Think of the first word that comes to your mind when you hear the term “rom-com.” Got it? I bet it isn’t “shame.” Yet, when we spoke with Jenny Slate and Nick Kroll about their roles in Sophie Goodhart’s “My Blind Brother” (opening in select theaters today), that was one of the first words Slate used to describe the romantic dynamic between their characters.
Rose (Slate) and Bill (Kroll) are former one-night-standers who find themselves thrust back together when Rose starts dating his visually impaired brother, Robbie (Adam Scott). “They have a lot of joy and delight and they are trying to get each other’s attention, but then they’re both pushing away. It’s the regulation of that shame flow that I was interested in,” Slate said of the complicated dynamic at play.
This, of course, isn’t the first time that Slate and Kroll have worked together on screen. Along with countless episodes of the recently departed “Kroll Show,” both were also part of this year’s ensemble comedy “Joshy.” With a particular brand of tangled romance to deal with, you want actors who are familiar playing characters tugged in multiple directions. Yet, despite their previous collaborations and their impressive work elsewhere, that special dynamic between Rose and Bill offered the two performers a chance to branch out a bit for “My Blind Brother.”
We spoke with Slate and Kroll this week about their unique qualifications and how they’d like to use them going forward.
I feel like the three of you could shuffle the cast list and all play each other’s characters because they’re roles that you’ve played before. Does that make it easier on set knowing that you’ve been in the other person’s shoes?
JS: That’s a really cool way to see it. I’d never worked with Adam more than a day at a time. I’d obviously done a lot of work with Nick, but many of the choices he made, I thought, “Oh! I wasn’t expecting this to go down like that, but knowing Nick, now I understand why.”
NK: I did a French accent for a couple scenes.
JS: I think when I read the script, I thought of Bill as more of a softy. And then Nick showed up and played him with a bit of grit. Bill doesn’t really let anyone off easily. He expects the most out of Rose. For some reason, I imagined that delivery being more gentle or more fuzzy. But what it ended up being was stronger and actually more respectful in that way.
NK: Thank you for saying that. I think it’s interesting because Jen and I have both played characters like Adam’s character, the sort-of-funny asshole. But when you’re playing something, hopefully, if you’re doing your best, you’re advocating for your character and you’re not trying to think too much. In real life, you care about other people, but at the end of the day you’re like, “I’m acting upon whatever it is that I want or need.”
What I really liked about working with Jenny is she’s an incredibly gifted performer that has a lot of colors, but also is not a hog of the screen. She’s able to give and take and cede control when the scene requires it. For me, it’s like playing tennis with someone. You can hit it as hard as you want or you can hit it lightly. It’s all about playing with a partner that is able to both do the best work that they can do but also allow you to do the best work that you can do. And that’s not always the case with people.
JS: You want to always be unique within the group, because that makes the expression more colorful, but you also need to know where to stand. You have to be aware of how you’re integrated properly into that scene.
NK: We weirdly have both done standup, partnered with another person and also sketch performing. Both of us have enough experience in the various versions of collaborations that’s made it very, very easy to work together over the years.
Without talking too much about the circumstances, there’s a scene in this movie without any dialogue that really gives you a chance to play with something besides telling jokes. Is there a specific kind of pressure when you read a script and there’s something so rooted in physical comedy?
JS: Oh, I just get excited for it! I don’t feel any pressure, I just feel hungry to do it. See how many different ways it can be done…
NK: When I first read the script, that was one of the scenes that I was like, “Oh, if we do this right, it will be really funny and fun and interesting.” Then, once you’re in the middle of it, it becomes technical, because there’s the timing of it.
JS: And you also want to make sure that it’s not totally cruel, too. You don’t want it to seem like you’re two assholes who are tricking a blind person. You have to let the shame lay heavy there. Actually control the speed of your body and with every inch that your shirt goes back on, you really want to kill yourself.
NK: I remember thinking, “This is funny!” And then, by the time we were shooting it, I was like, “Oh, this feels like shit.”
JS: But in a funny way. It has to be both.
That’s also a testament to Sophie. In a lesser version of this movie, Adam would be the saintly person with a disability and you two would be manipulating him.
NK: How much of a prick Adam’s character can be allows the audience to continue to root for Bill and Rose, because he’s sort of a deplorable character. And then vice versa. Rose and Bill do shitty things that allow you to think, “Oh, I’m not entirely rooting for them either.” Robbie’s stuck in the middle of that shithole too. Sophie did a really good job of creating three nuanced characters that you’re rooting for and against simultaneously.
Do you think that’s easier to do in an independent film versus one that has to appeal to a broader base?
JS: Not necessarily. When I go and make smaller films, I actually never think about them being made for a smaller audience. I just think, “We’re performing now.” That’s it.
NK: A well-executed movie, from a huge blockbuster to an indie, if they’ve done it with a sure hand, is able to have these nuanced characters. Big ol’ movies can do that and little indies fail at it, so I don’t think it depends on the size of the movie. It depends on the crafting of those characters.
Are these the kinds of movies you want to make going forward, if there’s a certain level of comfort there now?
JS: I want to make every kind of movie that I can make. I don’t really care if they’re big or small, I just care if I can really…
NK: Get up in it?
JS: Yeah! I just want to work hard. I love that feeling. I don’t like feeling hemmed in and I don’t like feeling that I’m repeating myself. There’s a part of me that would love to be in an action movie where I get to run around and punch people in the face and, whatever, be a murderer, I don’t care! I’d also like to be in a tiny indie where I’m lost at sea. I just want to be able to do something that’s interesting to me.
NK: Jenny, I believe you can do it.
JS: Thank you, I believe that I can do it too. Jenny Slate Murderer Lost at Sea Running from Explosions. “When I get out of this boat, I’m gonna kill someone. Literally.”
NK: “The only person she wasn’t safe from was herself.” I would see that movie.
“My Blind Brother” is now playing in theaters, on demand and on iTunes.