Actress and comedian Jenny Slate has played many memorable characters on shows like Parks and Recreation, Kroll Show, Girls, and Brooklyn 99. She also wrote and voiced her web series Marcel The Shell.
But from all of her work on TV and film, few people know about Slate’s one true love: houseplants.
Nerdette’s Greta Johnsen talked with Slate about why she loves houseplants, what she names them and how they play into her future goals. Plus, we call up plant expert Tara Heibel of Sprout Home and let Jenny fire off questions.
Below are highlights from the episode:
Greta Johnsen: You’re obsessed with houseplants. Why?
Jenny Slate: I feel like they’re the key to a peaceful, happy life. It’s their vitality and freshness and serenity. I want to have as many as possible. And I just can’t even believe that they can be in the house. I think they are pretty remarkable. And they are just very gentle.
They represent the will to live and thrive, and there is no sense of being driven. They’re just naturally trying to be alive, and I think the inclination to lean towards the light is a thing that I try to replicate in my own behavior. So, I think they are very inspiring. And, if there’s something that feels the closest to a religion to me right now, it’s houseplants.
Johnsen: How many houseplants do you have? If I walked into your home, would it just be a crazy jungle? Or is that the future aspiration?
Slate: In five years… really in a year, I would like to be living in a place that is just packed with plants. Potted, hanging, on the windowsill. And that makes me feel like it’s an outward representation of my inner-self and life.
So, that’s the future aspiration. I don’t have that right now, and I really wish that I did. But I am in a temporary, rented apartment while I’m looking for a permanent home for myself. So I don’t have that many, I’d say probably under twelve.
Johnsen: Do you know what kinds they are?
Slate: No, I don’t know their names. They have names, but their names are like “Rebecca.”
Johnsen: What are some of their other names?
Slate: We’ve got Rebecca, Richard, Leslie. Then there’s The Thing. Which is The Thing because it’s like this big — it turned red, I don’t know what happened — succulent. So I was like, ‘Oh my god, that’s The Thing.’ And then in my office, there are three that hang down, and I just call them The Witches.
Johnsen: Your most recent project is a film called Landline. It and Obvious Child, which you also starred in, were both written and directed by Gillian Robespierre. What is it about working with her that makes you keep coming back?
Slate: There are many things that make me want to work with Gillian for the rest of my life, hopefully. The first is that, before I knew her well, I felt safe, excited and invigorated by her take on a current female experience. She was gentle. She was discerning. She had a lot of empathy, but she was really unapologetic for a lot of things that I realized I was being kind of meek about.
While she loves men, she has no time to bend towards the male gaze, and I needed that. I needed a role model like that in my life. It changed everything, from my personal style to how I think about myself in my community to how I pick my jobs. And I like that she allows me to play women who are sexually active, who have sexual preferences but are not sexualized in any way that’s going to create a marketplace for the patriarchy. I like that.
Johnsen: What I found so amazing about your character Mona-Lisa Saperstein from Parks and Recreation is that she said all the worst things. She just goes for it in a way that sometimes I wish I could. You know what I mean?
Slate: I never want to go for it in the way that Mona-Lisa goes for it. But, I think, it feels really good just to be like, “There is nothing real about this at all.” So, any weird voice you want to do, any time you want to break into song, any sort of social norm you want to bust down, you can. The only thing you have to commit to is full embodiment of this incredibly selfish, heightened person. The only thing you don’t do is, you just don’t take your foot off the gas.
Johnsen: You’ve played so many different kinds of characters. Is there one that you feel like you relate to the most? Or does that change on any given day?
Slate: Oh, the character I relate to the most for sure is Marcel the Shell. He is a combination creation with my friend and ex-husband Dean Fleischer-Camp. The way that Marcel expresses self-love casually with a little bit of sadness, and the way he is other and alone, but also not really struggling against anything, but that he’s just kind of in a state of wholeness... those are all things that I feel within myself, and I think it is the most accurate expression of what my inner life feels like and what my personality feels like to me.
And I like that he is a male shell with no age and no sexuality, and that’s a good way for me to try to slough off all the things that can be put on me because I’m a woman, I’m an actress, I’m whatever age. It’s a way to say, “Well, let me just show you the start of everything for me, for my personhood.”
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire conversation.