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Too hot for TV

Reluctant star Amy Sedaris gets sweet on her tart new film, Strangers with Candy



Strangers With Candy (R), directed by Paul Dinello, opens Friday, July 21, at the Little Theatres.

Candy land

A good comedian will do anything for a laugh, and in the case of Amy Sedaris, this apparently included a thorough de-vaining. As Jerri Blank, the 47-year-old ex-con/recovering addict/former whore at the heart of after-school-special-gone-hilariously-wrong Strangers With Candy, Sedaris warps her face into outright grotesquery, her overbitten scowl looking like the Tragedy mask come to life. Sometimes Jerri is painful to watch, her unsightliness matched only by her sweetly self-serving ignorance. Fortunately, Sedaris hasn't sacrificed her vanity in vain.

A prequel to the 1999-2000 Comedy Central series of the same name, Candy opens this Friday at Little Theatres. The film follows Jerri's fearless attempts to turn her life around post-pokey by re-enrolling in high school and becoming "the good girl I never was or had any desire to be." But Jerri's got a comatose dad, a contemptuous stepmother, a lusty crush on a teenage jock, and somehow she's wangled her way onto a science fair team headed by Chuck Noblet (fake newsman Stephen Colbert), a science teacher who believes evolution is a farce and who is trying to end his affair ("I need more than I'm willing to put in") with the art instructor (director Paul Dinello). Candy's action hinges on preparations for the state science fair in which Jerri's crew competes against a team lead by Noblet's nemesis, Roger Beekman (a slimy Matthew Broderick).

The humor in the script (another collaboration between Sedaris, Colbert, and Dinello) veers from the juvenile to the sublime, with a number of seemingly throwaway lines so clever they take a second to absorb. Cameos include Sarah Jessica Parker as a tip-fueled guidance counselor, as well as Ian Holm (?!),AllisonJanney and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Besides being an actor and writer, Sedaris is also a cupcake tycoon, operating a little concern out of her apartment. But when I spoke with Sedaris she was in the throes of a two-day media onslaught that involved about 40 phone interviews, which probably didn't leave much time for mixing and frosting. So even if the sweet teeth of New York City were temporarily denied their cupcakes, at least now they're able to comfort themselves with a bit of Candy.

City Newspaper: I was listening to your NPR Fresh Air interview yesterday...

Amy Sedaris: Ooh. What'd you think of it? You can be honest; you won't hurt my feelings.

Truthfully, it was a bit of a downer.

It's funny because I kept apologizing: "I'm so sorry; I'm really just not feeling it today." I don't know what it was, and I felt really bad. I couldn't wait to see Terry Gross; I love her program, I love her book, I love when my brother David is on her program. Maybe I just set myself up for some excitement and I crashed. I don't know. But I appreciate you being honest with me. Because I hate when people are like, "No; it's great!"

But with the nature of interviews, it seems like it would be grueling to deconstruct stuff that maybe isn't that deep to begin with.

Yeah, it's hard. Sometimes I don't want to dissect something; it's like, "Trust me; no thought went behind this." So people are determined to find out about it and you're just like, "There's nothing there." I don't know what makes someone tick; I don't know what makes me tick. It just is. I guess that's what therapy is for, and I don't go to therapy.

So why did you and co-writers Stephen Colbert and Paul Dinello decide to revisit Jerri Blank?

We were writing the book Wigfield and we kept thinking of Jerri Blank stuff. And so anytime we came up with something funny we would put it in a file called "Jerri Blank," and at the end of the book we found the file, and Paul said, "This would make a funny movie," and we just kind of wrote it. And then somehow [David Letterman's production company] Worldwide Pants got a copy of the script --- none of us gave it to them --- and they called and said they loved the script and wanted to do the movie, and so they gave us money to make the movie.

Is it difficult to have that many proverbial cooks --- three people --- working on a script?

No; all three of us have different strengths and we let each [other] do it. We've worked together for 20 years, so none of us are allowed to change; we know each other too well. So it's kind of refreshing. If I come up with something and it's a bad idea they're going to say, "That's stupid," and move on. We can just be honest with each other; it's not about "Oh, I don't want to hurt this person's feelings." We think about the script; no one's out for themselves.

The thing about Jerri --- and now I'm going to deconstruct --- she recites that whole "boozer/user/loser" thing, but she doesn't seem to think she's a loser. She seems awfully confident.

I like that. I like playing unattractive people who think they're attractive and that like themselves. And also, they have so much to play against if they're unattractive. It's true of any of us. When you put forth some effort to go out for the evening --- do your hair, your makeup --- no matter how much you try, you are who you are. People like --- I'll use Jennifer Aniston just 'cause she's the first person that popped in my head --- you'd think her life is perfect because she's pretty, but she's probably a wreck. And Jerri Blank, you assume she's a wreck because she's unattractive.

Stephen Colbert was a scream, using that same deadpan delivery no matter what he does. The scene where Jerri first walks into his classroom and he crumples up her note and whips it at the chalkboard and...

"Goddammit! We have a new student."

"Mr. Blank."

What I like about that line, "Mr. Blank," is Stephen is so above that line, and that was my line, and the way he delivers it is like he doesn't want to say it. I think he did it for my benefit, to give me that line because it's so cheap, and the way he delivers that line is just perfect, because it's like, "I'll stoop this low and do Amy's joke."

Hey, isn't Phil Hoffman from Rochester? He's in the movie, too.

Yeah, he's our huge claim to fame right now.

He's a neighbor of mine. I've known Phil for years and it meant so much to me that he would be in the movie. I like him because he's always listening to you but you don't always know it; you find out later. And he's such a generous performer and a real person. I don't know many real, real people.

When they asked if I wanted to talk to Amy Sedaris my first thought was, "I can talk to her about baking!" I was a baker before I got a job interrogating famous people.

Baking's great, isn't it? It can be so mindless and comforting. I bake or cook every day. I have to. There are these people who say, "I want to paint but I never have time." Well, it's like if you really want to, you do it. And it keeps me in the real world; I can complain about how much butter costs. I have a cookbook coming out in the fall.

What's your cookbook called?

It's called I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence, meaning that I was under the influence of Fannie Farmer, Betty Crocker, and the old hospitality books. It's about the etiquette of entertaining, and also about how to be a good guest. It's so visual; there are a lot of photographs in it, and illustrations, and hand-lettering. Its been two years in the making. And I'd like to do a TV show based on the book; character-driven.

I also read that you're doing Sesame Street.

Yeah, in October. We all compete in our family to be the best aunt or uncle. My little brother has a baby and David calls himself "Uncle Money," and I can't beat that. So I called David and I was like "Ha ha, I'm going to be on Sesame Street." So I think I've won.

Do you like the freedom that you have now or would you rather be more famous?

I do like the freedom that I have now. One thing I liked about Strangers with Candy is that Comedy Central never got behind the show, so the fans discovered it. And I like doing stuff and then having people discover it and then it becomes something; I don't like to get up in your face. I like crafty projects and getting my friends involved who are really talented and want to put on a good show. That's all I care about.

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