By Dana Barbuto
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You’ve probably seen Jenny Slate on one of your favorite TV shows. Since leaving “Saturday Night Live” after one season, the Milton, Massachusetts, native is ubiquitous in supporting roles on comedies such as “Parks and Recreation,” “House of Lies,” “Bored to Death,” “Girls,” “Kroll Show” and “Hello Ladies” – to name a few.
Slate, 32, has also found success on the big screen, starring opposite helium-voiced rodents in the third Alvin and the Chipmunks adventure, “Chipwrecked,” and as Zac Efron’s animated mom in “The Lorax.”
Slate also appeared on “SNL” during the 2009-10 season, drawing laughs for impersonations of Lady Gaga and the Olsen twins, and infamously dropping the F-bomb during a sketch with Kristen Wiig called “Biker Chick Chat.”
Slate has since dusted herself off from that ill-fated season, working steadily and landing the lead in Gillian Robespierre’s indie abortion-themed comedy, “Obvious Child.”
Slate doesn’t shrink away from discussing the film’s sensitive subject matter. However, a question about “SNL” touches a nerve for the usually forthcoming actress.
“I don’t know what else I have to say about it. It’s even been in your paper a few times. I really have nothing else to say. I’d rather talk about our movie,” said Slate, in Boston last week with Robespierre to promote and screen “Obvious Child.”
The duo was in the midst of a month-long promotional tour that took them to Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago, Phoenix, Washington, D.C., Dallas and Boston.
At the Eliot Hotel in Boston, Slate is nursing a sore throat with a cup of hot tea and honey. She attributes her malady to germs on the plane.
“It’s good to be back, but I feel like a kid because I have a cold,” she said.
“Obvious Child” – the festival darling that was bought at Sundance – is Slate’s first turn as a leading lady, and Robespierre’s first time behind the camera.
The result of their efforts is an 85-minute romantic comedy about Slate’s Donna, a twenty-something raunchy stand-up comedian who becomes pregnant after a one-night stand. The film follows Donna through the two weeks – and the range of emotions she experiences – leading up to her Valentine’s Day abortion. Slate said she never hesitated in accepting the role.
“For me, the scariest part was whether or not I’d be funny,” she said. “The issues don’t frighten me. I feel invigorated by a story that’s real. ... The process of going through all of the other complications that come from making a very clear decision is a territory that I’ve never been in before. And I was really excited to try to play that as honestly as possible.”
Slate was valedictorian of her Milton Academy class in 2000. She graduated from Columbia University in 2004. She is the daughter of Nancy and Ron Slate, a writer and poet.
Her character in “Obvious Child” seems to have a similar intellectual pedigree. In one scene, it’s revealed Donna earned a 780 verbal score on the SAT, a score her mother (Polly Draper) says she is “wasting on jokes about diarrhea in your pants.”
Slate said her real parents have been nothing but supportive of her career choices.
“My parents are not Donna’s parents and I’m not Donna,” she said. “My parents always knew exactly that I wanted to be a performer. ... I think that they wanted me to get a good education no matter what I wanted to do because, it’s a little bit corny, but my grandmother always says that your education is something that can never be taken away from you. And I think that’s true, and I think it’s good to be a smart person whether or not you exhibit it by crafting beautiful jokes about diarrhea or finding the cure for cancer. It was most important to my parents that I was true to my nature and didn’t try to just totally become like everyone else.”
Working steadily for the past few years, Slate’s career has grown incrementally.
“I’m lucky I was offered jobs on good shows. Now, maybe I’m cycling into a time where I can be a little pickier, but all the shows I’m in I would have said yes to them always.”
Slate also can be seen opposite Nat Faxon and Judy Greer in the upcoming FX comedy series “Married,” debuting July 21. Slate plays the wife of Paul Reiser (“Mad about You”).
“I used to watch him on TV all the time and he was this larger-than-life character to me. But he’s a lovely man, and I think that even though we come from different generations, as performers we really clicked.”
Slate and her husband, Dean Fleischer-Camp, co-wrote the well-received stop-motion short “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On,” to which she also lent her voice. They followed that up with two children’s books, the second of which is due out in November.
Slate said the success of “Marcel” was surprising.
“I just thought it was something we were making for ourselves. It’s a good example of if something feels right, it often is.”
And the source of Marcel’s adorable voice?
“It just popped up. It was very strange. The body offers us many things,” Slate said.
Contact Dana Barbuto at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @dbarbuto_Ledger.