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Amy Sedaris on Snow Angels, Microsoft Commercial

Last month I tagged along with my film critic friend, Dustin Putman, to an advance press screening of Snow Angels, a new film by director David Gordon Green, which stars Kate Beckinsale and Sam Rockwell. A serious and bleak story, Snow Angels focuses on three couples' relationships, two crumbling and one budding. Amy tries her hand at drama with a supporting role as Barb Petite, co-worker and best friend of Annie (played by Beckinsale). After being completely enthralled by the film, I knew that I had to grill Amy on it. I also took this as an opportunity to ask her about her "Rabbit Rescue" short for Microsoft's online ad campaign.

snow angelsKatie ( What did you think of the movie?

Amy Sedaris: I thought everyone was really good, and I couldn't believe the incredible acting. It looked great, too. I loved the direction. I love depressing shit! Because I was involved in the movie, I knew too much. Being in the movie you are watching can spoil the whole thing. It's hard to watch yourself and remember so much of what you did fifteen minutes before you shot the scene.

Have you read the novel by Stewart O'Nan on which the movie is based?

No, I haven't read the book, but I will now.

Being that you're known for your comedy, you seem like an unorthodox choice for such a bleak, serious drama. How were you cast?

I met with the director, David Gordon Green and I auditioned. I was very surprised that he asked to see me.

David Gordon Green actually sought you out?

Yeah, they called and asked me to audition.

That just seems so surprising. Do you know what made Green think to call you and ask you to come in?

Oh, I don't know. I guess that would be a question for him*. I was surprised by that, too. I have no idea. I guess I was kind of surprised because I don't normally get called to do stuff like that.

This is certainly the most serious role you've done in television or film to date. Did you find it difficult?

It was hard not to find the humor in it. My instincts are to do just that. I still didn't have to cry or fight the rapist off of me, but I did get to find the humor in it when I saw the movie. Me trying to be serious or somewhat real on screen is funny to me.

So, when you were filming the movie, did you just pretend that you were doing a Lifetime movie or something?

Well, I just didn't have as much fun. When you're in the moment, and you're there, and you're around stuff--if you're an improviser--you just want to go with it, and play around, and make fun of stuff, and laugh. But the energy wasn't like that. Sometimes it was like that on the set, and I could [joke around] knowing they weren't going to shoot it, but you just don't play in that mindset. You don't go on set trying to find the humor in everything. It's just a different reality. As far as energy on the set, the people would listen to sad music and they'd be trying to stay in character.

You often say in interviews that you don't think you have the chops to do serious drama, but I think Snow Angels proves not only that you do, but that you're also really quite adept at it. Would do you do a part like this again?

Only if I could be naked.

That said, if you were asked to do a part like this again, would you seriously not do it?

It would all depend on what it was. Like I said, in this movie it's not like I had to be incredibly serious. It wasn't, like, so dramatic and so hard. I was still kind of the comic relief in it. But I don't know… I guess it would depend on what it was. I know what I can do and can't do. If it was something where I was going to have this huge dramatic scene--that's not something that I enjoy doing, so I would know not to get involved in it. I have no desire to do that in a movie. Those are the movies that I like to go see, but that's because I can't do that. And when people say, "Oh, you can take lessons and you can learn," it's like, I don't even want to go there. I mean, I'm not saying that I wouldn't go there in my apartment if I was with somebody, but I don't want to do it on camera. Sometimes that can feel queer to me. That's too real. That's why I love people who can do it.

amy sedaris in snow angels

Even though Barb provides some comic relief towards the beginning of the film, Snow Angels definitely relies on your dramatic skills more than your comedic skills. Did you approach this differently than when you do comedy roles?

You should actually approach them the same way.

Why is that?

All comedy is based in reality. If people are dead serious and the situation is funny, you're going to laugh. But if you're going to yuk it up and add more to it, it kind of bends it a little bit and it's not as funny. It's funnier when you take it seriously. With Jerri Blank [in Strangers With Candy], for example: Even though we got sillier as the seasons went on, we still tried to approach it seriously. Jerri was a character being serious, but sometimes I would go overboard--but it would always just look geeky that way.

In Snow Angels, how much room did you have to improvise and how much of your role was strictly following the script?

It was scripted. I went off a little bit, but not too much.

What's more difficult: Having to approach a character realistically or being completely over the top?

I like to go over the top, and work with a director to pull it back. I need to do both.

So, when you are playing a character that's kind of normal--not over the top, like Jerri Blank--and you don't necessarily have anything to hide behind, do you find it difficult?

I like to have a hook… So I can feel like I can play around more. Like a prop. Sometimes a prop can turn you into a whole different character. You just go with it. Sometimes I just need to something to convince me that I'm playing. It's like playing. That's what I like to do.

Any memorable moments from the set of Snow Angels? Also, were there any dicey moments running down that snowy hill?

Snow was a pain the ass, literally. The restaurant was gross. It was really dirty. Kate Beckinsale had never used a time card machine before, which I thought that was interesting.

And while I have you on the phone, I just thought of another question… The Microsoft ad. How did that happen?

[Microsoft] just called my agent. They put together something based on the house rabbit chapter in I Like You, and they just said they had an idea and wanted to know if I'd be interested. It was for their offices. It wasn't for TV or anything like that. It was like, they were having some big meeting, and they wanted to do something for their employees. I don't know anything about Microsoft Word, but their idea wasn't bad, and Paul Dinello and I kind of reworked some stuff in it. Paul got to direct it and creatively get involved, and we hired our own team, so it was a fun, creative thing to do.

Yeah, I can't get enough of it. It is so cute!

They paid really well, and it was an opportunity, and I mean, I love shit like that. I would love to do commercials and things like that. I think they're fun--as long as you have control. Because you think they're fun, and then you get there and their idea is queer or they want you to do something stupid. But if I could have creative input like that, I would do a lot more--If they guaranteed that I could have a little bit of control.

That's what I was wondering, because it looked like Microsoft gave you total creative freedom over everything.

Yeah, they were great. They never said anything to us.

But I can't get enough of it. The novelty never wears off. I laugh so hard every time I see that rabbit ring the bell, and then start pounding on the keyboard at lightning speed!

I know! My God. It's so funny! It was so funny.

And the rabbit that peers up behind your shoulder and then goes back down really slowly--I love that.

amy sedaris microsoft commercialYeah, that was a fun one. They're so silly, those bunnies. Mary Cotter, the House Rabbit Society lady, was manipulating all the bunnies and doing all that stuff, because Paul just thought that they would do everything that he wanted them to do. I go, "Paul, how long have you known me?! Rabbits can't do that!" First of all, they're going to freak out about being somewhere else. Dusty (Amy's rabbit who appears in the ad) wouldn't do her oatmeal trick. She does it all the time, and she didn't do it.

What's her oatmeal trick?

She takes the lid off of the oatmeal container and she throws it. She does it with this ceramic dish that I have, too. And she was supposed to take that lid off when she's eating the jimmies, and throw it across the room like she always does, and she did not do it.

But see, she wasn't in her element.

Yeah, she didn't feel comfortable enough. Rabbits are prey animals, so home is very important. They have to know where they're at.

-March 16, 2008

*When asked by New York Magazine how he decided to cast Amy in Snow Angels, director David Gordon Green said, "We’d auditioned a lot of women for the role, and they were coming in acting like they were Flo from Alice, that whole “Kiss my grits” thing. Maybe that’s how I’d written it on the page, so I can see how it might be interpreted as such. But it wasn’t right. Finally, my casting director said, “You know what? You’re not finding who you like, and you don’t know what you want.” That’s one of those interesting points you get to as a director every now and then. They said, “Let’s open it up, and let’s not be so specific about who we’re calling in. Let’s just call in people like Amy Sedaris.” And suddenly I thought, Why don’t we just give it to Amy Sedaris? That’s exactly who should play the part."

amy sedaris copyright by katie richardson