Jenny Slate, the voice behind the viral hit Marcel The Shell, is one of our very favorite comediennes. Today, she stopped by our offices to talk about her hit summer film Obvious Child, the origin story of Marcel, and why feminism is not a scary word in her vocabulary.
Suddenly you’re everywhere. On TV, you appear on the Kroll Show, House of Lies, Parks and Recreation, Married, and Bob’s Burgers, and all over the Internet with Marcel the Shell.
Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
It’s good! This third Marcel the Shell video was trending all over Twitter yesterday and went viral within minutes.
I know! It has a million views now I think. In one day! It’s so weird because I’m not computer-y at all.
How did this happen? Where did you get the idea of this shell with the little pair of shoes?
Well the voice came first. We were at a wedding, me and Dean [Fleischer-Camp]—my husband—my best friend Gabe and my friend Mike and his husband, and somebody else—we were all in one motel room because we were broke. I was squished in there with all those boys and I was stressed out and about to be fired from SNL—which is neither here nor there—but at the time I was just waiting to get slapped in the face and feeling a bit constricted because of all of these things in my life. And then I started to talk in this little voice and my husband was like “What is that voice?!”
So it just came out of the blue one day?
I actually don’t know, I had never talked in this voice before. I’ve done so many voices and I’ve never done this one. He had promised a friend that he would do a video for her little art show and he was like, ‘Maybe we should do something with this voice and I’ll create a little creature and you can speak as it?’ Dean made Marcel, he really invented the character design and what he looks like.
So your husband created Marcel?
Dean glued him together, the shell and the shoes, and he lives in our house.
Where is Marcel now?
He’s in an empty large hummus container that’s been washed out, filled with cotton balls, and Marcel is in the middle of the cotton balls. The container is wrapped in towels in our linen closet, because we live in L.A. now and I’m afraid there’s going to be an earthquake and something is going to crush him. But in Brooklyn he just lived in the bathroom, just on the shelf.
Why did you decide to make a Marcel The Shell book?
I always wanted to be a children’s author and I have a really big library of children’s books. All the ones from when I was little, they are just so beautiful. I read kids’ books and they calm me down.
What are some of your favorite children’s books?
I love all the Lyle the Crocodile books. I like Robert McCloskey’s books—One Morning in Maine, Blueberries for Sal, Make Way for Ducklings. I like Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, all the Barbara Cooney books, like Miss Rumphius and The Ox-Cart Man are really good. And I like Chris Van Allsburg, those books like Just a Dream and The Polar Express. I like the classics. They’re classics for a reason.
You’re one of a few actresses who isn’t afraid of calling yourself a feminist. Why do you think it’s an issue for others to come out and say it?
I think that there have been a lot of fear-based assertions that feminism is about aggression and that is incorrect and untrue. Feminism is about equality, that’s what it’s about. When I was in my early twenties, I definitely thought that it was about bra-burning or something and that is just completely incorrect. You don’t realize it until you go out and take a look, but there are so many ways in which sexism is just allowed in our culture, not just in the entertainment industry, it’s just allowed to be there and that’s not acceptable anymore. And I think it’s really important to be very vocal.
Your film Obvious Child could be considered a feminist film, in a way.
I’ve called myself an accidental activist because I came to it not on purpose. First, I was just trying to play this part and now I’ve done it and I’ve realized that I’ve created a space for myself within this new generation of feminists. With a new type of activism that is fun and that allows humor to be a part of the discussion.
And Obvious Child was a great female story, starring a female actress, directed by a woman . . .
And produced by a woman as well!
Do you have any other directors you would like to work with in the future?
Oh yeah. The first director I ever worked with actually was on Bored to Death and it was Nicole Holofcener. I don’t know if she remembers me, but I’d love to work with her again. I’d love to work with Jonathan Demme, Spike Jonze, Kelly Reichardt, and my husband. But there are so many.
How did you meet the director of Obvious Child, Gillian Robespierre?
She came to my comedy show and she saw me onstage and thought that I would be good for the part she had written for Obvious Child. She just emailed me the next day saying, “Hi, I’m a stranger, but I saw you last night, I’m friends with Jed—who is our mutual friend—I wrote this thing that I think you would be great for.” And I read the script and it was really funny and unlike anything I had ever seen before.
I thought the whole idea of this movie ultimately being about abortion was very well handled.
Gillian is so thoughtful and she’s also incredibly funny. And she’s wild and she’s also much more of a smart ass than I am. You can’t deny what the character goes through, but you also don’t have to make it into like a victory or a shame. It just bums me out when a person has to be an issue because they are going through one. Why can’t the person be a complex human who is dealing with an issue? It’s so strange.
Obvious Child was one of the sleeper hits of the summer. Are you thinking of doing more movies in the future?
Yes, my main career goal is to do film. I’ve wanted to be an American movie actress since I was four. I like that it’s complete work. When you make a movie, you’re not like, “Oh I hope this movie gets picked up for a sequel.” For the most part, it’s a story that we wanted to tell, we did our best, it’s complete, and now we can move on.
So there are no plans for a sequel for Obvious Child? We never find out what happens to Donna and Max after they watch Gone With The Wind?
No, there isn’t. I think they stay together though, but who knows?
The post Jenny Slate on the Origins of Marcel the Shell and Why She Isn’t Afraid to Say She’s a Feminist appeared first on Vogue.