“So, you want to talk about the weather, or what’s happening with this humidity? Just kidding.” Cobie Smulders knows that the topic of conversation isn’t quotidian chitchat for an interview—though she’s great at it—when she’s here to talk about one of the numerous movies she’s been in this year. 2015 has seen Smulders appear in two Sundance breakouts: Andrew Bujalski’s “Results,” and Kris Swanberg’s “Unexpected,” the latter of which is today’s topic of conversation. Smulders is also in a little film you might have heard of called “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” so, there’s plenty to discuss.
“Unexpected,” based on some of Swanberg’s personal experiences, tells the story of a friendship between two expectant mothers, Chicago teacher Samantha (Smulders) and her student, Jasmine (Gail Bean). In my review from Sundance, I noted, “Smulders embodies the anxieties of women who want to retain their identities and autonomy while also being a mom,” and the film’s “questions of who women are, who mothers can be, and what they can do are pondered seriously.” It’s a film about identity in transition and evolving friendships as much as it’s a film about pregnancy.
Smulders was pregnant during the filming, which added to the authentic experience of portraying this character. She says that from the beginning she and Swanberg, “had multiple conversations about the script, about the dialogue, about the characters, and we made a lot of changes in order to incorporate my experiences and more of Kris’s personal experiences, she’s a mother as well.” Smulders related to the “plight” of the working mom, and “the attempt to be a good mom, and have a job that you’re successful at, and the amount of work, and the amount of balance that that takes.” (Smulders has two kids with husband Taran Killam). In the case of her character, Samantha, Smulders spoke to the “emotional and psychological” questions that come up with a huge life change such as motherhood, saying, “it’s so overwhelming. It feels like the end of what you’ve been doing, and the beginning of something new— what does that mean, and does that change who I am, and does that mean I’m a different person now?”
The foil to Samantha’s neuroses is her student Jasmine, who seems less plagued by these questions, as Smulders says, “seemingly dealing with it much better.” The juxtaposition of “these two women on this journey but in really different circumstances,” stretches beyond the philosophical and emotional into the social and economic realms too—Samantha is a middle class, partnered woman in her late 20s, while Jasmine is a high school student from the inner-city. Their reactions to the pregnancy do not belie their situations in the way one might expect.
The difficulty in casting the role of Jasmine is something that isn’t lost on her. “Kris had to find somebody who is very smart but also seemed young and vulnerable and it was very hard to find that role, and Gail came in and she just really crushed it from the beginning… she’s wise beyond her years and she’s super intelligent,” she said.
As for working with a female director on a story that’s “so female centric, where we’re talking about boobs, and breastfeeding, and we’re talking about birthing babies,” Smulders said it was more about individual experience. ”It was probably easier to tell that story with a woman who had been through that herself, in order to sort of ground that and tell the realistic version of that,” the actress shared. She also observed that with the birth scene, they “wanted it to be funny because if you’ve gone through it, you can relate to it. We wanted it to be real, but also to be funny, so to have a woman on board who experienced it as well was helpful with that.”
As for her upcoming projects, Smulders says she’s looking to try new experiences and new characters after playing the role of Robin on “How I Met Your Mother.” “It’s really just a combination of elements that if they all seem like it’s going to be a fun time, I get excited to do it,” she said about how choose projects. As for being involved in the the Marvel Cinematic Universe S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill, it’s “exciting to be a part of something that’s so big and so beloved by so many people. It’s just a fun thing to jump into this world.”
News of one upcoming project for Smulders broke last week, the just announced film written, directed by, and starring actress Clea Duvall, along with Melanie Lynskey, Natasha Lyonne, Vincent Piazza, Jason Ritter, Ben Schwartz, and Alia Shawkat. While Smulders can’t say much about the film, she does mention that it’s already been shot. About her involvement she said, “Clea just asked me to do it, I hadn’t met her before, but she is the best and we were fast friends. It just sort of came together. It’s a great cast and a beautiful script.”
Smulders shows no signs of stopping anytime soon, clearly stretching her wings and seeing where opportunity knocks, whether it’s in the indie or blockbuster realms. As long as it’s interesting, diverse, and fun work, she’s up for it.
“Unexpected” is in theaters now.