Q&A With Sarah Silverman: ‘I’ve Seen People Romanticize Depression’

Q&A With Sarah Silverman: ‘I’ve Seen People Romanticize Depression’

By Matt Pais, RedEye (TNS)

In Sarah Silverman’s 2013 comedy special We Are Miracles, the stand-up notes an online porn clip featuring several guys and one woman ending with one of the guys telling the woman, “Great job, I know you were sick.”

Obviously, that’s meant to be funny. But Silverman’s point about people being multifaceted and possessing unexpected humanity is relevant in thinking about the depth that the 44-year-old comedian, not necessarily known as a major actress, brings to her first dramatic starring role in I Smile Back. She takes the promise shown in her stirring supporting turn in the great Take This Waltz and absolutely nails it as Laney, who battles depression (something Silverman herself has dealt with), drug addiction and the way a wide variety of fears and traumas impact her relationships (her Masters of Sex co-star Josh Charles plays her husband).

“In a way, I feel like, ‘Why? Why is it such a surprise?’ “ Silverman says when I tell her that based on the progression of her work, I wasn’t as surprised as people involved in the film seemed to have been about thinking of her for the part. “And then in another way, I join them in that surprise.”

The actress talked about music, depression and more:

Q: The movie deals a lot with pain and trauma; in We Are Miracles you talk about everyone experiencing trauma but people not always realizing it because there’s no music telling them how to feel. How interested would you be in having an automatic soundtrack playing throughout your life for a week, so as things happen to you either happy or sad music comes on?

A: Oh, yeah, well, that’s probably my all-time favorite thing to do in the world, is walk through the streets of New York with the soundtrack to my life in my ears. It’s like, “I’m melancholy; I’m listening to Lou Reed’s ‘Perfect Day,’ walking through the autumn streets of New York.” “Oh God, you make me feel so …” What’s that line? “(You made me) forget myself/I thought I was someone else, someone good.” (Mock cries.) It’s so true.

Q: What’s the happy version of that?

A: Then I walk through and I’m listening to Taylor Swift “Shake It Off.” (Laughs.)

I do like happy music, but I really love heartbreaking music.

Q: Then would you be interested if you lost your shoe in mud and automatically the world cued up sad strings?

A: (Laughs.) Yes, yes. Music in movies is such a fine line because you don’t want to be told what’s coming. You don’t want to be told how to feel.

Q: “Oh, this is the important moment, OK.”

A: Yeah, yeah, right, right. “Oh, this is going to get sad.” Then there’s just the one key playing, the piano key: “Is this going to be scary? Is someone going to get killed?”

Q: It’s like Jason Segel composing in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” It’s just tones.

A: (Laughs.) Yeah. The music in this movie, I think it’s good. It’s more like “Peter and the Wolf” in that — not that each character has a tone, but that tick tick tick tick tick when she’s triggered or something. It’s pretty cool.

Q: You were thought of for this role when you were heard talking about depression on Howard Stern, and you’ve said your darker years have always informed your work. Have you thought about if you would have been able to do this role without having personal experience with depression? And as an extension of that, I suppose you could say this about any disease, but does it feel like depression is something people can’t understand if they haven’t gone through it?

A: That’s a good two-part question. The first one is do I think I could do this part if I didn’t battle depression myself: I don’t even know if I would be in show business if I didn’t have the childhood I had or the experience I had or the chemical makeup. So maybe not. I don’t know. I don’t know who I would be. I probably would be a much more secure teacher who doesn’t need the love of strangers. (Laughs.) And then the second part was what?

Q: Is depression something people can’t understand without going through it, in a different way than a more physical illness?

A: I mean, people can empathize with it. I do think that people — I’ve seen people romanticize depression. I think that artists that kind of romanticize depression, sometimes I wonder if they — there are comics that don’t want to have therapy because they’re afraid if they get past their sadnesses they won’t be funny. I just feel like that is someone who has not experienced depression because you don’t want to be depressed. (Laughs.) You’d maybe do anything to not have these paralyzing downward spirals. They’re not as effective. People might write incredible songs when they’re depressed. It is true: Adele got her heart broken and she wrote “21”; it’s like the greatest. (Laughs.) So I’m contradicting myself. Look! I’m not a perfect person. It’s early; I’m drinking a Red Bull, which is drugs basically.

Q: But is that what you mean by romanticize, when artists act like it’s a good thing because it gives them something creative to do? People always have frustrations; even if they’re not depressed, something can happen and you want to write about it, I would think.

A: Yeah, and I mean, I understand romanticizing depression in that I let myself wallow in it. Listen to sad music, feel sorry for myself and all that stuff in a way that kind of helps me process it. But real depression is not something that you want to experience for your art. It’s something that art sometimes comes out of as a way of just expressing through something.

Q: You said you like that “I Smile Back” will evoke different reactions out of people who see Laney different ways. How troubled are you when it seems like everyone thinks the same thing about a movie? I can’t stand when everyone is like, “This is the best movie ever; there’s only one opinion you can have, end of story.” There’s no conversation to be had there.

A: Yeah, I know. I didn’t not like Up. I love Up. (Laughs.) I love Ed Asner. But I was like, maybe it was just where I was coming from. That movie I cannot take — I understand that Pixar movies are the greatest movies ever made —

Q: Well, the first third is the part everyone loves.

A: My heart can’t take it! It’s too much for me. I was crying so hard in the first half-hour of Up. I remember I just looked at my friend, she was sitting next to me, and I just went (wailing), “Why are they doing this to us?” That’s how I felt. It wasn’t like, Up sucked!” It was amazing; I don’t like, and I know I’m promoting this movie that is this way, but I don’t like being made to feel too much because it hurts! Which is why this process was hard for me, actually.

Q: As someone who thought “Boyhood” was just OK, I’m fully in favor of people saying how they feel, minority or not. The lack of ability for people to have truth in their opinion does no good for community.

A: (I) didn’t like Sherlock Holmes! How ‘bout that? Is that something?

Q: Sure.

A: (Fake sad) Hmm.

Q: Maybe not as controversial, but I appreciate your honesty.

A: (Fake sad) Ohhh …

Q: On that note, why is it controversial for a comedian —

A: How about this? I loved Knight and Day, with a K? Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz vehicle. Loved it! Thought it was a super-fun romp.

Q: Let’s close with a few quick ones. Based on your sensibilities, which was more absurd: You being in Wreck-It Ralph or Bob Saget being on Full House?

A: Oh, that’s a good question. I guess Bob Saget in Full House, but he was great in that. I’m not being playful enough. … I’m so sorry. I want to do right by you.

Q: Who’s someone who would never get roasted but should?

A: Oh, Jesus! I don’t know, a Weinstein! OK, I take that back, my manager just went (exaggerated, pained facial expression). Who’s someone who will never get roasted that should? The Senate?

Q: That would be awesome.

A: Boom! That’s my final answer. Harvey (Weinstein), you’re off the hook.

Q: And last one: What scares you now? Not as playful of a question.

A: (Pretends to cry, takes a deep breath.) Feelings. And greed. The direction greed has taken the world. How ‘bout that? I know that’s a big one. I mean, honestly, there are people starving to death, and we have plenty of food resources to feed everybody in the world. I feel like this is a good pope; he’s going to do some good things. I once made a video, “Sell the Vatican, Feed the World,” and I feel like he’s the closest one to it. Maybe he might sell a couple pieces of that fancy art and feed the world with it.

©2015 Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Sarah Silverman at the I Smile Back premiere. (eskimo_jo via Flickr)

Q&A: Aaron Sorkin On ‘Steve Jobs’ And What He Wants To Invent

Q&A: Aaron Sorkin On ‘Steve Jobs’ And What He Wants To Invent

By Matt Pais, Redeye (TNS)

CHICAGO — “Even now people are saying, how could you not do the iPhone? It was the most important product,” says Aaron Sorkin at Chicago’s Peninsula Hotel. “It’s because the movie’s not about products. At all. It wouldn’t have mattered really if Steve was selling toasters.”

That’s quite a statement from the Oscar-winning writer (The Social Network), whose new movie is Steve Jobs. But it speaks to how the 54-year-old creator of The West Wing and The Newsroom (who also wrote Charlie Wilson’s War and co-wrote Moneyball) had no interest in the conventional elements of a biopic, which he calls “that cradle-to-grave structure where you land on a protagonist’s greatest hits”. Instead he structured the film, starring Michael Fassbender as the iconic and sometimes very cold innovator and Apple co-founder, as three long scenes set at the launches of three of Jobs’ products (again, the iPhone isn’t one of them, and neither is the iPod) to explore the personality and relationships of the late, infinitely influential figure. Through Sorkin’s trademark rapid-fire, highly articulate dialogue, of course.

Q: Everyone at one point in their life has come up with a crackpot idea and wanted to invent something. Can you think of something that you thought, “Man if I had the help or resources, I’d like to invent this”?

A: Yeah, I’d like to invent an invisible suit. But I’m waiting for technology to catch up to me. I had an app idea; it’s based off the same theory that’s behind Pandora. Pandora can recognize your taste in music, and then it’s going to give you that kind of music. Say you email with your girlfriend a lot, but there’s one trigger where you always get into a fight with your girlfriend. This is an app that would be able to recognize how you guys communicate and if you say something that the app thinks is going to be a trigger, it’ll warn you, like, “Do you really want to mention this ex-girlfriend in the email? I don’t think you should do that.”

Q: That would be brilliant.

A: Or, “You’re misspelling a lot of words; are you drunk right now?” That kind of thing.

Q: What would an invisible suit be?

A: It would be a suit that makes you invisible.

Q: Oh, I was thinking a suit that you can’t see, so you’re just naked.

A: No, it makes you invisible.

Q: What excites you more: a great use of words or a great idea?

A: To me an idea really only becomes great in its execution. There’s no such thing as a bad idea or a great idea. You have to execute them well. So great use of words aside, there are ideas that are a good start but there’s no such thing — if somebody comes up with an idea it shouldn’t be dismissed as boring or a bad idea. If it’s executed really well then it can be good. A soap opera executed well can be great.

Q: There’s a great line in the movie where Steve says something to the effect of, “God sent his only son on a suicide mission, but people like him because he made trees.”

A: In other words, “OK, I may be a little bit rough around the edges but I’m making these great devices and machines, so maybe cut me a break.”

Q: I feel like after a bunch of articles and movies, people are aware the aspects of Steve Jobs that weren’t as nice. There are a lot of public figures that aren’t the best people in private. What does it say about people that — is it that we’re forgiving, or we don’t care if an artist is imperfect as long as they provide us with an album, movie, device that we like?
A: Well, first of all nobody’s perfect. It depends. I think that a public figure, an elected official, if they’re cheating on their husband, if they’re cheating on their wife, it shouldn’t be that big a deal to us unless we’re talking about hypocrisy. Unless they’re somebody who’s talking about the sanctity of marriage, and yet they’re cheating on their wife all the time.

Q: Which is usually the case.

A: Yeah. I think that with Steve Jobs it shouldn’t matter to us his relationship with his daughter, his relationship with his friends; that’s the business of his daughter and his friends, and if you want to buy the products, that’s fine.

Q: You talked about how being nice and being gifted don’t have to be mutually exclusive or binary. To what degree do you think the ends justify the means when a ruthless motivator like Steve Jobs gets great work out of someone? Has there ever been a time when you feel you pushed someone, and when you look back on that was it a good thing because of what resulted or was there something you learned about that motivational approach?

A: Well, Steve Jobs and I have two different motivational techniques. When I’m in a leadership position, if I’m doing a television series, even on the set of a movie, I try to get the best out of people by just letting them know that I notice their work and I appreciate it. If you’re able to go the props person, somebody’s carrying a clipboard with pieces of paper on it, and it’s got notes scrawled and everything — I mean a character is carrying the clipboard — and you say, “You know what? That clipboard looked great. And all the stuff that was written on it was perfect. Everything that was crossed out, the stuff in the margins, you used three different colored pens, it all looked perfect.” That props person now feels like they have ownership of the show too. That they’re one of the authors, that their work is noticed, and they’re — I promise you — going to do the very best you can. The very best that they can, excuse me. Berating them, first of all, is not temperamentally who I am, but I also don’t think it’s likely going to get the best out of them, and it’s not going to create the best work environment. I want to come to work some place where it’s nice to come to work, and I think everybody does. But Steve had his own methods, and he would say of my method that it’s vanity. That what I really want is for these people to like me. And I’m sacrificing the quality of the work for that. I think he’s mistaken, but he’s also pretty successful.

Q: What do you think he would think of the movie?

A: Well, it’s one of those hypotheticals that’s a little nutty. I think that if the movie were about somebody else, if he didn’t have a personal stake in it and was able to look at it objectively, I think he might like it. I think it’s streamlined; I think that it’s got clean lines the way he liked. We’re definitely thinking different; it’s something new. So he might appreciate that.

Q: Based on the research you did and conversations you had with people involved, who do you think treated people better: Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg?

A: Oh, gee. That’s an interesting question. They’re both so different. Mark Zuckerberg, generally speaking, is, or was — the Mark Zuckerberg that I was writing about mostly was 19; I was also writing about him when he was 25 but mostly was 19 — and he was just awkward, shy with people. He wasn’t so much treating them bad as he couldn’t quite look you in the eye and liked to use as few words as he could. Not the case with Steve, who would be happy to call you a bozo if he felt that you weren’t up to snuff.