LIANE HANSEN, host:
From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Liane Hansen.
Amy Sedaris co-wrote and stars in the new film Strangers With Candy. The movie is based on a series she co-created for the cable network Comedy Central. In the film Sedaris returns to her role as Jerri Blank, a 40-something former user, loser, and abuser who, after her release from prison, decides to get her diploma.
(Soundbite of "Strangers with Candy")
Ms. AMY SEDARIS (Actress): (As Jerri Blank) I'm picking my life up exactly where I left off. I'm going to go back to high school and be the good girl I never was or had any desire to be.
HANSEN: In the film, Amy Sedaris wears garish makeup, outlandish, out of date fashions, and a fat suit to transform into Jerri Blank. In person, Amy is petite with a complexion that doesn't need any makeup.
Earlier this month, she invited us to her New York apartment, where she made us feel right at home.
Ms. SEDARIS: Take your pants off, you'll feel more comfortable.
Ms. SEDARIS: I'm a nudist.
HANSEN: This is radio, so she can get away with that. Joking runs in the family. Her brother, David Sedaris, has made audiences familiar with them in his many short stories.
Sedaris' apartment in Greenwich Village looks like a work of fantasy itself.
Ms. SEDARIS: I have a one-bedroom, a little hallway kitchen, almost the artwork my family did or David's boyfriend Hugh painted. Everything is pretty much appointed in my apartment. There's a story behind it.
HANSEN: So, let me start with this...
Ms. SEDARIS: Of course I won't have a story. Watch.
HANSEN: What, the fake food?
Ms. SEDARIS: Oh, I'm obsessed with fake food. But it has to be, I'm persnickety about it. Like, I like the old plaster kind, which is really hard to find. And then I like paper mache, like, you know, you'd make in a high school play or something. And then, when I first moved to New York, there was a plastic store on Canal which is closed now, but that's where I got that turkey. And in the fall I put tin foil on it so it looks like it just came out of the oven. It fools people.
HANSEN: Where do you think your comedy - I guess gene - came from?
Ms. SEDARIS: My comedy gene? Well, everyone in my family has a sense of humor, and I think it came from my mother. And then we had my father to make fun of. So I think that's what, that's where it kind of came from.
HANSEN: Talk a little bit about Strangers and the genesis of Jerri Blank. Where did she come from?
Ms. SEDARIS: Well, the facial expression - hmm - I always had. You know, David and I, it's the kind of character that we put in all our plays. I just always change her background. It's like actors who think she's versatile but she isn't? It's like it's still the same person? Hey, you're still Paula Abdul, you know, and you want me to think you're a gypsy and now you want, you're a cop, whatever. So in the background, we, you know, Paul and Steve and I came up with a background for her...
HANSEN: Stephen Colbert and Paul Dinello?
Ms. SEDARIS: Colbert, sorry, yes. And then Paul Dinello found an old video about this woman who was an ex-drug - she was a drug addict and a prostitute and she would go around to high schools and give them motivational speeches. And so we took a lot of her background. And then she just came alive once the fatty suit came on and the professional golfer's hairdo and...
HANSEN: So tell us a little bit about this movie. It's a prequel to the series that ran on Comedy Central. So it pretty much sets up why Jerri is who she is.
Ms. SEDARIS: Oh, right, it starts with her getting out of prison, and then her journey home. And she discovers her father's in a coma and that she has a step-mother and a brother, so she's freaking out. And then she goes to high school and she meets Principal Blackman and she enrolls into high school, and then kind of turns into, you know, an episode. You know, she gets involved in the science fair, and, you know, takes a little crazy journey.
HANSEN: How do you three work together, Stephen Colbert, Paul Dinello, and yourself? How do you...
Ms. SEDARIS: Well, we sit around in a room. We waste a lot of time. And then we sit around in a room and we throw out ideas, and - until we exhaust it. You know? We get on our feet, we improvise it. Paul and Stephen type, I don't, so they're always typing and then they would switch off. And then things would get erased on the computer and then I would hear a lot of complaining about computers. And then that's really how it is.
But Paul and Steve do most - they refer to it as chopping the wood. Where they really have to think, you know, where is this scene going, where I'm more like, well, I'll find it on camera. Let me discover it, you know? I don't want to have to say these lines. Le me be in the moment and see what lines happen. I'm more of - I like to improvise live.
I mean I think Paul and Stephen and I are lucky. We all think - like a bad review comes out, we're going to be okay with it, you know? We just kind of do what we think is funny and it's okay if someone doesn't like us. It's not for everybody. The New York Times isn't going to like Strangers With Candy, but maybe Rolling Stone will. You know what I mean? It's okay.
HANSEN: But you like it?
Ms. SEDARIS: Well, I just look at it like, okay, it was 105 that day. They had buffalo chili for lunch that day. You know, it was 3 a.m., I remember I couldn't remember my lines. When I watch a film that's what I think about. So - or I think what got cut. Or I spent all that time memorizing that monologue and now it's cut out. So I can't watch it and enjoy it like that. I laugh at Paul and Steven's scenes. I think those are my favorite.
HANSEN: Are you someone that likes to lose herself in a character?
Ms. SEDARIS: Yeah, I like disguise kits because then I feel like I'm playing, dressing up and I'm playing around, as queer as that sounds. But I have to feel - physically feel different, and then I can feel like, you know, it's just a lot more fun. So when I'm just myself and I don't have anything to hide behind, I'm like what fun is this, you know? In Jerri Blank, a lot of people say why do you play ugly people? And I'm like, you know, she's just as stylistic as Carrie Bradshaw in Sex in the City. You know what I mean? And I like it when unattractive people dress up to be attractive, you know?
And one thing about Jerri, she likes herself. And she, you know, she had style. I just, I don't know, I just like the way, I wanted a different, you know, I'm not a sexual person. You know, if I read a script and I have to kiss somebody, or do - oh my God, I can't do it. But once you put that fatty suit on, I'm unstoppable.
HANSEN: I think people would be surprised, I mean, how beautiful you are.
Ms. SEDARIS: Well, maybe people wouldn't say that if I didn't, they didn't see me always play ugly or unattractive or something, you know what I mean? You wouldn't naturally say that to me. It's just like people always, you know, say it to me because they've seen me play. I mean my dad's always saying, can't you take a picture I can show somebody? All right.
HANSEN: Amy Sedaris, thanks a lot, good luck.
Ms. SEDARIS: Oh no, thank you very much. Oh my God, thank you.
HANSEN: Amy Sedaris has more to say about comedy and kitchen work at NPR.org, where you can find her cupcake recipe too.
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