true in your household?
We all wanted to get my mom's attention—always entertaining each other and always having somebody to play with. But only children are creative, too. Their minds are always active. What do you think that's like? Are you an only child?
No, but I think only children talk to themselves a lot.
Yeah. Maybe they have more imaginary friends and stuff like that.
And a sense of entitlement too, I think, because everything's always about them. But, it's better than coming from, say, a no-child family.
I don't know. Maybe.
Do you have any favorite After-School Specials?
Well, it was more like a movie, but it's that Jennifer Jason Leigh one, The Best Little Girl in the World, who got down to like 82 pounds. I really liked that one. And there was one that [co-creators Paul Dinello and Stephen Colbert] and I watch, and we call it "Super Jack." I'm not even quite sure what the name of it was, but Scott Baio was in it [Author's note: Probably the 1980 special Stoned]. But today's After-School Specials, to me, are on the Lifetime channel. They have the same kind of feeling.
Do you spend a lot of time watching Lifetime?
No. I don't watch TV, but once in a while if I want something mindless, I'll watch Lifetime. And I got a lot of ideas from Lifetime movies for Strangers with Candy. I'd sit on the couch and be like, 'I've got a great idea for a hit-and-run episode,' because I just saw one on Lifetime.
How would you characterize Jerri Blank's sexuality?
I think she's desperate, and that's why she goes for the pole and the hole. She just wants everything and anything—just like a kid that way. She doesn't think why she wants it, or if it's good for her or not.
There's a naivety to her.
Yeah, I think that's why she gets away with a lot and why people can laugh at her and accept her. She's a little misfit, which is what attracts our audience. They're misfits, too. Outcasts.
She's, like, kind of retarded, but not retarded. So how did you manage to, underneath all that make-up, still be so sexy?
The thing I liked about Jerri was she thought she was pretty. I like playing characters that like themselves; that think they're attractive when they're not. A lot of people who are pretty in real life—that's not what I think is pretty. Like, Jennifer Aniston is supposed to be pretty, but some people don't think so, and yet she's still in your face.
Do you think she's pretty?
I guess. I prefer Isabella Rossellini-type pretty. I like it when there's something fucked up about someone, like a chipped tooth or something. And people always think the lives of pretty people are so perfect, and they just aren't. Meanwhile unattractive people have more to prove—they have different opportunities. So I tend to play more unattractive characters because they have to get over that hurdle. It's harder for them.
Is there an emotional costume you have to wear to be able to convincingly play an unattractive person?
No. Once I have the look on and a little bit of an overbite, and the face happens, that's it. Jerri doesn't think she's unattractive. She's got just as much style as Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City.
They should have a competition between Carrie Bradshaw and Jerri Blank.
Who do you think would win?
Jerri Blank, with my audience.
Are you ever afraid of being typecast as a 46-year-old ex-junkie high schooler?
No, she's so disguised I don't get recognized that much—except after doing Letterman or Sex and the City. If I do get recognized, I think, "God, I must look like Jerri Blank today."
Have you been keeping up with the Brangelina baby?
I think [Angelina's] going to be on CNN tomorrow during our premiere, and I don't know how to videotape. I don't have TiVo or anything like that, but I like hearing her talk, because she's truly excited about things.
Do you think she's truly excited about her baby?
Yes, I do. I think they'll keep it. Do you think it's true that Jennifer Aniston's pregnant?
I hope so. But mostly I just hope that the baby is healthy. Do you think Namibia is played out as a place for celebrities to have babies?
I've heard it's beautiful there.
It's not exactly known for its marvelous healthcare system. It's sort of like going to a dentist in Sudan.
Get a cavity. Go to Sudan, get some bridgework done.
Would you ever consider leaving New York?
If I did, it'd have to be Europe or something, I don' t know where I'd go in the United States. Sometimes I fantasize about moving to London and doing a show for the BBC—but I don't know if I'd like London. I wouldn't have to learn a new language, which is a good thing.
So how do you feel about how the movie came out?
It's hard for me to judge, I had a lot going against me while doing the film—it's very hot and I had the suit on and the turtle hair and the boots, and the stitches in my mouth from the surgery I had. Plus we had to shoot [Stephen] Colbert first because of The Daily Show, so things got pushed to the end of the day when everyone else was in a hurry. Paul and Stephen are hilarious in the movie, but when I come up on screen, I don't like to watch myself.
Did you feel like it was time for the TV show to end?
They've never officially told us that it's been canceled. With Comedy Central, they usually ask for 30 episodes, so we talked about it and we thought we could do 10 more—and if not, that's fine too. I don't remember any of us thinking twice about it. I don't remember us being depressed. I think it was done. It was done.
They've never told you that you've been canceled? That sounds irritating. If it was me, there'd be piles of dog poo ending up on Comedy Central executives' doorsteps.
That's very sweet.
Hear more of the Amy Sedaris interview on the Mercury Pod 'n' Vod (portlandmercury.com/podcasts), and see our review of the Strangers with Candy movie on page 40.